For Bozeman psychologist and author Eduardo Duran, clients aren’t alcoholics or addicts, or even anxious or depressed.
Instead, Duran tells them they may be being visited by the spirit of one of those problems — and the best way for people to break free is to first identify the spirit, introduce themselves and offer the spirit something in return.
“Substances start taking flesh offerings, like cirrhosis of the liver,” he told attendees at the first Recovery Celebration, held Friday at South Park and sponsored by the Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council. “You are giving (alcohol) a flesh offering, and it’s taking it. That’s its way of letting you know there’s no such thing as a free lunch.”
Friday’s celebration, which included a free lunch provided by Montana Rescue Mission, was offered, according to Lita Pepion, the peer mentor leader for the council’s Transitional Recovery and Culture project, “to show our appreciation for the good work people are doing in their recovery.”
“It’s a movement of healing and self-acceptance,” said Dyani Bingham, the TRAC project’s program director. “People in recovery are our community’s unsung heroes, and there’s power in their stories. Having a person to look up to is a huge, huge blessing to have.”
Sarah McRae, who has been in recovery for three years, said that remaining sober can be hard without “somebody giving you a positive influence.”
“A lot of credit goes to Lita,” she said. The two talk or exchange texts every day.
McRae also takes time every morning to burn sweetgrass in a smudging ceremony, a kind of cleansing smoke bath. Josiah Hugs, Downtown Billings’ resource outreach coordinator, did the same for attendees Friday, adding sage, cedar and tobacco to the burning mix, then singing a prayer that “asks God to watch over and care for us and bring us back to God on our last day.”
“It’s all about slowing down,” McRae said of her daily smudging ritual.
Making his case for thinking of spirits — alcohol — as also having a spirit, Duran talked about a sign he saw in downtown Bozeman recently while on a walk. The sign read “Bozeman Spirits.”
“I thought they were being very honest,” he said. “When you go into a church, there is usually a certain etiquette that is followed. In the church of alcoholic spirits, we enter the church and there’s usually a congregation. They are happy, sad, crying — all kinds of stuff.
“At the front is a huge altar. We call it a bar. It has nice, shiny wood. Behind the altar is a priest. You give him a token and he makes medicine for you … He shakes it in six directions and puts it in front of you. If that’s not a ceremony, nothing is.”
Duran believes that people who ingest cocaine also ingest all the violence involved in bringing that cocaine, via a drug cartel, to the American market.
“We are activating that violence,” he said. “Today and every day, 35 people will die of an opiate overdose. Thirty-five people will be taken from us because there is no free lunch. We keep treating people the same way over and over, expecting different results. That’s why I try to talk in a different way.”
For those not ready to hear his message, Duran asked people to plug their ears. No one did.
“If I’m wrong, at least I’m not insane,” he said at the close of his hour-long address, “and that’s a good thing.”
After lunch, participants relaxed with yoga and played games, including cornhole and what Pepion called “horseshoes with a twist.”
As they heaved the horseshoe, players had to express something they’re grateful for.
They also wrote — in 10 words or less — their recovery story and remembered those loved ones lost to drug or alcohol abuse on a memory wall.
“We see results working peer to peer with people in recovery,” Pepion said, adding that peer mentors significantly improve a person’s chance of maintaining sobriety. “They see it can be done.”