Alternative recovery tactics introduced on Martha’s Vineyard

Yoga can help recovering addicts learn to "breathe [their] way through emotion and anxiety," said Jane Norton, shown here atop a boulder up Island. — Photo courtesy of Jane Norton

Martha’s Vineyard Community Services (MVCS) turns 50 this year and, as part of the celebration, the organization will host a series of informative talks. Previous talks have included a discussion on Asperger’s syndrome and another on children and medication.

“We decided to do the speaker series this year, because one of our goals is to provide educational opportunities for other professionals and lay people in the areas that relate to our services,” executive director Julia Burgess explained recently.

Ten days ago, a panel of alternative health practitioners gathered to present some of the holistic options available to those in recovery from drugs and alcohol.

Beyond Tradition: Complementary Healing Practices in Recovery, as the forum was named, was moderated by Jill De La Hunt who runs MVCS’s recently established New Paths Recovery Program, an intensive outpatient day treatment program for recovering addicts and alcoholics. It addresses the many facets of addiction and detoxification — including physical, emotional and spiritual — in an effort to prevent relapse and to help those in early recovery make the transition to a healthy lifestyle.

“I hope to let the community know about a far more holistic approach to healing,” Ms. De La Hunt said. “I think this is like the next step — letting people know that there are other aspects beyond meetings and therapy.

“I think… we have a dominant culture that is just full of compulsive behavior — overwork, spending, eating. It goes beyond what somebody might diagnose as an addiction.”

So far, about 70 Islanders have taken advantage of the New Paths program, which offers group discussions, family and individual sessions, education, and skills development.

The panel discussion was led by Marcie Mueller, who provides acupuncture treatments through Integrated Health Care. She demonstrated auricular acupuncture on Ms. De La Hunt, inserting a series of small needles. They were left in place during the rest of the discussion.

Ms. Mueller discussed the use of acupuncture for withdrawal symptoms, which was first used in methadone clinics, where it proved very successful. She said that belief in the healing power of acupuncture is not required in order for it to be effective, and she explained that the same placement of needles is used for recovery from a variety of addictive behaviors.

Jane Norton, licensed Anusara-inspired yoga teacher, spoke on the benefits of yoga in “learning to be in your body — learning that you can breathe your way through emotion and anxiety.” She talked about the difference between what she called yoga-flavored exercise that is offered at health clubs and the discipline practiced at yoga studios.

“It started as a way to develop a relationship with a power greater than yourself,” Ms. Norton said, speaking about the early origins of yoga as a spiritual practice. “It struck me how well it could work in recovery.”

Oceana Rames, doctor of naturopathic medicine and co-owner of Church and Main Natural Therapies, spoke about the process of rebalancing the body with specific foods and supplements and how the detoxification process, which occurs at all times, can be aided by nutrition. “The reason some people are more susceptible to the effects of alcohol faster is that their body doesn’t detoxify well,” she offered as an example.

Ms. Rames also commented on the link between mood disorders and addiction and talked about advances that have now made neurotransmitter testing possible, something that she does in her practice in order to diagnose and treat things like depression and anxiety with a holistic approach. “The beauty of the complementary and alternative medical world is that there’s this huge choice of therapies and treatments to draw from that come from nature, and I feel so fortunate to have such a tool bag at my disposal to work with,” she said.

The discussion concluded with Martha Abbot, a yoga teacher and movement therapist, who talked about a therapeutic process she created called Moving Through the Steps. This therapy, based on the tenets of 12-step programs, uses not only movement, but writing and drawing as well, in an effort to “allow the unconscious to come up so that it can be examined by the conscious mind.”

The panel discussion was followed by a question and answer period. The next talk in the MVCS speaker series will take place on June 9, from 6:30 to 8 pm, at the MVRHS library conference room and will feature Julia Colpitts speaking on Mind-Body Interface. “Certain mind/body experiences set the stage for illness,” Ms. Colpitts said. “I’ll speak on some things you can do to compensate for that by building resiliency. Learning how to build the relaxation muscle. We’re all very good at building stress. Very few of us are good at building relaxation to counter that.”

For more information about the New Paths Recovery Program, or the Island Counseling Center in general, call 508-693-7900, ext. 225.