Is Yoga Good for Alcoholic Recovery?

Is Yoga good for alcoholic recovery?  As you may know I have been going to Yoga three times a week to give me an opportunity for some spiritual development and physical release. 

Just now I got back from my Yoga Class - it wasn't on!? - and coming back home un-yoga'd I thought I ought to share what I just missed.  I like to say to myself the hardest thing about pre-dawn yoga is getting into the car and driving down the street - once I'm out of bed and in the car on these cool winter mornings - it all takes care of itself.

The first few times I went to Yoga I was overwhelmed with the intense mind space I entered.  Intensely self-conscious - I had a negative self talk going throughout the class and simply did my head in with all the shit I was telling myself.

Yoga is good for that.  In the class silence - or with some gentle Asian finger-plucking lilting tune meandering in the background, your mind is totally free to wander where it takes you and in those first dozen or so classes, my mind took me through all the negative baggage I was holding onto.  I had built my own identity around all these past hurts and painful experiences from years ago - and moving through flexibility poses early in the morning with nothing much to distract me - it bubbled to the surface.

So I wanted to stop doing yoga.  I found that is pretty common for novices - wanting to quit after being exposed to the raw shit that is floating around in your mind.  So I thought I should keep going, no matter what, and look further into what I was experiencing.


Don't Stop Doing Yoga
Until You've Done 10 Classes


My untrained and unprepared mind - the totally neglected alcoholic brain - let's compare it with a surging, fecund rainforest, wildly growing whatever seeds happen to fall from the sky with vines of confusion and weeds thickening into trees without any management apart from the rain and winds and the occasional bird fluttering by.  That was me as I bumbled along from drinking episode to drinking episode - not putting any effort into what I cultivated - letting whatever happen to flourish in my thoughts. 

And somehow, like all of us, a tendency to hold onto and nurture the most appalling negative incidents as thought they were what defined me and made me the man that I am.  So I had a rainforest brain filled with weeds that had grown tall and emerged at the top of the forest proudly standing against the buffeting of anything I tried to dislodge them. 

It was no wonder that the paths and tracks I hacked through the rainforest brain were around these landmarks - and that I was entirely comfortable trudging alongside a negative tree that had buttressed roots and threw long shadows all around it.  The shadows stopped anything else growing - nothing would really change whilst those big trees remained.  I was literally defined by those negative moments in my life and I had let them grow and become hugely part of who I was.

Enter Yoga.  Part of each Yoga class is the teacher or Yogi sharing insights and snippets of knowledge as you move through poses.  A big part is not consciously striving with with results oriented approach - but instead doing the yoga for the sake of doing the yoga.  The simple beauty lies in the method, not the getting somewhere or achieving something.  And alongside this is the truth of being in the moment.


Being Present in the Moment - Great for Sobriety


Now, after nearly 100 classes in the last five months, I can sort of talk of Yoga as though I am a developing novice.  It is at once humbling and inspiring to be waking up each morning and facing my own body, with all its limitations and stiffness and awkward reluctance to embrace twists.  But still do it anyway.

What I'd like to share with you if you are considering the stark reality of sobriety after career of drinking is to do it as soon as you can.  Waiting and delay are always the best friend of staying drunk and trudging back to the shop for more booze.

Fuck - I know I used 'just staying put' as a great way to drink another thousand bottles of wine when all the signs were clearly urging me to go sober.  But I was so scared of life without alcohol - and that's all it really was - sheer terror at having to be present with myself and do some personal development to get my shit together. 

So I thought it would be best to stay a drunk for another eighteen months or so - heck - no-one ever
said everything's easier when your older and even more set in your ways!


Yoga Works For Alcoholics


I know it can be pretty intimidating turning up to Yoga Class for the first time in your loose clothes and being around all these fit hard bodies.  It is especially challenging as a male to turn up to mostly female classes and be taken seriously - so always go straight to the front of the class and take a position in the front row or the second row. 

They'll appreciate your honesty and brave show that you are less experienced.  And it is a reverse sign of humility to go to the front of the room - it says you need more guidance and you are a learner and importantly for males in female dominated classes I've found - for the first few classes anyway - they'll see that you're there actually to do Yoga - not steal glances at hot chicks in awesome poses!  But seriously - ahem...

It is a great irony that the less experienced are encouraged to the front of the room whilst the rubber yogis all writhe effortlessly at the back of the room.  I felt like I was on display for them others to laugh at - but this was just my mind playing tricks on me - everyone is concentrating on their own poses and staying in their own moment.


Learning to Be Patient with Yourself


By far the most important mental strength I have developed these last few months doing Yoga is patience with myself.  I remember all too clearly my frustration and impatience was like one of those coffee urns always just on the boil - ready to spew steam and hot water over whatever happened next. 

Doing yoga has taught me - through my own flawed canvas of my body - that I am what I am and no amount of extra pushing or breath holding will give me the flexibility to twist into a certain pose today - no matter what I do. 

To get to that deeper stretch of the pose - I might get there by Christmas, or in 12 months - but that's OK - I'm not chasing any certificates or badges or status level ups.  Yoga doesn't really have them - you just benchmark yourself - honestly, patiently and with loving kindness.

Something we alcoholics do every day - stay sober and whatever you need to do - start TODAY!

Dry July

This year I've nominated for Dry July - a community fundraiser for people who abstain from alcohol for the month of July to raise money for cancer.  It's a great concept and a worthy bandwagon to hitch to - so it's hi to everyone who is going without for such a worthy cause.  If you've got a few to spare it would be greatly appreciated.

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This time last year I wrote The Meaning of Life - at the time I sort of did not realize I was at the top of a steep decline that would see the bottom out and end up the Psych Ward.  I was up here again, at the winery, taking care of things whilst the in laws were away, and the weakness to get into all the wine lying around was just something I didn't fight.  So I caved and was glugging wine and burping and chewing lavender buds to cover my breath - but people aren't stupid and sure enough it led to some pretty stark confrontations.

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It wasn't long before I sort of sobered up for a week or two and then it all fell away and I was back into the daily drudge of waking, drinking copious amounts of water, then slinking around skulling from a bottle to chase that warm feeling.  I didn't write another post for three months and in that time I was basically resigned to the ride - knowing it would slide disastrously into some sort of climax but not giving a fuck because i could drink and have that glorious empty bravado of complete peace in a bottle.

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It's ironic how a relapse that started in wine country ended in wine country.  I was sleeping about 25kms from the winery in a stiff bed with some sloppy adolescent on methaphetamine next to me.  He was forthright and to the point "Mate, are you gonna turn the fucking light off soon?" and I was honestly a bit scared of his thick fingers and tradesmand's tattoos - plus he was coming off his own crazy bender.  I wanted to pull some seniority thing, but I couldn't really say "I've been fucked up since you were in grade school" could I.  So I let sleeping dogs lie.

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The mental health unit welcomed me with serious frowns and that jaded look allied health workers have after taking a little too much overtime.  Sure, spending a few days eating food from under glass with plastic cutlery was just what I needed - and to connect face to face with some 'real' crazy people.  I have to check myself here - it's the massive ego elbowing in again - setting aside some other patients as more crazy than me, just a simple old school alcoholic - or as one of the other patients said - 'not that bad'.

But I was bad - and it's really refreshing and a source of some self respect that I am staying the course this year after such a messy failure in 2013.

Anyway, keep sober and if you can make a contribution to Dry July.


Turning Forty

What other people think

It's still hard walking into a room and not caring what other people think. Now I have a real distance between my last drinking episode and have been working hard on my personal development, I sometimes get these moments where I see who I am and where I am headed.  At times it can be completely terrifying and humbling, - at other times I feel I am slowly turning around like a big oil tanker in the harbour.

Now and then we all recall little snippets other people have said to us years ago and it has been a real fault of mine to nurture a throw away line into a mantra and let it define who I am .  Like the girl who said when I was in my late teens "Stop apologising all the time"  and I took to to heart - or the guy at college who said "you're always seeking approval" - that was a real strike deep into my being, or my father saying "But you've got something about you that people just don't like"  or my mother "All parents like one or another of their children a little more than others"


Sitting next to a dead elephant
it's a sombre moment bringing down the elephant in the room
He neither stirred nor fell, but every line of his body had altered. He looked suddenly stricken, shrunken, immensely old, as though the frightful impact of the bullet had paralysed him without knocking him down. At last, after what seemed a long time – it might have been five seconds, I dare say – he sagged flabbily to his knees. His mouth slobbered. An enormous senility seemed to have settled upon him. One could have imagined him thousands of years old. I fired again into the same spot. At the second shot he did not collapse but climbed with desperate slowness to his feet and stood weakly upright, with legs sagging and head drooping. I fired a third time...
George Orwell Shooting an Elephant.


It is part of my sobriety and personal development to process this historic and  out of date information and set it aside so I can move forward.  But in saying that, it still hurts and taking the heat out of ancient pain is where I find myself right now.

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I'm turning forty in less than a week.  It's funny how as a young boy you set these milestones around random ages or dates and there is simply no escaping the authority that four zero has.  Like all ages that end in zero, 40 is a defining age, a time that has in-built social triggers and a whole expectation built around it.  In a google search for turning forty there is plenty about personal development and taking stoick and assessing where your life is headed.

What if I told you I don't have a regular job?  What if I explained I'm still sort of chasing butterflies for my next business venture and I spend my days tapping away at a keyboard looking out my front window?  What if I told you I've stopped drinking six months back?  What if I told you I'm doing 6am Yoga three mornings a week?  What if I told you I'm feeling content and grateful and in the right place right now?

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My plans for the future are exciting and leave me breathless with anticipation whenever I share them with someone else.  The next decade shapes as my time to flesh out who I want to be and add the detail and colour of all my frustrated dreams and wasted opportunities of my twenties and thirties.  It's like I know who I am and what I want, and I am definitely pointing in the right direction.  Being sober is a given - if I drink I die.

It's taken me all my life to get to this point where I can know the difference between confidence and arrogance - between me and my ego - and know that what I need from life is not necessarily what other think I need.  Or that I should be running some disconnected race that isn't who I am for some silly status or to jump through some ridiculous hoop.  It is amazing to disconnect who I am from where I live, or what I do, or my wife or my children or my family.  Seeing me as a gentle, flawed human who is not always striving to be something is key.

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I'm not a big one for parties or having people around looking at me - what other people think is something I cannot control or even really want to consider.  So there is not going to be a party or a gathering - it is just plain awkward to have a non-drinking party and I don't think it will serve any purpose other than highlight what I am not instead of what I am.  Anyway, the last two fortieth parties I went along to had a sombre underlying feeling of getting old and just drinking for drinking's sake.  For sure turning 40 is a time for reflection and new growth, but waking up with a hangover and slobbering drunken nonsense is not who I am anymore.

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I can look out my backyard and see my tree ferns I planted and fed and watered now tall, out of reach and casting dark fairy shadows on the ground.  I can see my daughters talking and walking and writing and surging through their childhood.  I can feel my body getting limber and loose and releasing the tension and angst from years of neglect.  It's not that bad at all - I'm not mourning the loss of anything - but seeing me as a sum total of all my decisions and choices and not putting a label on myself or who I am.  I am forty, and I'm alive and sober and in the best shape ever to go forward with humility and gratefulness to whatever comes my way.

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There's something about Yoga that re-wires my brain - facing face first into the mat, breathing and opening my body at the same time as consciously not thinking - of just breathing and going with the flow.  It is a great lesson in non-resistance - in acceptance and self love and not striving and just doing the postures without putting a story to it or having to be anything.  My yogi called it comeing home to the mat - the incredible simplicity of bending forward with your hands out in front and bent at the hips - downward dog - it is grounding and humbling and exactly what I need to step away from my mind chatter and just release.

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My drinking was always about resisting, I used to see it as a badge of honour to have a disrespect for authority - to resist sometimes just for the sake of feeling the current push against me.  As though I was fighting upstream, when I all need do is tumble along with the current and let it take me wherever it leads.

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What other people think is what other people think.  Simple.  Not what I think.

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