This will be my most personal blog yet. My name is Jessica A. and I am a person in long-term, sustained recovery. When I say 'recovery', I am referring to abstinence from mind-altering substances. I have a substance use disorder. I cannot have a drink without wanting more. When I partake, my life quickly turns into a nightmare and becomes completely unmanageable. My problem dates back to 2005. I worked at and managed a beer bar so drinking was literally my job. Fast forward a couple years, and my life was out of control. I was beat down and broken and needed help. With my parents' assistance, I went to a 30-day treatment facility in Pennsylvania. I was introduced to 12 step meetings and a fellowship of women who were going through what I was going through. Weekly yoga classes were mandated as part of the treatment program as well. Here I was re-introduced to yoga, a passion of mine throughout high school and some college that had been back burnered at this point for a good five years.
There are three major pathways to recovery: AA (Alcoholics Anonymous), NA (Narcotics Anonymous), and Faith-Based (e.g. Jesus, Church, Allah, and the like). I found my path through a 12-step program. I work steps, go to meetings, have a sponsor and a network of women in recovery that I can call 24-7. I struggled in working steps when I identified that my feelings regarding a 'higher power' were less than ideal. I was raised agnostic and had previously never developed spiritual feelings and beliefs. Others seeking recovery commonly run into the same 'God' problem; the second and third steps of 12-step recovery programs involve a belief in a power greater than yourself. The tenets of these steps suggest a total letting go and surrender to this mystical higher power in order to achieve freedom from addiction. All of the steps and the program, if followed correctly, will bring about the release of the mind-highjacking obsession and compulsion that goes along with this disease. A new way of thinking is cultivated and used as a tool to help tone down ego, guilt, shame, and self-destructive behavior. The promise is hope and the message is freedom.
Not only does yoga improve your spirituality, it is a great stress reliever and improves flexibility and your body. Many of us arrive to our first meeting sick, physically beat down, filled with shame, carrying baggage of disturbing wreckage of our past, sick behavior, unsavory relationships, and terrible reputations. Homeless, penniless, jobless, and unemployability are not uncommon amongst newcomers. Over the past year, my life has been transformed tremendously in a positive manner. I am in a healthy relationship (with a black key tagger who helps keeps me in check), have my dream job, and my own apartment. At about 6 months clean, I became complacent. My obsessive/compulsive mind had nothing the fixate on as my meeting attendance dropped. So I started running like a crazy person -- for hours a day, and began to adopt unhealthy thoughts regarding food and my recent weight gain. I was working at a recovery community organization that required me to manage 4 recovery houses, intake newcomers, and I was working about 14 hours a day. Stress was building up and I felt my recovery was at risk as my mood became highly unbalanced. Literature, meetings, and clean friends are great tools in my recovery toolbox. But I needed as many tools as I could find. I went to a vinyasa class at a donations-based studio (conveniently one mile away). Blissed out in Savasana, knew I was onto something.
Yoga is my favorite thing in the world. When I'm on my mat, I'm not thinking about my past, about the problems I may be having personally or at work. I have been able to find peace of mind. No where else have I been able to find a healthy way to quiet the constant flood of thoughts in between my ears. I breathe and I can relax. I unite completely my mind with my body. Anxiety meds aren't necessary anymore. I'm living right and acting right which results in nothing to be anxious about. I use yoga as a spiritual tool. When I think of a 'higher power', I think of the universe as a whole: I am one with and part of the universe, like one brick of a giant pyramid. I am not the mortar holding the entire universe together, I am one tiny piece of a whole. Here is where my ego and spirituality lie: I am a particle of water ebbing and flowing through the ocean of life. I am not the center of the universe. I am on a roller coaster called life and my higher power is the operator. Yoga is the operator. Yoga and my higher power are intangible. They are forces of energy and life that move me towards a life of greatness. I am humbled by realizing my own self and unnatural will are my greatest enemies. My disease talks to me constantly in my own voice. Practicing yoga helps me identify the difference between my will and the universe's will for me. Yoga helps me to eliminate my selfish and destructive thoughts and desires. Living clean is great but sometimes I go crazy trying to perfect every aspect of my life and being. This creates discord between mind and body. Thankfully, yoga provides an outlet where I can just let it all go.
Yoga has kind of been the secret to my recovery. I try to bring women in my sponsorship family or support network along with me to class. I love sharing yoga with people I love and watching it touch their lives as well. A 2012 study out of London showed yoga and meditation significantly reduced anxiety and blood pressure and improved mood. That occurs by increasing “happy" serotonin levels, while lowering cortisol, a stress hormone. Yoga is transformative. I started practicing with the hopes of losing some weight. I have been practicing 2-3 times a week for 10 months now. I didn't lose weight but have gained so much more: emotionally and mentally. I keep going back because it works. Better sleep, no need for psych meds, less anger and frustration, and the all-natural state of bliss reached at the end of every class is better than any buzz I've ever picked up in a bar. Plus, I have a bunch of great new yoga friends that are interested in healthy activities (it's hard to find other non-drinkers as a woman in my late 20's).
My local studio also offers a Y12SR class. This stands for Yoga of 12 Step Recovery. It's kind of like a 12 step meeting but with a yoga twist! Group therapy kicks off the meeting and is followed by breathwork, meditation, and a gentle yoga class. Even if you don't have a problem with substances, Y12SR can help with any kind of maladaptive behavior or disordered thinking. Everyone on this planet has room for improvement or self-discovery in his/her life. Continue the journey by trying new things. If you are a seasoned yogi, you might enjoy the added therapeutic benefits of group therapy integrated into a traditional Hatha class.
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