A Story Of Addiction, Transformation, And Yoga
Many of us are suffering with addictions. An addiction could be described as a habit that has spiraled out of control. Addictions can take the form of smoking, caffeine, sleeping pills, antidepressants, painkillers, gambling, sex, alcohol, food, stealing and lying, just to name a few. Some of us are prone to addictions or in other words , have addictive personalities. By continuing to indulge an addiction, we psychologically and physically reinforce its behavior.
As the addiction continues to be fed, different triggers are consciously and subconsciously being ingrained into our daily lives. We default to our addictions as a way of coping with what we do not allow ourselves to feel.
So why are some of us prone to becoming addicted to different things, while others can take it or leave it? This is a complicated question. There is genetics and there is circumstance. There are Alcoholics up and down both sides of my family tree so I am already genetically at risk in any circumstance. I have the bug whether I like it or not. My childhood was pretty normal, I think, until I was 8. I got spanked when I was bad. Then things got really ugly at home. There was a lot of anger, sorrow and pain that I was living with on a regular basis. This is what I mean about circumstance.
When I had my first drink at 13, I immediately felt euphoric. Southern Comfort, as I recall. I laughed at everything and although I was sick from doing it, I liked it. I liked it a lot. When I got drunk, I got to forget about the pain in my heart. A monster was born.
I started to drink more frequently and by the time I moved out on my own at 18, I was drinking pretty well every day. Life was good. I made friends easily and every social activity included booze and drugs.
I became drinking buddies with my dad and we both denied our pain together . As I gained more freedom in my work, it became really easy to drink at lunch too. This soon became a frequent habit. No shortage of people to drink with any day or night of the week. Drinking to celebrate a good day, a great day or a rotten day.
So now I’m drinking more and more and the gaps in between are shrinking. At this point, its not just about the fun. Its not even about forgetting the pain anymore. The addiction is becoming central in my life. I’m not going anywhere if there’s no beer. It becomes the icebreaker for any awkward situation.
How Do We Get Addicted?
We all get addicted the same way. Like pouring water on sand. The hole never gets filled, it only grows deeper. One addiction can easily turn into multiple addictions. Alcohol abuse, for example, can be the gateway to other poor choices no sane person would ever think of doing. Who is that person?
Friends all seem to have most of the same bad habits. To feel accepted, we as humans like to have things in common with others. This reinforces the way we feel about ourselves. This is why you see the same people at the same time smoking outside when its 20 below. No sane person would do that either.
I met Debbie in 1990- in a bar. We were both single and hit it off right away. I moved in and life was great. Except for my addiction to Alcohol. Alcohol was my drug of choice. Debbie insisted I get help so I went to AA. After a few meetings, I declared myself cured. Being naïve and in denial, I set out to prove to the world that I could drink responsibly. I was wrong.
On A Collision Course With Disaster
I was sober for 14 months but couldn’t wait to have my next drink. I hadn’t dealt with anything emotionally and was on a collision course with disaster.
We went to Cancun 14 months into my sobriety. Debbie went to the room and I went to the bar to get her a drink. The moment I had been waiting for. A margarita for Debbie, two shots of tequila and a beer for me. Debbie could smell me coming and she flipped out. The tiger had been unleashed. I drank for another 12 years before Debbie told me we were through. At that point, I promised to quit drinking and I did. This was 8 years ago. I also started flying airplanes — a childhood passion yet to be realized.
Correcting addictions can be a monumental task. First you have to really want it. Avoiding triggers (people, places and things) is important. So is doing something healthy and constructive to replace the unhealthy, destructive habits. Accepting your fate and moving on.
I have a close personal friend who suggested I try yoga. I had noticed huge changes in her both physically and emotionally as she immersed herself into a yogic lifestyle. I finally succumbed to her coaxing 3 years ago and began a weekly practice. This weekly practice is now the foundation of a deeper understanding of how the mind and body work.
So how does Yoga help people with addictions?
Yoga treats the biology and psychology of an addict. It unlocks what is going on inside of you. Physically, mentally and spiritually. Your body is designed to heal. You just have to allow it to heal. When I googled Yoga and Addictions, 539,000 pages came up. This is obviously not a new concept.
The 8-fold path to Yoga includes many elements which speak to non-attachment, non-harming, purity, honesty, going inward, surrender to a higher power, perseverance, physical exercise, breathwork, meditation and liberation. Yoga reminds you to be in the now. Addictions keep bringing you to repeat the past.
By engaging in a Yogic lifestyle you will start to feel better immediately. Just becoming aware of the process of enlightenment can lead to de-addiction and impulse control. When you are caring for your body, mind and spirit, there is no void to fill with destructive substances and behavior.
Traditional treatments for Alcoholism and other Addictions, depending on the severity, can include institutionalism with detox, group therapy, education and more recently, Yoga. One of my customers emailed me last summer from rehab and excitedly told me she was doing Yoga as part of the program. The last time I saw her was at the Prescott Hotel. She was not there for Yoga Class.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Like everything else, in order to succeed, you have to practice. There is no permanent cure for an Addiction. It is with you until death do you part. It can be dormant for a week or 25 years. As soon as you feed it again, it will be back stronger than ever. Temptation is everywhere for the tempted. Turn on TSN for the 7am beer commercials. LCBO spends millions advertising. So do the breweries. Everybody appears to be having fun. More fun when you are drinking what they are.
I used to believe it as a way of reinforcing my weakness. My self esteem was available at the price of a few drinks.
Practicing Yoga heals you in many ways. First of all, it helps you break the cycle of Addiction by giving you a safe place to unwind- whether practicing at home or at a Yoga Class. Personally, I don’t have the discipline to practice Yoga and Meditation at home for enough time to get the desired results. By going to a Yoga Class, you will make new friends who are all there for the same reason– to feel better. None of my old drinking buddies are doing Yoga except one. He quit drinking 9 months after I did.
The centering and going inside at the start of a Yoga Class calms the mind and body. Consciously breathing, becoming aware of how you feel. Transforming your thoughts to here and now. As the breath deepens, your lung capacity increases . The deeper the breath, the deeper the cleanse. Fresh oxygen detoxifies your body and sharpens your mind.
I have had pneumonia twice and was not breathing properly. By practicing Pranayama, I can now hold my breath over a minute.
Detoxifying The Body With Yoga And Shatkriya
Once I had committed to Yoga, I began to understand the ways that Yoga can detoxify the body. The detoxifying techniques are called Shatkarma or Shatkriya or Yogic purification of the body. Shat is Sanskrit for 6 and Kriya being the technique. The 6 techniques are Neti (nasal cleaning), Dhauti (cleaning of the digestive tract), Nauli (abdominal massage), Basti (colon cleaning), Kapalabhati (forced nasal exhalation, passive inhalation) and Trataka (blinkless gazing).
We have practiced Neti and Kapalabhati in YTT. Dhauti can be achieved by rapidly breathing in and out, contracting and expanding your abdominal muscles while panting like a dog. You will notice a metallic taste on your tongue. Nauli can be done by rotating your spine in a circular pattern. Breathe in as you rotate forward, breathe out as you rotate back. Basti is a colon cleansing by sucking a warm saline solution into the anus. Trakata can be done by gazing softly at a candle until the eyes water and then closing the eyes , trying to maintain the image.
Yoga increases the level of Dopamine in your brain. This is responsible for mood, motivation, sleep, gratification, memory and learning. This helps lessen the craving for Addictive substances.
This Is Me Now
Most people with Addictions have other issues like poor physical conditioning and low self esteem. Yoga has something for every level of fitness. When I started Yoga 6 years ago, I was full of pain both physically and mentally. I was stressed out, overweight and prone to anxiety at times. I was 2 years sober but had much damage to heal.
I am happy to report that I have lost about 35 pounds, I have made new friends and I am physically and mentally many years younger. By coming back to the mat on days when it is the last thing I want to do, I am much more disciplined and balanced in my thoughts and actions.
I have learned to be still and breathe when I am feeling uncomfortable. I have forgiven myself for my past behavior. I have forgiven others who have hurt me. I encourage everyone I know who is suffering from any Addiction to take up Yoga and Meditation. It works like nothing else on this planet.