Accessibility Through Sobriety

Openly discussing my journey with sobriety is difficult and uncomfortable for me. It also goes against many recovery programs' basic principles regarding anonymity. However, anonymity about sobriety feels distressingly similar to how I felt being in the closet; a terrible and destructive place. I feel that being part of an open discussion about issues that carry deep social stigmas, and very real personal and professional risks, helps not only my own recovery, but other 's as well. Being open to myself and to others about my experience with sobriety enables me to be accessible to others in need of help with similar issues. 


After many years of heavy drinking culminated in a five-year struggle with alcohol abuse, I got sober two years ago today. I suffered several very bad consequences as a result of my alcohol problem; including the loss of a long-term job that I loved, and a very intense shut down of my pancreas which landed me in the hospital for a week (and which could have resulted in major, chronic organ malfunctions.) My relationship with alcohol was even beginning to threaten my 20 year-long marriage. Drinking became my priority and I was no longer accessible to my career, my health, and to those I loved and who loved me.


When I was drinking, I would avoid opening the mail, avoid paying bills, avoid doing work, avoid calling people, avoid leaving the house, and avoid taking care of my body. For a time, I would do nothing but sit paralyzed on my bed with a sheet over my head and not move. At work, tasks piled on and I would avoid doing them, making it very difficult for my co-workers to do their jobs. When asked about the lack of progress with my work, I would blame my inaction on others. During the day I would go out for long lunches and drink in an effort to forget that I was being irresponsible, or perhaps to prolong the inevitable. The piles of unfinished work grew to insurmountable proportions. I was completely inaccessible to my co-workers and the needs of the theatre I managed. Eventually, after a 12-year tenure, I was fired.


My health began to fail. I was shaking and vomiting in the mornings. The only thing that would make me feel better was alcohol. I called it my medicine.  One day, my pancreas inflamed so much as a result of drinking that I developed pancreatitis, a very painful and debilitating disease. I was treated for a week in the hospital for this and thankfully recovered. I was told by several doctors and nurses that it was imperative that I stop consuming alcohol. Soon upon my release, I resumed drinking with even greater vigor. I was inaccessible to the needs of my body to stay healthy.


My husband, who was also abusing alcohol on his own terms, and I spent so much of our time together drunk, that we began to lose a real connection with each other. Our time with each other was almost always centered around alcohol.  When we were not drinking, we were most likely hungover and unable to have quality time with each other. When we were drinking, we had meaningful conversations but often did not remember them. When we were drunk, we would zone out and not really communicate, or worse, have liquor-induced arguments. Drinking also affected our finances since so much of our income went to liquor, or to places that served liquor. That, combined with little income on my part, made it increasingly more difficult for us to pay our bills on time. This created huge stress on our marriage.


Eventually, I got to the point where I couldn't drink anymore, but I also couldn't not drink. I was stuck and sick and my life had become unmanageable. I surrendered to my problem and I got help. Getting sober sucks. It is a long and painful journey. But being trapped in a vicious circle of addiction at the expense of everything and everyone else is far worse. In addition to the support of a recovery program, and also professional help, my road to recovery was heavily paved with Yoga.


When I got serious about yoga four years ago I was drinking heavily. I was unemployed, I had recently lost two people I was very close to, and both of my dogs died suddenly and prematurely. I was 42 and suffering a very real mid-life-crisis. I needed something to connect to and be accountable to. Because of my history with gymnastics, dance, and physical fitness, yoga seemed like a good option. I took to it very quickly, practiced daily, and soon delved into teacher training. There I learned about the Yoga Sutras which spoke to me on a very deep level. However, for the first two years of my practice, I remained a heavy drinker. I began to question my addiction's effect on my practice. I noticed that I was unable to move through my asana in ways that I knew I could. I had difficulty remembering Sanskrit terms and philosophical ideas. I was unable to connect with my fellow yogis. I was unable to connect with my Self. I had many reasons to get sober, and respect for my practice became a major one. I knew that connecting to my Self, to Brahman, would play a major role in living a full and rewarding life and I knew that Yoga was the key to doing making that connection. When I quit drinking my practice profoundly deepened. It connected me to my spiritual core and opened a conscious connection with God. It quickly became and remains the main touchstone of my recovery. Like Yoga, maintaining sobriety is a daily practice. Through Yoga, I maintain sobriety daily.


Being accessible through sobriety has opened my world in ways I would have never imagined; I have a new job at which I excel and enjoy, my yoga practice is stronger than ever, I teach at a new yoga studio that I love, I am deeply connected to my various communities, my health is the best it has been in 20 years, and my marriage to my (now also sober) husband is solid, loving, and beautiful. None of these things would have happened had I stayed drunk and inaccessible to life.  Now I am aware, available, present, and accessible to myself and to others. 

Reed Ridgley
November 20th, 2017