As I mentioned in earlier posts, I have just finished participating in a Yoga Teacher Training program which turned out to be so much more than learning the correct alignment of various poses. It was a journey of self-awareness and it has facilitated a personal inquiry process that has me quite frankly “blown away” in respect to how I view my world.
On the last day of the training, we went through the ethical responsibilities related to being a yoga teacher. The instructor asked how we would respond to variety of scenarios. One of the scenarios he had us consider was, “…what would you do if someone showed up smelling like alcohol to your class?” My heart started that quick pounding thing it does when something comes up that really, really matters to me. Having already admitted to this group that I have struggled with alcohol for many, many years, I sat back to listen to the responses. People volunteered with great conviction in their voices that they would, “…ask them to come back another time…” or “…tell them that the studio has a ‘no scent’ policy and they smell strongly of alcohol…” or “… it is unsafe for you to practice any balancing poses so you need to leave or lie down until the class is over…” After the last suggestion, our instructor countered with, “But what if they were not struggling with balance? What if the alcohol scent was from last night?” This seemed to slow the responses down somewhat but the feeling of shame, judgement, and stigma was palpable in the studio that morning. I was hurt and then mad. All of the talk about acceptance of others and where they are at in their journey and not judging, and seeing the light in all others… seemed to have been completely forgotten and the same old knee-jerk reaction of “you are a boozer loser and I have no time for that…” prevailed. It is the fear of this kind of reaction that has kept me in hiding for years and years and years. I did not want anyone to know about my problem with alcohol because of how you might perceive me. My old pattern would have been to keep my mouth shut and quietly seethe but that morning I could not keep my truth quiet. I raised my hand and said:
“I would use the fact that they smelled like alcohol as a starting point for a conversation PRIVATELY after class. And during that conversation my listening would be far louder than my speaking. And I would never, ever forget that this person being in my class on their yoga mat might very well be their first steps toward recovery. I would not want to contribute any shame or stigma that might contribute to them running, hiding and perhaps not seeking the help they need for fear of my judgement. Remember??? No judgement and there is light in this person too if I am willing to get past my own stuff and see it…”
It was disheartening to hear the judgement coming from my classmates, now my friends, after all we had learned, but such is the stigma that goes with the territory. I felt such a passion and peace as I spoke. I think that is what advocacy is all about. Putting a face and a soul to this vicious disease and saying, “me too – I struggle with alcohol BUT I am so much more than this… See me – all of me. And please, please don’t shun me.” As I spoke I hope my friends who will be going out in the world to teach now, remember that it could be ME they are tossing out of their class AND that I used yoga as a huge part of my recovery program even while I was relapsing and still fully drinking. It felt good to speak for myself but it was an HONOUR to speak for those who still suffer and might be desperately trying to find their way home to freedom on the mat… Let me always be part of the solution, not the problem…