It was very cold in Atlanta 9 Octobers ago. The wind was a show off causing the sun to shiver. Feeling the chill, I cracked my eyes open on the morning of October 24, 2006 like two miniature ancient wooden doors. I got off the floor, because that’s where I woke up, and felt the Universe unzip itself underneath me. The realization that I never had to take a drink of alcohol again was the most enormous, beautiful, and terrifying sensation, like jumping out of a plane or being freed from prison after a very long stay. I’d attempted to get sober the entire previous year with diminishing returns. But on this day, in this October, there was a shift within me and all around me. I was ready to surrender. And it was on the path of yoga where I would ultimately land my feet.
Let’s back up for just a moment. I was an actor for years in Atlanta. In August of ’06 I was cast in a play that would go into production the following winter. The playwright informed me that I would be nude in one of the scenes. It was a beautiful play and I was humbled and grateful for the opportunity. But I was in rough shape. Underweight, weak and very unsure … not in a place to allow myself that kind of vulnerability. I remember thinking, “O God, I’ve gotta get in shape fast.” So, I crawled into a yoga studio/urban ashram called Kashi Atlanta thinking I’d get nice abs and a yoga butt. I had no idea that my heart would be cracked wide open and my addiction and unworthiness would be exposed by the illumination beaming from those cracks. I took a class. And then another. And another. Each time it became more and more difficult to willingly run back into the darkest part of my own shadow after being held in all that light. But I did. I’d leave and I’d drink. For almost 2 months. The more I practiced, the more I became desperate to stop.
Then I met my Teacher with a capital “T”, Swami Jaya Devi Bhagavati. She teaches a weekly Spiritual Growth and Meditation Class and I decided to take the plunge. From the bottom of my heart, I had never been in the presence of so much light and wisdom and love. I hid in the back of the room trying to shield myself behind a small tower of yoga blocks, crying, not saying a word, clinging desperately to a box of Kleenex. I was an utter wreck. Even though she never addressed me directly, she spoke to me the entire 90 minutes. She taught about walking toward our hearts, not away from it. About loving unconditionally and the willingness to BE loved unconditionally. She spoke about addiction being one step over from spirituality; that what we long for is God in whatever form makes sense to us: The Universe, Kali, Christ, Shiva, Allah, Mary, the Buddha, the Ocean, Kindness … She said we become free when we are free from attachment. She insisted we don’t have to become someone different, we just need to remember who we really are. She asked us to close our eyes and to breathe. That sometimes one conscious breath is all it takes to transform. She asked us to look toward something when we close our eyes, not away and to consider the fact that our hearts are bigger than our pain. Our hearts are bigger than our pain. Our hearts are bigger than our pain.
I drank that night. A lot. I left Kashi, went home and drank alone. I believed Her and all the things She said. I just didn’t think she was talking to me. The next morning, that strangely cold fall morning, I was in a lot of pain. More than I’d ever felt in my life and nothing in particular had happened. I was just an addict alone. As soon as I sat up, I walked on to my back porch. I was so dehydrated and exhausted that the cold wind almost knocked me to the ground as if to say, “You can’t come out here unless you really mean it so you better think about it, Girl.” I meant it. I got on my knees under the shivering sun of autumn and prayed. For the first time in my life I knew where to send my prayers. Quickly, tiny discoveries popped off like bubbles. I want clear skin. I don’t want to throw up red wine anymore. I want to want to eat food. I want to be on time for work. I want to remember every time I french kiss someone for the rest of my life. I want to remember every mistake I make. I just want to remember. I don’t want to divorce myself from my body anymore. I lingered on that one. For an hour? Or two? I wanted to be in my body, not out of it. Embodied.
When I walked outside that morning something HAD shifted within me and I made a choice to believe that if my heart was bigger than my pain, then my heart was really f**cking big. And that I had a lot of work to do if I was going to share it with the Universe. So I surrendered.
I have to say, I’m a big fan of the 12 steps and all it has to offer a person who has a desire to stop drinking (or drugging or gambling et al). It is a brilliant way to live. And I went to a meeting almost everyday for 3 years and continue to attend meetings regularly. It has been a big part of my recovery. But my story is that the 12 steps alone were not enough. The 12 steps and therapy was not enough. The 12 steps, therapy, anti depressants and anti anxiety medications were not enough. I needed yoga, too. So, I immediately called a friend in AA and asked her to be my sponsor. I had a white chip in my hand within 2 hours. Then, I went to Kashi, unrolled my mat, laid flat on my back and had a silent conversation with my Higher Power: YOGA.
I practiced and felt good in my body. I worked out A LOT of shit on my mat. Some serious life long shit. Day after day. Downdog after downdog. I went to meetings, (Swami insisted I continue following the 12 Steps and I am so grateful). I served and meditated. I fumbled, was raw, cried and resisted but I never picked up another drink. As I write this, I still haven’t. Swami would soon introduce me to Her Guru, Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati, who would become my Guru. In 2008 I emerged as a Kashi yoga teacher in her lineage and Ma gave me a spiritual name: Maha Devi. It means Supreme Goddess. I was 2 years sober when She gave me that name. She told me to use the name as a tool and in Her beautiful Brooklyn accent yelled, “You don’t get a name like that for nothin’!!” For Her, for Swami, for my family, for my students, but mostly for me, I try each day to live up to that name. I do my best to breathe and stay simple and practice. To serve, stay teachable and love.
In the program, I hear many wise people say that no matter how hard a day may be sober, it could never be as hard as any day in active addiction. I believe this to be true. In sobriety, I’ve had many emotional set backs, been riddled with doubt, loss and grief. I have had countless moments of pure happiness, courage, adventure and serenity. All without a drink.
Each day when I practice yoga or teach it, I bring my hands together at my heart in Anjali mudra or prayer hands. Anjali means “divine offering.” And so in this moment, I offer these words to anyone who may be suffering from addiction. I bow at your feet and honor your struggle. I see your heart and know it is bigger than your pain. There is a light in you so bright. Like me, all you have to do is remember.