In late November, I coordinated an event at the Connecticut State Capitol for Advocacy Unlimited, the organization I work with, called a ‘Pro-Healing Rally.’ It was an opportunity to bring an amazing group of people together to celebrate the positive side of things, rather than to protest the negative. Protesting is an important part of the work we do, but for this event, we wanted to celebrate the many ways in which people heal from emotional distress– a topic that is incredibly important to me, because there was a time in my life when I did not believe healing was possible.
Not that long ago, had you told me I would be where I am today, healthy, happy and well at twenty-three, I wouldn’t have believed it. Neither I nor those around me thought I would live to see eighteen. I struggled from the age of thirteen to twenty with deep-seated sadness and an intense lack of self-love. This darkness manifested itself as anorexia, self-harm, and a powerful longing for death. I cycled in and out of hospitals, residential treatment centers, and outpatient programs. I missed a significant portion of high school and eventually dropped out of college due to my extreme emotional distress. Within a year and a half period, I attempted suicide five times, sacrificing anything and everything to reach my goal.
When I think back on this challenging time in my life, I feel mortified and ashamed to recall times like when I swallowed a bottle of pills and climbed into bed with my best friend, waiting for death to come. Shortly after we reached the hospital, my tired and weary body slipped into a coma, the consequence of taking an entire bottle of slow-release ADHD medication, a prescription that was not mine to take. My parents took pictures of me on the ventilator in order to show the insurance company how dire the situation was, in hopes of getting more money for treatment – I had exhausted all of their resources. Those images remain with me to this day. I can never express the remorse I feel for the hell I put my loved ones through, some of whom were present at the rally in November. I stood at the podium that day, tears in my eyes, filled with pride in my metamorphosis, and with gratitude for their undying support.
These loved ones tried tirelessly to find a solution to the darkness that dwelled inside of me. I saw countless therapists, nutritionists and psychiatrists, attended groups, learned CBT, and tried what felt like every medication known to man. After failing to improve in response to these methods, I eventually received multiple rounds of electroshock treatments, a period in my life I am fortunate enough not to remember. Through all of this medical intervention and clinical advice, I learned not to trust in myself or my intuition, giving over total control to professionals. Completely disenchanted with the idea of recovery, I lost all hope of ever finding that perfect combination that would relieve me of my suffering.
Today I am a world away from that sad, empty, fragile girl I once was, and I’m certain it’s because I found yoga and meditation. Returning home after six months in a residential treatment program (followed by a halfway house), I felt weak and unable to function in society. Then, I made a life-changing decision— I stepped onto my yoga mat in search of healing.
I’d taken a few classes when I was younger, but usually left them crying because I felt unable to quiet my mind or care for my body. But this time it was different. My mind was racing and my body was tired and sore, but I found peace in the rhythmic dance-like sequences of vinyasa classes, as well as much needed rest in the slow, supported movements of restorative classes. In 2011, I began working at the same studio I used to leave crying, manning the front desk in exchange for classes. The community I found there was welcoming, encouraging and safe. They believed in me when I couldn’t believe in myself. I began to reunite my mind and body, formerly two separate entities, each miserable in their own right.
Yoga helped me explore and reconnect with the body I’d abandoned and abused for years. My pain and sadness had me living exclusively in my mind, my body nothing more than a battleground for my inner wars. Through yoga and meditation, I slowly began to love myself again, learning to treat myself with care and respect. I felt a greater sense of self-awareness, and a sense of connection to something greater. This was a drastic contrast to the days when I felt as if god had forgotten about me, or like I was a mistake not meant for this world.
Not only do I have love for myself today, but I also have love for the life I am living. I am privileged enough to work as a Yoga Instructor and Holistic Health Coordinator for Toivo, Advocacy Unlimited’s mind-body center. Through my work, I experience healing every day– healing through working with others with lived experience, healing through the shared ideal that our experiences are valuable, and healing through the ability to give back to others. I am also lucky enough to be a co-facilitator for a weekly support group created by the Western Mass RLC called ‘Alternatives to Suicide.’ The people I share space with there each week are truly an inspiration. I constantly wonder how things might have been different for me if I’d had access to a forum like this when I was in the throes of crisis.
“Proud” does not begin to explain how it feels to be an active part of moving these nontraditional healing options forward. Healing IS possible. This is a powerful message that needs to be heard. We cannot afford to lose any more people to the despair and hopelessness that so many of us have known. We must work in support of programs and methods such as yoga, meditation and mutual support that can be found at spaces like Toivo and at some of the organizations represented at the Pro-Healing Rally – I was so honored to share space on this special day with people like Sera Davidow, Laura Delano, Daniel Mackler and Dan Fisher. We must continue to shine a light on the unexplored options that can alter and save lives the way yoga and meditation saved mine. By increasing availability and overall awareness, as well as leading by example, we can all help to further the hope and healing that we know IS possible.
* * * * *
This is so wonderful to read, and congratulations on such powerful awakening. Indeed, the road to inner peace is, inevitably, the road to healing. Beautiful work!
Thank you, Alex!
Wonderful story, thanks!
Thank you for taking the time to read it, Cataract!
Thank you for describing your experience of eventual healing. I find it really inspiring!
The fact that you find my story inspiring gives meaning to my experience. It is comments such as this that encouraged me to come out of the darkness and share my story. So thank you for the encouragement, and for taking the time to read this.
Thanks for your wonderful story, reminding me of the tenderness I feel for my beautiful daughter and for kindling hope in her liberation from psychiatric tyranny.
I know how hard it must be to maintain hope. I was so fortunate that my parents never gave up on me, even though I gave them countless reasons to believe I would not make it through my struggles. Your daughter is fortunate to have a mother so informed. I wonder if my parents’ views would have changed had they had a resource such as this. I encourage you to keep that hope alive because as I said, healing is possible. Light can emerge from even the darkest of places.
Sending positive thoughts your way.
Beautiful and enlightening. It’s no surprise to me that you are a yoga instructor today. Viewing your story in a holistic and spiritual way, you were put on Earth to heal others. My current yoga instructor also suffered from anorexia. Yoga is how she found her calling and her way out of her severe health struggles.
Thank you, Rossa. It warms my heart to hear you speak of myself and my story in this way. I am so fortunate to be able to give back. I feel so lucky to even share the slightest bit of healing with others like myself. Yoga is a powerful healer for eating disorders. I hope to increase the number of yoga programs in my area for those struggling with eating disorders. It is definitely an under-served population. I’m happy to hear your instructor benefited in the same way I did.
I’m glad you were able to find healing and peace of mind in this way, I’m actually going to start my first yoga class next week. We really do need alternatives to the psychiatric system. Their “life long, incurable, [theorized] genetic mental illnesses,” a theory which takes away hope, is the opposite of what brings about healing and good mental health. I’m glad your had good alternatives to our current sick mainstream “mental health” system, we need these all over the country.
I hope you had a wonderful experience at your first yoga class. Yoga has the power to completely change your life if you are open to it. Imagine the possibilities if all forms of ‘treatment’ were as positive and holistic as yoga. Yoga encourages the practitioner to look inside for strength and healing. My practice helped me to grow and evolve into the person I wanted to be, unlike the psychiatric system that encouraged me to be stagnant, dependent and mediocre. I couldn’t agree more that we need these alternatives to be available all over the country. I hope to help make that possible!
Thank you for reading and for taking the time to comment.
I’m happy there are people are you who not only recover but also try to create alternatives for others. Wonderful story.
I’m so grateful to be where I am at today. I feel like the luckiest person in the world to be able to work in this profession. Sharing the healing power of yoga with people with similar experiences brings immeasurable meaning to my life. I know how much I could have benefited from these holistic practices had they been offered to me as a form of valuable treatment when my struggles first began. I hope to see that become commonplace in my lifetime.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read this, as well as comment.
An inspiring story. So awful you were subjected to the terrible “treatments” dangerous and clueless psychiatry had to offer. Wonderful you fought your way to health and healing.
I have been shattered by ECT resulting in memory loss, cognitive dysfunction, trauma, and loss of self and feelings. I have no hope that my brain can recover. Did you have only a few ECT of the unilateral type that did not cause severe injury? Are you aware of any other ECT survivors who have had a benefit from the types of alternative healing you speak of?