Chasing Demons

Yesterday I took a two-and-a-half hour yoga workshop with my teacher, Katchie, whom I’ve been studying with intermittently over the past ten years (intermittent only because she moved away—she remains to this day the only yoga teacher I’ve had that cuts through all the “love and light” nonsense that permeates whatever the fuck yoga in the West is these days*). As always, it was not unlike a family reunion—I’m not the only one who goes out of her way to study with her when she comes around, and there were some people in that room yesterday who over the years have become kin. I’m much more into CrossFit these days, for many reasons—which is another post completely—and, it felt good to step onto my mat, fall back into the comforting rhythm of my body moving through shapes and movements that even though it’s been a few years since I had anything resembling a structured yoga practice, as always, body remembers, and after a few cycles of sun salutations I was so grateful that I spent the money to move and breathe and connect to this slower way, this slowing down, connecting to this different place inside I don’t access when I’m counting reps and watching the clock and pushing myself to beat whatever weight/time/person I did before.

Katchie’s asana is simple. No arm balances, no binds, barely any twists—I’m surprised she even taught a backbend. Physically it feels fine enough. Frankly, I don’t go to her for the actual poses. I go for what she says, for her dharma talks, for the way she distills decades of meditation practice into teachings that land right where I need it most, right in the guts.

In the yoga world there is this phrase you hear a lot, the one co-opted from Joseph Campbell about “following your bliss.” I don’t actually know that much about JC, but what I do know is that there are a lot of people in the yoga world who are so wrapped up in this bliss bullshit that they completely bypass reality. So when Katchie said, “Enough chasing your bliss. Chase your burdens,” my ujjayi breath caught in my throat and I let out an audible gasp.

This is the path of recovery.

The first year of sobriety, damn near to the day, was for me, well, blissful. I reconnected to myself in ways I couldn’t have imagined were possible in my wildest dreams. My creativity skyrocketed. Boundaries I didn’t even know were missing sprouted up everywhere. I made some SERIOUS CHANGES with things that I had up to that point been too terrified to even look at. I stopped lying, became incapable of doing so after spending my entire adult life telling little white ones even when I didn’t need to. I saw my masters thesis through to the end, after a lifetime of leaving unfinished products in my wake.

Then, a year in, the pink cloud evaporated and I still had all the same problems. The work was only just beginning. Though I didn’t feel the desire to drink (for this, I am down on my knees grateful every day), the end of the first year hit me hard.

Quitting drinking was indeed the first, most important step. It laid a foundation I didn’t even know I was lacking. And. I still had an inner demon that had me mostly convinced 99% of the time that I was a total piece of shit. I still had no money, had never figured out how to make and manage my money, had always been an under-earner—and sure, I was sober now, but quitting booze ain’t gonna pay back my 65k in student loans. I was single again at almost 35, an age where not only was everyone around me pretty much married, but many of them were by now onto their second kid. I’m thinking about starting to date again, and I’m terrified, because the beginning of every single dating experience I’ve ever had EVER revolved around booze. There are certain things that go all the way back in time down my family line that I am working to transform, redeem, heal. Certain relationships (hi, dad) I want to deepen but revert to my seventeen-year-old self every time consider it. I still have a hard time saying no to things I don't want to do when I think saying no will disappoint whoever I’m interacting with. I still catch myself doing this people pleasing thing where I lose my center completely. I still feel like apologizing for breathing most of the time. And though I’m aware of certain unhelpful patterns I keep repeating, knowing something doesn’t actually change it, does it. If it did, I’d be the fucking Dalai Lama by now, or like, the Mother Theresa of the recovery world. A year into my sobriety, the rubber started to hit proverbial road and hooooieee, did the wind run right out of my sails.

Fuck bliss. Chasing bliss only gave me staggering hangovers and dark nights of the soul and a head so far up in the clouds I’m only now beginning to feel myself on solid ground. I’ll take my burdens any day, because every little victory is the biggest victory of my life. The fact that I’m showing up here, once a week, and I haven’t quit already? That I’m showing you who I *actually am* instead of who I think you want me to be? That I’m staying right here, and not running or numbing at the first perceived slight against me or this strange path I am walking? It’s too much, in the best way. It’s deep and real and everything I’ve ever wanted.

I spent so much of my life running away from myself. Reaching, striving, wanting so badly to be anywhere but where I was at any given moment. The fact that I don’t want to do that anymore? That I have a great time being with myself, working on my projects, cultivating my (insanely rewarding) friendships? I just, yeah. It’s real. And true. And weird. But I’m doing it. I’m becoming the person I always wanted to be. I see her in my mind’s eye: unfuckwithable.

*If anyone takes issue with my negative yoga talk I am totally open to having a debate about it :) I know it’s a helpful tool to many people in recovery, I just found that lifting heavy weights and putting them back down to be much more useful. I still practice, it just looks more like laying on the floor and breathing than anything remotely intense or athletic.

Image by artist Katsukawa Shunsho, c. 1783