Roughly 22 MILLION Americans* battle some type of addiction, whether it be alcoholism, drug addiction, or both. 1 in 8 Americans is an alcoholic.
Freeing oneself from the stronghold of addiction can seem unbearable, rather impossible, but yoga can be the miracle of release from bondage. With global rehabilitation facilities, there are few who DO NOT include some type of yoga as a part of their program.
This has been a hard post for me as I am a volunteer to help aid addicts into recovery through the yogic process. The harsh reality is that when you enter into the realm of being an addictionology, the odds are against addicts, which means they are against us. I would be shocked to know if there is one person who cannot state an encounter with an addict, moreover someone close to them (or previously close, if we choose to use the tough love method, or have to distance ourselves for our safety, well-being, etc.) Why are the odds against addicts? Addiction is a HABIT, and many say it takes 30 days to form a habit. Unforming a habit (or forming a new one, such as recovery/sobriety), takes an army and in my personal experience, YEARS, if not decades. For the addict (interchangeable the word addict will be used for addicts and alcoholics/binge-drinkers alike), one relapse can lead to immediate death even after years/decades of sobriety, and that is the very cruel, painful truth. Since I can speak from experience on both sides of the field, I will state that to be fact, as I’ve painfully experienced it time and time again. May is Mental Health Month and I want to make sure that I post this now because addiction is a mental health crisis. What has made me choose to post this today, is the fact that I just experienced another loss. This time, I lost a best friend of almost 18 years and now I personally struggle to cope. That being said, this is for parents/friends/family members of addicts as well (many of whom are in Al-Anon), to support their loved ones and simply keep them alive and give them a new life. It is just as hard on that person as it is the addict, and the turmoil is just as deep, if not deeper (we who help don’t have the numbing of emotions by usage of substances, like the addict). This is why there are many interventions, tough love approaches, etc. In the spiral of addiction, reality doesn’t exist.
Many people don’t realize that alcoholism is just as bad as addiction. It is legal. “Drugs are bad, alcohol is okay”. Both are destructive beyond belief, and I believe alcohol to be the gateway in the majority of cases. However, the stigma that addiction to drugs rather than alcohol is different (and even furthermore, different addictions have different “levels”), all of that thought process has got to go. Addiction and even dependence (per say, you had a surgery which required medications and you became dependent) — addiction is addiction, folks. Bundle it all together. I cannot sugar coat this.
Many addicts fail because AA/NA (Alcoholics Anonymous/Narcotics Anonymous) doesn’t sit well with them. AA/NA is NOT the only way. It can be integrated, and if it works for you, keep doing it. If it doesn’t, I am one of the few to tell you that there IS another way. The choice is yours, and I fully respect that. For instance, one addict may be because of familial reasons, whilst another may be because of dependence, mental health, lack of ability to cope, lack of ability to complete everyday tasks (hence why many “Wall Streeters,” executives, people with high demanding jobs or lives, (I say this because we have a huge stigma of what an addict looks like), but addiction has no target. Anyone can be an addict. Anyone can be sober, too.
What does this even have to do with yoga? If you’ve read my posts before, yoga is a mind, body, soul practice. “Addiction takes a person out of their body and prevents them from connecting to who they are physically and feeling what their body is telling them,” says Jennifer Dewey, fitness manager at Betty Ford (a renowned rehabilitation centre). Alcohol and drugs numb the mind. BINGO! We are about MINDFULNESS. If that’s not a polar opposite then I don’t know what is. Ms. Dewey also states, Yoga is a great way to slowly reintroduce someone to physical sensation…’ (the body is also numbed), ‘It’s also very relaxing, so in terms of the anxiety, stress, and depression that arise from detox, it’s invaluable in helped people stay calm and grounded.’” Now let’s expand.
It’s wonderful to integrate yoga in a rehabilitation center in regards to detox and the program of reforming habits. However, we need to keep in mind that Rome wasn’t built in a day, and a 30-60-90 day program isn’t going to keep people clean. The odds are against, and the relapse rate is unbelievable. Almost every addict will relapse. Almost every addict will relapse more than once. Almost every addict will relapse for years. And many will never recover. That is the problem I have with strictly AA/NA being “the only way.” It. Is. Not. I may ruffle some feathers but I have extensive experience in this area (I was also married to an addict, who was probably the most addictive person I can imagine, not to be cruel, but adding the mixture of Narcissim and mental disorders, for 3 years he has not been able to pass a drug test to see our 3 year old daughter (her lifetime).
I will give a short commentary for myself, because addicts come from all places. For me, I was born with a genetic condition, Ehler’s Danlos Syndrome, and it took 30 years to get a diagnosis. I gave up hope as Doctors could not find an answer, and it was always labeled as their favorite term for people with invisible illness (or rare medical conditions)…depression. I had a catecholamine test and I did not have clinical depression at all. My body was failing me, and I had no help. To be able to physically move, I had to have something to PHYSICALLY numb the pain. I am fortunate to be one of the few who did not have trauma (trauma is a huge precursor for addiction), familial history, mental disorders, or an unstable household. We were a traditional family unit and we remain that way to this day. I am blessed that my family all got on board and no one drinks. We live so abundantly.
So let’s cover the mind once more. Yoga is a spiritual practice. For addicts, there will be (some say often, I say always), a hole in one’s life, in which they are filling with some sort of substances. Instead, you can choose to fill it differently and live freely by doing so. Integrating the spirituality and the philosophy of yoga, connecting to our Higher Power/Creator/Source/GOD, we can leave that realm of addiction and enter a realm of tranquility, spirituality, security…the list is endless. Did you know, that is a high too? The highest high you could ever get. Would you like to be successful and mindful, addicted to yoga, spirituality (be that spiritual gangster! Sobriety IS COOL!); or does being addicted to a substance, being unpresent, numbing your life, eventually going down a spiral to being so low in frequency…does that sound like a better option? (Rhetorical question). No answer needed.
Back to the body (bare with me, as this is post in it’s entirety would take a lifetime for me to explain addiction alone). Let’s BREAK THIS BONDAGE! We’ve covered the spiritual/mindful part, let’s talk about the body. Yoga is so amazing as it has so many different asanas, which sets it aparts from other fitness practices that you’ll likely get so hyped on yoga and the next goal, to the next, that you forget about substances and fill your mind with all the desires of your practice. You’ll see amazing poses and it’s an automatic subconscious “alert” in your mind that you’ll be thinking, there’s my next goal! Chances are you’ll look back in disgust and wish you knew this sooner. To be fair, if yoga isn’t for you, and you prefer dancing, running, lifting, whatever physical practice that you are passionate about, just substitute my lingo for whatever your choice is.
So regarding the body, many people “get sober,” but they are still bound by their physical ailments. That’s why fitness (for this post, yoga) is SO important. You can read ‘”The Big Book” (AA/NA) all day long, you can attend every meeting, counselors, talk about your problems all day long…but what does that serve for your physical issues?
Let me back up here, and say, maybe you don’t have the physical issues, or you don’t realize that you may. It still doesn’t matter. Science is LIT (trying to be cool here to connect to everyone). But it’s true. I promise I will never state anything that I don’t believe to try to sway anyone’s opinion. However, you need to understand science plays a big role in the whole process of recovery. Let me quote “Dr. Drew” (Dr. Drew Pinksy, Sober House), “If you don’t know how to modulate your own anxiety, depression, or fatigue through healthy means, then you’ll turn to things like sedatives, pain relievers, amphetamines, and alcohol.” I pretty much already said that, but it’s always good to have a renowned and reputable source to back it up. Now physiologically (functionality, different from psychology), science can back it tremendous (if you’re skeptical, case studies are all over the place), yoga is very effective (as is any physical exercise) for regulation of our stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol. This includes “fight or flight” responses, which is innate and usually subconscious to protect ourselves. High levels of hormoones are extremely toxic and dangerous to not just your body, but your central nervous system. Yoga in particular (but not limited to) creates a reduction and balance of such hormones. So…if you’re less stressed, wouldn’t it be without question that you’ll be less likely to “have a glass of wine,” or “just one pill”? Rhetorical again.
With all of the physical, psychological, physiological combined, your odds of getting clean and STAYING CLEAN are tremendously higher. I emphasize staying clean because getting clean is so much easier than staying clean. The slightest instance can trigger you and put you right where you left off…and you may not get another chance to get back on the wagon. You may not be open again and willing to get back on track. I can’t tell you how many people have long-term decades of sobriety, and ruin 30 years of sobriety in ONE relapse. It seems far fetched but it is so true, and I know many people who it has happened to.
I hope that this reaches at least one person, whether they are an addict or a loved one in despair, fear, hopelessness, that there is light at the end of the tunnel. Just take that leap of faith, and I can promise you will not regret it.
Lastly, I’d like to offer to anyone struggling, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, for a FREE Zoom call, email, phone call, text, whatever you need to help set you or a loved one free. I am here to serve. Of course there are so many resources, but I will post them below for professional organizations to help you:
SAMHSA’s National Helpline (24/7, 365 treatment referral service to help you find resources, including rehabilitation centers in your area): 1-800-662-HELP
Unbiased data: www.verywellmind.com highly recommended
Narcotics Anonymous Website https://www.na.org
Narcotics Anonumous Virtual Meetings: https://virtual-na.org
Narcotics Crisis Hotline (visit the NA Website (www.na.org) to find the best local helpline)
American Addiction Centers: https://americanaddictioncenters.org
For Victims of Abuse- The Domestic Violence Support National Domestic Violence Hotline: https://www.thehotline.org 1-800-799-SAFE
Lastly, I want to give you all a tip before I go, which is to please know that if you simply google AA or NA, a lot of websites will pop up that are actual centers. Rehabilitation programs make a LOT of money, and please be aware there are scammers. American Addiction Centers is great, but I have found them to be somewhat unhelpful in that they do follow up in hopes that a person has relapsed and will re-enter treatment (which can be good or bad. Ex. A person relapses and dies, yet they still follow up with the grieving family). That is just MY experience, and I want you to make sure you have someone helping you so that you are not scammed. Do not let that deter you, because, I will reiterate, the odds are greatly against addiction. Again: Greater than half of alcoholics/addicts who undergo treatment die (that’s just for people who undergo treatment! THIS IS A CRISIS!) I lose someone close to every month. This is why treatment alone is not sufficient. This is why this is a crisis far greater than any other.
Stay happy, stay healthy, stay kind
Until next time my friends, NAMASTE