“Everything is sacred and ordinary”
Abraham Vergese Cutting for the Stone
My life has changed incredibly in the past two years. I want to share my experience so that it can benefit others. At the same time I am conflicted with honoring the sacred parts of my journey and story that are a part of the reconstruction of my heart, mind, body, and soul. I struggle with the concepts of oversharing and over-exposure and wanting to write about everything I feel. Then putting that into the world.
I am a woman in recovery.
Being an alcoholic was never my choice. I have an allergy to alcohol. I cannot stop drinking when I start. I have never had one drink in my life. I turn into a different human when I drink.
I drank to numb. I drank to self-medicate. I drank because when I started I couldn’t stop. Feeling was too hard, too scary, and left me too vulnerable. I didn’t learn this until I got sober and started working a program. Alcoholics Anonymous, my sponsor, the twelve steps and my connection to the divine are the tools I need to stay sane and not drink.
I’ve been working in behavioral health for the last year and have since expanded my understanding of mental health challenges.
According to SAMSHA (the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration) over 40 MILLION people experience an anxiety disorder at any given time in a year. 6.6% of adults aged 18 or older have experienced major depressive disorder in their life-time. (http://www.samhsa.gov/disorders/mental) 6.6% is about 13 million adults over the age of 18. This does not bring into account people who have cyclical, environmental, or depression that doesn’t last longer than two years. 21.5 % of Americans have been diagnosed (this means reported, this statistic does not speak to the people struggling in silence unable or not ready to seek help) with Substance Abuse Disorder. (http://www.samhsa.gov/disorders/mental)
When I hear these statistics I hear that there are a lot of people who are in pain, just like I was, just like I can still be today, who are trying to figure out how they fit into a world that doesn’t make sense to them. If your inner world is chaos and turmoil, and your outer world is a reflection of your inner world, well, think about it. It’s like looking at the world through a dirty windshield.
Let’s say that people are like cars and our windshields are how we see how to navigate through life. Our experience of life is like weather; some storms, some sunny days, some natural and unnatural disasters. Our windshield wipers are our skills and coping tools in which to see clearly.
People without mental health challenges (if that’s a thing, we can all relate to not being comfortable in our skin if even for a moment) have difficulty in their lives (weather); a car accident, losing a job or a spouse, cancer, you name it and they have a tool. They have a state of the art windshield wiper to help them process, dissolve and eventually “clean” their windshield.
People with addiction and mental health challenges may have a broken windshield wiper, or maybe their vehicle to move through life never had a windshield wiper to begin with. Maybe the mechanic was having bad day, or maybe the person (the parent/guardian) whose job was to install the wiper (the skills) never really learned how to do this job themselves.
You can’t survive in life if you can’t see where you are going. This person finds something that cleans the windshield. They use this new tool and it works a little. But while it’s cleaning the windshield, it’s scratching the glass, kind of like steel wool. The tool they are using for survival is also causing them pain in some way. The tool is temporary, it comes from outside of themselves and eventually they have to find a new tool. This works until it’s gone so they use it again and again.
The thing is, this tool is small and only a portion of the window gets cleaned. It’s enough to survive, enough to get through the day but they never really get the window cleaned, they never see the the whole picture, the blue sky, people who love them, a brand new shiny windshield wiper lying on the side of the road in a blind spot to them.
That was my world. My windshield was dirty. Trauma from childhood, car accidents, high school bullying, and cancer. I carried with me the residual grime that parents unintentionally and sometimes unknowingly pass down to their children.
I found some tools early on, alcohol, pot, and other extracurriculars. I developed the role of “being the best at”, over achieving and striving for perfection. I used other people to make me feel real. I stayed busy. These tools were my steel wool. They worked two-fold. I could see just enough to get me through the day but kept me safe from having to look at the parts of the outer world and my inner world that were too scary to acknowledge.
I found yoga. Yoga found me. I developed more tools through the practice of getting into my body, tuning into my breath, sitting quietly and practicing self-reflection. Yoga gave me tools that helped me see more of my inner world and how it was effecting my outer world. It was beautiful and horrifying at the same time. I felt moments of peace and moments of terror. I was beginning to feel and recognize that there was something deeper at play within me that needed my attention if I wanted to thrive in life. I learned to get curious, practice compassion towards myself, and found authentic moments of joy within my hard walls and in the world around me.
To the average person I seemed happy and I thought I was, practicing yoga daily, meditating, teaching yoga, doing the mom thing, living a life, and blacking out every single night by myself drinking wine.
I always knew something wasn’t right. I was doing all the things I knew how to do. I was even writing about yoga philosophy and getting published. I was talking the talk and walking the walk during the day. But I never felt “ok”. Beneath the surface of the pretend person I became was a low boiling simmer of rage, discontent and fear, that manifested in my life as anxiety, depression, and perfectionism.
I never felt a sense of belonging in the world and still today feel like an alien, a foreigner from time to time.
Yoga brought me to a place where the pain of staying the same, the pain of being a pretend person, the pain of fear, anger, and addiction became greater than the pain it would take to change, to feel, to honor, to explore the shadows of my mind and soul, and the pain that is action, doing something different, being honest, not drinking, asking for help.
I got help. I committed myself to doing things differently. I celebrated my two year AA birthday on September 20th.
We are all in recovery from something. Whether it’s the “incomprehensible pain and demoralization” (Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous) of our addictions, the lack of coping skills to navigate life and our mental health challenges or trauma.
At the very least we can take action to recognize the commonality of the human experience. We are more similiar than we are different.
My recovery journey started the first time I stepped onto the yoga mat. It was 12 YEARS later that I came to sobriety. It’s been over two years since my last drink. That’s a lot of time for me to be the scientist and the lab rat. I will share what’s worked for me, combining the energetics, philosophies and practices of yoga with my understanding of the nervous system, trauma, and mental health in hopes that it will be of service to you, either in your personal relationship with recovery or in learning to how to “be” with someone in your life living in the pains of active addiction and/or walking their path to mental health recovery.
Everything is sacred, our stories, our experiences, and our challenges. And it is ordinary in the shared commonality of our humanness, the similarities we encounter as we live through them..
The intention behind Recovery Yogini is to be involved in the conversation and raise awareness about mental health and addiction challenges.
If not now, when?
Recovery is possible.
With love, k
If you or anyone you know is interested or in need of support please click here for a list of resources.
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