Though not necessarily in that order.
In my life and recovery it's been necessary to take the calm abiding that Yoga and meditation have afforded me, and apply compassion as a daily practice (sometimes moment to moment- don't we need constant reminders that yes that person too deserves compassion; yes this situation too requires a compassionate heart.) Wisdom and perspective have been gifts I've only been able to receive through time, and not usually in my time at all.
In the rooms of recovery where we share our stories, a common theme is that many of us have scenarios in our past or present that represent something along the lines of stop here, go no further. In other words, I can forgive everyone but not that person. Or, that situation can never be resolved.
As I've written before, most, if not all, addictions have some basis in unhealed trauma- whose most primary and destructive psychological effect is to rob us of basic safety and security. And the effects of unhealed trauma, according to Ayurveda, yoga's "sister science", most often include energetic, emotional, even physical blocks within the system. Something holds us, and especially holds us back, until we are so accustomed to being blocked that we cannot see what we don't see. The blockage seems a part of who we are. It clouds our vision and leads to many forms of suffering, the root of which is what Yoga calls avidya- a Sanskrit word whose literal meaning is ignorance, misconceptions, misunderstandings, incorrect knowledge. It's the opposite of clear seeing.
For me, this loss of perspective had its root in the pain I carried, or rather that carried or held me, around the death of my mother- but not only her death- her life as well. I only saw a woman whose alcoholism rendered her unable to be present for me, to behave in a consistent way, to protect me from what would later harm me, and then to take effective action so that I could feel supported and heal. In my mother, I learned a model for living that necessarily included self-medicating, and the evidence for this was either very obvious or very subtle. It was often so subtle, this need to medicate, that it became very easy for me to fall prey to it in very subtle ways, such as with food, or shopping, then alcohol, then later, social media. (In a future post I'll talk about why I left Facebook this year.)
This "go no further" relationship with my mother persisted for the first few years in recovery. I would "forgive" her in name only, but not completely. I knew it was wrong (by wrong, I mean harmful) to hold onto the pain of a relationship that for all intents and purposes had ended in 1999 with her death. But I did not know what to do with the grief, and I could not see how this "hook" I had put her on affected every other relationship I had too. There was this shadow of my mother, on a hook, covering everything I did and everything I accomplished or could achieve. The pain led me to self-medicate until I reached a turning point, nearly five years ago.
During that time and in the process of working the steps of recovery I was afforded the opportunity to look at this relationship (which, make no mistake- continued despite her death- the energy of that resentment and later loss was very much alive in my life) and so many others.
In October of 2014, my father retired to Florida following a serious illness that had spanned the previous year. I felt such an intense loss. I felt so much pain about this that looking back now, I can't believe how much it affected me, even over two years into recovery. But the pain I allowed myself to feel and experience opened a door for me to begin the process of forgiveness, even in that "go no further" relationship with my mother.
My dad and I spent Christmas 2014 together in Florida. We went to see the film Wild, starring Reese Witherspoon, which is based on the book of the same name by Cheryl Strayed. In the story Strayed explores the wilderness- literally- as she navigates her own grief and loss and addiction surrounding the death of her mother. This film impacted me so strongly. I had something of a mini-breakdown- an emotional reaction sitting there in the theater- and I realized how much of that grief I had not processed. I was still angry, still hurt. So, being where I was in recovery- two years in and having recovered a sense of trust in the universe- highly necessary for working especially the "action" steps- I knew I could work with these feelings I was having.
I remained open to the grief, talked about it whenever I could, especially in meetings, with close friends, and in writing class. I felt it in my asana practice as tension in my hip, shoulders, neck, or back- there one day, gone the next depending on how present I'd been and how kind I'd been to my body. I began running more and experienced a freedom in my runs- the stuck, heavy energy moving and shifting. I added strength work and developed a sense of vitality and purpose that had eluded me before. During this time I could not see what was changing- I had limited perspective. My teacher Nikki says that we cannot clearly see the picture of ourselves when we're still in the frame. I could not agree more. It's only through time and expanding our perspective that our relationships to ourselves and others change. So sharing about that relationship- and even more so, listening to the guidance of others who have had similar experiences- gave me some new thoughts about my mother, and some new ideas about why she was who she was and how that affected our relationship.
This past Mother's Day I tried something new. I visited my mother's grave, which I've done many times, never knowing what to do or say once I got there. This time, I took my journal. I set my timer for 10 minutes and meditated- doing so in the form of a letter to her. I won't share the contents of that letter, but the essence of it was to tell her how much I loved and appreciated her, that I understood her suffering, that I forgave her for her part in what we went through together while she was alive. I also made a commitment to keep this forgiveness alive- and not to forget it.
Following this experience I felt such a shift in my being, I can't really accurately describe it. In a very short period of time, I noticed that the way I felt about her had changed dramatically. I saw her as a dear, lovely person, with great pain, lost to me forever. I longed for her memory. A tenderness took over that relationship which continues to this day- even in this moment as I write it, there's a pang of emotion in my throat and heart. I miss her and I'm sad she's gone. But there is no anger. I don't see her as a person who let me down. I just love her and am grateful I had her while I did.
Once this shift happened, the dominoes began to fall, so to speak. I have begun to see all of my relationships in this way. Why would I willingly, knowingly, choose to hold on to pain? Why would I choose to suffer if I could make another choice? A first step is to ask what's really going on here? Then, what am I missing? What's my part? What are the gifts this person brings to my life? And can I see that those gifts are more valuable than the pain I'm holding onto? I can still set healthy boundaries- what I will and won't allow into my life- to keep myself strong and in integrity with myself. But I can always look closely at the situation and use discernment to find the right perspective.
I understand now, on a deep level that is hard to communicate in words, the value of the people in my life. All of the people in my life. They often come in as agents working for my Higher Power. In Yoga-speak, they are my gurus- the ones who lead me from shadow to light. The change in my perspective is extraordinary. And it is, indeed, addictive- in the best possible way. And those forms of suffering, rooted in ignorance? The ego, the aversion, the desire, the fear- those too are lessened.
A while ago, a dear friend in recovery shared the following prayer: "God/Spirit/Higher Power/Universe, please help me to see this differently." In other words, I'm suffering and I need your guidance to help me see things in a new way, with new eyes. It's become my go-to.
Try it. It works.
Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change. ~Alcoholics Anonymous