When Grief and an Orgasm Are One in the Same
One morning after another long, late night of drinking, I woke up lying on the bathroom floor wrapped in a towel feeling like someone had hit my head with a sledgehammer. I stood up slowly, trying to avoid looking at the checkered floor that was making me even dizzier than I already was, and used the sink as leverage to pull my lead-like body up towards the mirror. My hair was damp, and I realized I had probably taken a shower when I had gotten home. And from the swollen, bloody lump on the side of my forehead, it became clear that I had fallen while stumbling out. Of course, I didn’t remember any of it.
As I crawled back to my room, certain I had given myself a concussion, I moaned aloud while lamenting the dignity that had just gotten washed down the shower drain. Was this who I wanted to be? Just a half-naked body with self-inflicted injuries that can’t make it to work because it consumed too much cherry vodka the night before? I asked myself a thousand questions while lying in bed in an attempt to shame myself into changing my behavior. As awful as I felt physically, it was as if the blow to the brain woke me up.
I clearly was not making smart decisions. Instead of facing my pain head on, I was just getting hit in the head. I didn’t want to let myself go any further down into that spiral. For one thing, it was simply pathetic. And secondly, alcoholism ran in my family. Genetically, I could not risk it.
I spent the rest of the day simply staring at the wall wide-eyed and silent in an almost kind of stifled panic realizing I was going to have to dig into my emotional wounds. I was going to have to feel everything instead of drowning it out, no matter how good it tasted on ice.
The next morning I woke up before the sun feeling surprisingly not like death. I felt mentally and physically fried, of course. And the bump and scratch on my head were still visible, but at least the throbbing pain had subsided, so I decided to take a walk to get some coffee and some fresh January air.
January…a year ago at this time, my heart was beginning to shred apart like pulled chicken. I couldn’t believe it had been an entire twelve months. Did I really spend that long flooding my liver with liquor? I guess time flies when you’re not conscious. But here I was, awake and somewhat sober, meandering through the frothy snow early on a Saturday morning at a time when normally I would just be stumbling to bed.
I strolled down my street and crossed the people’s bridge that towered over the train tracks sitting next to my house. As I walked up towards the main shopping street in my neighborhood to grab a latte to make me feel at least somewhat awake so I could gather my thoughts, I noticed a chalkboard sign sitting on the sidewalk in front of me. It was advertising for the yoga studio just to my right, and in big, bold white chalk, almost screaming at me, it read:
“Part of keeping your balance is knowing when you’ve lost it.”
“Well, shit,” I said out loud. The quote stopped me right in my tracks, and I just stood and stared at it while repeating it several times in my head. I had clearly lost my balance, both literally and figuratively, as I drunkenly collapsed into a messy heap after many months of hasty self-sabotage. I needed to get back on my own two feet again. Perhaps yoga was the ticket.
According to the schedule taped to the sidewalk sign, a class was set to begin in just twenty minutes. Without hesitation, I opened up the studio door and walked up the stairs. When I approached the thin, redheaded woman at the sign-in desk, I told her it was my first time at the studio, although I had unknowingly (and probably drunkenly) walked by it countless times before. She greeted me warmly in that gentle yogic way and introduced herself as Amy. Her bright eyes were unapologetically revealing her excitement in welcoming a new student. As I filled out the sign-in sheet and emergency contact form, people began to slowly filter in. They quietly removed their boots and jackets and placed them into the cubbyholes along the wall, and they smiled and nodded at Amy as they entered through the glass door behind her into the studio space. I followed everyone else’s lead and removed my winter attire to place it into its own little hideaway. Luckily, I was wearing my usual weekend outfit of leggings and a t-shirt, so I was able to at least pretend I was prepared.
My experience with yoga was limited. I had taken a few classes here and there throughout college, but not enough to make me feel even remotely confident as I walked into the dim-lit studio and nervously laid out the yoga mat I grabbed off of the shelf. I positioned myself in the far back corner of the room to remain out of sight and sat cross-legged while scanning the environment. Seeing all of the obviously veteran yogis doing ridiculous stretches made me wonder if my impulsive march into the studio was a terrible idea. I couldn’t even touch my toes. And less than 48 hours earlier, I couldn’t even get out of the shower without falling. Yet here I was, sweating while sitting still in an 80-some-degree studio with music vibrating the floor begging me to relax while candles around the edges of the room shed light on all of my insecurities and on my huge pores seeping two-day-old vodka.
Seventy-five minutes later I was lying on my back in Savasana, or corpse pose, with tears running down the sides of my face onto my already drenched mat staring up at the ceiling in indescribable awe. I started out hesitant, nervous, moving awkwardly and constantly looking around to see if I was doing the postures Amy led us through “correctly.” But as the class went on, the movements became organic, like I wasn’t even in control of my body. Yet at the same time I was more in control if it than ever. Everyone else in the room eventually vanished, and it was just me, my mat, and the music streaming from the speakers guiding me along with my breath. I could hear my lungs expand and contract inside me, my throat becoming a funnel for ridding my body of the toxicity I had exposed it to. I was also rediscovering the strength of my muscles, strength that somehow remained after such a wasteful, sedentary year. Of course, they still shook with fatigue while remaining in Warrior II for several minutes, but I was upright and tall with my head high for the first time in ages. I was focused. I was aware. I was mindful. I was driven. I was me.
As the class wound down, the pace slowing and the breath softening, I felt my body shrinking like air being let out of a tire. When we reached the final resting position on our backs, I was light like a feather, and every part of me was tingling — my hands, my feet, my brain. I couldn’t even hear what Amy was saying to us, what message she was transferring. I was just alone in the middle of a yogasm, wondering if what I had just experienced was even real.
I had just poured all of myself out onto the floor without holding back, without denial, without running away. I was simply there. And suddenly, without even realizing it, I was crying. My sweat mixed with my tears and flooded onto my mat, creating a puddle beneath me. My heartbeat fell in sync with the rhythmic pulse of the song playing all around me and in me as my corpse melted. But as I liquefied and seemed to crumble, I felt myself filling up and emerging wholly into the world at the same time.
What is this? I thought as the class sat up and chanted in unison to close the session. Is this euphoria? Is this enlightenment? No, I’m not that deep. What the hell is this feeling? As we bowed our heads, I lingered staring at the natural pool I had created and realized I was finally, for better or for worse, actually feeling grief.
I hadn’t thought of the heartbreak that had taken up every part of my brain over the past twelve months for a single moment during that 75-minute class. As I walked out of the studio and back into the bitter cold, which felt like heaven on my red, salt-covered skin, I recognized just how much I had been ignoring my misery. I buried it so damn deep so I wouldn’t have to deal with it but all it was doing was weighing me down. It took me actually giving myself the space and the permission to feel it for it to finally come to the surface and overflow like a clogged toilet. I was, indeed, that toilet. And there was definitely more dark, painful energy trapped deep within the pipes begging to be set free.
I would return almost every day for eight months to clear it out.