Today I have a much different understanding about why alcohol and drugs had such an impact on me. When I was young my parents used to warn me to be careful with alcohol and my drinking because they believed that alcoholism was genetic. Knowing that my whole immediate family has had challenges with substance abuse it would be very reasonable to believe it was simply genetics and unfortunately my immediate family got the bad gene.
In time my body starting tuning into it’s own intelligence, I got stronger and my body began to wake up. Because really this is what this practice is about, it’s about waking up on a physical, emotional and soul level. It’s impossible to separate these aspects of our being. So to change, realign, inform and move one part of our being is to do this to all aspects of our being.
"One new perception, one fresh thought, one act of surrender, one change of heart, one leap of faith, can change your life forever." — Robert Holden
Although I haven't been someone to make New Year's resolutions, I lived for many years with the promise that tomorrow I would do better while today I will just do what I've always done. The promise of tomorrow allowed me to live in the hope that one day I could, would, and mostly likely should be better than I am.
My sobriety date falls on January 2, and this is not because I made some grand New Year's resolution to stop drinking and using drugs and then was able to follow through. That would infer I had some willpower and/or personal discipline that I magically and gracefully was able to apply. It was not that pretty. I always thought it was a matter of some kind of strength or self-discipline, when it was really a matter of surrender. My cycle was as follows: Trying not to drink. Maybe it's okay to just have a couple. One drink, two drinks, drugs. More drugs. Black out. Binge for more than twenty-four hours. Recover for at least forty-eight hours. Sometimes wait a couple of days or even a week. Repeat.
So it was no big gesture on my part; I just couldn’t go through the cycle one more time. It was killing me, I was defeated, and I felt so much shame. The shame was partly because of what I did while using, but I had a much deeper level of shame running through me for who I was. Period. The using only added fuel to an already out-of-control fire.
I had no reason to believe that on January 1, 2004, around 7 p.m. I would have my last drink. I had tried numerous times before. The methods included not doing drugs (because it was only drugs that were the problem, not the drinking), limiting the number of drinks I had, only drinking wine, only drinking beer, definitely not drinking vodka or gin, and even trying to stop altogether. So on that day eleven years ago, the difference was I thought I couldn't do it anymore, and the resolve was to do ANYTHING I had to do to stay sober instead of putting my resolve into not drinking or using. There is a difference. As an alcoholic and/or addict, I am destined to use again, so there’s no point digging my heels in and holding on for dear life. Instead, I have to do whatever it takes to recover the emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual sides of myself so the desire to drink or to use as a solution will no longer be necessary. In the meantime, I'm going to need A LOT of help.
This year I overcame my longest-standing, most deeply ingrained, and by far my most loved and hated addiction. I stopped smoking. I started smoking when I was thirteen, at the same time I started drinking, and for the first couple of years I smoked socially. By the age of sixteen I was smoking like a real, true smoker. It was daily and close to a pack a day, and if I was drinking or using it was a couple of packs within twenty-four hours. I smoked for more than twenty years, in spite of all the yoga and recovery work. I smoked in spite of how much I knew it was bad for me, in spite of how awful it made me feel, in spite of the cost financially, physically, and emotionally. I smoked in spite of being pregnant.
Smoking was the one addiction I thought I would never overcome, no matter how much I tried. I have wanted to stop smoking for almost as long as I was a smoker. I felt a tremendous amount of shame around it, I felt like such a big contradiction. I was practising yoga, teaching yoga, and working in the yoga industry for almost ten years and smoking. I tried to hide it and in some ways was successful, although the people closest to me knew I smoked and yet they never seemed to think it was as big of a deal as I did. They obviously wanted me to stop because it wasn't good for me, but they didn't think it made me a bad person. For me, that's what smoking was, it was that same deep shame I felt for myself that said deep down inside I was still a bad person, unworthy of love.
Over the years, I resolved hundreds, maybe thousands of times to stop smoking. It was almost always next month, next week, or tomorrow. When tomorrow finally arrived, I could maybe make it an hour. Maybe. A few years ago I even managed to stop for three weeks, but every day was very painful and I was holding on by my fingernails. I felt like there was no point in getting out of bed if I couldn't smoke, I felt emotionally unstable, and I even hyperventilated a time or two and then finally just gave in. What a goddamn relief!
Then I got pregnant. I had always hoped I would be able to stop if I became pregnant, yet a part of me knew it was likely I would keep on smoking. The depth of my addiction even led me to wish that I wasn't pregnant because then I could keep on smoking. I really had no idea how I would function throughout a day without cigarettes. Of course, I began again to try to stop. But the more I tried to stop, the more I smoked. The more I smoked, the more I hated myself.
I realize now that stopping smoking was very similar to getting sober. Instead of thinking about stopping the addiction, I had to become willing to go to any length to recover. This year, it became clear to me that my addiction to smoking was not an isolated action I took. It's not like I smoked and then in every other area of my life I felt good about myself. Smoking was really just a symptom of the pattern of fear I was still living in. I was trying to control every aspect of my life. I was juggling a hundred balls in the air, and I was afraid that if I stopped, rested, and took care of myself, everything would fall apart. I needed nicotine to keep it all going.
Just like getting sober, I was forced into surrender. It became so painful to smoke knowing I was pregnant that I felt no choice but to take whatever action necessary so I could stop. It felt like everything was falling apart because one of the things I knew I had to let go of was the job I had been at for the past nine years. I thought I might be going crazy. To be pregnant and to quit my job knowing that I may not get maternity leave and not knowing where or how the money would come in was terrifying. Just like when I got sober, I had strong spiritual guidance from a close friend, and the message was to live in faith instead of fear. That if I took the actions necessary for my recovery, I would be taken care of.
So, at just over four months pregnant, I resigned from my job. As soon as my time was up, I literally went to bed. I told myself I could stay in bed for as long as necessary to stop smoking. The amazing thing is I felt better the second day. I stopped coffee and nicotine at the same time and was expecting to be laid out for quite a while. By day two I was up and around and just doing whatever I had to so I didn't start smoking again. Of course, there have been many days where all I could think about was smoking, and for weeks my jaw was sore from clenching, but during that time I surrounded myself with people on a spiritually high vibration.
Interestingly, within days of making the decision to resign from my job so many different opportunities came up for me in areas I've always wanted to pursue. Three months after resigning I also went back to my job in a much different position. It kind of felt like a second chance instead of just running away. It wasn't the job that was the problem, however; it was my pattern within the job. I wondered if I could be involved at all without going back to smoking, and now I know it is possible.
Every year on the anniversary of my sobriety date, I reflect on that New Year's Day and the days following in 2004. I can viscerally remember how I felt and what I was doing, and know I never want to go back there. It's a way for me to measure my progress, to see how far I have come. It's an opportunity for me to be grateful for my recovery and for all of the people who helped me along the way.
This year has definitely been a year of substantial challenge and joy. I often thought quitting smoking would be one of my greatest accomplishments, yet it comes in a very distant second to having a healthy, happy, beautiful little girl.
As I move into 2015, I have new challenges ahead and still many more layers of personal work to do. I'm thinking about the upcoming year and some more old patterns manifesting in new forms for me to work at. If only I can remember not to make resolutions, and instead to surrender, take the necessary actions, have faith, and practise gratitude.