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Let’s Talk Coping Mechanisms & Substance Abuse: Three Ways Yoga Helps Me Overcome the Darkest of Days

I get it —the process of recovery is stressful on its own. Without your usual means of coping, it’s really easy to become overwhelmed. Except that doesn't have to happen and here's why.

They say you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him or her drink it. And man how true is that. The people closest to me tried to tell me to stop. Deep down, I knew I should but I couldn’t.

That’s the thing about substance abuse —it lies to you.

These drugs tell you that you can’t live without them. And after awhile, they become your only way to cope. I get it (really I do). I couldn’t deal with the good or the bad, so I took some pills instead.

I lied to my friends, I stole from my family and along the way, I lost myself. I used to be this inspirational girl with a smile that could light up even the darkest room. But back then, that girl was gone.

And if I can be honest, at the time, I didn’t want her back.

Eventually, though, I did. After getting caught red-handed, I was forced into rehab —not before a two-week detox. I was still struggling with post-acute withdrawal, but for the most part, I was feeling better.

Slow and steady wins the race.

They say that relapse is apart of recovery and that was definitely true for me. After I finished my 30-day stay in treatment, the next step was to live in a halfway house, which didn’t work out as planned. Needless to stay, I was kicked out and to the streets, I went.

It’s hard for me to admit that I didn’t have a place to stay. I couched hoped and lied my way to find shelter and stay high. Then, it all came to a head. I was desperate again —except this time, my family wasn’t about to go broke trying to get me sober.

Side note: rehab is expensive.

So, they found a FREE faith-based long-term treatment facility and off to Savannah, Georgia I go. I was the only Jew in this Christain rehab (which is a story for another day) but over the course of eight months, my old self was becoming more and more apparent.

There, we were taught that God is the answer to all of our problems. And although everything that I learned doesn’t necessarily match my specific ideals, the core of their approach resonated with me. So I took some spirituality home and added it to everything I did —including how I work out.

This became my new coping mechanism. And I’m not alone. It appears that more and more treatment programs are expanding on their approach to treat addiction by not just focusing on substance abuse itself, but by using a more holistic approach that treats the whole person.

Many addicts, like myself, begin using as a coping mechanism or a way to fill a spiritual void (whether you realize it or not). As a result, people in treatment for addiction must learn to deal with their emotions and environment in healthier ways.

I get it though —the process of recovery is stressful on its own, and without your usual means of coping, it’s really easy to become overwhelmed.

So, here are three ways yoga helps me stay grounded.

1. I found my version of spirituality.

Yoga provides a spiritual environment, no matter your religious beliefs. Learning to slow down, finding mindfulness and accepting yourself are all central to yoga and a healthy spirit too. Regularly setting aside time for growth will help you focus on recovery while maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

I know it’s easier in theory than action. Addiction often makes you feel like you’re trapped in your own head. Cravings, withdrawal symptoms, and negative experiences can cloud your mind and make it difficult to focus on anything else. By engaging in some form of yoga, you’re helping yourself stay calm by releasing the stress of yesterday (and even tomorrow).

For me, I start every morning on my back porch with a yoga mat. This helps me clear the clutter on the inside —allowing me to actually want to enjoy the day. I no longer fear waking up. I actually look forward to it. And during the day, if I find myself overwhelmed, I take a 15-minute break and get my zen on (whether I have a mat or not).

2. It relaxes away the chaos in my head.

I am a stressed person by nature. I feel like I always have to be doing something or else I’m a failure. This is, of course, untrue but in the moment, it’s hard to recognize. And don’t get me started on how my brain works. I feel like ever since I quit using, my mind doesn’t enjoy the little things anymore. But I think yoga helps me find that balance I desperately lack.

According to Stanford University Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science, Dr. Roy King, yoga has a biological impact on drug abuse that can help the addict feel normal without their narcotic of choice. He notes that the correlation between yoga and addiction is its ability to inhibit the dopamine surge that addicts get from using —and sometimes the cravings that consume us.

Additionally, King found that the intense breathing patterns in various forms of yoga, (such as Kundalini), release the body’s natural pleasure-producing endorphins. This means a healthy yoga practice can replace suppressed addictive behavior while restoring the brain’s dopamine function to healthier levels.

3. Plus it’s a great way to reduce stress.

Stressful situations can trigger addictive behavior and cravings (especially in early recovery). I couldn’t go to a specific 711 because that’s where I would pick up. And getting used to living a sober life can be very stressful on its own.

Because yoga emphasizes willpower and stress-reduction, those in recovery can learn to combat those stressors, fight temptation, and regain control you thought was gone forever.

There are different types of yoga with different intensity levels, allowing you to choose what works best for your specific needs. For example, Yin yoga is very meditative and emphasizes passive stretching. Vinyasa yoga encompasses quicker movements, where you flow through poses to build strength. Bikram yoga is practiced in hot rooms in order to sweat out toxins.

So play around and uncover which one you actually prefer because it should be your happy place. For me, I like a combination of all three —depending on my mood that particular day. And when it’s all said and done, I relish thinking how it has helped me find my version of spirituality, which is ultimately how I found myself.

I love the fact that it encourages me to slow down. It even reduces my man-made stress. Yoga allowed me (and continues to allow me) to realize that yes I was a shitty person before but at the end of the day, it’s not about where you’ve been, it’s about where you’re going.

And this girl is going places.

Because yoga is not about simply touching your toes, it’s about what you learn on the way down. Because when you own your breath, nobody can steal your peace.

Originally published at waytomuchtoosay.wordpress.com

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