Yoga and the Journey to Sobriety

Sobering Up With Yoga

By Bianca Alexander

I grew up in a household of teetotalers. The only alcohol anyone in my family drank was at the altar during communion – until the church switched to grape juice. Despite my parents’ frequent warnings about the dangers of imbibing, at sixteen I rebelled and tried my first wine cooler at a friend’s party. I remember it gave me a sense of giddiness, a lightness of being that made me forget the awkwardness I felt as a skinny, hormonal teenager trying to find her place in the world.

By sophomore year in college, I graduated to Boone’s Farm. It was cheap enough for my meager student budget and came in exotic kool-aid type flavors like strawberry hill and green apple. Stressed out in law school, I escaped with Thursday, Friday and Saturday night keg parties, a break I thought I deserved after hours of burying my life in boring law books. I was officially a social drinker.


As a practicing attorney droning away billable hours inside what felt like a 10×10 carpeted cage, my happy hour liquor habit upgraded to top-shelf: Jack Daniels, Patron and Maker’s Mark helped me keep pace with the resigned misery of the senior partners. With a professional life squarely outside of my control, my social life had a singular purpose: to make me feel good. Slowly but surely, drinking became a weekly pastime. Staying buzzed during leisure hours gave me a way to be “up” even when I felt down. With each drink, I gained a false sense of euphoria many users know well. A feeling that masked my true emotions: anger, sadness and emptiness.

Over time, my circle of friends changed. I abandoned quieter, more stable friends and began hanging out with other social drinkers. No holiday or minor celebration from New Years’ Eve to St. Patty’s Day passed without some form of intoxication. Even after several close calls following wild nights out – bumper dusting cars in front of me at traffic lights, waking up shamefully in strange places – I never considered I might have a problem.

I’d always heard that alcohol damages the liver, immune system and skin, and my regular consumption wreaked havoc on my health. When I drank, I ate greasy fast food late at night to avoid being hungover in the morning. I went from being called “bones” in high school to an uncomfortable size 14. I always seemed to have a cold that wouldn’t go away. I was constipated, had trouble sleeping without the TV blasting all night, and dark circles and congested skin made me look 10 years older.

And then I went to my first yoga class. It was hard. In the middle of cat-cow pose, I’d start coughing uncontrollably. Sun salutations made me dizzy. And by the fifth vinyasa, I’d find myself in down dog gasping for breath. Faced with nothing but my mind, body and breath on the mat, I felt the impact social drinking and smoking were having on my mental, emotional and spiritual well-being. In child’s pose, I’d cry for no apparent reason, but the uncontrollable wave of emotions was so cathartic. No matter how challenging the class, I felt open, pure and at peace afterwards. Like the clear sky after a thunderstorm.

I decided to commit to a weekly practice. The more I practiced yoga, the less I smoke and drank socially. The less I drank, the easier it became to confront emotions I’d worked so hard to suppress with alcohol. I began to confront how sad and angry I actually felt. And for good reason. I was living a life I didn’t want, dating men I didn’t love, working my tail off on a career that wasn’t my calling. No wonder why I was depressed!

As a natural extension of my yoga practice, I started practicing self-care. I joined a 12-step group. I changed my circle of friends and spent more time alone. I took long baths and journaled through layers of feelings I had been taught to suppress. I learned to meditate and witness my thoughts and emotions with mindful objectivity instead of reacting to them. I hiked in nature to calm my nerves. In the solitude, I discovered new things to appreciate about myself – something I never had time to do when I was busy getting buzzed. Eventually, after several false starts, I quit my dead-end job, broke up with Mr. Wrong and started eating better. I hired a personal trainer, and met my soul mate. Over time, I lost weight. I gained greater clarity on my life purpose: to serve others. I launched Conscious Living, and eventually became a certified yoga instructor.

Fast forward ten years. Now when I go out, I’m the teetotaler. I love to order sparkling Pellegrino straight up with fresh lime. It’s cool, the bubbles tickle my throat and it looks like a fancy drink. When I’m feeling fancy, I’ll order up a mocktail. Sometimes two. No matter how many I throw down, I always feel good in the morning. And I’m never hungover. 

This year, if you find yourself angry, depressed or using alcohol or drugs to check out and “feel good”, consider flipping the script. Instead of picking up a drink:

  • Journal. Address the emotions behind the cocktail. Write in your journal to confront stuck emotions. Cry it out, or yell into a pillow if you have to. 
  • Practice Yoga. Instead of heading to the bar for happy hour, go to a yoga class and just breathe.
  • Honor your body. Junk food can wreak havoc on your mood and your emotions, so take better care of your body by eating healthier. For a more natural buzz, jump start a more balanced diet with a 1-3 three day juice fast, or a healthy detox.
  • Meditate. Just sitting still for a few minutes can relax your mind, lower your blood pressure and release happy endorphins into your bloodstream.

On top of making you look and feel healthier, staying sober will increase your capacity to handle the inevitable ups and downs life brings with more faith, resilience and self-confidence. With practice over time, you may begin to feel a mellow joy that stays with you wherever you go, even on bad days.

Now that’s what I call happy hour. 

 

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