When I stopped drinking in October 2014, I was surprised at how easily it happened. I had tried numerous times in the past to control, reduce and stop my destructive drinking and smoking habits, and failed dismally each time. My sobriety this time was a very tentative, day by day, week by week affair, as I didn’t really allow myself to comprehend that this might actually be the end of my love affair with alcohol, however toxic that relationship had become.
For a while, once I realised that I was sober and was definitely planning to stay that way, I marvelled at how easy it had been and thought that in Yoga I had found a ‘cure’ for my addiction.
While I have not changed my mind on the effectiveness of Yoga as a path to recovery, my early confidence that I was ‘cured’ has long passed. While I experienced a considerable amount of growth and gained considerable resilience and coping strategies through the Yoga teacher training that kickstarted my recovery, that was by no means the end of the journey. Indeed, it was only the beginning.
Addiction doesn’t happen for its own sake, out of nowhere. It is not about the substance or the behaviour, it is about the ‘rewards’ you get from the substance or behaviour. As Gabor Mate tells us, it is, at the heart of it, always an attempt to ease some form of pain, whether physical or emotional. Or maybe both.
Once I no longer numbed my mind against the emotional turbulence inside my head, I was forced to confront it properly. To actually feel, and fully experience the emotions and worries I had been hiding from. Admittedly, I had done a lot of this work before I stopped drinking, but only, I now see, to the extent that I was able to let go of my need to numb. The real work was yet to come.
Is still to come.
Will always continue to come.
Recovery is not something that you do once, then it is done. While I choose not to use the label ‘alcoholic’ or ‘addict’ to describe myself, I am very conscious that my recovery is a lifelong process that will not end until I do. Recovery, like Yoga, is a journey of spiritual Self-discovery and healing, it is an uncovering and exploration of the truth of who we are.
The great Maharishi Patanjali tells us in the Yoga Sutras (Sutra 1.18)
Latent unconscious habits spring up once we have dealt with the conscious ones
Translation taken from ‘Understanding the Yoga Darshan‘ by Dr Ananda Balayoga Bhavanani
Once we have cleared the obvious problem, the most visible addiction, then other problems will rise to the surface. The addiction was simply the sticking plaster for other problem, and will have created and masked many others, so once we no longer numb through the addiction we are forced to confront those issues or risk harm to our mental wellbeing. This may take therapy, counselling or other professional intervention,
I am currently reading Russell Brand’s latest book, ‘Recovery: Freedom from our Addictions’, and it is proving to be quite an eye opener. I had already learned a great deal about the spiritual, not religious nature of the 12 Steps when I attended a fascinating conference by the Higher Power Project at Chester University in 2015. The similarities between the ethos of the 12 Steps and Yogic philosophy were clear, and all previous misconceptions I had about the program disappeared. Reading Russell’s book now, which guides the reader through the program in Russell’s very articulate and idiosyncratic way, is making me see how the program can be applied not just to ‘conventional’ addiction, but to any other problematic area of life. It is bringing up some thinking in me which is shifting perspectives on my life in profound ways, which I will almost certainly share in the pages of this blog once I have processed them some more!
Whatever path you take to recovery, know that you are on that path for life. You may find that you outgrow the specific tools you use, and that you need to add others to your repertoire, but never stop growing into your recovery. Recovery is about regaining your humanity and your sense of self, and this is a wonderful lifelong project!
I wrote a book about my journey to recovery through Yoga, in which I share much of the philosophy and practices that got me there, as well as my personal experience. You can get a free excerpt of the book, as well as a free video workshop on beating stress in recovery, when you complete the form below.
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