My name is Jess and I am a recovering alcoholic. I am also yoga teacher. I am also a corporate executive. I am a mother. I am a Virgo. I love the color purple. I am a proud New Englander. I am a lesbian. I am a 43-year-old white lady. I am a recovering preacher’s kid. I am a Red Sox fan.
What else would you like to know?
I could tell you lots of things and provide an amazing laundry list of designations and descriptions and boxes and stories about me. They wouldn’t be me though and I don’t really know that through them you’d know me any more than when I started the list. So let’s not do that.
Instead I’d like to just tell you why and how Liberation has come to being. In the telling of that tale I think, perhaps, you might find a clearer passage to me and what Liberation is all about. The two are inextricably linked.
I’ve struggled throughout my life with the reality of existence. I’ve never quite understood the world and how to make it work for me in a way that’s felt easy and joyful. I always felt a bit of a half step behind everyone else. Like everybody else knew some secret truth that I did not. I never felt comfortable in my own skin. People scared me. God scared me. I never felt like I belonged anywhere, ever. Everything always seemed so hard and overwhelming. I always felt like I was doing something wrong or bad.
Some early violence and violation I experienced at the hands of those who were supposed to protect and love me contributed to this sense of dread and fear I carried around continuously. That violation and the pain I felt as a result also contributed to a total disconnect from my physical body, its inherent knowledge and most feelings.
I survived the situation I was in by performing. I would be whatever you needed me to be to be loved and wanted and hopefully safe. Any desire of my own, needs of my own, wants of my own were vague, immaterial and never, ever, voiced.
The worse thing someone could say to me was, “Follow your heart!” I had no idea what that meant. I couldn’t feel my heart much less follow its direction – I had long ago blocked that off as unsafe. Instead I reacted based on story and supposition and what I thought one was supposed to do, what I observed others doing. I was whatever I thought you needed me to be and I thought that was enough.
When I was a child one of my coping mechanisms was a simple chant I would recite to myself each night before sleep. “When I grow up it won’t be like this. I’ll be safe. Nobody will ever yell or threaten or hit. I’ll be loved. I’ll be rich. I marry someone who adores me. They’ll be kind and gentle. I’ll be wanted and accepted. We’ll have kids and a beautiful home. My kids will never know fear. We’ll be stable. They’ll know they’re loved. Nobody will ever leave. I’ll be successful and rich. And I’ll be far, far, far away from here.”
This became my driving force. My story. My mantra. The things I thought I needed to do to find “happy.” A script I intended to follow. So I did. I pursued them all and acquired everything on my list. What I found though was that once all that stuff was acquired it didn’t actually fix anything. I was just as empty as when I started. Even more so because by then I had even begun to lose faith in the story. Doubt, scary doubt was beginning to creep in.
The shoe dropped shortly after I turned 40. I remember being in my home office and looking out the window paused between conference calls. Something about the discordance between the idyllic, sunny, suburban scene I looked out on and the dark and tortured being I looked with hit me. I began to cry. I thought, “I’m going to die looking out this window.” The weight of that statement took my breath away. I looked around me at the life I had built, had so believed was THE PATH and there was nothing in it I really wanted. Nothing that excited me. Nothing that I recognized as mine. I could see it all laid before me – forty more years of gray and dark. Playing this role. Suddenly I thought, “Oh no, I’m in the wrong story. I’ve made a terrible mistake.” This was a shocking realization and absolutely shattered me. What was I supposed to do?
I did not have the emotional skills or tools I needed to extricate from that life with dignity and compassion for myself or those around me. So instead I went about the business of blowing it up and burning it down.
I drank. I ravaged. I raged. I cheated. I lied. I cut a swath of pain and damage and chaos through my little family and friends and colleagues and anyone I came in contact with. I wanted everyone else to feel the pain I was in; I blamed them all for putting me in. I had no idea what to do. I had no idea what I was feeling - other than bad. I was so very lost.
When the pain became too much I welcomed alcohol to take over and prayed for oblivion. That worked for a moment but too quickly the moment ended. One can only run so long and the running was exhausting. Finally when even the booze no longer worked to block out the pain of existence I prayed for and eventually attempted death.
Luckily suicide was the first thing in my life I have ever, truly, failed at.
My rebirth from that beginning of darkness to the light of my current existence has been a technicolor journey of growth that I am continuously astounded by.
To get it started though I needed several attempts. “Resets” if you will. There were eight in total. Detoxes and family rescues, mental hospitals and out-patient programs, and several hospital stays for organ failure.
Each one served a purpose. Each got me a hair closer to the realization that perhaps, maybe, I was loved. Perhaps, maybe, my life had value. Perhaps, maybe, I was worthy of having a life. Period.
This may sound really odd. It is ironic that in the darkest of the dark was the first time I began to see love and light. I don’t know why it worked that way, but it did. Thankfully after try number eight the light switch clicked and I saw there might be another way. A “moment of clarity” as they talk about in AA literature. I was offered another chance. A chance I’ve heartily taken.
What I realize now, after all the attempts and tries and healings, is that at the core of it I had a basic misunderstanding about life. I did not know that life is really all about love. I did not know that I was loveable. I thought I was the preverbal “piece of shit at the center of the universe.” I believed the universe to be an ugly and scary place. I believed that both it and I were somehow inherently rotten. I was completely disconnected from the idea of love. I believe now that it was that disconnection from love (not knowing I am inherently lovable just because I am; not knowing the universe is a kind and loving place and not out to get me) that caused my pain. Each “reset” I had provided me a brief moment to look through that veil of that misunderstanding and connect to love. Each reset provided me an opportunity to, perhaps, know that I was love and worthy of existence.
So this is the idea behind Liberation (named after the yoga practice Jivamukti – i.e. Liberation In This Lifetime). Our goal is not to fix anyone or heal anyone. Our goal is not to get anyone sober. We are not a detox. We are not AA. We are not therapy. Our goal is simply to provide a reset. Provide an opportunity for people who are in crisis or at a crossroads to be reminded that it is all love, that they are lovable and the universe is a kind and loving place.
We do this through yoga practices (asana, meditation, pranayama, etc…), group discussions, healthy nourishment through excellent and healing food, art, exploration of the outdoors, writing, bodywork (massage, chiropractic, T.R.E.) and community.
For me, AA and the community I found there saved my life and created a pathway (through the 12 steps) for me to grow up. Through the program I’ve healed much of the damage I caused, cleaned up many of my messes, and eliminated 99% of the drama that once made up my world. Through that program I was taught tools and offered loving support so that when life happens, there are things I can do, have learned how to do, and people I can lean on to help me move through existence with some modicum of dignity and dare I even say (at times) grace.
For me AA was not enough however. It did not address the trauma and PTSD I had suffered as a result of the early abuse. Without that being addressed I could only go so far, heal so much.
I was lucky enough in early sobriety to discover yoga. Through yoga and the community I discovered there I found a healing that addressed the trauma I had survived. I found for the first time a connection to my physical self and a pathway to safely recognize and feel feelings. Through various modalities of yoga (not just asana but meditation and pranayama, sacred texts - i.e. all eight limbs in the Ashtanga tradition) I have found practices to calm the storms that arise within my body and mind as a result of the PTSD.
Not to brag but I actually have feelings now and everything. Occasionally I even let myself feel them. Occasionally ;)
The combination of the two modalities has been absolutely life changing. Through yoga I have learned compassion and self-love. Through AA I have learned how to grown up and take responsibility. There are days even (imagine!) where I am actually happy to be me-here-now.
I am so very grateful.
It is my goal then in this new life to return to the world what was so freely and lovingly given to me. Hence the creation of Liberation. It is a collective of people from my program world and yoga world who have come together to support the various offerings we provide. Our goal is to help those in crisis. Not only those who’ve struggled with drug and alcohol abuse but anyone who just can’t seem to make it work, finds themselves at a crossroads, know they need a change but are unsure of exactly what it might be.
We’d like to provide the space for that reset, in love, to occur.
Through these remarkable people and their various offerings, I have been healed. It is my pleasure to be able to create the structure for you to experience a taste of the love they have shown me through one of our reset retreats.
Good luck on your journey wherever you are. I wish you love and peace on your journey.