Toby Joseph

Lesson 4: The Warrior – The Healing Circle


Understand that behaviors associated with addiction can be challenged through ceremony designed to assist in the act of “letting go.”


Conduct a healing circle ceremony to acknowledge the symbolic death of the addicted “self” and the beginning of an alcohol and drug-free life.

The Warrior

During the course of the hero’s journey, you may find it necessary to declare war on those things that stand in the way of heading where you want to go and becoming who you want to be.  In addiction, the “enemy” may take the shape of your old lifestyle, may be a circumstance, or may be individuals or groups standing in the way of your transformation.

Death by Addiction

Alcohol use contributes to depression.  Depressed people self-medicate with even greater amounts of  alcohol as a way to elevate their mood.  Heavy drinking leads to impaired judgment and impulsivity.  People with impaired judgment tend to take risks—and those risks can sometimes be fatal.  Toby recalls one such instance where he narrowly avoided being shot by someone holding a gun to his face.

Drug addiction and alcohol use are also factors frequently associated with suicide.   Angry, depressed, hopeless people may resort to alcohol and drugs to numb their pain. Alcohol dependency only adds to the desire to end it all.  Death may occur as a result of risky behavior or as an intentional act

Many suicides among Native Americans are the result of depression or anxiety. According to Federal officials, there is a disproportionate rate of suicide in Alaska Native and American Indian populations compared to whites and other ethnic groups.  Suicide also is more prevalent among young people.  According to figures reported by the Center of Disease Control and Prevention,  Indian youth between the ages of 15 and 29 years of age commit suicide at a rate nearly double the national rate.

Healing Circle Ceremony

“Ceremonies would help me find that place where I wasn’t angry anymore.  Then I could start to think again in a rational way.”         Toby Tafoya Joseph

Addiction is an enemy that requires action to counter its devastating consequences and restore physical, emotional, and spiritual balance.  This action can take the form of ceremony. You can make this ceremony an event that includes family and supportive friends.

Enlist the support of your family and friends to organize a Healing Circle.  Have everyone gather at a place where a campfire can be built.  It could be in a park or picnic area, or a fire pit in someone’s backyard.  Even a fireplace or woodstove would suffice.  Supply those gathered with paper and pencil.   Then do the following……..

  • Arrange everyone in a circle around the burning campfire.
  • Ask each member present to draw a picture that illustrates or symbolizes some aspect of the person’s “addicted self.”   Or, write a short statement that characterizes how he/she presents when drunk or high, or describe impulsive or risky behaviors he/she exhibits.
  • Ask each person, in turn, to take their illustration or written statement into the center of the circle.
  • As the picture is displayed, the circle member explains what it represents, or reads aloud what is written.
  • Toss the picture/statement into the campfire and return to the circle.
  • As each member takes a turn, the flames are destroying the symbolic “pieces” of the type of person the addict becomes when drinking or taking drugs.
  • Once the ashes have cooled, gather them up and bury them in the ground as a testament that the addicted person has symbolically “died” and been buried for all time.


The Healing Circle Ceremony is an intervention tool that is effective because people who are personally invested in the addict’s recovery are present and play an active role.  Ceremony and rituals focused on healing are practiced by tribes across the nation.  They also offer traditional remedies for restoring balance.