I Found Myself on a Yoga Mat
“One of the lessons Yoga gives us is acceptance. It teaches that you can improve, but you first have to find acceptance with where you are now.”
It took me a really long time to admit to myself that I had a problem with alcohol.
I grew up seeing wine on the table with dinner, and spending happy summer evenings outside the bar with my brother while my parents had a couple of drinks inside. I rarely saw my parents drunk, but seeing alcohol was normal. Family gatherings always had alcohol present, and one of my earliest, and most frightening memories, is of my beloved grandmother in a drunken rage.. Later I learned it was a regular occurrence, and eventually lead to her death.
I found my ‘tribe’ at age 19. I felt instant connection after a lifetime of feeling separated from my peers. Alcohol and recreational drugs were central to all our fun.
When my life exploded a year later, I fell into a swirling pit of self loathing and shame. I sought refuge in those friends, and my new best friend — alcohol. Alcohol kept me safe from the endless mental torture I put myself through. With vodka and cider, and a hefty amount of weed, speed, and LSD, I no longer cared enough about my life to hate myself. I could forget my darkness and have fun.
Most evenings seemed to involve at least ten minutes of inconsolable crying in the toilets, grieving over the car crash my life had become. Days were spent watching the clock until it was an “acceptable time” to start drinking.
As life moved on, I became a mother, got a teaching degree, and became – on the outside – quite successful, in a modest way, lurching from one catastrophe to the next. I never felt like a success, and a large part of my earnings went to the alcohol and weed I needed to get me through my days.
I surrounded myself with friends who helped me through my roller coaster ride of a life. They supporting me through heartbreak, bereavement, stress, illness, family drama and more — always with a bottle of wine.
Booze was one of my friends, and I loved him very much.
The cracks started to show in the relationship in 2013, when I had a full emotional breakdown after a hellish eight months. During that time, I realised my life wasn’t working, and I needed to do something different. I hadn’t considered that drinking was a problem yet.
Enrolling in a training course to teach Yoga was the fulfilment of a long held dream. I didn’t see it at the time, but it was also the ‘treatment program’ I didn’t even know I needed.
We were given three ‘rules’ to live by; which became something of a mantra for me as I learned to become who I was meant to be.
- Don’t judge.
- Don’t compare.
- Don’t beat yourself up.
Powerful words to carry with you as you move through life and recovery!
Yoga is all about bringing you face to face with yourself. It is not about how bendy your body is, but about becoming true to yourself. I was guided gently but forcefully to look at myself with compassion and honesty, to drop the stories I had been telling myself about who and what I was, and to see the truth of my life. Gradually it started to be painfully obvious that my drinking was far from normal, and that it had never helped me to solve one single problem.I reduced my alcohol consumption considerably, cutting back on my smoking in the process as I learned to breathe better. As I did this, and deepened my practice and my self study, I noticed I was calmer, sleeping better, and seemed to have less problems to confront. This was quite a revelation, as it became clear that, far from solving my problems, alcohol had been the cause of many of them. I had never considered that before. it was a shock!
One of the lessons Yoga gives us is acceptance. It teaches that you can improve, but you first have to find acceptance of where you are now. There is a great deal of compassion and truth in that kind of acceptance. It can be very difficult to get to.
I had my moment of clarity one day during a class. There was a long list of people I could blame for my problems. The ex lovers who had caused me so much harm, the school peers who had made my life difficult, my parents, the government. The list went on.
Within the space of compassionate honesty, I realised beyond doubt that ultimately, it was my life. I was responsible for it. It felt like a light suddenly turned on in me – I had got myself into this situation and no one but me was going to get me out of it.
The previous year I would have fought against that fact like my life depended on it. I didn’t like taking responsibility, and always preferred to find someone to blame. With my yoga practice strengthening me on a daily basis, I found it more motivating and empowering than I would have ever imagined. I don’t remember how long it took before I stopped drinking completely, but I think it was a matter of weeks. I stopped drinking on October 12, 2014.
Yoga gave me all the tools I needed to get sober, and to stay sober. It has made me a better, more content, more forgiving and happier person. I surrendered my life to yoga, and realised that in doing so, I was able to finally see and love me. Once I was able to do that, I no longer needed to hide from myself in wine and drugs.
I owe my life, my sanity and so much more to Yoga, and am forever grateful to the breakdown that led me to the training course that saved me.
Esther is from Wales in the UK. She beat 20 years of alcoholism and drug abuse at the age of 41 when she trained to be a yoga teacher. She has been sober since Oct 12, 2014, and has written a book about her adventures (Bent Back into Shape, Beating Addiction Through Yoga).
Esther loves music, Yoga, her babies (three human sons and one dog daughter), walking in the hills and at the coast, and dancing like no one is watching (even when she is at the grocery store!). She is passionate about the power of Yoga to create health and happiness, and believes that through its transformational power, and particularly learning to breathe, we can create space, peace, healing and joy in our lives.