I decided to become an Uber driver. I was in a new phase in life and found myself alone a lot. My world was getting too small, too soon. The extra money would be nice and connecting to people, even momentarily, was appealing.
So I started the car.
What does driving for Uber and recovery from addiction have in common? More than you think.
The relapse prevention tools I had learned over the years of riding the waves of life in sobriety showed up in the back seat of my Uber driving in the form of empathy, joy, & kindness.
I had learned from the hours logged on my yoga mat and meditation cushion that my addiction had severed the connection between my mind and my body. My body held feelings that my mind refused to feel and accept. So I numbed.
I got clean and sober and began incorporating yoga and meditation as one of my top go-to recovery tools. Slowly, pose-by-pose, breath-by-breath, I began to access and accept the deep rivers of emotion that were buried in my tissues, fascia, and soul.
One time in yoga class during hip openers I started sobbing on my mat for no apparent reason. I asked the teacher about it after class and she told me the body remembers our experiences; our history. The yoga postures wring the trauma and dis-ease out of the body and the teacher assured me that my experience was a common one.
The emotions were brought forth in yoga and meditation for me to see, accept and begin the healing path.
I gained something else that class. This was my first real glimpse at self-compassion. I drove home thinking, “Holy crap, I have gone though a lot (and put others through a lot) and maybe it was time to recognize that and to befriend myself. “
Empathy, particularly self-empathy, was foreign and felt strange to me. Yet I somehow innately knew it held one of the keys to healing the cycle of addiction in my life. So I stayed with the experience of empathy even though it was uncomfortable and stirred up lots of doubt.
Over time, I saw that empathy is a very helpful relapse prevention skill. Empathy for others and myself is critical to me remaining happily clean and sober. The Big Book of AA states, “We stopped fighting everyone and everything.” Empathy, according to Brene Brown, gives me the ability to connect and be with my own pain and suffering and that of others.
When practicing empathy, I feel close to others and myself. Empathy acts as a bridge over the gap of disconnection and loneliness; both of which fuel addiction.
Driving Uber one night made that connection via empathy so incredibly obvious.
I was picking up passengers in Boston. It was the week before Thanksgiving and I was on Commonwealth Ave picking up a Boston University student. She got in the car and we exchanged hellos.
I felt a heavy air that I wanted to bypass and ignore. It scared me a little. I noticed being uncomfortable. I paid attention and thought I would ask her about herself. She said she was a freshman at BU and it was her first time being away from home. I suspected that heaviness was from being homesick because of my own experience as a freshman away at college.
Empathy arose within me and I recognized it.
I felt vulnerable but shared with her my own experience of being home sick that first semester in undergrad school. She opened up like a beautiful rose and shared how this had been the longest she had been away from home and how much she was missing her parents and sibs. She couldn’t wait to get home the following week for Thanksgiving Holiday to see them and “sleep in my own bed.” We chatted about being homesick and away from those we love for the two-mile drive through the Boston traffic.
When I dropped her off she smiled big and I felt how much lighter she was.
So was I.
One dark winter night I was driving in Massachusetts’s second largest city, Worcester. My Uber app pinged to pick up a male in an industrial part of the City. I felt a bit hesitant, as that section of town was not one I felt entirely comfortable in, especially at night. I am a small female.
I went to the back of a warehouse and waited for my passenger feeling apprehensive. Eventually a young man came from the back of the building and got in my back seat. I hit the app for directions to the drop off location and we were off.
I glanced in my rear view mirror trying to asses if I was safe or not. I wasn’t sure. The young man smiled. I relaxed and I asked if he just got off work. He replied that he had. We talked about his job.
Then there was silence between us. One of the most helpful skills of an Uber driver is figuring out if your passenger wants to talk, listen to his or her music, or just simply sit in silence. So I let the silence between us grow and waited for an internal cue or external prompt.
Suddenly, he blurted out in a shaky voice “I am going to be a Father.” I was ecstatic! With heart-felt enthusiasm and joy I congratulated him. He thanked me and said he was only twenty-two. “Just a kid myself.”
He went on to explain how excited and joyful he was and how petrified he was too. This will be his first child. He shared his fears and doubts. But mostly, we shared excitement and joy.
I dropped him off at his apartment about twenty minutes later and honestly felt a sense of deep happiness for him. He felt that from me and I thought we might even hug. The inclination was there! As he left my car he waved goodbye and entered a huge tip in the app.
Joy in recovery has helped me to heal the trauma and regrets of my past. The joyful experiences of today, like this ride with this young Dad-to-be, help to rewire my brain from the patterns of self-destruction to the joy of living happily without drugs and alcohol.
It was windy, freezing cold and early morning at the Boston Seaport. It was seven degrees outside. My Uber App lit up for a pick up nearby.
If it is a major thruway with no shoulder to pull over on, Uber will sometimes send the driver to the back of the building. This is exactly what happened on this frigid February dawn. I turned onto an alley and realized the app was sending me behind the building. I glanced in my rearview mirror to plot my turn around when I saw a businessman frantically waving his arms at me. It was clear that he was my passenger.
He got in the back of my vehicle complaining loudly. “What the hell is wrong with Uber?! They always go to the back of my building! You drove right by me!” He was really upset and angry.
My first thought was to tell him there is no safe place to pull over in the front of the building. I also thought about telling him I was just following the directions on the app.
Instead, mindfulness kicked in and kindness seemed like the best choice. So I said “I am so sorry. It is absolutely freezing out. You must be so frustrated. And I drove right by you!” I went on. “I am going to make sure we get you to exactly where you need to be as quickly and safely as absolutely humanely possible!”
He sighed and sat quiet for minute. Then we shared some small talk. He thanked me as he left my vehicle and I wished him a good day.
I actually felt pretty good about the exchange despite the rocky start. He had slightly recovered, albeit somewhat begrudgingly. For me I knew our exchange ended quite well given the potential for disagreement.
Being kind to him was the right choice.
Being an Uber driver and in recovery do have a lot in common. I see that empathy, joy, and kindness support my sobriety. Living happily and at peace with others and with myself builds with each positive experience.
One act of shared empathy, joy, or kindness builds the happiness circuits in my brain that lead to the next act of empathy, joy, or kindness. And momentum builds.
Date: Saturday June 8, 2019 / Time: 12:00pm – 1:30pm
There are 45 mat spaces. Make sure you are on one of them by registering now. This will sell out!
We are excited to announce that our spring fundraiser will be hosted by Shanti Yoga Studio in Hopkinton, MA and taught by Jacqui Bonwell! We will awaken our spirits with an all levels yoga class and a guided meditation practice. This benefit class will be an afternoon to remember as we broaden and build our own spiritual connection on the mat and the cushion/chair while extending generosity to those earnestly seeking recovery. No experience is necessary.
Jacqui is a ERYT-500 Certified Yoga Alliance Teacher, a YACEP Continuing Ed Provider, Balanced Athlete Level 2 Coach, Yin Yoga & Meditation Certified, Director of the Sacred Seeds Yoga School & Curriculum and Owner of the Canton Yoga Shala in Canton, MA. She has been called the Spiritual Mother of New England. Jacqui will inspire and heal your soul with her deep wisdom on how to move the body to connect the heart. She trains yoga teachers to “go into the holes” where they don’t have yoga teachings readily available : prisons, rehabs, schools and nursing homes so that everyone can get access to these helpful teachings.
Shanti Yoga Studio is a beautiful space that offers natural lighting and warm hues. Owner Jennifer Houghtaling offers this space generously to help us, help others. Selfless service is at the core of Shanti Yoga Studio and it is evident the moment you walk in the door. This is a lot more than just another yoga studio or the business of yoga. Jennifer truly understands and lives the yogic path by caring deeply about the community. Shanti yoga studio often hosts benefits for nonprofits and good causes. You will love the vibe in this beautiful space!
Location: Shanti Yoga Studio, 61 Wood Street, Hopkinton, MA
Please bring a mat, water, and wear loose clothing.
Thich Nhat Hahn said “No mud. No lotus.” This means that if we do not go through the struggles, the hard times, and the challenges, then we do not blossom into that beautiful lotus flower. I totally get that. My difficult times have taught me volumes. I have come to think of them as blessings actually. I have learned that without struggle there is no freedom.
Freedom from what? Freedom from stress, suffering, and dis-ease; freedom from the patterns of thinking that have kept me playing small, feeling insecure, and in the hell of a deep rooted belief that I do not belong; freedom from the regret of the past and fear of the future; freedom, basically, from my own thoughts, and feelings that are the result of old conditioning.
Three practices, within the context of mindfulness of the body, have helped me to slough through the mud and lean into and live the beauty of that lotus blossom. The three practices are: noticing body sensations, breathe awareness, and observing my thoughts. mindulness
Mindfulness of the Body
Mindfulness of the body practices are accessible and profoundly transformative. Anyone can learn them. They do require some instruction and of course the discipline to actually do them. They also require patience with the slow dissolving nature of old habits of mind and ways of being before the new wisdom arises.
These practices have given me tools to calm myself when I am getting flooded with difficult thoughts and/or emotions; created a strong and viable connection between my mind and my body so they communicate with one another in healthy and helpful ways; and expanded my ability to accept the full range of human experiences that occur in my life rather than resisting what I do not like and trying to hang on to what I do like. For the most part, I have stopped taking everything so personally too.
Mindfulness of the Body is literally a relapse prevention superpower.
Noticing Body Sensations
The first useful practice of mindfulness of the body is noticing bodily sensations. I can now detect low-grade anxiety in my solar plexuses before it rises to my throat and floods my entire thoracic cavity. When I am overdosing on anxiety, it makes a drink or a drug look like a good idea. If I am aware of any difficult emotion at the beginning stages of it, then I have a window of opportunity to take specific actions to manage it more skillfully. Calming myself in this way helps keep small things small. I have way less five alarm emotional fires and tend toward serenity and calm rather than chaos and drama.
I practice trying to stay connected to read my body’s language so I know what to say or what to do in order to live my values. Most of us can identify with the phenomenon of having a “gut feeling.” This is deep intuition that is a lot wiser than my thinking mind. Through paying attention to the sensations, pulsations, and internal indicators of my body, I can avoid situations and predicaments that are not healthy for me. That gut feeling is no longer a slight whimper but often times a lion’s roar. And I listen.
Another useful mindfulness of the body practice is awareness of my breath. My breathing will become shallow and faster when I am experiencing stress. It has this jagged edge feel to it that is a signal to me that I have to take appropriate action. The body knows. And it does not lie and tell me untrue stories like my thoughts do. I have come to trust it.
Simply noticing the quality of my breathing is an indicator of my current state of wellbeing. If my breathing is rapid, shallow, and jagged, I check out my hands, jaw, and shoulders. If they are tensed up and contracted, my body is experiencing a high degree of stress and likely pumping out a stress hormone. I am in danger of acting out in ways that are self-injurious and not at all helpful to others.
Taking deep long slow breathes helps a lot. I will inhale for a three count and then exhale for a very slow six count. For five breathes. Most times balance and equanimity begin to emerge, and a calmer, saner me is back online. Just. Like. That.
It really is that simple too. But it is not always easy. Catching the stress early, before it has its talon’s firmly planted in me, is way easier to down grade through breathing then once I am in full-blown stress mode.
Observing My Thoughts
One of the greatest assets to my recovery has been the ability to observe my own thoughts. Mindfulness practice has given me the skill to watch my own mind. Anne Lamott has been quoted as saying “My mind is a dangerous neighborhood that I try not to go into alone.” She gets me.
My biggest problem has always been, and continues to be, that I tell myself something and I believe me. Then I act accordingly. Observing my thoughts gives me space to question, analyze, and assess the thought before I act or trust it. I have developed a pause button between the thought and the potential action that has helped to avoid all kinds of uncomfortable and unwise situations.
For example, just the other day I had the thought that nobody really cares about me, like truly cares. My mind then went looking for evidence to support this thought. I told myself that so and so never calls me. I thought of that group of friends that does things without inviting me.
Then I noticed this thought and was reminded that it is a familiar visitor. I was observing my own thoughts. This idea that I do not belong and that no one really cares about me is from experiences of my past. They are not true thoughts but they strut about in my head as though they are kryptonite true.
I used to react to these thoughts and sink into a funk that was difficult to get out of and uncomfortable to be in. Because of the skill of being able to observe my thoughts, I see the familiar visitor and think “Oh look at that thought.” No need to judge it or be self-critical. Just a kind-hearted noting. Then I call my wife, my sister, my brother, and/or my best friend to just say hey and connect. Sometimes it is just a quick chat or a conversation about future plans.
I get connected. I feel connected. Belonging returns. The uncomfortable visitor has moved along. It will visit again. Hopefully I am watching so the visit is a short one.
Mindfulness of the body through these three practices is a relapse prevention tool. I do not get so uncomfortable that I find it necessary to engage my addictive behavior. I don’t go as deep and I don’t stay as long.
Well worth the effort beyond measure.
No mud, no lotus.
If you are in recovery from addiction, Prana Recovery Centers can help teach you mindfulness of the body techniques and give you the space to practice in a supportive environment with others.
When you think of the word compassion what is the first thing that pops into your mind? People may frame it as sympathy, pity, love or empathy. In my experience, if I were to be honest, I defined compassion as sympathy. It was natural for me to feel bad for people; which gave rise to me wanting to take care of people and help them. My perspective has changed over the years.When sympathy is shown to me, it doesn’t personally afford me much comfort but rather it keeps me in a mode of self-pity. I now define compassion more as empathy. When I can be empathic, I can be more connected because I feel with people rather than for people.Sympathy never truly allowed me to be connected; in fact it made me feel disconnected and better than.
Growing up in an alcoholic family, I wanted people to feel bad for me and show me attention because of my difficult circumstances. I thought that was how I was valued and it was the best way to get noticed.I learned to be filled up by others and living life from what others perception of me was.
After many decades, I found that to be empty and unfulfilling. I needed other people so much that I lost me. I became a chronic caretaker and never figured out how to take care of myself. My focus was primarily on others. The impact alcoholism had on me was that I felt alone, different from others, and on the outside.
I isolated from others and did not pursue connection with people.I had a ton of shame and did not want my middle school friends to see what my family life was like so I never invited friends over to my house. We were a single parent family due to the sudden death of my mother. We were different. As I look back over the course of life through middle school, high school and college and into my professional career, I did not have any continuity in my relationships. I kept to myself based primarily out of fear and insecurity.
Prior to finding my own path to recovery, I was tired and burned out. I had lost my true sense of self and was barely holding on. I was running a family member around to work and meetings because she didn’t have a means of transportation and had lost her license and I was the life -saver.I also had my alcoholic father living with me on a temporary basis and I was falling back into old patterns of behavior. I was exhausted and it brought me to a place where life became unmanageable.
It was not until I managed to find my way into recovery, that things started to change. I found people who could relate to me and my circumstances and a new world opened up to me. I found friends who were real and talked about real stuff.I found true and meaningful connection.
Connection and community are important to me. I have to continually find ways to make room for them. We live in a fast paced world and we struggle to fit everything in. The demands of work just seem to be more and more, we have longer commutes, the needs of kids and aging parents have increased, we are involved in parenting groups, play groups, self-help groups and the list goes on.
So how do I balance life?Making time for friends and family has become more important to me in recovery.I had always prided myself of being independent and not needing others. That wasn’t really my truth; it’s just how I survived.
I love having coffee with friends, going for walks, sitting with my Dad and just letting the conversation flow in a natural direction. I love relaxing at home, baking and watching my favorite shows with my wife.
The Seeds of Self-Compassion
If I know one thing it is that you can give what you don’t have. I cannot be a giver of compassion to others if I don’t have any for myself.
Self -compassion was the first step for me. I embarked on a journey of self- appraisal and I realized some truths about how I was conditioned around certain issues. I became willing to put old ideas to the side. By getting quiet, going inward, contemplating, assessing and praying I began to find clarity. In doing this, I took responsibility for my behavior. I did hurt people along the path and I had the opportunity to make corrections.My family was damaged due to the sudden death of my mother, the death of my brother, and my Dad’s alcoholism.We didn’t know how to be vulnerable with one another and share our hearts. Our hearts were broken and hurt people – hurt people.
Brene Brown says it perfectly “ You either walk inside your story and own it or you stand outside your story and hustle for your worthiness”.I hustled for my worthiness for decades and I came up empty.
Leaning into Empathy
It takes courage to own your story and to begin a new chapter. I did not want to live in regret, resentment or anger any longer.I was tired. Trials and struggles make us relatable and human. Life can be hard, but I can make it a lot harder by trying to go it alone.
When I open my eyes and my heart to other people’s pain, compassion becomes natural. Listening to people’s hearts through their stories soften me.I get to just be and let them be.I believe I am called to meet people where they are at and not have expectations of where I want them to be.There is no longer a need to control others.
Reverend Greg Boyle is the founder of Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles and it is the largest gang intervention, rehabilitation, and re-entry program in the world. He teaches about community, kinship and erasing dividing lines. To quote Reverend Boyle from his book Tattoos on the Heart “Close both eyes; see with the other one. Then, we are no longer saddled by the burden of our persistent judgments, our ceaseless withholding and our constant exclusions. Our sphere widens and we find ourselves, quite expectantly, in a new expansive location, in a place of endless acceptance and infinite love”
Being in recovery and leading with empathy with my family and friends has been a gift that has changed my life in every respect and for that I am grateful. Compassion is sympathy
The day that I got to my sober house is a day I could never forget. I was still very much in early recovery at 7 months clean and sober.There was excitement and some fear for being sober for so long. It was a record for me by about 6 months.The feelings I felt as I sat on that unmade bed, in that mostly empty room are ones that I can still feel when remembering that time. I had never felt so alone, afraid and eager to pick up a drink or drug.
This really baffled me. Here I was, 7 months sober and nothing had changed! Well, not nothing.After all, I was no longer homeless, I was eating three meals a day and I even had a job. The baffling part was that my internal condition hadn’t changed one bit.I was just as afraid, fearful and lost as I was the day I stepped into treatment a few months earlier.
While in active addiction, I spent time imagining the circumstances I needed to be present in order to stop using. I needed a job, an apartment, a nicer boyfriend,more money.And of course I needed my family to love me more. How could someone like me stay clean and sober without these conditions? If only I could arrange all of these external factors, the insides would surely follow (or so i thought).
I sat on my rented mattress and decided I would just keep saving my money and if I still wanted to use when I had enough money for a large supply of drugs I would use then. That night I walked into an AA meeting.Looking back I can’t help but see how my higher power was leading me when I truly couldn’t see clearly.I walked into this meeting for the first time and with no plans on doing this, I found myself a sponsor. Although I knew nothing about this woman or her background, when I heard her speak and I thought maybe, just maybe, she could help me.
I met with my new sponsor every week for a couple months. She read to me from the big book and we talked a lot. Periodically I got instructions to do some praying or writing. I did what I was told even though I was not convinced someone like me could get better.How could someone who was living under a bridge, eating at soup kitchens, stealing from anyone possible, lying about everything and showering on a very rare basis get better? I wasn’t even sure I deserved a good life, after all I had spent years living in survival mode and burned every bridge I had every built.
How could someone like me recover?
I spent the next few months doing everything I was told to do in an effort to prove to everyone that it wasn’t going to work for me. Well, guess what happened?At some point during those months the obsession and desire to drink and drug went completely away.I woke up one day and realized that it had been many days since I had thought about a drink or a drug.
That was all I ever wanted in life: a day of freedom from that burning desire to use. That happened and so much more.I began to have less hate for myself.The shame that I carried around began to dissipate. I began to feel comfortable in my own skin for the first time in many years.There were still moments of self doubt where something inside of me wondered how could someone like me recover?
I kept moving forward on this journey of the 12 steps because I became afraid to stop. The fear of what would happen if I picked up again was overwhelming at times early on.Relationships with people from my past began to be repaired. Not everyone was lining up to be in my life again, but in most cases I was able to make things right where I had wronged people.It was so powerful and life-changing to watch relationships completely transform. I had no idea how to be the healthy half to any relationship when I got sober.Learning how to be a good daughter, sister, girlfriend etc. was brand new for me.When it came to intimate relationships, I was a jealous, insecure and needy girlfriend. The steps taught me how to not be like that.They taught me how to trust in others and how to have faith.
It’s hard not to go on about the transformative process of the steps forever. I truly believe I would not be alive, let alone sober if I never found them.They gave me the ability to identify my feelings, to feel joy, and to be grateful. I had tried so many other things in previous attempts at recovery.These included new relationships, new apartments, new states of residence, different drugs etc. I could never put any time together no matter what I tried to change.Early recovery was challenging in so many ways, but the 12 steps gave me freedom and peace I never thought possible.
I spent many years going to AA meetings where I never heard about the 12 steps. It was never explained to me that there was a solution.I heard all the classic slogans like, “Suit up, show up and shut up” and “Do 90 in 90” and “Just don’t drink.” If it was as simple as just not drinking I just wouldn’t drink! For me, doing 90 meetings in 90 days wasn’t always attainable with work or school schedules.I would miss one meeting and then beat myself up for not being perfect. It was helpful to find quality meetings.Instead of going to a meeting just to say I went to one, I found a few that were really powerful and full of great recovery.I didn’t show up and shut up.People answered my questions and really wanted to get to know me. For the first time in as long as I could remember I began building meaningful connections with people.
My point here is that everyone’s path to recovery can look different. It is not a one size fits all.What worked for me was going to quality 12 step meetings, finding a sponsor, and making a commitment to get through the steps.
This is the first layer of me creating my authentic path to recovery. Doing the steps and really beginning to change the person I was erased that doubtful voice in my head that always questioned if a person like me could recover.
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