A poet’s road to recovery from mental illness and addiction
Yoga feels good
Healing and wholeness. These are charged words, especially in the yoga community. I do yoga simply because it makes me feel better. I drink coffee because it makes me feel better as well. Yet there is a remarkable difference between the feeling after being in savasana and a latte.
Yoga stretches the practitioner on all levels, whether we go to our mat for a workout or for the meditative qualities. I tell my students what kept me returning to class were the feelings I experienced in the final relaxation.
My life before yoga included a striving for wellness. I had meditated with the Thich Nhat Hahn community here in DC. I was introduced to Marianne Williamson before anyone knew who she was. I wrote poetry. I had struggled with faith, having a faith of any sort. I had been newly introduced to Carolyn Myss and her talks on energy anatomy.
History: Addiction and Psychosis
When I was 15, I discovered drugs and booze. In high school, I was dubbed most apt to become an alcoholic. I remember even then realizing something was lost or missing, and I began imagining myself whole and healthy.
In college, the crowd I ran with all drank often and did drugs. What I did seemed normal to me. I don’t think I realized during the early college years what a problem I had. As a freshman, I came to the odd conclusion that I wasn’t supposed to feel like I belonged, anywhere. When I was over 30, I realized not all teenagers experience suicidal thoughts as I did.
Once I graduated, terrified of the working world and society in general, I moved to Boston to be a poet, and did not realize until later of my avoidance and fear of joining anything. I knew by then I was an alcoholic. I drank and wrote and survived, on some level.
In Boston, I met the depths of my alcoholism and a deep loneliness. As a college graduate, I worked as a donut dealer in a coffee shop and learned about people in a working class neighborhood. What one did for living did not necessarily reflect qualities I admired: compassion, mental acuity and intelligence.
I began seeing an acupuncturist because it felt safe. I did not have to say much. He poked me. I felt better. Most of the time I had very low chi and was in the depths of drinking during that time.
Then, psychosis happened. Many things fell apart from the inside out and then from the outside in. Also, at the time I was involved in the esoteric sciences so voices sounded like thought transference or the manifestation of spirits.
I must say both my parents were amazing during this time. They found a way to bring me home so they could help me. My sister was a constant source of support and my brother rescued me a few times.
Medicine Did Not Heal Me
Psychotherapy was required once I became psychotic and was good for the most part. I was out of my mind and checking in with anyone at all was good. Finally, I received proper medication. I stabilized. Over the years have come to realize that schizophrenia, my diagnosis, at one level is a chemical imbalance and yet it is more.
Last year I learned that before there is full-blown psychosis my mind just gets busy: no racing thoughts, no delusions, no voices, just busy. And I realized I needed to return to the therapeutic dose of medicine.
This was after going through many, many medication changes over the years and seeing inside the dynamics of how my mind works, what the red flags are, and knowing certain patterns of thought make me ask: was this a symptom of my condition?
It takes over a year for me to deteriorate into full-blown psychosis. When I was first getting help, many did not realize just how ill I was because I am articulate even when crazy and I held things together in a way.
I did finally see a doctor who could medicate me properly and transition me from psychosis to daily living with therapy back then. Today I still see him, but have not done traditional therapy in almost 20 years, more or less.
The pharmaceuticals I take give me a brain chemistry that allows me to function like someone who does not have this mental health condition. The medicine did not heal me. Schizophrenia did not cause my problems per se but manifested something deeper.
The point is not what happens, but what are you going to do.
Healing comes with time and patience, understanding and insight. Healing comes with forgiveness. Healing comes when we stop asking: “why me?’ (A question I never entertained by the way) and start looking hard at who and how we are. Good and bad things happen to everyone.
Yoga places me in my body
Talk therapy was helpful for sure, as part of the process. But I believe traumas that I hold live in me when my mind and body and heart and spirit are not connected. Therefore, yoga has been integral. Yoga put me back into my body, a place that for most of my life left me anxious, uncomfortable and insecure. I drank and did drugs because being here in my body was that uncomfortable.
I became an alcoholic and an addict and developed a mental health condition because that was the only way I knew. My life was not any worse or better than anyone else’s. I survived on an inner level by developing these behaviors and dynamics on a deeper level.
The responsibility of any adult is to accept yourself how you are and the choices you make as a result of who you are, not who your parents were or were not. Most parents do their best, imperfect as it may be. It is the toughest job there is.
So when diagnosed with schizophrenia I started reading about it. When in the darkness of my alcoholism, I found AA. When therapy seemed incomplete I tried alternative healing. Hypnotherapy was amazing because I did not talk about traumas; instead I experienced feelings in my body, in my whole being. I continue to work with those who bring balance energetically and love massage when I can afford it.
Mental Health and Victim Mentality
Folks with mental health conditions are too much in their head. And in my experience talking keeps you there.
Also, for the record, if anyone has a developed victim mentality as a mode for living in the world and lands in the mental health system they just found a home. People told me I was sick. People told me I was different. People told me I was unable to make decisions for myself.
At one time any or all of those things may have been true but luckily it just made me mad. I refused to accept that I was less than anyone else I met, ever. I refused to be a victim. I refused to let a system run my life or allow others who had a degree in mental health of some sort or another define me or think they knew better.
Anger: Blessing and Curse
My anger and fire saved me in so many ways. And I continue to heal. I continue to have to forgive myself for things I do and I continue to grow. It is also my fire and anger that as a yoga teacher get in the way of good teaching, robbing my students of the experience they want because of my passion and my keen eye for alignment, as if a flexed foot or grounded hand were more important than how one feels in the pose, in the moment. Letting go is a constant process.
Medication is necessary for me, so far…but wholeness comes from looking at all of me and learning how to create balance where it is lacking, learning when it is best to share and learning when to be quiet.
Life is a journey of healing. I get hurt. It happens. It’s okay. I cry maybe, or maybe drink another latte when I don’t need it or maybe I do more yoga or often, write a poem.
If you have a condition of any sort and others judge you as different or less than, remember we all have challenges that make us each have to work harder. Their judgment reflects their insecurity and has nothing to do with who you are.
Alchemy and Pain
Most people most of the time are doing their best. Pain is not good or bad. We all have pain. We all suffer. We all have challenges. The real alchemy is taking that energy and turning it into light. I keep trying. I keep learning. I keep finding teachers.
As one man said, reach up to the person ahead of you on the path to help you up and reach back to the person behind you; but if that person behind you becomes a weight, well, let go.
It’s not easy. Life never is.
Editor: Seychelles Pitton