We admitted we were powerless over our addiction and that our lives had become unmanageable
All of the words in this step are important. One of the words to highlight is were. The emphasis that's placed on powerlessness can feed into our learned helplessness and keep us bonded to a mindset that denies our agency, autonomy and resilience. When we are in active addiction we really are helpless and powerless, under the control of the disease.
"...drugs had the power to turn us into someone we didn't want to be..." - Basic Text, Narcotics Anonymous
My experience is that for most of my life I did things that I didn't want to do and I wasn't the person that I wanted to be; I wasn't the person that I thought I was because of my actions. The disease of addiction (which lives in the mind) was telling me lies that had basically taken over my mind (yes - a little bit like being possessed by a demon.). The last year or so of my active addiction, I was using against my will. I literally felt like there was something living inside my body that was making me do things I didn't want to do, but I couldn't stop. That was a kind of learned helplessness; I got to a place where I stopped bothering to speak in complete sentences and
I didn't bathe much. This started with laziness and distorted and priorities - I was so focused on getting one more that I did not have time to brush my hair or take a bath. Then, I lost access to hot water and it got to be winter, so bathing was definitely out of the question. This behavior led to a condition where I couldn't make simple decisions, I didn't know how to do anything that wasn't related to getting high.
When I arrived at my first institution in 2002, I was happy for the warm bed and hot water (because of the destitution that I had been living in) but I was also relieved to be told when to go to bed, when to eat, and when to smoke. It took me another 8 months, one more detox and the gift of utter desperation to let go of trying to control my addiction and surrender to Recovery for a life built on spiritual principles.
Once the drugs are out, we are no longer powerless over how we act. We are no longer powerless. Once I surrendered to Recovery, I gained the power to change my life from the inside out. It takes time to build the strength of making decisions and choices, because it has become a foreign process. Some of us never had it in the first place, some of us had it and lost it. Either way the decision to the next right, honest thing has become foreign, not lost. The ablility to take care of ourselves in an objective way has become, lost, if we ever had it. By objective I mean how a parent would take care of child, my first sponsor encouraged me to be the best parent I could be to myself. Many people like to think of their higher power as a parental figure. We can learn to take care of our bodies as the vessel that houses and carries our spirit through this life. We learn to place the care of our bodies, minds, and spirits in front of the urgency of instant gratification. We start with attending to thirst, hunger, and rest and noticing how this effects our ability to be who we want to be in our lives.
" I feel funny, I think I might be hungry....am I tired, or do I need to eliminate?"
Power comes in remaking choices to care for ourselves in the most basic, dense, mundane, sacred ways. We were powerless over our active addiction, we are powerless over having the disease of addiction, but we are not powerless over what we do about it and the choices that we make. We are not powerless over our behavior.
You have power over your thoughts. You are not responsible for your thoughts, and you have power over that. This is where Yoga becomes a powerful tool for recovery. The mind will follow the breath. We train the mind to follow the breath. We control the breath, we control the mind. This is not a cure for addiction, it gives us the power to keep the disease under arrest.
When I know that I'm powerless over this disease, I can make the decision to not interact with it in anyway. When I know that I will always have it, I'm not trying to make it something else. I come into acceptance of the things I can't change, and stay willing to participate in the things that I can change. I continually get a better perspective on my life and move into full participation with my best life.
Recovery and addiction are full of paradoxes. In Recovery we say "surrender to win" meaning surrender the idea of controlling addiction and win in Recovery.
The distorted thinking of addiction says that we are specially different - that we are unique. We believe that we are the only one who - fill in the blank - recovery won't work for, used like I did, experienced the pain that I did. One of the similar ways that the disease works for all of us is that we become convinced that we are different in some way - the paradox is because of this, we don't really know who are, we don't how we are connected to everyone else. A key to recovery is finding out who we really are - getting in touch with our actual specialness. How do we find ourselves through the recovery process? The 12 Steps and Yoga
The first seven steps are to find yourself:
Step One - The realization and acceptance of who and what I am: that I have something that lives in my thoughts, speaks to me in my own voice, and cannot be controlled by me alone. The disease of separation from my true self.
Step Two - The hope, the possibility that life can be different, that there may be something other than what I've always known.
Step Three - The decision to embark on a journey, the choice to follow through on that decision by committing to Recovery as a way of life and doing the next right honest thing - step four.
Now we are prepared to embark on the journey
Step four - Embark on the journey to finding out who we really are and look at ourselves as we are. Through this part of the process we find out why we thought we were different and how much of that is true and how much of it isn't true. Not everything that we think or know is a lie, but we have to be willing to look at everything, sifting through what is and what isn't.
Step five - Opening up and sharing with others our truth and our vulnerabilities. Learning how to practice the rigorous honesty of telling ourselves the truth.
Step Six - Finding the willingness to do something different - this is where we move from the head to the heart, our Recovery transforms from an intellectual exercise to an experience of the heart. We have an awareness now to what we are and why we the things that we do, and (maybe) the things that work for us and the things that don't. Here we become willing to live without the things that don't serve our highest purpose. This is where true change begins.
Step Seven - We practice living as the parts of our behaviors and thinking that don't serve our highest purpose have been removed. We live AS IF we don't have fear of rejection, confrontation, conflict, success, failure, etc. We may still have these fears, but we learn to live as if we don't - this is how we demonstrate our faith and surety that they will be removed.
The practice of Yoga is a system of Self-realization, just as the 12 steps of recovery are a system of Self-realization. The practice of Yoga asserts that we are spiritual beings living in a physical body. Our body is our home and offers a way to find what's in it- Our Spirit.
Yoga clears the space of the body and the mind so that we can find our Spirit - Our True Selves. We do this by coming present to the breath in our body NOW. Everything that is real is NOW. By training the mind to follow the breath, we can use the breath to control the mind, when we control the mind, we manage our emotions and find the stillness within, coming to reality and finding ourselves.
Nicholas Cruz is as much a human being as the people he murdered. Until we acknowledge, accept and become responsible for this reality, these abhorrent behaviors will certainly continue. To perpetuate the dehumanization of Nicholas Cruz as a killer, when this is certainly how he became capable of such inhuman action, is to justify our own denial of responsibility.
We kill each other, whether the voices in our heads are Gods, Demons, or our own consciousness. We have been finding reasons to kill each other since we evolved. We live in a world where Humanity - Who we are as people - has very little value. Our Humanness is eclipsed by power, productivity, and our fascination with ourselves.
The cycle of debate goes nowhere because how does change happen? Behavior first, thoughts second, emotions last. Change happens slowly, beginning with behavior, making small, hard choices. How many times have I justified looking the other way because I "didn't want to interfere"? How many times have I chosen inaction because "what's the point" or "it's not my place".
Small actions lead to bigger actions - each time I place my desire for praise, power, acceptance, and money over my own humanity I choose the instant gratification of ego stroke and illusion over the truth that We Are One, I succumb to the illusion of a temporary solution to a more permanent dilemma and I step away from my humanness.
How do we change the world? With one small, hard choice at a time.
Tend to your spirit - cultivate the courage to follow the wisdom of your heart by making the small daily choices to say yes to reality and no to illusion. Acknowledge our privilege and suffering and depravity as part of what we have become. Ask yourself what's important to you? How do you justify denying the reality of your spirit to feed the illusions that your mind builds?
By illusion I do not meant the reality of working for a living and caring for our families. The illusion is that the means (money) is anything more than a part of the means - one of the four aims of the soul:
Kama - Love/Community
Artha - Means
Moksha - Spiritual Freedom
Dharma - Purpose
When the pursuit of any one of these aims outweighs the others, the souls is lost, out of balance. How do we teach our children to pursue their fullest life without forgetting that Kama is one of the aims of the Souls? We need each other and in fact We Are One. There is no Other.
We are suffering from our own forgetfulness, we have forgotten who we are, we have forgotten that We Are One, the many ways that we dehumanize each other and create OTHERS leads to forgetting.
Yes - change the world we live in NOW - Restrict access to weapons and create realistic parameters that have worked in other areas (transportation) and be responsible for your deadly weapons.
To Change the world from the inside out - Remember who you are. Find your enemies within yourself so that you may forgive them and know that We Are One.
Parenting is by far the hardest and most rewarding experience of my life, and I’ve had a lot of experiences. Being a mother to my son is full of paradoxes and shakes my self-confidence. My son is in fact not My son, the universe unfolds for him exactly as it should, just as it does for the rest of us. As they say in Arkansas “God doesn’t have any grandchildren”.
I have an instinctual need to protect our son, this soul who has chosen to come surrender himself to my care for this lifetime. Deep in my belly, as if from the place that he came through, I have a need to hold him tight and shield him from all that hurts. I must allow the ache of needing to protect him go un-soothed because holding on too tight is just as irresponsible as dropping him from the tree like a baby bird not ready to fly. Irresponsible and un-mother like because it is an action that comes from my own desire, not what I know to be right for a soul growing in this world. These paradoxes of responsibility and surrender, hold on and let go require the kind of self-observation and humility only available to me through the 12 steps of Recovery and Yoga. The nights when I’m sure I have no idea what I’m doing, I remember that I don’t have to have all of the answers, because what is unbreakable is my love and my open heart.
Becoming a mother has opened places inside of me that were closed. I probably could have continued living a spiritually fulfilled, vibrant life, with these spaces of my heart closed. As this life grew inside of me and I fell in love with a person I had not even met yet, my heart cracked open. To hold on and let go, to ignore my own desires for his greater good, to let him have the last piece of pie when I really want it, I must have a heart open enough to let go without closing. A heart open and courageous enough to defend and protect him without cutting him off. I must live in this world as his backyard, committed to being the best person I can be, so he can have the best mother available.
Yoga for 12 Step Recovery (Y12SR) uses the analogy of the vessel. The human experience as a vessel (or as one of my teachers calls it: water sac).
Addiction turns our vessel upside down. When I’m upside down, not only do I have no idea what is up or down, but I also have no sense of right or wrong, what I want, what I like, where I want to go or who I want to be. In short: I have no idea who I am. I’m completely submerged in the upside down experience of active addiction. I’m in complete darkness and denial.
The first step is the awareness that I’m in darkness, that something is wrong (not wrong as in bad, but wrong as in out of alignment with the truth and fractured). This awareness comes with dawning of thought that maybe it’s more me and less the rest of the world that’s out of alignment. I must accept that I’m powerless over this force that lives inside of me and holds me upside down. This was the greatest revelation for me about the disease: The understanding that I can’t control it. This key awareness opened the door for surrender and willingness.
The last time that I was in treatment was not the first time I was in treatment. I found myself in a bathroom with an unbreakable mirror in a room with one blanket, thinking to myself: “how did I get here again? It’s only been 6 months since I was in treatment and now here I am again”. Now I know that there are no coincidences in life, that the universe unfolds exactly as it should.
I had a piece of recovery literature that someone had given me. The moment that I was having this thought…asking myself how did I get here again? I opened the book without looking at what page I was going to, I opened to the page where it told me that once I put that one in me I was in the grip of something more powerful than me. I had heard this over and over again in meetings and from people in Recovery, but I hadn’t fully accepted the truth of this: That I could not control what I did or what happened after I took that one. That lack of acceptance made it possible for me to keep taking that ONE. The first step is the recognition and acceptance of this powerlessness.
The second step is the other part of that admission, that it’s not me that’s going to get this vessel right side up. Every time I try to fix what’s happening, every time I try to control my using and get my life on the right track, really I’m just pulling myself farther into the darkness, I’m kicking my legs and flailing around and making a lot of movements and noise, but I’m not really going anywhere. In this state I am entrenched in a belief system that has my power generating from my fractured personality and malfunctioning spirit. In step two I connect to the stillness inside and open to this possibility: I do not know where my power lies, and If I can stay in the stillness I will find my real power.
Now I come to step 3 to let go, to surrender, to make a decision to turn my will and my life over to a power greater than myself. That power doesn’t have to be known and it doesn’t have to be God. It’s the decision part that’s important, the decision cultivates the willingness to face fear and spurs action towards the antidote of disease thinking: Honesty. In the second step I come to understand and believe that I am not the most powerful force in my life. The third step is learning not listen to everything I think, to embrace the idea of “I don’t know” and to make the decision to follow. Deciding to practice Faith by following the path of Recovery laid out before me by countless other pioneers in this new life.
In the next 3 steps (4-6) we get ready for the spiritual journey, we’re going somewhere so we need to get ready. By Step 3, I’m committed to the adventure, but I still have all of this shit attached to me, the baggage I’m carrying from before I used and all the shit I picked up along the way. The middle steps clean the baggage up, getting it manageable for the journey. I look at everything I know about living and relationships. I decide what works, what doesn’t work, what can be stitched up and used.
In the last 3 steps we are ready for this spiritual journey. The spiritual journey means being present and authentic in my life to the best of my ability. The best of my ability means fear is not a stop sign, it means accepting that I will get it wrong and I will get it right. The best of my ability means committing to participating in my life as if I am the person I was born to be. It means saying yes when I mean yes, no when I mean no and “I don’t know” when I don’t know. The spiritual journey is the path back to the authentic self.
I started using drugs when I was 12 and I got clean when I was 30. I used for 18 years. When I finally got clean, it was not the first time I tried to get clean or the first time I thought about getting clean.
During one of the first conversations I had with my sponsor, she gave me one of the most powerful tools for Recovery. She told me I needed to learn how my disease expresses itself.
My sponsor showed a piece of recovery literature that told me that my disease expresses itself, she said “you need to know how that thing expresses itself without your permission, because it isn’t going anywhere, you will have it for the rest of your life”. She told me that even if I stayed clean for the rest of my life, I would always have the distorted thinking that had led me to using. I believed her because I had always known there was something wrong with the way that my mind worked.
The times that I had tried to get clean before I thought I was an addict because I shot dope, I didn’t think I was and addict when I was smoking pot or when I did acid every day when I was 14, or when I drank to oblivion. I thought I became an addict when I stuck a needle in my arm.
I came to recovery and was enlightened to the fact that none of those things made me an addict. I’m an addict because I have distorted thinking. This is what my sponsor needed me to understand, that I needed to recognize the distortions in my thinking.
In order for me to take the journey to find out how my disease expresses itself, I needed to look at how I felt right before I copped, and then travel back before that in time to when I felt that feeling. That was one of the ways that I learned how my disease expresses itself and what triggers me. This initial self-inquiry and resulting knowledge has allowed me to peel off layers of misperception and distorted thinking; journeying ever closer to reality.
Today, some of the same things that activated disease when I was six, can activate it now.The difference is that now I have a lot more choices about my behavior because I recognize my distorted thinking.
The thing that is so infuriating (and often deadly) about the disease, is that even though it lives in the mind, it attacks the spirit and disturbs the emotions. It makes us forget that we are spiritual beings. When we have forgotten that we are spiritual beings we become capable of inhuman behavior, destroying ourselves and anything in our way.
When we come into recovery, we begin to remember that we are spiritual beings, we begin to remember who we are. Sometimes we become so overwhelmed with the gravity and depravity of what ‘ve done that it’s too much and we use again.
This becomes the dance of Remember, forget, remember, forget…but there’s a place that never forgets. A place inside of us that knows what we are and never forgets. The spirit needs a gradual awakening, slow and steady. The 12 steps provide the path for this gradual awakening, Yoga provides the tools to stay on the path, breathing life into Recovery.
The 12 steps are a spiritual way of life, they are a balm , soothing for the spirit, when we become present to the breath and the body we can be with the spirit. We can be with our spirit in a way that is a slow moving process, we can learn to ignore the mind (for the moment), ignore the disease and remember slowly that we are a spiritual being.
This process of remembering and forgetting has happened over and over through the span of Recovery. The spirit awakens, the thinking becomes distorted and we forget, we apply the balm of the spiritual way of life and we remember. Choosing life, choosing spirit.
Yoga and Recovery
Now Yoga. Sutra 1:1
The word Yoga is commonly translated as Union. Yoga as a system of Self-Realization is unites the layers of our being so that our true, eternal Self can shine forth. We unite body, mind, and spirit through the breath.
Addicts are often described as having fractured personalities (Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, acting in ways that are as mysterious to us as they are to those around us, etc).
Yoga aids in Re-integrating our Fractured Personalities.
We have instincts that we can feel in our body when we are in the present moment. Through events that are beyond our control or active addiction we lose our connection to our gut feeling.
We can recall a time when our body told us not to do something and we didn’t (or couldn’t ) listen. We gradually learn to ignore the messages of our body because active addiction corrodes our inherent desire for centered and connected living. I learned to ignore basic messages of hunger, thirst, fatigue, physical safety. I lost touch with my desire for love, life, and Joy.
By the time I experienced the miracle of utter desperation and got clean, I didn’t know anything my body needed. I don’t know if I’m tired, hungry, thirsty, or have awareness of any basic physical needs because I was so used to just following whatever my dis-eased mind told me to do.
Without a way to connect to the container that my spirit is housed in, it was impossible for me to to get in touch with the truth of who I am or how I want to live. That information, the truth of what we are is above the instincts of the gut, it’s in the heart center. I couldn’t follow my gut instincts to the wisdom of the heart.
This practice of breathing and moving brings me into the present moment to become reacquainted to the sensation of the body re-aligning the instinct of the gut, the wisdom of the heart and the intellect of the mind. The still, small voice of conscience that Mahatma Ghandi refers to, is heard when the gut and the intellect align to allow the light of the heart to shine through.
Love is unconditional. If it’s conditional, it’s something else.
Relationships are conditional.
I can choose how much contact I have with a person and how attached I want to be to their behavior, but I cannot choose to un-love someone.
I am love, we are love. According to A course in Miracles only love is real. Perhaps in this life that is true. I experienced this through walking with my father in the last few months of his life.
I had a complicated and somewhat tumultuous relationship with my father, who was an addict like me. He got very sick when I had about 7 months clean, his body had had enough of his abuse and was giving up. He lived in another state, so many nights I would leave work, drive about an hour to make it just in time for visiting hours at the hospital, and then leave to make the end of a meeting. At the time I still believed in a God that I would pray to. I would pray on those drives “I’m not ready for him to die, but please help me accept whatever needs to happen for him”. My sponsor had told me that this time was about his life, not about me having a sick father. She helped me cultivate a humble perspective.
After about 5 months of trips back and forth to the hospital and his last minute attempts to get sober, we reached the time of the around the clock vigil. I stayed with my aunt, who he had been living with. We received the call in the early morning the day after his 57th birthday, it was time to be with him, he could no longer breathe on his own, it was time to say goodbye.
We sat on either side of him, each holding a hand. He couldn’t speak, but seemed like he wanted to tell me something. We looked into each other’s eyes and I kept telling him “it’s ok, I love you, I know you love me”. A few minutes later he was still. I felt the whole room fill with his spirit, and in that moment, whatever was between us that wasn’t love was gone. All the blame, resentment and unmet expectations were gone. All that was left was what is real. A father’s love for his daughter, and her love for him.
It’s been almost 13 years since that day, and I still experience waves of grief, especially when I see my father in my son. The love that we have for each other is unconditional, it has not changed, it has been completely uncovered since the day he died. We have a different relationship now, but the love is the same.
Love is real and unconditional.
These past few weeks I have had a disturbed mind and a heavy heart. The dollars that I have sent to North Dakota and the prayers that I have sent to the hearts of my fellow Americans feel small and futile. I have shied away from my own practice, as if I am undeserving of relief, gratitude and joy even as I desperately want these for others.
The dis-ease, the saboteur on board admonishes me “how dare you recognize the beauty of your sweet, luxurious life?” as I attempt to prepare to lead a gratitude donation class on the morning of Thanksgiving.
As the day draws closer, I can only muster heartbreak and fear and desperation as I learn of the destruction of the last hospitals in Aleppo and imminent starvation of the people there.
And I shy away from my practice, barely connecting to breath and movement.
How can I saunter into a warm yoga studio on the morning of the anniversary of the betrayal of the indigenous people of this country and talk about gratitude?
Me, with my sweet, luxurious life filled with easy clean water, all manner of fresh fruits and vegetables, a warm soft bed, and love love love.
I ask myself on Thanksgiving eve, “how are you going pull this off?”.
And then there is a pause….
The space before the beginning and after the end. Where there are no words, no justification, no explanation. All that is - in the space between the inhale and the exhale.
And I am connected to Truth.
Gratitude is not exclusive of empathy, pain, or powerlessness. Gratitude is a gift of appreciation for the multi layered tapestry of this human experience.
Gratitude feels good, but it is not always joy. Sometimes it is bittersweet.
This heart that has been broken open welcomes gratitude and allows the gratitude to fuel the desire to serve.
My gratitude for my clean water may not effect the people in Flint or the defenders in North Dakota, but it can urge me to action and call me to witness.
And so I will lead the yoga class on gratitude, not take myself too seriously and remember the words of Amma “light your little candle and step forth”