Recovery Talk recently had the opportunity to speak with New York City resident, Mr. Zuben Ornelas, about the Wellbriety pathway of recovery. By way of background, Mr. Ornelas is a Native American man with more than twenty years in recovery and a long-time member of a Wellbriety Circle in NYC.
The Wellbriety Movement has its roots in the Native American culture. According to Mr. Ornelas, Native Americans have found that traditional recovery programs are built around a spirituality based in the European Protestant Christian tradition, which doesn’t correlate with Native American cultures and spirituality. The Wellbriety Movement is a pathway that embraces the cultural beliefs of the Native American community.
The word wellbriety means to be both sober and well. It teaches that in addition to achieving sobriety from addictions to alcohol and other drugs, one must reach beyond “clean and sober” and seek a life of healing and balance – mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually.
For many Native Americans, wellbriety also means cultural recovery. It represents embracing the best attributes of traditional Native cultures, while living in today’s world. According to White Bison Founder and President, Don Coyhis, “We must actively heal the community and its institutions at the same time an individual works on his or her own healing from alcohol or drugs or other unwell behaviors. The individual affects the community and the community affects the individual. They are inseparable from the point of view of addiction recovery. Everything must be in the healing process simultaneously.”
The Wellbriety Movement is based on teachings that resonate with most of the more than 500 Native American tribes. While each tribe has its own cultural ways and individual traditions, all believe in the Creator and that all creation is sacred. This central component of Wellbriety is why it’s accepted by all tribes.
Wellbriety is deeply rooted in the Four Laws of Change:
1. Change is from within
2. In order for development to occur it must be preceded by a vision
3. A great learning must take place
4. You must create a Healing Forest
The first of these laws means there must be an internal desire to make change in one’s life. There must be a conscious effort to change intent, choices, and behaviors and to examine and change our feelings and assumptions about who we are in relation to others. The second law means that positive and lasting change can only come from inside us and cannot be forced. The third law refers to the belief that in order for this positive change to take place, an individual, family, or community must actively seek, discover and share thoughts, feelings, and images that can take them to a healthy future. Without this great learning, there is no development. Beginning at this outcome-based approach, the Wellbriety Movement helps each person take the steps to create a better life for self, family, and community. The great learning (as it’s known) includes the personal healing, ongoing self and community knowledge, as well as the education needed in contemporary life; and it must include the individual, the family, and the community.
You must create a healing forest sums up the Four Laws of Change. It is the basis of the Healing Forest Model of positive community change and is expressed by the healing forest story.
Suppose you have a hundred-acre first and in that forest there is disease or sickness. All the trees are sick. It is a sick forest. Suppose, then, you go to the forest one day and you take one of those sick trees and temporarily uproot it and put it under your arm.
You walk down a road and you put it in a nursery where there is good soil. Or, you take a young person. You take them out of the community and you put them in treatment.
So now you have this tree in good soil, and it gets healthy because it is getting sun and rain. It is getting well. It is turning green. You get this tree to be well and you take this well tree back to the sick forest. What happens if we take a well tree back to a sick forest? It gets sick again.
It means that we must actively heal the community and its institutions at the same time an individual works on his or her own healing from alcohol or drugs or other unwell behaviors. The individual affects the community and the community affects the individual. They are inseparable from the point of view of addiction recovery. Everything must be in the healing process simultaneously.” (Simonelli, Spring, 1993) (White Bison, 2002).
To find a Wellbriety meeting or circle in New York State or simply to learn more about the Wellbriety Movement, click here.