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The Medicine Wheel: How It Can Help You In Your Recovery

Addiction can cause you to get far away from your peaceful, joyful self.  The road of addiction oftentimes leads to suffering for the person struggling with addiction, as well as their family or friends.

Those that follow Native American ways tend to grow up with an understanding of ritual and spirituality. There are some excellent teachings that go back since time immemorial that are helpful for navigating life. The medicine wheel is one topic that can certainly help you out if you’re struggling with an addiction to alcohol or a drug.

What Is The Medicine Wheel?

The medicine wheel comes from Native American teachings. It was created by the indigenous tribes that used it for sacred ceremony, prayer, and healing. Typically, the wheel is built on land taking into consideration the Four Directions (East, South, West, North), Mother Earth, Father Sky, and Spirit Tree. The Wheel can also take the form of artwork that depicts the Four Directions and represent seasons of the year, aspects of life, elements of nature, animals, and more. If you visit Native American lands, you’ll likely see at least one medicine wheel.

Essentially, the medicine wheel is a soul map that connects the physical and spiritual realms, and represents cycles of birth, death, and rebirth. In other words, it represents life’s cyclical, regenerative nature. It also represents core beliefs. The medicine wheel symbolizes a person as whole, mind, emotions, body, and spirit.  

The Medicine Wheel & Addiction Recovery

The medicine wheel may not be medicine in a typical sense, but it can be a powerful healing tool. Addiction recovery centers that have a medicine wheel offer it for patients to use it for ceremonial expression, meditation, prayer, and contemplation.

Sitting or walking in different parts of the medicine wheel and reflecting on the seasons of life can be healing. Granted, the medicine wheel is not a replacement for traditional addiction treatment. However, it is an effective resource to add into traditional therapy.

Four Seasons of Recovery

Founder of White Bison Foundation, Don Coyhis, who has over 30 years of sobriety, shares that recovery works in harmony with all of nature. As a Native American, Don has learned quite a bit from indigenous teachings regarding addiction recovery and shares his teachings worldwide.

One thing he noticed in his own recovery and in witnessing others on their recovery path, is that after about three or four years, the tendency to relapse increased quite a bit. He said after a few years of his own sobriety, he felt like his world was falling apart.

He decided to talk to an elder about this. The elder, who was no stranger to recovery, shared with him the four seasons of recovery.  He said just as Mother Earth has seasons or cycles, humans grow in cycles as well.

More specifically, he said that humans grow in four-year cycles. He goes on to use an oak tree as an example.


When a tree starts to grow, the first season the sap starts to flow. There is like the season of spring or new life. This is how it is in the first season of sobriety, which typically last around one year. You may not feel like you’re going through such changes, but it’s happening. Your family and friends may be the first to notice the positive changes.


In the second season, summer, the oak tree forms buds on the branches. The tree is starting to take shape. This is similar to the second year of sobriety, when life starts to get better. You are building your life the way you desire and experiencing more peace and joy.


The third season of the oak tree involves the leaves turning colors. This is the season of fall, where people gaze at the beautiful colors of the tree. In the same way, the third year of sobriety can be beautiful. People may look at your life and truly see the remarkable changes you’ve made along your recovery path.  


The fourth season of the oak tree involves the tree losing all of its leaves and going dormant. This is the winter season. In recovery, this fourth season you may start to struggle. You may feel like you’ve plateaued or encounter real challenges that rattle you. You may feel vulnerable and wonder what happened. You wonder why you’re so shaky.

It may seem like all is falling apart in the winter season, or after a few years of sobriety, but remember that just like an oak tree must lose its leaves to take a new shape, so do you.  Winter only lasts for a short amount of time and then spring comes with all its potential and beauty.

If you encounter a winter season, do a deep dive into answering the following questions:

  • Who am I really?
  • What are my biggest goals?
  • What gives me a sense of purpose?
  • Am I taking time to meditate or contemplate during this season?

If you’re working a 12-step program, be sure you work them thoroughly with your sponsor. If you’re not working a program, reach out to an elder that you feel can offer you solid advice.  You may simply need someone safe to share what you’re going through and how you’re feeling.

If you’re not aware of the cycles, you may lose hope. In fact, many people relapse between years three and four because they don’t understand the cycles of life.

Remember The Turning of The Medicine Wheel

Remember the sacredness and wisdom of the medicine wheel as you walk your recovery path. Add it to your current therapy program, as it offers a way for you to align with your spiritual or indigenous roots.

Struggling With Addiction? Reach Out For Help

Here at Sunrise Native Recovery, we incorporate both Native American cultural-based and evidence-based treatment for addiction. We have a medicine wheel onsite that you can use to foster your recovery, as well as other Native American healing practices and rituals like a sweat lodge, spiritual circle, ceremonies, and more.

If you’re struggling with addiction, feel free to contact us with any questions or concerns. We’d be happy to assist you in getting free and creating the kind of life you truly desire.


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