Sthira vs. Sukha

Sthira and Sukha are popular yoga terms meant to convey a “yin and yang” sensibility. I think of sthira as “roots” and sukha as “wings.” A more accurate translation of the Sanskrit would be “stability” vs. “lightness.” When practicing Ashtanga yoga I have always sought the sukha, or the potential to fly. I sometimes giggle aloud when my feet release skyward or my heart floats up to the ceiling. It is such a rare treat to escape gravity’s pull.

Sthira, however, is quite different – in many cases it requires the engagement of the larger, lower, muscle groups (the quads, the glutes, the abdominals). For two weekends now I have been reminded that stability is key. Scot, our instructor, has had us feel our feet, bend our toes, challenge our inner and outer thigh muscles…he even put us in cat pose and had strangers balance their bodies atop us in a form of improv contact. These undulating movements required constant shifting of my center of gravity in order to take someone else’s flight – or to entertain my own.

I thought I understood: ground yourself before you take off in flight!

Once again, I required re-direction. I overheard Scot explain that being actively grounded allows the upper body to be consciously free. “Active” being the key word.  Do not rest in your present position – but fully feel it for what it is (whether it be crooked floorboards, the push of another body against your spine, or the outward turn of your imperfect feet.) By doing this you are not actively seeking flight or lightness of being. You are instead grounding yourself to the earth and thereby engaging an interior reservoir of strength. Only then will your body feel safe enough to bravely reach upwards.

That is when the lesson sunk in. I have lived this lesson. For years I tried to create and recreate stable, safe footing for my daughter who suffers from addiction. I bounced between “Maybe I shouldn’t have said that. Maybe I should have said this. Maybe I missed something developmentally. Maybe a new school will work. Maybe a new friend circle. Maybe a new therapist. Maybe a new medication. Maybe exercise. Maybe more consequences. Maybe less consequences. Maybe a different insurance plan. Maybe, maybe, maybe….” I left no rock unturned. I needed her, us, to be free. But sukha was nowhere to be found.

I remember the moment when I finally accepted our situation. I was driving and the sun was setting and and my whole sense of being was flooded by the fact that my daughter had relapsed again. I didn’t know how to be. How could I just be with this? I remember breathing and releasing into that moment with a complete acceptance of the truth. It was dusk and the sky opened up before me and I thought, “this.” There is “this” too.

This acceptance, which I still feel vaguely uncomfortable with, was a long time coming. I had to fully acknowledge that change may not be possible – at least not in this present moment. This is not an easy thing for a mother to fully feel. But once I did I noticed the sky. It sounds so cliche – but at that moment I was fully awakened to the incredulous sky. I also understood this to be the second part of Scot’s admonition: to be consciously free. I chose to see the sky.

Since that day, nearly three years ago, I have looked upwards and found something akin to flight. And, incredulously, for two years my daughter has stood on terra firma.

We are free.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Wish I Could Be A Better Person.

I have seen addicts become better people than you and me. Those previously deemed selfish, sick, irresponsible, lost, criminal, hopeless.  Pick an adjective – at one point they all fit.  I know this sounds like pure hyperbole.  And to clarify, I don’t mean better than their old selves – that is obvious.  I actually mean better than you and me.

You and I, presumably, are the definition of good people.  We try to do the right thing on a daily basis. We live the Golden Rule.  But at the end of the day we close the curtains on the larger community.  We choose to be with just ourselves or the nuclear family we have created. We retreat to safety, comfort and self.

But the recovering addict doesn’t do that.

They often choose to mentor those who are still suffering severely – with little concern for the temptation that may present.  In the Big Book it is referred to as “giving back” or Step 12.  They claim that it helps themselves – but this, I think, is an overly generous sentiment.

I liken their behavior to that of a person surviving a fire… and then becoming a fireman. I don’t know about you, but I would never be that brave.

When those we love truly beat their addiction it can be hard to recognize them.
And it can be humbling to see that they have surpassed us in their ability to love and empathize.

For example, my daughter shares an apartment with three other individuals in long term recovery.  Their lease has expired, and two of them have decided to buy a home and possibly marry.  But even though this couple is ready for life’s next big step – they will not leave the other two women behind.  One could rationalize and say they are bringing them along to help pay the rent.  Until you learn that they are narrowing their house search to homes that can access the bus line.  My daughter is the only one of the four that does not have her driver’s license.  Purchasing a home within walking distance of public city transportation is of course more expensive.

And then there was the lesson I was given on Christmas day.  I had told my husband I wanted a pair of earrings made by a local artisan jeweler.  I wanted any color but blue – because, lucky me, I already had so much blue!  On Christmas day I opened my gift… and they were blue.  My face fell.  I didn’t hide my disappointment.  I even said “Ohhh… but they are blue.”

My daughter looked at me and said “but they are beautiful.” And later she said “Mom, you should have been grateful.”  She was right.  I had put my feelings (not needs!) first in a matter as trivial as that of material abundance.

I can’t imagine living every day weighing my psychological, financial and material needs on an equivalent basis with the larger community.  I had thought the Golden Rule was enough.  But the Golden Rule is based on seeing things through your own eyes – treating others as you would like to be treated.  But how about getting the “you” out of it?

Becoming a better person is within reach.  I know this because I have learned it from the recovery community.

Triggers Are Not Real.

“TRIGGERS ARE NOT REAL.”

My daughter stated this, firmly, when I tried to stop her from taking a bus through a neighborhood full of triggers. Addicts are supposed to avoid triggers….just like someone on a diet should avoid a bakery, and someone thinking about a new dog should avoid a pet shop. It’s good common sense.

This particular neighborhood, for three years straight, had replaced days meant to be spent at school. It was where she met her first, of many, older, opiate-addicted boyfriends. The neighborhood where she drank with her girlfriends until they couldn’t stand up. The neighborhood she went missing in for nights on end. The neighborhood she partied in to the point of hospital intervention, repeatedly. The neighborhood with the drug store street corner. All of this would be within memorable reach.

“I don’t want you to take the bus. I can get you in the car.  I would be happy to come get you… “

“No.”

Trigger has to be the perfect colloquialism for “classical conditioning.” I appreciate the way it brings to mind the image of a loaded gun to the head. When you are the parent of an addict it becomes that clear. That person, that bent spoon, that ball of singed tinfoil, that street corner…. all become sensorial reminders capable of triggering relapse. And relapse is nothing short of a game of Russian roulette.

To be clear, my fear of triggers isn’t a case of playing probabilities or trusting in a predictable pattern of personal weakness. Classical conditioning is scientifically proven. Most of us are familiar with Pavlov and his bell salivating dogs. This early study in classical conditioning proved that a learned process can change a previously neutral stimulus into a potent stimulus. This potent stimulus in turn creates real biological change in the body. Biological change where none existed before. Replace Pavlov’s bell with a street corner and excessive saliva with irrepressible craving and the problem becomes all too real.

“I want to take the bus. Triggers are not real. Like, everything is a trigger. A song. A boy. The bathroom. The sunshine. A nice day. A bad day. Even the breeze. You have to deal with your stuff, mom. If taking a bus makes me relapse then I haven’t dealt with my stuff. You just don’t understand.”

I am trying to. Classical conditioning is not equivalent to the loss of free will. Biological stimulus does not have to be a siren call to action. We are a little more complicated than a bell drooling hound. But how difficult must it be to retrain our rewired and tired brains to see each situation clearly and non-reactively? Can we be our own psychologists, neurosurgeons, life style coaches and cautiously present Buddhas?

In the end, she took that bus. And you know what?
She made it safely home.

Broken Things Have Value.

I have a set of flawless china. It is Lenox and it has a silver rim like a lucky cloud.

I also have a morning coffee cup. It’s crazed from being microwaved just a little bit too much.  There is a chip that serves as a reminder to not sip on that side. When the handle breaks I will, most likely, glue it back on.

Sentimental? Not really.

I have been thinking about broken things a lot lately. How my daughter’s journey has introduced me to the fractured and hidden members of our society. I have been inside too many psychiatric hospitals, too many jails, too many police stations, too many emergency rooms and too many detox centers. I have seen too many people cry.

But now I can hold these experiences in the palm of my hand like an old coffee cup. They are no longer things that happen to other people. And I can see that they have added value to my previously flawless life.

Three years ago I noted in my journal the incongruities that were becoming our norm:

“I had to pick my daughter up from an in-patient psych ward this morning. She looked just beautiful in a black tee shirt and old jeans. Her blonde hair hung in a long braid over one shoulder. I could barely see the bruise on her cheekbone. As she gathered her things to go she insisted on saying goodbye to Carl. She knocked on his door on her tippy toes, and said, “Carl come out.” “Carl, come out and say goodbye to me.” And she waited patiently. I was expecting a young boy…. but an old man came out. Wizened, beaten down, shuffling. She gave him a big, big hug. And I just didn’t know what to do with the feeling.”

Somedays I still don’t know what to do with all the feeling.  But I know I am the better for it.