Last fall I attended a yoga retreat led by Seane Corn at Kripalu. It was all about balancing our chakras. I know, I know. Woo-woo stuff right? How rough can life really be if you’re attending a weekend yoga workshop in The Berkshires in a superlative New England town in the superlative New England fall? The truth is I was about 20 days sober and a scared, twitchy mess. I couldn’t afford to be there because I was, as always, in a financial tailspin. I was in a rocky sort-of relationship shaped thing that had me feeling nauseated with despair when it wasn’t making me feel elated. That weekend I was in a particularly nauseas cycle because he’d gone radio silent right about the time we pulled into Western Mass.
My outsides looked ok. As usual. But my insides were all frayed guts and anxiety. As usual.
Which, as it turns out, is the perfect way to go in.
I took two life-changing lessons away from this weekend.
Lesson 1: Start Where You Are
I was about 20 days sober going into this thing. But, that was probably the 15th time I’d been 20 days sober. For over a year I’d tried and just couldn’t get it. I struggled for many reasons (and I now I know the struggle was part of the process) but a primary one was that I couldn’t accept exactly where I was.
I wanted to be someone who didn’t have this problem to begin with, or someone who already had five years of sobriety and the emotional, spiritual, and physical well-being that came along with it. But I was neither of those things.
I wanted to be well and I was not.
I wanted the guy I liked to tell me I was alright and love me unconditionally and he wouldn’t.
I wanted to be capable of a healthy relationship.
I wanted to stop rollercoastering through my days.
I wanted to stop sabotaging myself.
I wanted to stop raging against reality.
I wanted to be past the part where I was counting every. single. day. of sobriety but I was still counting every. single. day.
I wanted to hold onto the joy and peace I sometimes felt so acutely I cried.
I wanted to know in my soul all the things I knew intellectually. Things like: I am better off without drinking; there was nothing left for me in it; there is a better way, and I deserve it. I wanted to know these things deeply and already be living into them, with the confidence only time and action can deliver, without yet having the time or taking the action.
As my friend Holly pointed out to me: I wanted to be at point C when I was at point A. “Stop trying to be a place where you aren’t. Stop worrying about going to the concerts and getting the new certification and the guy and just focus on point A. Go nuclear on point A."
"Just focus on point A. Go nuclear on point A.”
This came to life in the practice with Seane as she took us through poses and breathing to balance all of us. In yoga terms, this means beginning with the root, the base chakra, and spending time there before moving to the next place. It means not skipping past the parts that cause discomfort, or taking a detour when we come up against something edgy, even when it feels really terrifying and we want to run out the f*cking door. It means noticing ourselves – our physical bodies, our thoughts, our resistance – and bearing witness without that judgy voice we all have.
It means not skipping past a single part of us because if one part is unattended to, the system stays weak and will eventually break down. It doesn’t matter how long ago that certain trauma happened or where we should be. So long as we keep skipping over it, that 17 year-old girl is still sitting at the dance feeling ugly and unwanted. We’ve got to take a seat next to that girl, recognize her pain is her pain – no matter how big or small – and give her the permission and space to walk out onto the floor, or out the door. We can’t skip the part where we sit next to her just because we don’t think she should be crushed at the dance anymore.
Or as Seane so eloquently said, “We can’t skip past the ‘f*ck you’ to get to the “I forgive you.’” We can’t be at point C when we are at point A.
For me, being at point A meant saying this:
I am not 2,000 or 200 days sober, but 20. I have fallen many times and there are a lot of people who don’t understand how afraid I am and I don’t need them to understand for me to get better. I am terrified and edgy and confused and I don’t want what I have. I’m afraid I don’t have the capacity to change. I am certain nobody will ever love me and nothing will ever be fun again and maybe both of those things are true. My heart is racy and my hands still shake, not from booze but from anxiety and resistance.
It meant saying I am not okay and having that be…okay.
Pema Chodron has a great line in her book "Start Where You Are" that says,
“Affirmations are like screaming that you're okay in order to overcome this whisper that you're not... maybe you're not okay. Well, no big deal. None of us is okay and all of us are fine.”
None of us is okay and all of us are fine. Did you hear that?
Give yourself permission to not be okay, but know that you are also fine. The edgy, terrified place is a perfect place to start. In fact, it's sometimes the only place to start. However long it took you to get where you are does not matter one bit. The number of times you have fallen is perfect. The amount of pain you've caused yourself and others is a fact, but it is not your whole story. You can lose the weight, find the love, be the gift, create the light, have the dream, be free of your addictions and sorrows if you begin by seeing and accepting exactly where you are today in all its ugly, beautiful glory.
Don't pretend you are at point C when you are at point A. Go sit with the girl at the dance and hold her hand. Gather up all the bits of yourself you've deemed too boring, damaged, unworthy, unwanted and burn them to the ground, one by one. Paint an X where you stand and mark the spot. You may return again -- you may return one thousand times -- and that is okay. You will not be the same and absolutely everything is progress.
Start where you are today. Walk out into the light today.
I write about Lesson #2 here: Non-Negotiables: The Foundation for Everything Else.