Trudging the Road to Joy

Addiction, Recovery, and Arriving on the Yogic Path

For me, yoga is heart opening, soul shaking, joy inducing deliciousness. It is the church where I come to worship at the feet of the mind, body and spirit. I can come to yoga to weep, rejoice and visit all that lives in between. Since experiencing my first savasana 10 years ago, I’ve been on a journey towards clarity, purpose, fulfilling relationships and a rewarding yoga therapy career. But it was a long, ugly, depressing, and sometimes scary road from that first savasana to where I am today.

10 years ago (heck, even two years ago) my life looked remarkably different. I would hear the sound of the alarm in the morning and my entire being would recoil from the idea of living through another day. I felt sad, anxious, afraid, and EXHAUSTED! The radio static in my head was always playing at full blast. I loathed the idea of interacting with other human beings. People, places and things were either a means to get what I wanted or a scapegoat for the awful way that I felt. Days blended into days which blended into years. I can’t say that I wanted to die, but I certainly didn’t much see the point of living.

Things that felt pleasurable (food, pot, alcohol, sex, sleep…repeat) were all that could rouse me out of bed. I was a full blown addict suffering from bulimia, a life-threatening eating disorder, and nobody knew. I felt helpless and saw no way out. I was like a frightened animal, huddled in my tiny, dark hole in the ground, while a ravenous beast breathed ominously overhead. I didn’t think I would make it out alive.

I have learned that once our eyes open and we are awake, it is not easy to go back to sleep. When I took that first savasana 10 years ago, something inside of me woke up and tasted liberation, a life free from obsession and the seemingly endless cycle of suffering, and I wanted it back! Sure, I continued the structural, surface-level practice of yoga on my mat — assuming the poses, minding my breath — but was I really wholeheartedly embracing the practice, allowing it to transform me spiritually and emotionally? Or was I holding on for dear life, afraid to let go of compulsively chasing an imaginary high that always fell short of my expectations?

I could no longer close my eyes to the fact that my behaviors were slowly killing me. And thanks to the startling and seasonal gift of desperation, I finally became willing to do what many teachers so poetically instruct: I LET GO!

I surrendered. I got honest and asked for help. I gave myself permission to lean on my family and friends and went into treatment. I went to support groups and stood in circles and held hands. I talked. I listened. I cried and I felt. I offered to be of service without any sort of reward or recognition. I asked forgiveness from myself and others I had hurt along the way. I stopped looking to control and manage everyone else and took a good look in the mirror. But most importantly, I made a connection and surrendered into the arms of the Divine* and said, “Here I am, I’m ready to come home.”

Gary Kraftsow, author of Yoga for Wellness, explains Yoga cikitsa, or yoga therapy, as the art of tapping the resources deep within us to heal ourselves. However, to heal, we must first surrender the attitudes and behaviors that keep us stuck. Instead of an attitude of “I can’t take this anymore, life sucks and it will always suck. I won’t be happy until I [can be skinny while eating whatever I want, stoned without consequence, desired eternally, satisfied 24–7 while being left the hell alone by the rest of humanity…], I needed to be, as my aunt once Lynne very lovingly suggested, “willing to be willing.” I also needed to take responsibility for my life and stop screwing around with food (bingeing, starving, obsessing, over-exercising, controlling, purging), booze, drugs, and the lying and sneaking around I was inevitably doing as a result.

Until we can first truly adjust our attitudes and behaviors, we’ll just be, as my yoga teacher, mentor, and favorite fearless yogini (hey, she wrote the book!) describes, spinning circles around those deep grooves of patterned behavior. And damn, don’t us humans love the warm, comforting predictability of our own familiar behavior patterns, even if they’re eating us alive?! (Chelsea raises a hand)

Classically, most yoga books tell us that the word yoga comes from the root work “yuj,” meaning “to bring together; unite.” If you claim to be any sort of modern day yogi, you have probably heard this at least a dozen times in any handful of yoga classes. However, the grandfather of modern yoga, T. Krishnamacharya, defines yoga as “arriving at a place we have not been before.” Living life in recovery is that place. Before sobriety, I skated on the surface of life. Anything that made me feel just the tiniest bit uncomfortable was truly not an option. Today, I get to feel deeply — both the icky, sticky feelings of loneliness or doubt, as well as the feathery light giddiness of waking up next to the love of my life and knowing I am in the right place at the right time. As Kimber Simpkins quotes in her book Full, a stunningly genuine memoir of a woman who finds freedom from an eating disorder through yoga, “It’s amazing to feel so deeply happy and deeply sad. To feel anything deeply. I feel so lucky, so blessed.” It is rich. It is alive. It is a place I have not been before. Ladies and gentlemen, I have arrived at yoga!

Today I get to live a life that is full of gratitude, serenity, and freedom. Today I wake up in the morning, take a deep breath and I say to the universe, “Thank you for another day!” Today I talk openly about my ideas, fears, past pains and future visions without shame or guilt, but with a sense that I am inspiring positive change. Rather than throwing myself yet another pity party, I can aim to encourage others who have been or presently are in that familiar state of imprisonment because, as the lovely Janice tells me, “Your greatest struggles are now your greatest credentials.”

Don’t get me wrong, life still has its ups and downs and it always will. That’s normal. But the difference today is that I've learned to let go of my expectations that it should always be in the “up” position. I put on my big girl pants, look the world in it’s big wild face and say “Here I am, let’s live some life today!” And as Pema Chodron, American Tibetan Buddhist nun, fierce teller of truths, and one of my most favorite people says:

“Things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.”

Amen, Pema! Come on ya’ll, let’s trudge this road together.

*Trust me, the “Divine/Higher Power/God” stuff used to make my skin crawl a little so really, please feel free to replace it with a word or idea that works for you. Sometimes for me, the Divine comes in the form of my favorite music playing at just the right moment or a particularly radiant sunrise. The point is, it doesn’t matter what its’ name is, but seek that connection and nurture it.

Chelsea is a Jersey girl transplanted to the East San Francisco Bay, California. She is currently studying Somatic Yoga Therapy with her teacher Janice Gates in Marin County and developing a curriculum to bring the healing elements of yoga into eating disorder treatment clinics. Share your stories, comments or questions! Please mail: Photo credit: Leggings: Noli Yoga

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Chelsea Lauren Rappel

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“We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves happy. The amount of work is the same.” -Carlos Castaneda

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