I’m back at square one with sobriety again. In February of 2016 I got sober (after several years of failed attempts) through a fairly rigorous Ayurvedic protocol. I had worked the 12 Steps for an eating disorder in my twenties and felt really resistant to returning to the program now for my - was it really a drinking problem? My inability to name the thing ‘alcoholism’ and myself an ‘alcoholic’ largely kept me from an AA meeting. It felt like a step too far. So I went to Ayurveda, and I breathed on purpose, and I got sunshine on my face every day, and I concentrated on love as gallons and gallons of sesame oil soaked into me over several months.
After about nine months of pristine sobriety, I felt - well - I just felt like it; I felt like having a drink. I was better. I felt better, and I felt like I deserved something that I didn’t have in the moment that (fingers crossed) wine would give me. Inevitably, that impulse to “add something to the moment” snowballed, and I relentlessly convinced myself that it was different this time, that I had significantly changed my relationship to alcohol.
All this really meant in practice was that I wasn’t drinking a bottle of wine by myself as often as I had been. I didn’t feel sad as often while drinking, and I was (for a time) easily able to get up the next day and do all the things I said I was going to do. Just shy of two years later, drinking almost daily, re-gaining the 15 pounds that I had lost, and ending up in a negotiation with myself that would have put my life on the line, I recanted my ‘new relationship with alcohol’ story and promptly set to work acknowledging my powerlessness to my loved ones.
“She who is difficult to conquer”
I know this feeling of falling off the wagon with alcohol, because it’s also my yoga story. It’s also my food story, it’s also the spiritual practice story. “It’s fine if I don’t do it every day. I’ve done it for so long, it’s in me.” Even if you’ve never been to a 12 Step meeting, you’ve heard the mantra, “It works if you work it.” And it does, because every time you “work it,” by going to a meeting, by calling your sponsor, by getting on your mat or your cushion or spending the money to get out of town with your teacher, you acknowledge with your whole being that the thing you have dedicated yourself to (sobriety, God, wellbeing, relationship) matters.
I don’t know why I thought Ayurveda would be different than AA. I mean, it is in many ways, but it’s not in ways that really, truly matter, like commitment to the healing, consistency in showing up, naming the challenge, asking for help, surrendering to the process and remembering. Recovery asks that you remember not only why you came into the Ayurveda practitioner’s office, the yoga studio, the AA meeting, but the family of origin, this body. All recovery starts with an acknowledgment of the misstep, called ‘prajna paradha’ in Ayurveda, the ‘crime against wisdom.’ Our self-sabotage / addictions are the red flags to alert us to the fact that we have forgotten our reason for being here and now.
Making amends in AA is akin to the acknowledgment in any ancient healing practice of the gifts of our lineage and the support they offer us in spite of their inability to give it in ways that we perceived we really needed. The Vedic theory of incarnation / birth speaks to the amalgamation of karma from the ancestors carried forward by the unique qualities and capacity of the newborn. It says that 25% of the karma comes from the birth mother, 25% from the birth father, 25% from the gestational period, and 25% is the new soul’s personal baggage. It may have, at one point, actually been my mother’s responsibility to care for me in a way that she did not, and as such I am reckoning with the ripple effect of abandonment: a deep need to be soothed, reassured, comforted, and made to feel like the most important thing in the world to someone. But I have my path, and she has hers, and because of her path, I have mine, and all that Vedic jazz.
In order to make amends in any tradition, we have to acknowledge our complicity and responsibility. All healing requires a reckoning with a fundamental principle called ‘karma’ and the repeat challenges, stories, instances of self-sabotage that have brought us to our knees, because without that, we can’t get to work becoming the unconditionally loving and well-boundaried parent to ourselves that we originally needed.
Calling on the Divine Mother
In mantra practice, I become my word in a profound way. I have to acknowledge the difficulty of the present moment and speak it into being - my commitment and my surrender to the process come through me as sound. I can feel the resistance to starting over shuddering in my jaw, then melting as my voice warms up and melds physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual self into ONE. For my sobriety sadhana, I chose the Durga Gayatri mantra because I love it, and I love the haunting sound of my teacher, Shambhavi’s recording. I gave myself this external resource as an assist in my own remembering.
‘Durga’ can be translated as ‘difficult to conquer,’ and that which is most difficult to conquer in myself - my craving for comfort, my desire to be unconditionally loved, my MOTHER - I am ever more conscious of Her, and dedicated to living in right relationship to her as well. The renewal of daily practice comes at no cost to my well-being, nor to my ability to live in the world as a free person; it only comes at a cost to that part of me that would defy due to resentment the need for love and support from a Mother that is as ferocious as she is Divine.
It is really easy to berate myself and say that all those previous efforts from two years ago feel wasted, that I’ll probably bust my ass for nothing except another fall off the wagon. The self-loathing spirals like dancing little devils in my mind: “You weren’t strong enough, you didn’t listen, you’re not a ‘real’ yogini, you have no discipline.” Maybe I am totally powerless, and I feel like my self-deprecation is absolutely unmanageable. What’s the harm in getting on my knees and surrendering to a higher power? Maybe none of these programs are fool proof - not AA, not family, not Yoga, not Ayurveda. Maybe it’s time to make amends to my highest Self and honor that which my soul has come to this earth plane to know. Maybe it’s just time right now.
Om Girijayai Vidmahe
Shiva Priyayai Dhimahi
Tanno Durga Prachodayat
Daughter of the mountain
I call upon your wisdom
Beloved of Shiva
Guide my intellect
To that One who is difficult to conquer
I bow my head and heart in meditation