Monday, July 25, 2011

Amy Winehouse and How Yoga Saved My Life

I had another blog post planned for today.  As I've been organizing posts in my head, Mondays make sense for me to post about meal-planning since my Sundays are normally all about food.  But, it's summer and today was not a normal Sunday.  Also, Amy Winehouse died yesterday.

So instead of a post about food, you're getting me on a soapbox.  (Don't worry, I will talk PLENTY about food.  And soon!)  And before I get started for real, I'll admit, that I'm a touch reticent to write this as it requires baring a bit of my soul--and I'm not very good at facing real emotions.  You'll find out more about that soon.

So.  Back to Amy Winehouse.  I've seen any number of comments about her passing.  My initial thought was "Sad, but sadly not surprising."  What I have been shocked by is some of the reactions I've seen various friends and acquaintances.  Things like "I mean really, was it any surprise?" and "I just don't feel sorry for her..." and, the worst I've seen, "They tried to send her to rehab and she said... *thud*"

I've you're looking for the Cliff's Notes version, my Facebook status from earlier today probably states my position most concisely:

Allow me to take a long step back and then elaborate on that last sentence.  For a variety of reasons, my parents voluntarily sent me to live with my (maternal) grandparents when I was about 4 years old.  When I was in 7th grade, my mother had a freak accident in a beauty parlor after which she developed epilepsy and a host of other health problems.  (No, seriously, I couldn't make this up if I tried.)  As far as I am aware, my mother never drank a drop in her life because of the alcoholism that runs in our family.  (You should have seen the look on her face when someone offered her a bite of their Kahlua cake during a meal after my grandfather passed away.  Priceless.)  But she did carry a backpack full of pills with her wherever she went.

As smart as she was, she never considered that her doctor-prescribed medications might possibly be worse than self-medicating with booze.  So, less than a year after the grandfather with whom I grew up died of cancer, I got a call that my mother was found unconscious.  And even though they started her heart again, her brain function was gone.   The machines were turned off.  The death certificate specifies her cause of death as "acute intoxication due to the combined effects of methadone, hydrocodone [Vicodin], and zolpidem [Ambien]."  

My mother was 48 years old at the time of her death.

So maybe you can see why I have a real problem with people saying that they feel no compassion for Amy Winehouse's death because "Well, it could have been prevented..." and "She should have known better..." and "Yes, but did she ever COMPLETE a rehab program?"

Clearly, life isn't so black and white.  

And in addition to having lost my mother, I recognize that I could easily have met the same fate.

The grandfather died in June 2006.  My mother followed in March 2007.  My grandmother (who was primarily responsible for my upbringing) passed in December 2008.  

Needless to say, 2009 was not a good year.  I was an emotional wreck.  My best friend was also going through a traumatic time in her life and we enabled each other.  Addiction runs in my family.  I don't talk about emotions, not real ones at least.  So I struggled--a lot--and coped in unhealthy ways.  (Nothing illegal, mind you, but nothing healthy either.)

And then something happened in November of 2009.  One of the teachers on my team at school invited me to go to a yoga class.  She was a yoga teacher and owned a studio nearby.  Out of pure vanity, I decided that some physical fitness wouldn't hurt and I went to her Yoga I class on November 12, 2009.  

MAN did I hurt the next day.  (Which, in retrospect, is laughable.  I just go back from a yoga vacation last week and attended 22 yoga classes over 7 1/2 days.)   But I loved the feeling that I had after I shut my phone off and rest my workaholic mind to focus on myself for 75 minutes.  

So I went back twice more in December.  And once a week in January.  Then I added a core focus class on Wednesdays.  And then I added a Saturday class with another teacher.  And I got stronger--mentally, physically, and emotionally.  

Yoga allowed to realize that I wasn't just in a funk... I had been depressed.  And honestly, I should have been seeking treatment for that year--because planning 3 funerals and trying to hold my family together was just too much for even strong, stoic me to handle.  And the more I went to yoga, the lighter I felt.  

So, while I might be an addict now, my addiction is to yoga.  It is the only reason I will force myself to leave my classroom at a reasonable hour.  I am careful to listen to my body and practice mindfully--so that I can continue to practice regularly.  

Since that first class less than 2 years ago, I have taken another 238 classes.  (I keep a spreadsheet.  More on that later.)  At the studio, we joke that I'm a "frequent flyer"--I attend classes more than any other student.  (Okay, from January to May I was #2, but the "#1" woman didn't have a job and had a nice severance package from her previous employer...)  

I normally practice yoga 5 days per week, although I challenged myself to practice every day in July.  I have met and exceeded that challenge.  I am working on developing my home yoga practice and if it wasn't for marching band I would be training to become a yoga teacher this fall.

Yoga has returned me to health in numerous ways.  I truly believe it has saved my life.  I wish that Amy Winehouse and my mother had found a healthier way to cope with their circumstances before drugs led each of them to a tragic and premature demise.  And I wish that my friends and acquaintances, while perhaps not understanding why people turn to drug or alcohol abuse, learn to express compassion for those who struggle with it.

Lokah samasta sukhino bhavantu.


  1. So, First I applaud you for being open, b/c you can't change what you don't acknowledge.

    Second, I think it is gross when people make fun of addiction. It's real and paralyzing, and deadly, as we have seen too many times. And if people could just "go to rehab" and fix it, they would, but that is the thing with addiction. It's more than stopping a substance. It's addressing the addictive behavior, and finding out what it is helping you cover, cope with, or conceal, and that is the real painful part, and where people fail. B/c the WHY of addiction will always be with you, what you can hope to change is the HOW you address it.

    Third, and I hesitate here, only b/c I don't want to minimize where you have been or where you are, (and also because I hate to quote Russell Brand movies), but please be careful b/c "you can make anything herion". While no one would argue Yoga is a better option than drinking, drugs or whatever your particular poison was but, if you haven't addressed the WHY of addiction (not saying you haven't), you are still in the cycle, and if Yoga loses its appeal, it can be easy to slide back into a less healthy option.

    Fourth, I love you! Keep it up, and kudos to being brave enough to post.

  2. Love this post. Good for you for focusing your energy on something healthy.

  3. Thanks Katie.

    And Meghan - you're right. My use of "addiction" was too strong--I'm simply channeling my energy in a more positive direction.

    Thanks for the comments. I hope to see you both very soon!