Yoga for 12 Step Recovery (Y12SR) uses the analogy of the vessel. The human experience as a vessel (or as one of my teachers calls it: water sac).
Addiction turns our vessel upside down. When I’m upside down, not only do I have no idea what is up or down, but I also have no sense of right or wrong, what I want, what I like, where I want to go or who I want to be. In short: I have no idea who I am. I’m completely submerged in the upside down experience of active addiction. I’m in complete darkness and denial.
The first step is the awareness that I’m in darkness, that something is wrong (not wrong as in bad, but wrong as in out of alignment with the truth and fractured). This awareness comes with dawning of thought that maybe it’s more me and less the rest of the world that’s out of alignment. I must accept that I’m powerless over this force that lives inside of me and holds me upside down. This was the greatest revelation for me about the disease: The understanding that I can’t control it. This key awareness opened the door for surrender and willingness.
The last time that I was in treatment was not the first time I was in treatment. I found myself in a bathroom with an unbreakable mirror in a room with one blanket, thinking to myself: “how did I get here again? It’s only been 6 months since I was in treatment and now here I am again”. Now I know that there are no coincidences in life, that the universe unfolds exactly as it should.
I had a piece of recovery literature that someone had given me. The moment that I was having this thought…asking myself how did I get here again? I opened the book without looking at what page I was going to, I opened to the page where it told me that once I put that one in me I was in the grip of something more powerful than me. I had heard this over and over again in meetings and from people in Recovery, but I hadn’t fully accepted the truth of this: That I could not control what I did or what happened after I took that one. That lack of acceptance made it possible for me to keep taking that ONE. The first step is the recognition and acceptance of this powerlessness.
The second step is the other part of that admission, that it’s not me that’s going to get this vessel right side up. Every time I try to fix what’s happening, every time I try to control my using and get my life on the right track, really I’m just pulling myself farther into the darkness, I’m kicking my legs and flailing around and making a lot of movements and noise, but I’m not really going anywhere. In this state I am entrenched in a belief system that has my power generating from my fractured personality and malfunctioning spirit. In step two I connect to the stillness inside and open to this possibility: I do not know where my power lies, and If I can stay in the stillness I will find my real power.
Now I come to step 3 to let go, to surrender, to make a decision to turn my will and my life over to a power greater than myself. That power doesn’t have to be known and it doesn’t have to be God. It’s the decision part that’s important, the decision cultivates the willingness to face fear and spurs action towards the antidote of disease thinking: Honesty. In the second step I come to understand and believe that I am not the most powerful force in my life. The third step is learning not listen to everything I think, to embrace the idea of “I don’t know” and to make the decision to follow. Deciding to practice Faith by following the path of Recovery laid out before me by countless other pioneers in this new life.
In the next 3 steps (4-6) we get ready for the spiritual journey, we’re going somewhere so we need to get ready. By Step 3, I’m committed to the adventure, but I still have all of this shit attached to me, the baggage I’m carrying from before I used and all the shit I picked up along the way. The middle steps clean the baggage up, getting it manageable for the journey. I look at everything I know about living and relationships. I decide what works, what doesn’t work, what can be stitched up and used.
In the last 3 steps we are ready for this spiritual journey. The spiritual journey means being present and authentic in my life to the best of my ability. The best of my ability means fear is not a stop sign, it means accepting that I will get it wrong and I will get it right. The best of my ability means committing to participating in my life as if I am the person I was born to be. It means saying yes when I mean yes, no when I mean no and “I don’t know” when I don’t know. The spiritual journey is the path back to the authentic self.
I started using drugs when I was 12 and I got clean when I was 30. I used for 18 years. When I finally got clean, it was not the first time I tried to get clean or the first time I thought about getting clean.
During one of the first conversations I had with my sponsor, she gave me one of the most powerful tools for Recovery. She told me I needed to learn how my disease expresses itself.
My sponsor showed a piece of recovery literature that told me that my disease expresses itself, she said “you need to know how that thing expresses itself without your permission, because it isn’t going anywhere, you will have it for the rest of your life”. She told me that even if I stayed clean for the rest of my life, I would always have the distorted thinking that had led me to using. I believed her because I had always known there was something wrong with the way that my mind worked.
The times that I had tried to get clean before I thought I was an addict because I shot dope, I didn’t think I was and addict when I was smoking pot or when I did acid every day when I was 14, or when I drank to oblivion. I thought I became an addict when I stuck a needle in my arm.
I came to recovery and was enlightened to the fact that none of those things made me an addict. I’m an addict because I have distorted thinking. This is what my sponsor needed me to understand, that I needed to recognize the distortions in my thinking.
In order for me to take the journey to find out how my disease expresses itself, I needed to look at how I felt right before I copped, and then travel back before that in time to when I felt that feeling. That was one of the ways that I learned how my disease expresses itself and what triggers me. This initial self-inquiry and resulting knowledge has allowed me to peel off layers of misperception and distorted thinking; journeying ever closer to reality.
Today, some of the same things that activated disease when I was six, can activate it now.The difference is that now I have a lot more choices about my behavior because I recognize my distorted thinking.
The thing that is so infuriating (and often deadly) about the disease, is that even though it lives in the mind, it attacks the spirit and disturbs the emotions. It makes us forget that we are spiritual beings. When we have forgotten that we are spiritual beings we become capable of inhuman behavior, destroying ourselves and anything in our way.
When we come into recovery, we begin to remember that we are spiritual beings, we begin to remember who we are. Sometimes we become so overwhelmed with the gravity and depravity of what ‘ve done that it’s too much and we use again.
This becomes the dance of Remember, forget, remember, forget…but there’s a place that never forgets. A place inside of us that knows what we are and never forgets. The spirit needs a gradual awakening, slow and steady. The 12 steps provide the path for this gradual awakening, Yoga provides the tools to stay on the path, breathing life into Recovery.
The 12 steps are a spiritual way of life, they are a balm , soothing for the spirit, when we become present to the breath and the body we can be with the spirit. We can be with our spirit in a way that is a slow moving process, we can learn to ignore the mind (for the moment), ignore the disease and remember slowly that we are a spiritual being.
This process of remembering and forgetting has happened over and over through the span of Recovery. The spirit awakens, the thinking becomes distorted and we forget, we apply the balm of the spiritual way of life and we remember. Choosing life, choosing spirit.