You’ve Got to Feel the Pain to Heal the Pain


healhandI went down to San Jose (yes I know the way) to my friend Kyczy Hawk’s yoga studio, Willow Glen Yoga for a weekend training on the Yoga of 12-Step Recovery with Nikki Myers. We were to learn about trauma and how to heal with yoga. As a yogi and a 12-Stepper, I’m very interested in this topic. I had to walk a couple of miles through a shaky neighborhood on the way to the event. Us Portlanders aren’t used to too much sun. By the time I got there I was a bit drained. I didn’t realize I was getting sick until the second night. You know that tired feeling you get, when you wonder if you’re OK but aren’t sick yet? That’s how I felt.

I’ve been practicing and teaching doing yoga for a few years. It’s really become a central part of my recovery. I’m working on my fourth book, The 12-Step Yogi now. I’ve taught a group called Yogis in Recovery in Portland for over a year. I’ve been working on a new book about yoga and recovery and have taught yoga at our 12-Step Buddhist retreats for a couple of years. But I’d seen Nikki on the Recovery 2.0 webcast and was intrigued. She and I spoke on the phone a bit and discovered that our work has many things in common, as do we personally. We’ve both relapsed with long-term sobriety and both have had long histories with trying alternative methods to support our recovery. So I thought this would be a good thing to open myself up to. I went down with an open mind, no expectations and was ready to learn. I just didn’t anticipate what was going to happen.

On Saturday morning I looked out at Lincoln Avenue where the retreat was being held and suddenly remembered a recurring dream I’d been having for, who knows, decades? I rode my bike up and down those streets as a drugged out teenager in the mid 70s. My dreams usually involved just riding somewhere, trying to pedal hard to get to a party. It’s very strange to connect with unconscious material while your eyes are open and you’re looking straight at a place where the dreams occurred. I mentioned that in my morning share as I identified the three things most important to me: my dharma, my writing and my teaching. I cried a little as I tried to describe my history with addictions. Though I’ve talked about this a billion times in different contexts, this was somehow different. We were getting trained in the deeper aspects of yoga, and addiction as trauma in the context of 12-Step recovery. And we were practicing yoga with Nikki, who is a powerful teacher. Things had begun to stir.

By that evening, my cold had begun to have its way with me. But I had plans to see Kayla, a friend from 7th grade—who I hadn’t seen in over 30 years, who was going to take me to Laura, my other friend’s wedding reception. The bride was getting remarried and I’d known her since I got sober in 1984 when we were babies. I knew Kayla when I was at the beginning of my family trauma and drug use and Laura when I got out of treatment. I’d expected that some feelings would arise around the various types of events and situations that could be triggers for me.

After the wedding reception Kayla and I went down to a 12-Step meeting. Some guys who’ve read the 12-Step Buddhist came up and I connected with them a bit and gave them cards for my new book, The Power of Vow. It’s odd to be in 12-Step culture as someone who people know from books. But it’s cool, and I like it. After the meeting we drove by our old school. We looked at the athletic field where we use to smoke pot and cigarettes and recalled how it was back then. Kayla mentioned that I went off on the Vice Principle one day and how shocked she’d been at the time regarding the intensity of my outburst. I’d started to explain that, based on what we were learning that weekend, the level of trauma that I was in at that time due to situations and budding addiction would explain that kind of behavior. Then we drove past my old house where the trauma began. I started to recount to her how at that house, my friend Tony and I used to get high. In that driveway, I used to try to learn basketball so that I could be accepted among the jocks (I never was, but we learned to party together). Then I told her about the times my brother gave me beatings on that front lawn and how he’d cut my hair off the first time and made me burn my rock and roll posters. The second time, a couple of years later, he made me do the cutting and the burning. We drove away from there and looked at some more houses where she and some friends had lived. We talked about how it was then, how we are now, and what became of those people.

Sunday morning was the last day of training. It was odd to experience little person feelings in a 51-year-old body. I’m physically fit and feeling better than ever. I’m a meditator and a yogi. I take my Dharma and my recovery quite seriously. I do a lot of work with a lot of people. It seemed surreal to have all of those awarenesses simultaneously. Nikki asked for comments after we did a Yoga Nidra (deep relaxation) practice. I quickly related my experience of the night before. It was pretty hard not to cry at that moment. But then we did another practice where we step into the circle if we belong to a certain group.

In that practice, we step in if, for example, our parents had gone to college, or if we grew up with more than 50 books in the house, or if any of our family were addicts. When we were in the circle, we were to notice who was with us, who was not with us, and our feelings. After about twenty of those questions I was ready to crawl under my yoga blanket. But I didn’t. I had a long day of training and travel ahead of me. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy.

By the end of the training I felt that yes, it was no accident that I was in that place at that time with those people. I’m a certified Yoga of 12 Step Recovery (Y12SR) space holder/leader now. I’ve done a lot of work over the past 30 years and this weekend was part of the ongoing process of transformation. I’m grateful for the opportunity to let the issues that were trapped in my tissues arise in a safe place, with safe people. I feel pretty raw and I still have this dang cold. But healing ain’t easy. As I’ve said in The Power of Vow, you gotta feel the pain if you want to heal the pain. And, as they say in the rooms, you gotta name it to claim it. We don’t have to do it alone. Y12SR is a great way to do this work, coupled with other tools like regular 12-Step, therapy, energy work, fitness, nutrition. I’m looking forward to starting two new meeting/classes here in Portland very soon.

I look forward to teaching yoga with people in recovery again, with this new-found level of understanding and experience.

Namaste y’all.


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