Skip to main content.

Native spirituality helps some cope with addiction

Fellowship Story Showcase

Native spirituality helps some cope with addiction

Picture of Laura Ungar
Alton Strupp/Courier-Journal
The Courier-Journal
Sunday, December 16, 2012

PORTLAND, ORE. — Selena Joe sat in a circle with other recovering addicts, pounding out a rhythm on a drum before more than 100 spectators at a native powwow.

The drum circle was part of the drug treatment offered by the Native American Rehabilitation Association of the Northwest, or NARA, which offers inpatient and outpatient drug treatment and melds a traditional 12-step recovery program with elements of American Indian culture.

“It’s beautiful treatment,” said Joe, a 31-year-old Idaho resident who has abused methamphetamine and prescription drugs. “They have a lot to offer.”

Luci Ludlow, lead counselor at NARA’s 70-bed residential program in Portland, said treatments such as cognitive behavioral therapy are offered in the context of Indian culture. A totem pole stands at the entrance to the residential treatment center, and NARA clients participate in sacred ceremonies, sweat lodges and classes teaching drumming and traditional song.

The organization’s motto is: “Mission Driven, Spirit Led.”

Ludlow said cultural experiences link clients to something meaningful and fulfilling.

“It helps them to heal (when they) find spirituality,” Ludlow said. “They learn about reflecting and having a positive mind.”

Ludlow said clients with native ties come from around the nation to get treatment at NARA. There are more than 5 million American Indians or Alaska natives in the United States, including more than 100,000 in Oregon.

Addiction is a big problem among this population. According to the 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 6.2 percent of Indians or Alaska natives 12 or older reported using prescription drugs non-medically in the previous month, compared with 3 percent of white respondents.

Joe, a mother of three girls, said she’s learned about recovery, relapse prevention and parenting at NARA. And she’s found fellowship with other clients.

“I know I’m not alone,” she said. “Other addicts are going through what I’m going through.”

With continued support, she said, she’s optimistic about her chances to remain drug-free.

“I want to quit using,” she said. “I’m excited to be here and be sober.”

This series was first published in the Courier-Journal on December 16, 2012

Photo Credit: Alton Strupp/Courier-Journal