An article about me recently came out detailing how I was able to recover from addiction to meth using yoga as a tool of recovery. I used the drug almost exclusively intravenously everyday my senior year of high school and on into my twenties. Mix in some blow, some pills, a bit of heroin. All of this is true. Another truth is that I’ve not used meth, pills, coke, or heroin in more than 7 years and I’ve not touched needles in as long.
But, I do drink.
In fact, I got pretty shitcanned on Christmas and spent yesterday hating myself watching as others posted this article about me detailing my three DUI’s and how I use yoga to help others. I felt like a fraud and the folks from AA might have a thing or two to say about my version of recovery. But, I also knew where the desire to get schnockered was coming from. My family became very fragmented in 2008 and I’ve spent almost every Christmas since alone. This is my work–to find peace in this space and create my own family.
So, to create forgiveness I googled the term “recovery is not abstinence” because this is what I have come to believe, this is one truth I have come to know. This is true for me, and might not be for you. That’s the thing your realize–truth can be relative. And I think this is what has propelled me into living the most meaningful and vibrant life I’ve ever known. Yeah, life has been crappy at times, and I own that I created it that way.
I found an article called “Reason” by Stanton Peele subtitled “Sobriety isn’t an abstinence fixation, it’s about having purpose.” When you have purpose, stuff just falls into place. I’ve never before had so much purpose in my life, I’ve never thought so much about the big picture, and I’ve never been so comfortable living in the gray. Through yoga, meditation, running, and writing I have found a way to express myself inwardly and outwardly.
What got me in trouble in the first place was living in extremes, maintaining all or nothing thinking and I became extremely uncomfortable in AA thinking I was one cocktail away from jail or death. When in fact, I had maintained some moderate form of drinking for years until the death of my father which resulted in overuse of that same coping skill I had cultivated for a long time. Looking back, it seems I was more suicidal than anything. My Daddy had been ripped from me. I did what I knew, I did what I could to feel better. I drank, I smoked, I shot up.
I do often wonder if I am justifying, but I know in my heart that so many more folks with addictions might be able to find recovery were it not the constant pursuit of something that seems unattainable. Even AA knows, we are only as sick as our secrets. Those of us who have overused substances are far from saints. But, we are not social pariahs. We are not diseased. We like to feel good. And that’s the human condition. We all have disassociated in one way or another to get away from uncomfortable feelings. This is how humans work.
On April 25th, 2014 I broke my sobriety streak and had a beer after a close friend had hung herself. Perhaps not the best coping skill but a completely human way to cope. I let myself begin to drink into summer particularly after long runs and I would refuel with a Coors and a burger. It was actually very relaxing and rewarding. The running had become like meditation for me and to chill and have a beer after the run gave me space to see what moderate drinking felt like, what it looked like, and how it can be a very normal process.
I had been told in AA how NOT normal I was. Oh well Jen, you drink, so clearly you are immoral. You have no control. You are an addict. You can’t handle life. I don’t really think of myself as an addict at all. It’s no longer a part of my identity and not how I like to refer to myself. I am a yogi, a teacher, an aunt, a sister. But I’m no longer an addict. Or alcoholic. This is one of the many reasons that I don’t find much solace in AA. There are other reasons of course, but I am an empowered woman. I am no victim of alcohol, drugs, or my circumstances.
Alcoholics Anonymous, while one of the most successful recovery programs in our recent history, has appropriated the term sobriety. The program dominates our thinking about addiction and the only way sobriety is achieved is through complete abstinence. To me, this seems like a complete set up. For most, it’s an unattainable standard that may be reminiscent of why many of us started using in the first place. To try and be something we were not, to try to maintain a facade. It aggravates all or nothing thinking. And it causes huge fall outs and huge relapses rather than just a shitcanned Christmas.
To me, recovery means that I love my body enough to realize that I cannot drink all the time. It’s listening to my belly when it says that hard liquor is no good for me. It’s having water with beer because I’m using the liquid carbs to recover. It’s having purpose at my job I value enough to not show up hungover. Its service work to others in my community who are in the grips of addiction. It’s my values, my plans, my life goals. I’ve come too far to fall victim to the fuzzy life I lived previously.
There is more than ample evidence that shows addiction is a solvable coping problem rather than a chronic recurring disease. Being positively engaged with life encourages better coping skills and natural recovery. A number of long-term studies support this idea. Some positive engagement in my life includes a few beers at the local pub. Sometimes wine with a fancy dinner. I don’t have to wear a scarlet letter. I can choose moderation. I’ve often felt the only space where anyone is shamed for drinking is the rooms of AA. It’s AA that plans the seeds of distrust and doubt. Your own mind becomes the enemy when it is the exact tool that can heal you.
And so, I tell folks I’m in recovery. I attend counseling to manage my anxiety and depression that have led to substance abuse in the past. I perform service work at least once weekly to help impart tools that keep me healthy and engaged in life. I create space for others as they work through relapses and we all begin to cultivate forgiveness of ourselves and others. And, to me, recovery is simply self-love. It’s the highest form of grace. It’s accepting ourselves exactly where we are. And then we can begin to change.