Contact Recovery: Using Play to Work the Twelve Steps

By Patrick Pinson

Recovery is a re-covering of an original state. This Recovery is to Grace. This Recovery is to the original blessing that we are spiritual beings in a human experience. We recover to our sacredness, our joy, our whole heart and our intuition – the vital sixth sense of God Consciousness. We fall from this original state of grace through abuse, a cycle of abuse that continues from generation to generation until that cycle is broken. When we heal the abuse and obsessive/compulsive behavior, we are reclaiming our original blessing.

Addictive patterns stem from obsessive/compulsive behavior. I believe that our addictions are gateways to spirituality. I am a recovered addict/alcoholic. For twelve years, I attended daily twelve step meetings. In those meetings I heard many recovering people express gratitude for their addictions, which seem to bring us closer to spirit when we are willing to surrender to them. The patterns of addiction create barriers to a wholehearted presence, and in the words of many spiritual teachers, prevent us from accessing our child spirit, the little one inside of each of us that longs to play life wholeheartedly, holding back nothing. Entering the highest state, sometimes described as “heaven”, “Nirvana”, “Samadhi”, our gift of Creator, takes work, courage, and trust. We must face our “demons”, which are our fears and illusions. As above, so below. The dark side is a polarity of the Light. The idea of balance – having balance in our lives is a natural law. When we are balanced, we embrace both the light and the dark as natural and organic. We become as children, who have this natural balance. The children are innocent. This innate zest and trust, spontaneity and a love that defies description and doesn’t know itself is our original blessing. The children are full of grace. In searching for tools for recovery, one of the tested paths of recovery from addictive patterns is a program called Alcoholics Anonymous.

When Alcoholics Anonymous was in the early stages of development and there were only the New York and Akron, Ohio, groups, the Akron group published a pamphlet entitled The Second Reader for Alcoholics Anonymous. The “Second Reader” bluntly asserts, “A fully rounded life is divided into four classifications, all of them being equal: WORK, PLAY, LOVE AND RELIGION. Translating into terms of the recovery from obsessive/compulsive behavior, I substitute SUPPORT for Religion.”

My obsessive/compulsive nature has lead to many addictive patterns. My first primary recovery was from alcohol. Having surrendered to my powerlessness over alcohol, I shifted my addiction to marijuana, which required another surrender. Now my recovery is focused on the upside – reclaiming and remembering that I am a spiritual being in a human experience.

I believe the root cause of addiction is child abuse. When the child isn’t loved wholeheartedly and held sacred, and when the parents or teachers aren’t authentic and real, showing both light and dark to the child, the child takes on the unexpressed shadow of the parents, and carries this shadow. As a child, I carried the shame that was unexpressed in my family of origin. My father rarely let me see his vulnerability and fears, so I carried this unexpressed “baggage”. When I speak of recovery, I mean recovery to the healthy “inner child.” In speaking of the healthy inner child, I am referring to the preschool child who has an innate balance of play and curiosity and who has not been emotionally, spiritually, mentally or physically abused.

William Michaels explored children and play in the book, Recreation and Leisure. In the chapter entitled “Play, Creativity, and Mental Health,” he writes, “Psychologists tell us that we have primarily two modes of thinking. They are:

Our right brain, ‘primary’ process – our irrational, dreamlike, emotional symbolizing modes; this is the powerful stuff of our tears, laughter, anger, hopes, fears, loneliness and, yes, our play.

Our left brain, ‘secondary’ processes – our cognitive, reality-based, rational modes; this is our organizing, planning self.”

Although play certainly contains aspects of rational planning, its magic and power lie in its attention to right brain, primary process elements. Eli Bower noted “that for play and life in general, it is the primary process mode that is generally the more powerful, persuasive, and satisfying of human symbolizing experiences, although secondary processes do serve an important organizing and planning function in our lives.” Bower went on to say that a balance of both primary and secondary modes is necessary for mental health. “The sad fact is that our institutions give very little attention to play and right-brain functions. Most people are taught to put away ‘the child’ as they are subtly socialized into mass society.”

The therapy of Contact Recovery approaches recovery through the area of play. Play is defined as having no agenda. In my experience of playing with recovering people for decades, the most effective therapy occurs when I release all agendas and am fully present. Therapy occurs when I have the courage to be real and authentic, and to open my heart towards another person.

Obsessive/compulsive personalities generally come from dysfunctional homes and usually suffer mental, emotional, physical or spiritual abuse. This abuse stems from generations of a cycle of abuse, and results in a distrust of our spiritual connection. Abuse affects our “spirit” of play. In my own recovery, I was obsessed with the all or nothing of win/lose … an addiction to competition. I have taken the same spirit of “loving the unlovable”, or Unconditional Love that exists in AA meetings and transferred that to play therapy. Simply stated, the therapy is giving my full attention to another. Before participating in this sacred play, I first go within. What is going on for me in that moment. When I voice the chatter that constantly goes on in my mind, others usually identify with that chatter. When I reveal this “self talk”, it usually brings laughter. Next I tap into my emotions and express these. When there are fears to express, and I identify and release these distractions by telling my partner or group what they are. I have heard that the warrior dances to their own wounds, knowing that the only way out is through. Becoming “Hollow bones” is a process of revealing the doubts, fears and illusions. These are resistances and barriers that block grace flowing clean and pure through me. The word “contact” means with touch. I first “check in” and notice how I am in touch with my present reality, and what keeps me from giving my full attention to whatever or whomever is in front of me. Contact Recovery is a process that integrates intellectual concepts into the body and to physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually feel how fear blocks the grace of movement. It is an innovative approach to enlivening our spirit of play, aliveness, and joy through physical movement and contact.

These concepts and therapy were first introduced to me by Thompson Jay Barton, M.A., currently of Ashland, Oregon. Through hundreds of hours of play and processing with Thom, I gradually developed a new way to “play” the Twelve Steps. The sessions themselves are most effective when done over a period of time, with spaces to integrate the experiences. When I was first learning these methods in the early eighties, we did playshops over the course of a weekend, integrating several activities, including “wallyball” (volleyball in a racquetball court), tennis, golf, racquetball, running, dance and movement, stretching, tai chi, aikido, and drawing. Each session consisted of 16 to 20 participants. Our small company had a powerful influence in my life. I have since further integrated these teachings and embodied the wisdom in my life. The weekend sessions were simple and profound, consisting of experiencing and processing. I have added many tools to the tools I learned from Thom, including the 12 step path of recovery and the Medicine Wheel teachings of ancient traditional cultures. These processes can be condensed to a one-day, eight-hour experience with profound results. Ideally, the processes are best done with space between contact to integrate the experiences. I am currently in the process of forming a non-profit corporation called Heartspace. The Heartspace Center is a retreat center that will be situated away from the city, in nature. The Center is a vision given to me by Creator for a piece of land in nature where these processes can mature and grow. In the meantime, the space I currently occupy is where I am practicing. My greater intention is for good health in mind, body, spirit and emotions.

Recovering Our Spirit of Play: Competition as Addiction

Real Learning comes about when the competitive spirit has ceased. The competitive spirit is merely an addictive process which is not learning at all. This is true not only of competition with others, but competition with yourself as well. — Krishnamurti

Our spirit of play is usually injured when we go from the playground to the classroom and competition is introduced. All kinds of emotional injuries may occur to kill or damage our play spirit. We might be chosen last for a game, our peers might make fun of us, or the coach may punish us with extra running, if we aren’t practicing hard enough. In Contact Recovery sessions, participants explore those injuries to their spirits. I lead a guided imagery back to the first-grade classroom and recess. This usually brings up old memories and pain, produces honest and open sharing, and establishes a trust level early on within the group.

When I was six months sober, I joined the YMCA and began to “get into shape.” Because of my obsessive/compulsive nature, I became compulsive about this aspect of my life also. Seven days a week I would lift weights, run 3-7 miles, and play competitive racquetball. My motives for lifting weights were based on fear. I had always felt physically weak and wanted to be physically strong and able to defend myself. I worked diligently to bring this about and was successful. I became very powerful and strong. This helped me in many ways, and I had, indeed, found another recovery tool. When nothing else worked, a run or workout would change my attitude. I learned self-discipline. I learned how to get through my resistances and to begin a run “one step at a time.” If I just began a run, it would unfold itself. But when I became attached to the results of having to run seven miles, I would feel overwhelmed.

As I worked through these resistances, I became aware of the metaphor of taking the first step. Through a commitment to my own health, I discovered many resistances to a daily practice of good health. Gradually, I began to play with others, and took up racquetball. . I had forgotten how to play games just for the joy of it. On the racquetball court, I noticed that when I was warming up for a competitive game, I made great contact with the ball. Yet when a real game began, my quality of contact would change, and I would end up sabotaging myself. I would become obsessed with winning.

Bill Wilson wrote on this obsession in The Language of the Heart: “But these child miseries, all of them generated by fear, became so unbearable that I turned highly aggressive. Thinking I could never belong, and vowing I’d never settle for second-rate status, I felt I simply had to dominate everything I chose to do, work or play. As this attractive formula for the good life began to succeed, according to my then specifications of success, I became deliriously happy. But when an undertaking occasionally did fail, I was filled with a resentment and depression that would be cured only by the next triumph. Very early, therefore, I came to value everything in terms of victory or defeat – all or nothing. The only satisfaction I knew was to win.”

As an alcoholic, I had to drink until I lost everything. The First Step of Alcoholics Anonymous is “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.” I was very slow to admit I had a problem and to make the necessary surrender for Step One to take effect in my life. I held on to my old ideas until I was faced with the choice of living or dying. A part of my releasing of old ideas was in the area of competition. The win/lose, right/wrong, good/bad splits were hard to surrender. I wanted to put everything in a category, to “fix” everything. Then I realized that judging was playing God. To heal my addition, I first had to surrender and accept my powerlessness and unmanageability over life and learn how to be present with whatever life dealt me, to trust the present moment. My life is none of my business.

The upside of recovery is to reclaim the sacred child spirit within me, who longs to play life with a whole heart. So it made perfect sense for me to learn from the children. Some of my best teachers in this area were children. In my early recovery from alcohol, I used to go for walks in a local park where children were frequently playing. I would sit and watch the preschool-age children play. I noticed that they were wholehearted players. They became absorbed in whatever activity or object was in front of them, and the universe was their playground. They didn’t have rules and would create play out of what was available to them. I remembered when I used to be like those children.

One day, when I was ready to learn, a teacher named Thompson Barton appeared in my life. He is a man who loved to play for the joy of play. He spent hours with me on the tennis and racquetball courts teaching me how to become fully present and not judge myself. He taught me the art of ball watching as meditation and put the game in very simple terms – too see or not to see. He would point out each time I chose not to see – those times I focused on a thought rather than the ball. I would hold my breath, my body would become rigid, and my eyes would be fixed on the result (where I was going to hit the ball). At first, I was in complete denial. I didn’t want to admit that I was “choosing” not to see the ball. I preferred to make a judgment that I was “not good enough” and attach the many fears, feelings and judgments. This attachment would immediately stop the flow of my breathing, and Thom would gently point out that my eyes were fixed. Gradually, I began to make the connection of being a victim and taking choice for creating my reality. The metaphors were obvious in my life, which brought me to a new level of surrender.


Practicing Contact Recovery results in physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual balance. Sanity is balance. Fritz Perls, father of Gestalt Therapy, observed that most neurotics are physically off balance, and that most healthy people are able to use both sides of their bodies. Babies are balanced at birth and see the world in gestalt perception. Parents and other authority figures, who unconsciously continue the cycle of “conditional love”, introduce the splits that create imbalance in the inner child with phrases like “I’ll love you if you’re good” or “I love you but… In order to achieve balance, the first lesson is to notice which side of us, right or left, is the atrophied side. When we don’t use a part of ourselves, that part diminishes. Atrophy means wasting away. We are so inculturated to use only one side, the right. Teachers train us to write to the “right,” and the left side was, in the past, the sinister side. In my own self-training and in training others, I have practiced using this weak side.

In order for me to achieve balance and for transformation to take place, I must be willing to “go to any length” in facing my fears and illusions. Lack of discipline was definitely a problem for me, and I had to and develop a spiritual discipline and practice. The steps are very simple tools, yet simple is not always easy. I first relax, ground myself, breathe and open my spirit, emotions, mind and heart. , my center of truth is my heart. I direct my attention to my physical center of gravity. The idea of balance is enhanced in the physical by opening to use my off side, or in my case my left. For years, I have practiced using my left hand to eat, play racquet sports, brush my teeth, comb my hair, and recently “mirror write.” As I let go of all preconceived rules and began to actually do mirror writing with my left hand. The natural flow of the left side is to the left. As I played with using my left side, I noticed my left hand wanted to go left, so I allowed this.

I now keep mirror-written journals. To break through my resistance to both writing and reading to the left, I have to deal with my perfectionism, my control issues, my false pride and my cynicism. In experimenting with balance, I have begun to write one line to the right and the next to the left, using both hands and integrating right and left brain. Writing and then reading what is written both to the right and the left creates balance. Changing language to eliminate words that split, polarize, or restrict my wholeness – individual words like good/bad, right/wrong, or win/lose – is another way to function from a nonjudgmental “center.” I am also careful throughout sessions to use phrases like “Allow your arms to rise” rather than “Lift your arms.” “Allow” is a request and gives permission, while “lift” is a command and implies work.

The Peak Experience and Altered States

In the book, The Natural Mind, Andrew Weil states that the desire to periodically alter consciousness is in an innate, normal drive analogous to hunger or the sexual drive. “Once we see that consciousness alternation is not in itself undesirable, we need to be concerned only with an evaluation of methods to achieve it.”

Most recovering people (whom I hear) share that they have had an educational awakening of their spirits. There is little understanding of the “white light” experience that Bill Wilson, cofounder of Alcoholics Anonymous, had. I have had such experiences in my recovery.
My first such experience was after a Fifth Step – exposing all my “secrets” to another for the first time in my life. I experienced an overwhelming flow of love. All of my fears disappeared, and I knew God. All conflicts dissolved – the splits of good/bad, right/wrong, win/lose – I saw the light, the total, unconditional love. It is difficult to describe this experience.

The second time I experienced this light or “peak experience” was on a racquetball court, by myself, after becoming completely absorbed in watching the ball – trusting my senses, i.e., my eyes. I normally wear glasses, but that day I didn’t wear them. Being alone helped my trust level. I was practicing a concentration drill that Barton had taught me, seeing how long I could allow myself to let go of all judgment and just become a “seer.” I’ve no idea how long I was in the court in this altered state of concentration. I was in a “timeless” state, and my perfect vision was restored for that period.
I have since had similar high states, all of them accessed through becoming totally absorbed with what was in front of me. Many of these states have occurred while fly fishing. I become so absorbed in the movement and process that hours pass without my knowledge or awareness.

My own experiences were so profound to me that I began an investigation into what people had written about these states. The pivotal book for me was Abraham Maslow’s “Religions, Values and Peak-Experiences.” This book described what I had experienced in these “flow” states. Maslow writes: “Love, fascination, absorption can frequently mean looking intensely, with care, as already mentioned. For another, fascination can mean great intensity, narrowing and focusing of attention, and resistance to distraction of any kind, or of boredom, or even fatigue. What Burke called attention-widening so that the whole cosmos is perceived as a unity, and one’s place in this whole is simultaneously perceived.”

In my peak experiences and peak performances, all splits (good/bad, etc.) dissolved or were transcended, and I was able to experience opposites as two phases of the manifestation of a single reality.
Maslow, in his studies on peak experiences, wrote: “Here again the experience itself is the revelation of a truth. My feeling is that if it were never to happen again, the power of the experience could permanently affect the attitude toward life. A single glimpse of heaven is enough to confirm its existence even if it is never experienced again. It is my strong suspicion that even one such experience might be able to prevent suicide, for instance, and perhaps many varieties of slow self destruction, e.g., alcoholism, drug addiction, addiction to violence, etc.”

Maslow greatly influenced my pursuit of play therapy and concentration/meditation through ball watching as a therapy for the obsessive/compulsive personality. He wrote, “any person whose character structure forces him to try to be extremely or completely rational or materialistic or mechanistic tends to become a non-peaker. Such a view of life tends to make the person regard his peak and transcendent experiences as a kind of insanity, a complete loss of control, a sense of being overwhelmed by irrational emotions, etc. The person who is afraid of going insane and who is, therefore, desperately hanging on to stability, control, reality, etc., seems to be frightened of peak experiences and tends to fight them off… For the obsessive compulsive person, who organizes his life around the denying and the controlling of emotion, the fear of being overwhelmed by an emotion (which is interpreted as a loss of control) is enough for him to mobilize all his stamping out and defensive activities against the peak experience.”

Another book that brought me closer to linking sportsplay to recovery was The Psychic Side of Sports. Coauthors Murphy and White state: “Every sport requires concentration, freedom from distraction, and sustained alertness. The development of athletic skill depends on one’s ability to focus unbroken attention on the space, objects, and other people involved, and on one’s own kinesthetic sense of the body. A wandering mind diminishes ability, whether you are running or bowling, playing football or chess, climbing mountains or skydiving. Success depends on your being wholly present in the action.” Murphy and White go on to expand on concentration and meditation. “Most athletes make a distinction between their usual efforts at concentration and this special kind of playing trance. Call it the ‘zone,’ a ‘cocoon of concentration,’ a ‘white moment,’ or whatever. The distinction these athletes make between ordinary concentration and such a state resembles the distinction religious teachers make between different levels of meditation.

“In Patanjali’s yoga sutras, four levels of attention are described. The first, pratyahara, is the deliberate withdrawal of attention from external objects, drawing the senses with it… In the second state, dharana, the yogi holds his mind steady upon a center of consciousness within the body or upon a particular form outside him. (A runner focusing on his stride or a golfer concentrating on the ball.) The third stage, dhyana, is ‘an unbroken flow of attention toward the object of contemplation.’ an effortless absorption beyond ‘brute will’… Many athletes distinguish ordinary concentration from this seemingly effortless state. In the fourth state, samadhi, ‘the true nature of the object held in contemplation shines forth, undistorted by the mind of the perceiver.’ Here there is perfect clarity and an effortless sense of unity with whatever is perceived… According to the yoga sutras:

“It has been said that if the mind can be made to flow uninterruptedly toward the same object for 12 seconds, this may be called concentration. If the mind can continue in that concentration for 12 times 12 (i.e. 2 minutes and 24 seconds), this may be called meditation. If the mind can continue in that meditation for 12 times 2 minutes and 24 seconds (i.e. 28 minutes and 48 seconds), this will be the lower samadhi. And if the lower samadhi can be maintained for 12 times that period (i.e. 5 hours, 45 minutes, 36 seconds), this will lead to nirvikalpa samadhi (the profoundest state of ecstasy).”

Applying Contact Recovery to the Twelve Step Program

Surrender is giving up control but not losing power. It does mean giving up your power to another person; on the contrary, it is an act made to increase your own power. –Sonya Ray

I use body stretching – surrendering to gravity – to illustrate Step One in “Contact Recovery.” The sessions begin with participants identifying their addictions – what they are powerless over and what they wish to let go of – and co-creating what it is going to take for that letting go to happen.

Step Two is “Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity,” To explain how Step Two can be “played”, I discuss peak experiences and the restoration of balance. Balance is another definition of sanity. Many of the presentation pieces I utilize are written in “mirror writing” with my left hand. I encourage participants to experiment using their atrophied or weak side throughout the day. When we draw pictures of our “spirits of play,” I encourage them to draw with both hands. Lose your mind and come to your senses. In my illustration of Step Two, I use several balls, including a symbol of the one we live on (Earth), and suggest that a power greater than ourselves is the connection between the ball and our eyes. If participants trust to see a ball or whatever might be in front of them without judgment, and to breathe, relax, and play wholeheartedly, grace will come into their bodies. The promise from the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, “You will intuitively know how to handle situations that used to baffle you,” is used as an example of letting go of control.

Step Three is “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.” Step Three is about choice. On the tennis, R-ball, and wallyball courts, or in any ball game, the immediate question is to see or not to see, let God or be God. Make a decision to see the ball. Trust your eyes and turn your attention and will over, being present with the ball. Participants are asked to let go of judgment about the rightness/wrongness or goodness/badness of themselves.

Contact Recovery sessions expose participants to their blocks, to being present, which can easily be transferred into Step Four, “Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.” This brings them to the “leap” of faith. The fear of losing control comes to the fore, and by just being present with the ball, all blocks, or “clutter” surface. In my presentation on Step Four, I have identified some of the blocks to being fully present as: perfectionism, blame, fear, pride, control, sloth, self-condemnation, impatience, intolerance, judgementalness, envy, anger and cynicism. In processing after a game, participants always add more to this list.

Step Five is “Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.” This step is played by each participant as they notice what is blocking them and share it with others in the group. Step Five takes a lot of trust, and I, as facilitator of contact recovery, must freely share what is blocking me and use humor to create a safe atmosphere of openness and trust. I am always amazed to see joy in the faces of those who let go and make a connection with the ball and start to experience quality contact with it. This contact also transfers over to contacting their feelings, being able to hug, and improving relations with others. When I am “in touch” with the ball, I can see and sense everything around me. When I “try” to teach or watch my partner, my quality of contact is poor.

Obsessive/compulsive personalities are in a fix, enjoy fixes, and want to fix. In my vision training, my teacher made me aware of how myopics fix their gaze and how healthy eyes move constantly. In playing Steps Four and Five, several issues can be explored. The first is boundaries. New participants who choose to explore Contact Recovery are usually not aware of then they choose not to see. I bring to their awareness that every time they take their eyes off the ball they are fixed in three ways. Their breath is fixed, they are fixed on a thought, and their bodies tense up. They have stopped their grace of movement. They will “awfulize” or judge, and as a facilitator, I constantly bring them back to choice. When they chose not to see the ball all the way to the strings of their racquet, their quality of contact suffers. When they chose to see the ball and play wholeheartedly, the results are aliveness, grace, and joy. A transformation occurs in their spirit and being. They accept themselves and are much more trusting of the healing of the Twelve Steps. They have taken a quantum leap beyond the intellectual into the experiential.

Step Six is “Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character,” and Step Seven is “Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.” Steps Six and Seven are discussed in terms of what they can and can’t change. Part of the homework is to write defects good-bye letters, treating them as old friends and coming to terms with the willingness to release them. Participants are now able to become willing and ask for these blocks to be removed. The Twelve Steps prepare us for the spirit to come in, and, as I tell participants, this is not anything I am, but rather a decision I make. I also encourage each group member to continue to work Step Ten, “Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it”; Step Eleven, “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood God, praying only for knowledge of His/Her will for us and the power to carry that out”; and Step Twelve, “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we carry this message to others, and practice these principles in all our affairs.” I encourage participants to practice playing wholeheartedly with whoever is in front of them and to make a practice of hitting the ball to their partner with each shot.

What Happens in Contact Recovery Sessions

The first thing I do, either in an individual session or with a group, is to create safe and sacred space. Not that I do this myself, yet through prayer and inviting the spirit helpers in, I set the intention of safe space. When people feel safe, they begin to disintegrate the holding patterns that have kept a certain posture in the world. Through staying in the present, they begin to revive the spirit of play. Before any learning can happen, players must be relaxed. This is accomplished by creating space for their play spirit to come out. I can best accomplish this by letting go of “teaching’ and getting in touch with making contact and playing wholeheartedly. Sessions begin with exposing our fears and hurts. Once we have identified the injuries competition inflicts on our spirits, the next step is to introduce play without rules.

Usually Contact Recovery sessions start play with “wallyball,” and participants are encouraged to “let their imaginations stretch them” by visualizing the moves they will be making and allowing their bodies to stretch those muscles making those moves. Participants are then asked to move around the court and explore the space. When I sense a balance of people on either side of the net, I ask them to stop. The only rule is to keep the ball moving and alive, tossing it in the air. To help each member of the group remember names and release their breath, I ask everyone to say each person’s name the moment the ball touches the person’s hands.

Sessions involve experiencing different ways of play and processing participants’ self-centered fears. Issues emerge like men invading women’s space, women invading men’s space, fear of being hit by the ball, control, or lack of control. Competition is introduced toward the end of the wallyball session when we play a game involving points. The energy always shifts when competition is introduced. Group members’ bodies tense, and there is more fear around being hit by the ball. Sharing after wallyball is open and honest.

The next segment of a Contact Recovery session involves stretching, and the First Step of the Twelve Steps is introduced. We admit we are powerless over gravity, and that our lives are unmanageable. Before the first step can be taken, there must be surrender. Letting go or surrendering to gravity is a physical way of demonstrating this. I use a movement to demonstrate how babies are the most natural movers and how they come from lying down to standing and back to lying down. While demonstrating moving and breathing, I encourage participants to allow their breathing to lead their movement and inspire them as they let go to gravity. They become willing to accept where they are physically, choose boundaries, and accept their limits. When they come to the “edge” of their range of movement, I instruct them to bathe their edge with oxygen and not go beyond their limits. With practice, their ranges will expand, as will their minds, and trust in the life process will unfold.

Participants then play a game called touch tennis. I ask them to say “touch” every time the ball touches the racquet and “bounce” every time it touches the ground. This exercise brings them into better contact with, or awareness of, the ball and also releases their breath on each contact with the ball.

Applications of Contact Recovery to the World

The profound implications and applications of Contact Recovery is that the process creates a space for healing, to the extent that I give my full attention to whatever is before me and play wholeheartedly. Giving attention is a phrase word for loving. I use these principles in all my affairs. As I write this article, I notice how my blocks and resistances emerge – my perfectionism, my procrastination, and my lack of trust in myself keep me from flowing naturally. I am balancing the left brain intellectual side of me, where I am most comfortable, with the right brain, vulnerable, trusting, and creative side, where I am least comfortable.

Contact Recovery not only gives us a new tool to use with obsessive/compulsive behavior, it offers a way to see what my own contact is and to improve that contact. Once I/you begin to practice these principles, our awareness steadily improves. Trainers can take someone on a walk, or go hit a few balls with them, and learn more about that person than through hours or years in traditional therapies. You can truly begin to “walk like you talk.” I have learned to play with everyone, especially with counselors. Contact Recovery lets them experience their quality of personal contact. The metaphors are obvious. If I make quality contact with a ball, that transfers over to my clients, myself, and my Higher Power. I can have an opportunity to work on my own blocks to awareness, as everything is exposed in my movement. Just as important as looking at our “holes” and “blocks” is learning to have fun.

I am still recovering from competition one day at a time, and to a sense of the whole hearted child within. Sometimes I fall into self-centered fear and have to feed my false pride with winning. I am recovering. Every part of my spiritual being knows that the greatest joy I can have is freely giving to another being of light, another child of God, no matter who that person is and regardless of where they are on the road to recovery. When I can let go of all “teaching” and just be wholehearted and giving, healing takes place, trust develops, and my soul sings. As a transformer and channel, I not only am able to show what commitment is, I open myself to an unlimited source of power. This power is available only to the extent that I surrender to past and future, trusting the moment. Grace comes in direct proportion to the extent one is willing to let go and experience their movement.

AA taught me that when the hand reaches out I am responsible. As my trust level ebbs and flows, my quality of contact, such as touching the earth, the balls, or another person, is never the same. The process I call Contact Recovery offers a clear path to understanding this concept and experiencing it. The simple act of watching a tennis ball all the way to the strings of your racquet and all the way to your partner’s strings, trusting your eyes and making a decision to see the ball to the moment of truth, which is contact, can lead to the natural high states that I used to think came only from drugs and alcohol.
Today, when I do counseling or sponsor partners in recovery, part of what I give them is how to play. I have played games with several people for years, and we don’t have any “rules.” We use ball watching as meditation and create games that give us a wonderful aerobic workout (playout). Today I move spontaneously without fear controlling me. I know the meaning of “we are sure God wants us to be happy, joyous, and free.”

First printed in” Professional Counselor”,
Volume 5, No. 4,
January/February, 1991


Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. Alcoholics Anonymous, New York , 1955.
Cleveland Alcoholics Anonymous District Office, The Second Reader for Alcoholics, Cleveland .
Maslow, Abraham, Religions, Values and Peak Experiences, Ohio State University Press, 1964.
Michaelis, William, Recreation and Leisure, Venture Publishing, Inc., State College , PA , 1980.
Murphy, Michael and White, Rhea A., The Psychic Side of Sports, Addison-Wesley, Reading , MA , 1978.
Weil, Andrew, The Natural Mind, Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston , 1972.
Wilson , Bill, The Language of the Heart, The AA Grapevine, Inc, New York , 1988.

All Rights Reserved