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Soulshine Sobriety

By: Kristen Black

Kristen Black is the Interactive Media Coordinator for La Hacienda Treatment Center; she manages the company blog and social media intiatives. She has spoken at two national conferences - CCSAD and NAATP - about how treatment centers can utilize social media. Remarkably, Kristen graduated from TCU in 2000 with a bachelors of arts degree in marketing, all BEFORE getting sober. In August 2002, she admitted to La Hacienda, began her recovery journey and hasn't looked back. Four years later she came full circle and was hired as an employee. After hours she is a yogini, who recently completed her 200 hour RYT certification. Kristen lives in the Texas Hill Country with her husband, Kirby, and their three dogs.

It hurts, and this too shall pass

Apr 08, 2013

 

I wish.

I wish my heart didn’t hurt so bad.

I wish he had heard me and seen me.

I wish he hadn’t made fun of me when I tried so hard to connect.

I wish everyone could see how hard I tried and for how long.

I wish they knew the people closest would sometimes tell me I should let him go, he won’t change but I know God can do some crazy things. I had to give God and him the chance.

I wish he would of changed.

I wish they asked, “what has it been like for you”?

I wish they could of seen the many times I had to pull over because I couldn’t stop crying, screaming to release the anger, the breakdowns at work, the fear, the dry heaving, and the hours and hours of therapy, writing and meditation trying to make sense of it all.

I wish they saw the capacity I have for love and loyalty but that I can’t do it all by myself. 

I wish they could see I am not a runner.

I wish the people who are supposed to love me the most loved me for me.

I wish there was no judgment, blame or criticism – only empathy and responsibility.

I wish setting healthy boundaries was not seen as being malicious.

These are only wishes and reality is all there is. So, I can either unsuccessfully wish it away or step into reality with acceptance. No one ever knows what happens behind closed doors. I remember being blown away by this lesson when I first got sober by what I saw in the rooms of recovery: A successful man or woman walks in to a meeting looking like they have it all together, they share, and the curtain opens to the immense pain in their lives. Perfection is an illusion.  

Have I made mistakes? Of course, that is what humans do; it comes with the territory.   The old saying that if everyone were to throw his or her problems in a pile you would fight to pick yours back up. Well, I believe it is the same with mistakes – my mistakes are based on my experiences and they are what make me, me. 

I don’t know why things are the way the are but I do know that one day we will see the bigger picture and the lessons will have been learned. The pain will subside and as long as I still have a heartbeat and my courageous soul: I am alive and therefore this too shall pass.

 

 

 

 

 

And The Wisdom To Know The Difference

Mar 14, 2013

When I was new to recovery, my first question was, "How in the heck can I trust my wisdom to know the difference – look where it got me!"

Thankfully, those of us in 12-Step recovery have sponsors, recovery friends, and a program of action that can help us learn to trust ourselves again.  

When we work the steps, we see our part in situations. And when we see what motivated our choices, we learn about ourselves and what makes us tick. As we move forward and start making sober choices, we call our support network and check in to see if our thinking and decision-making process are headed in a healthy direction.

Yoga is another useful tool in a somatic sense. It enables me to feel the wisdom to know the difference.

 I teach yoga at the treatment center where I work. During class, I have the patients check in with themselves physically in an active pose and while in a deep stretch.

First, in Warrior 1, I ask them to check in with their bodies: Are they feeling pain anywhere; do they need to back off? Are they half-assing the pose by not going toward their limit? Is there an adjustment that can be made that might give the pose more ease?Finally, how can we take this off the mat? The answer is by asking all of these questions in regard to our program. (Are you still trying to force your will in areas of your life that continue to cause pain? Are you half-assing your program? Is there someone to let go of or something that you can do to make the transition to this new way of living a little bit more comfortable?)

We also check in while in pigeon pose, which is an intense hip stretch. I ask the participants to see if they are making the stretch harder than it really needs to be. I ask them if they are creating unnecessary “drama.” Is your face squished? If it is, it doesn’t need to be to stretch your hip. Where are you creating more of a problem in the experience you are having right now? Let’s then take this lesson off the mat and into our lives. Where am I creating unnecessary drama? Is there a problem at work that I am allowing to also cause problems at home? A lot of times we bring the stress of one situation into all areas of our lives. The goal is to keep whatever the energy is in the places it is supposed to be.

It takes some time to get back in touch with the wisdom to know the difference. Thankfully, as I mentioned above, we have people and a Higher Power who can guide us back to our Spirit and our inner knowing.

The goal is not to be self-sufficient again, however, sometimes we get too much conflicting advice and information and we need to be able to trust ourselves enough to make the decisions that are right for us.

In the end, we have to be 100 percent self-approved and that comes with having confidence in ourselves once again.

Coming to terms with my sensitivity

Feb 10, 2013

 

Have you ever been told “you are just too sensitive”?

That has been coming up for me a lot lately due to some major changes taking place in my life.

My whole life I have felt, and have been told, that I am just too sensitive. The underlying message I receive from that is that somehow I am broken, or maybe just not quite right. 

I recently stumbled upon a concept of Highly Sensitive People (HSP).  I’m not talking about “you hurt my feelings” sensitive, but rather a sensitivity that you can feel physically, environmentally, emotionally, and most importantly spiritually. 

What I find interesting is that for so many years I used the word sensitive to describe myself in all of these areas.  I have consistently apologized for “feeling too much.”  Sometimes, if I have too much sugar I feel sick.  I have a difficult time with loud noises, and constant interaction with people can completely deplete my energy. 

Since I have been in recovery I have spent the last 10 years trying to “fix” myself.  It was not until recently that I finally realized I’m not broken!  Sure, there is more work to be done; character defects I need to address and stinking thinking that needs to be reprogrammed.  However, now I approach life and these challenges with a new pair of glasses. 

I now have a new perspective on a healthy path of healing.  This helps me to uncover all of the me that is good and whole.

One big voice for HSP’s is Ane Axford.  Her website is www.sensitiveandthrivingand she provides resources, encouragement, and community. 

I love this quote from her:  "Forgive yourself for feeling. Forgive yourself for being in pain. Forgive yourself for being sensitive. Forgive yourself for being ‘unfixable.’ You are valid. Your feelings are valid. Use them with innocence and power. You can't be fixed, you don't need to be fixed. You are. Carrying around guilt for feeling will create a barrier to being held where you are."

 I am.  If I am a child of God am I not enough?  If I am a work in progress then isn’t who I am today exactly who I am supposed to be? 

Today I know this is my truth and it feels good to believe in myself once again and to be connected to a Power greater than myself that loves me for who I am.

 

 

The art of letting go in the new year

Jan 04, 2013

Letting go is a common theme when starting the new year, especially as we think about what happened in the year prior, what lessons we learned to move us forward, and what habits or situations we want to leave behind. Many of us set goals and intentions and are very optimistic about the year to come. However, sometimes circumstances come into the new year with us— what do we do then?  For me, it is to let go and surrender to what is.

Letting GoLet's be honest here, the concept of letting go is weird. How many of you looked at your sponsor or friend in recovery like they were from another planet when you heard those words for the first time. I can only imagine what I said, "Um, I'm not holding anything!" "That won't work, my situation is unique." A definition that Melody Beattie uses is "Letting go is a spiritual, emotional, mental and physical process, a sometimes mysterious metaphysical process or releasing to God and the Universe that which we are clinging to so tightly." 

What this means to me is letting go is an awareness, an acknowledgement of the situation, fear of not knowing the outcome, and returning to the present moment. It doesn't help to continue to ruminate about what will be; the answers will come, the situation is what it is. This can still be a very hard concept to grasp. 

A great tangible tool is the idea of a God Box, Surrender Box, The Letting Go Basket—name it anything you like. Another tool or ritual would be to write down your fears and burn them.  These tools work well for me because when anxiety crops up, when I start trying to figure it all out, I think about the thoughts actually being burned or they are safe and sound in their little box.

Photo courtesy of african_fi

Maybe as you come into the new year you develop your own ritual around this. I have read stories of friends getting together and having "letting go" parties. 

I am ready for 2013 and done with 2012. I have been doing a lot of work the past couple months on letting go of the "old me." I had been living life too long based on old messages that do not serve who I am today. Now, I formally will let go of the approval seeking, the shutting down, the not speaking my truth, and the ever present self judgment (I was surprised when I found that out about myself) by writing down these old behaviors and burning them. Dust to dust as they say. 

Oh, and stayed tuned for the new Kristen

Change is life's only guarantee

Dec 03, 2012

I am sure you have all heard that the one constant in life is change. It is the only guarantee. 

I was in a meeting the other night and the leader spoke about change; he chooses not to use the word change but instead uses the word growth. I love that! Isn't that what change is really all about? Every time I experience change, I have to get out of my little cocoon, stretch, and usually feel out of control and completely uncomfortable in my own skin.

Change is the only constantBut can you imagine life without change? Had I not been willing to change in August of 2002, I would not have just celebrated 10 years of sobriety. I might be dead, locked up or in a mental institution. I look at what has been brought into my life and can't imagine living today as I lived 10 years ago. When I first got sober, I had no idea what life would be like and it freaked me out. But I trusted the happiness I saw in people in recovery and the promises hanging on the wall. What’s great about recovery is that I didn't have to know! All I had to do was the work; I only had to put one foot in front of the other and leave the results to my Higher Power.

So, it seems to me if everything changes we might as well move into acceptance—so much easier said than done.  Moving into acceptance is sometimes an hourly challenge because we alcoholics love to hold on tight and the back and forth struggle can be painful. 

I love this quote by Bill Wilson: "Nothing, absolutely nothing, happens in God's world by mistake ... unless I accept life completely on life's terms, I cannot be happy. I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world as on what needs to be changed in me and my attitudes." - The Big Book by Bill W, the Founder of Alcoholics Anonymous

Nothing in God's world happens by mistake which means all change is good, no matter how much it hurts, the outcome will be as it should. Bill also makes a good Alanon point—I am responsible for myself and no one else. Solid change comes from the inside. I am changing growing immensely in my life. My old ways of thinking and behaving are no longer acceptable. Some of this stuff has been with me as long as I can remember, letting go is not easy but it is necessary. My choice today is to walk through the fear of change and become more of who my Higher Power has intended me to be.

The dual nature of fear

Nov 01, 2012

I mentioned last month that I am walking through quite a bit of fear right now.  Yesterday was a big day for me; I had a therapy appointment with the individual I am in conflict with. For about a week my stomach hurt because of the fear and anxiety.  How would it go, what would I say, what would I do and what would the other person do? Naturally, I thought it would be a good idea to go to a meeting the night before. And wouldn’t you know it, the topic was from Pages 67 and 68 in the Big Book – fear inventory. 

Whenever I doubt the presence of God, there He is, subtly showing Himself – whispering I am here and you are OK. So, there were a couple of things that stood out that I have held on to tight.

First, one man shared that praying isn’t enough, you have to take action, and you do that through service to others. I totally agree. One of the biggest gifts of recovery has been the idea of ACTION. Twelve Step programs gave me detailed instructions on the action I have needed to take in my life to recover from alcoholism. But what about late at night, when I am alone, trying to sleep and the fear unexpectedly overtakes my being? Hopefully, you aren’t taking sponsees to bed – that would be a whole other problem. When this happens all I have is prayer; it is just God and I.

Second, trust infinite God rather than finite self. This was big for me because I usually have a plan, an agenda, and sometimes I am pretty sure what the outcome will be. However, in this particular situation I had no words, I had no clarity— I felt I was walking in blind. I had no choice but to trust Infinite God. It’s almost like my finite self shut down so that I would have no other choice but to reply upon God. It was still scary but it was also comforting; I could feel the internal struggle release when I said these words over and over again.

Third, I am in the world to play the role He assigns. In the grand scheme of things the picture of my life, God’s plan for my life is one I cannot see and much bigger than one event. The truth was, I wasn’t going to die yesterday, it was just one small act in the play of my life.  My job is just to show up and trust.

Fear can be paralyzing and cause sickness. However, fear can also be a great motivator and a path back to our Higher Power if the emotion is utilized for change and healing. Fear has a purpose, just like anger and joy and all of the other emotions.  It’s what we do with the fear that separates a person who is growing spiritually and who is stuck in the problem. Ask yourself, am I paralyzed or am I using my fear to reach my full potential?

In the meantime

Oct 01, 2012

In August, I celebrated my 10th AA birthday and you will never guess where – in a treatment center, Five Sisters Ranch to be exact. 

Five Sisters is not a chemical dependency treatment center but rather one for codependency, trauma and all things relational. I think God is pretty funny, “Yes, you have a decade of sobriety but don’t you dare think that the work is over; you still have a long way to go.” God is doing some major renovations in my life and I have absolutely no idea what they are. I have no control, no clarity and plenty of fear, but I know God is right here. It is a strange feeling – vacillating from panic to the feeling of everything is alright already. So, if I know everything is alright already then why are there feelings of terror, too? The panic and fear, for me, comes from “in the meantime.”  

http://www.reneweveryday.com/assets/1/7/bbb085e735d941ba9b732a15003d65331.jpgI trust the what but the when is where my struggle comes from; when to take action and when to rest, when will I have the answers, when will the outside circumstances work out, when will my insides be whole again.  

“In the meantime” is really about being present in the moment. Show up to work and do my job without obsessing about the turmoil.  “In the meantime” allows for a reprieve from the drama, to show up and be present in my current life while God continues to work in the background for my future life. I love this quote from The Language of Letting Go by Melody Beattie: “Don't think too hard about things. The flow is meant to be experienced. Within it, care for yourself. You are part of the flow, an important part. Work with the flow. Work within the flow. Thrashing about isn't necessary. Let the flow help you care for yourself. Let it help you set boundaries, make decisions, and get you where you need to be when it is time. You can trust the flow, and your part in it.” 

I am grateful for the flow today. I don’t want to do the same things over and over again; I don’t want to thrash about and struggle. If I don’t stop, listen and learn I will keep getting more of the same. A friend of mine came to visit and we had not seen each other for nine months. She just kept staring at me with this inquisitive look like she was trying to figure something out. She finally said, “I can’t figure it out, the way you talk and carry yourself is different, even your eyes are different, but at the same time you are the same. It’s like you are you, but more you.” 

I guess whatever is happening “in the meantime” is working.

Image courtesy of Krappweis/stock.xchng.com.
The Language of Letting Go

The Language of Letting Go

Paperback, 408 pp.

Melody Beattie integrates her own life experiences and fundamental recovery reflections in this unique daily meditation book written especially for those of us who struggle with the issue of codependency.


It takes two when it used to take only one

Sep 02, 2012

http://www.reneweveryday.com/assets/1/7/78a56ebf6edb48be8660fd126072a50a1.jpgThe title above comes from one of my favorite songs by Ryan Adams. Before we come into recovery, most of us have been going at it alone - trying to fix ourselves, ignoring the blatant facts that something is amiss, or maybe trying to “pull ourselves up by the boot straps.” I went to church, read self-help books, went to nutritionists and moved to Phoenix. The list goes on but none of it worked.

Some people offered help but I either didn’t want or it wasn’t the solution to reach sobriety. As alcoholics and addicts, we need people who have walked the same path to show us the way out.  In a Twelve Step program we get a sponsor, but a sponsor who doesn’t help us do the work will not keep us sober. A sponsor having a sponsee, but not working the steps will not keep the sponsor sober either. Both have to show up and put in the time and the work for recovery to be possible for either one. They aren’t doing it to save the other person; they are doing it to connect to their Higher Power who will protect them from picking up a drink or a drug.

Isn’t it the same for relationships? When we are single we get into a way of life that works for us. Ideally, we are also working to become better people, to grow spiritually, but then we get into a relationship and all of a sudden “it takes two when it used to take only one.” 

If one person shows up and puts in 150 percent it still isn’t enough and eventually that person has the potential of getting mentally, physically and spiritually ill. You may be thinking the obvious… Hello? Alanon! The answer may be obvious but isn’t the answer obvious for an alcoholic who is killing themselves with alcohol?  What seems so clear to everyone else is usually not obvious to the parties involved.

Two isn’t always enough. The sponsor may not be available when needed; two people in a relationship may not see past the pain.  So, in recovery we reach out and stick with those that have what we want. We create a fellowship around us to help us stay on the path of recovery. In the case of relationships, a third party may need to be brought in; a therapist that can look at the situation objectively, and like a sponsor, show the couple the path that leads to a healthy and fulfilling relationship. 

Simple, but not easy. Asking for help? Ugh. I get caught up in perfection and trying to live in a perpetual state of happiness; but the truth is it is not sustainable nor is it reality. Like the story in the Big Book of the man that comes up from the cellar after a devastating tornado and says, “Don’t see anything the matter here, Ma. Ain’t it grand the wind stopped blowin’?” We have to wake up to the truth of our lives and our character defects.  We only know what we know; what I know got me to where I am; and although I have to put in the effort, it takes two … we all need a little help.

Image courtesy of stock.xchng.com.

Finding the Unexpected in Yoga

Aug 01, 2012

The truth is most people come to yoga looking for yoga arms or some other tight and muscular body part. Some come because of an injury from high impact sports. But what many people end up finding is a spiritual way of life that either deepens their relationship with their Higher Power or creates a new one altogether. 

http://www.reneweveryday.com/assets/1/7/4a53e9b6c24f45d4b0ca1dc63ebeb2a91.jpgSome students see this way of life in their yoga teachers. I heard a story about a woman who was teaching yoga at a gym—she was explicitly told to just teach yoga, not to talk about spirituality. She did as she was told but the women who came to her class saw something in her that they wanted; they wanted to know more about how she practiced the spiritual side of yoga. They saw in her something they wanted, her soul was shining despite what she was NOT saying. I say this is a great example of attraction rather than promotion. 

That is the same feeling I had walking in to a room full of people in recovery. My experience, which is similar to many others, is I came to a Twelve Step program just wanting to stop or to control my drinking. Instead, I walked into a room where people were laughing, loving and living life. I wanted what they had and I was willing to go to any lengths to get it. 

We are told to stick with the winners. The winners to me are the ones I see growing, changing, facing life’s challenges head on and making it through them. I want to learn from the people who are helping others and the ones that are the same person in and out of the rooms. In the Big Book, the first thing Bill notices when Ebby visits him is “there was something about is eyes. He was inexplicably different.” I knew that the program was working for me when I began to get those comments. 

The same thing has happened in my yoga journey. People are noticing changes taking place; I am calmer and I am more confident in the person that I am. There have been physical changes as well, I have those yoga arms and my eating is cleaner because I have lost the desire to eat meat.

Yoga can also be considered as meditation, journaling and praying. The practice of asana (the poses) is to prepare your body physically so you may sit comfortably for long periods of meditation. As you move through the physical practice, the focus of moving with breath and body clears and calms your mind to bring you back to the present moment. 

Today, I feel closer to my Higher Power more than I ever have and I believe it is because I continue to work a program of recovery and practice yoga regularly. If I do not grow spiritually in my recovery I will drink again. I cannot do the same things over and over and think I am going to grow or improve, it just won’t happen. In yoga, I cannot keep going to beginner’s classes or not pushing myself further in the poses.

Status quo is not good enough; spiritually, mentally or physically.

Image courtesy of meepoohfoto/freedigitalphotos.net.

God — It’s Personal, You Wouldn’t Understand

Jul 01, 2012

The other day I was trying to tell someone a “God Story” I had just experienced. I was excited, grateful and in disbelief. As I told the story enthusiastically, I noticed the other person was not as enthusiastic as I was. Did they not care about me? Are they thinking about something else? Perhaps they are thinking to themselves that I may be a bit of a Looney Toon? 

http://www.reneweveryday.com/assets/1/7/faa3a94b3df348b9a51f62b02ba7f87a1.jpgThis has happened several times recently and my feelings have been kind of hurt. A lot of us, when we first get into recovery, run around saying, “Oh my god, you have to hear this story, it’s a total God story.” I think for the most part that is a true experience, but sometimes we sound a little fanatical. As the years go by and you talk about your God stories as they happen, some people still think back to those first years and dismiss your current story as just coincidence and not quite divine intervention.  It can be so frustrating! Until I remembered that in recovery, when “we come to believe” in a Power greater than ourselves; it is a God of our own understanding, a unique and personal relationship.

One of my favorite books remains God Speaks Your Love Language by Gary D. Chapman. He tells the story of a woman who connects with God through quiet morning meditation and prayer. Her husband, on the other hand, loves charismatic churches, waving his hands and singing loud. They are both accessing a Higher Power greater than themselves but in two different ways, they are relating in a way that speaks to their own individual spirit. Isn’t that the same with human relationships? 

For instance, my mother-in-law and I probably love Kirby (my husband, her son) just as much on a love scale. He probably loves us both just as much on the same love scale; however, the relationships are not the same — they can’t be. Each person is an individual with different emotions, defects of character, personalities and the like. Not to mention a mother-son relationship is a completely different dynamic than a husband-wife relationship by its very nature. I may think Kirby has done something so sweet for me, and you may be asking yourself why in the world I thought that was so sweet.

I think the same goes for the Power House above. Eight months before I moved, I was visiting the small town I am living in. I walked down the street and got an overwhelming feeling I was meant to live here. I didn’t know when or how, but I felt like I would live there. 

Eight months later I moved. There are 100 mini-God stories within those eight months that I won’t bore you with, but to me that whole process was a GOD story that I wanted everyone to know about.  I get chills when I think about that feeling. The people I tell – don’t.

I am not offended or disappointed anymore.  I have stopped having expectations of the reactions I want to see from people. I don’t really tell a lot of them these days, except when I am sharing my experience, strength, and hope with people I am close to in recovery. Today, I think of my God stories as secrets between my Higher Power and me, and some of them are quite funny. He can really be hilarious.

Just like the woman in God Speaks Your Love Language, I connect to my Power during the quiet hours of the morning with gratitude and ask to be shown the path I am meant to follow.

Image courtesy of thepathtraveler/freedigitalphotos.net.

They Are Doing it all Wrong Here

Jun 01, 2012

Last August I moved from Houston to Boerne, Texas. I love the small town, the beautiful landscape, the people and the clean air. So, what’s the problem? Oh my goodness, it feels like I am starting my program of recovery all over again! In the beginning I judged the meetings — “They aren’t doing it right.” 

About four weeks after the move, an acquaintance who moved from California to Houston happened to call. The first thing she said to me: “The meetings in Houston are terrible; they are doing it all wrong.” I died laughing; she sounded just like me! I realized then that the truth is most people are not doing it “wrong,” just different. 

I got sober in Houston just like people are getting and staying sober in Boerne. It is my responsibility to create the “new normal,” to find the people working the Twelve Steps and stick with them, to try all different meetings and maybe, just maybe, to be open-minded and willing to embrace a new perspective. I also have to do whatever it takes; in this situation sometimes it means driving 30 minutes into San Antonio for a good meeting. 

In treatment I was told to “create the fellowship you crave,” from the Big Book. I didn’t understand it in the beginning. I had never been to Twelve Step meetings, so I didn’t know. In Houston there are approximately 2,000 meetings a week; I tried many of them and found what fit for me. Since arriving in Boerne, I have the opportunity to create as I was told in the beginning. I have a new sponsor and I have done the work in a way I never have. My new sponsor and I alsostarted a literature-based meeting, one of the only ones in town. Within two weeks it had 20 people attending. So, after 9-and-a-half years I have become a newcomer again. I don’t know it all, and I am grateful I don’t.

I had the program but now I needed to create my “fellowship” in and out of the program. I was used to knowing people at almost every meeting I went to in central Houston; nobody knows me here. This goes for friends outside of the program, too. For so long, for me, making friends has been effortless; I have at least known some people wherever I have lived. Making friends in and out of the program is hard work! But I go back to the basics of when I first came to Twelve Step meetings; make phone calls, go to coffee, go to lunch, show up early and stay late at the meetings. 

When I returned home from treatment in 2002 and started attending meetings, it was weird and uncomfortable, but I did it anyway. Within a year, I looked around a women’s meeting I frequented and felt as comfortable with those women as I did with my childhood friends.

It works if you work it.    

If you are moving to a new city or you are just coming home from treatment and the meetings feel “wrong” to you, I challenge you to not let your ego get in the way of your recovery and trust the same Higher Power that got you sober wherever you started. Making friends and becoming a part the fellowship is our responsibility. If I am closed off and not putting in the effort, why should I receive anything else in return? Make those calls, be authentic, go to dinner/coffee – put out there what you want in return – again, “create the fellowship you crave.”

Image courtesy of stock.xchng.com.

Finding Foundation in Yoga and Recovery

May 04, 2012

I recently completed my 200 yoga teacher training. I didn’t quite know what I was getting into! What surprised me the most were the many parallels between yoga and recovery. Many times I felt like the teachers were talking like we do in AA.

Like recovery, yoga is a journey, not a destination. You do not get to a point where you have learned all you need to learn and graduate. You will have good and bad days; you may seek help from a teacher that has gone on before you, much like we seek help from our sponsors. There are some days I can’t hold a basic pose for the life of me and other days I am rocking in a crazy pose I have never been able to do before. In AA, I am not always perfect, or in a good place or not on the “beam,” as they say. Then there are the days I am skipping in the Sunlight of the Spirit!

Foundation is important in AA and yoga. On page 75 of the Big Book it talks about foundation. After we complete the 5thStep we return home to be quiet and reflect: Is our work solid so far? Are the stones properly in place? Have we skimped on the cement put into the foundation? In yoga, teachers talk a lot about the foundation of poses, rooting down to the earth, your feet strong and solid; you don’t have a pose if the foundation isn’t strong. AA is the foundation for my life much like I have a foundation for my yoga practice.

Yoga 

When I get on my mat, I am on my mat. I am in the moment, focused on the present and the practice. The same thing happens when I sit down across from another alcoholic. I can be so self-absorbed on what is going on in my life that I may think I have nothing to offer, until I sit down and the magic, God’s power, starts to come alive. After working with another alcoholic, all the obsessions and problems that I had before lose their power. Everything just doesn’t feel like that big of a deal, I am back to the present and everything is alright. My heart opens up to love again for my fellows and myself.

One of the biggest misconceptions of yoga is that it is a religion. Sometimes AA gets this label as well or sometimes even worse, it is referred to as a cult. Like AA, yoga is a spiritual practice. Both were created in countries that have different, dominant religions and, of course, those religions have a strong influence.

I think what scares people the most, which is the case in all forms of fear, is the unknown. Think about your first AA meeting; maybe it felt like the people in the room were talking in a foreign language. What about all the laughing at what most people would consider an inappropriate time? In yoga, the music is different and the words most often used are in a foreign language we are not familiar with. However, all of us use words in English that have the same meaning. Also, faith and your belief system are meant to be brought into all areas of life. Just like in AA, I bring my beliefs to my yoga practice. Sometimes they are like yours and sometimes they are not but we can embrace the differences and not the judgment. AA and yoga encourage people to live the fullest expression of their life and to be connected — body, mind and spirit.

Kristen Black is an employee and an alumni of La Hacienda treatment center.

My Purpose

May 01, 2012

I think every human at one time wonders and asks God to show them what their purpose is and it is usually a constant question. I am blessed in my sobriety to be given my purpose — to stay sober and help other alcoholics. It’s actually pretty easy since I have experience in this area. I don’t have to go to school, read a book or figure it out. I know what it is like. Now, my experience cannot be all things to all people; there is nothing in this world that can be all things to all people. 

I love dogs. A few years into sobriety as I came to and wanted to be more of a part of the dog world, I wanted to save canines everywhere. I thought about contacting a shelter or rescue group and doing a few hours of service work a week, maybe even fostering a dog. But then I decided my primary purpose is to stay sober and help other alcoholics. I realized there were dog people out there that were more suited to advocate for our furry friends. Obviously, it’s not the best idea to give money to addicts and alcoholics, so I decided to give money to animal shelters and foster organizations, and keep giving my time to alcoholics. It has worked out great; I feel like I am able to contribute to a cause that is important to me without losing sight of what should come first in life. 

A few years later I wanted to volunteer to help the homeless. I looked into different organizations regarding their volunteer policies and began asking friends about different organizations they were part of. I found programs where I could mentor children, serve food or help with administrative work. Not one of these opportunities dealt directly with the disease of addiction or a program of recovery.  This went on for a few months when suddenly I had the thought, “Really, Kristen?  A huge percentage of people who are living on the streets and shelters ARE alcoholics and addicts!  There could be no shortage of opportunities.”  

I knew The Salvation Army had treatment programs so I went to their website and immediately found they had a long-term facility for women who did not have resources for a private treatment center – Sally’s House. Guess what I did? Nothing.  I finally found what I was looking for, but fear of the unknown kept me from taking that step. Do I really have something to offer these women? One day a friend came by my office and proceeded to tell me a friend of ours needed volunteers on Monday nights at The Salvation Army’s Sally’s House. I couldn’t believe it! It was God doing for me what I could not do myself; the volunteer opportunity fell into my lap even though I had not had the faith or courage to pursue it myself. 

The following Monday I was there. My friend made it clear she was ready to pass the meeting to someone else; after that I was downtown every Monday night. These women were not presented with recovery the way it had been presented to me and the way that had saved my life; within a few weeks it did.

I brought friends to give their experience, strength and to expose them to a different side of life. Most of these women at Sally’s House stayed for nine to 12 months and I built relationships with several of them. There were many Mondays I would arrive and noticed a few faces were missing and would then be told they had been kicked out, never returned from their jobs (one requirement to stay there that long), or had straight up walked out the door — drugs not God. 

I heard stories of rape, prostitution, living in the streets, abandoned children and spousal abuse. One woman told the story of living two weeks in her daughter’s attic.  During the day, while the daughter was at work, she would sneak downstairs to shower, play on the Internet, watch TV and in the evenings climb back up to the attic. Each night she overheard her daughter talking with concern and fear to her siblings as they wondered where their mother could be. She eventually came clean, had nowhere to go and came to Sally’s House for a new beginning. I loved helping there. Here was a little blonde girl who, they often joked, had “teeth from a Colgate commercial,” actually offering hope and connecting to them despite our lives being on opposite ends of the spectrum. It still amazes me.

One day an alumnus of the treatment center I work for called asking if I knew of any volunteer opportunities.  Uh, yes … meet me downtown on Monday nights. Kelly began meeting me every Monday night and often brought friends of her own who were starting out on their sober journey. A few months later it looked like I would be moving to the Hill Country. Kelly was committed and would take over the meeting.

I received a call from her several weeks ago. I had been gone almost a year and she told me that she was still at Sally’s House every Monday night and continues to bring many women — housewives, professionals  and young affluent girls — there to expose them to lives that they only see on the 5 o’clock news. More importantly, the message to these women continues to be one of hope, recovery and a plan of action.

I actually believe I am here to fulfill a lot of different purposes, some big and others that have a very small impact. But the foundation of my life is built on staying sober and helping other alcoholics. I am a very visual person and the idea of a foundation that allows me to build the house of my life makes a lot of sense to me. The foundation is strong as I start building walls and rooms that make up the areas of my life. There is the support system room built with walls of love for my family and friends, a room for my love for animals, one for recycling (the walls of this room would definitely be painted green) and a professional room with walls built with past jobs and accomplishments in the work that I do. 

The house will get bigger as my life expands. However, if the foundation cracks and shifts, cracks would begin to show in the walls and every room would be affected; every aspect of my life would be impacted.

Image courtesy scottchan/freedigitalimages.net.

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