My Healthy Addiction

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My Healthy Addiction

By Lucinda Lumiere 01/27/15

Upwards and onwards with my downward dog.

Image: 
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I just celebrated 25 years of continuous sobriety. Yet, I have an active addiction. Currently, I am in the throes of kicking my habit. It’s socially acceptable (even sanctioned), pays me a modest living, and helps me avoid what is unpleasant. I do it so much that other things, such as income and security, fall by the wayside. It takes time away from my husband and child. What, you may ask, is this insidious compulsion?

It’s not overeating or starvation, though I have done both in the past. It’s not gambling, though I do occasionally play the Lotto. It’s not underearning or overspending, though I have attended 12-step programs for those behaviors. It’s not fixing on another person or sex, though again, I haven’t been above using those when I could.

Some might say the addiction I currently indulge is wholesome, even admirable. I certainly get a lot of validation for it. I’ve written a book on it, have become a bit of an expert in the field, and you may even see me occasionally on TV representing it. It’s both larger and smaller than a breadbox. Have you guessed it yet?

Yes folks. I am addicted to yoga.

When I first got sober, I had to replace my negative habits with positive ones. I discovered that exercise was a great way to replace my depleted feel-good chemicals, sculpt my body, and attain tangible goals. This former heroin addict became a long distance runner. At the time, my sponsor was a runner, and her successes inspired me to try my hand (or feet) at the sport. I wanted what she had and was willing to go to any lengths to get it. Literally. We worked as waitresses in a diner together, and for every time she’d come in and announce she’d run a groundbreaking distance that day, I would match her or try to exceed her record. We developed a friendly rivalry, and I learned to harness my competitive demons for good instead of harm. The improvement in focus, self-esteem, and baseline health really helped my recovery. I got positively addicted, and I didn’t mind. I learned that we obsessive types are very effective when we harness our addict natures for good. The occasional injury or soreness seemed a fair price to pay for so much reward. Like a rat in a science experiment, I will always push the lever that makes me feel better until it breaks, or I do. Might as well be something “healthy.”

I need to get off the yoga mat and back into the ring, to test my mettle and slug it out.

Fast forward to post-college confusion. I had chosen an elegantly inefficient major in the arts, which I foolishly thought could sustain me here in New York City. My anniversary coin told me—to mine own self be true—so I threw myself on the sacrificial pyre of the Great White Way. I was gonna make it or break it here as an actor/writer. Trouble was, no one knew me, and I had a lot of competition. Even with a fair amount of clean time under my belt, I started experiencing some serious anxiety and depression. Enter yoga. 

I found a local yoga studio here in Manhattan and sought solace in the rigorous physical practice and blissful inner light. Like any good obsessive, I funneled all my energy into this new passion, so much so that it became a side career. Whenever I was confused or depressed, off I would trundle to the local studio, mat slung over my newly toned shoulders. The taut muscles and sinewy lines of my body signified to myself, and to the world at large, that I was a Yogi! I went on retreats, followed charismatic teachers, and decided to let go of the theater career I had wanted so badly because it caused me pain. I ended up becoming a yoga teacher instead. I cried the day I suspended my Actors’ Equity status. But yoga brought real contentment and occasional flashes of joy. 

Fresh out of yoga teacher training, I was hired by a mentor to teach at his newly minted studio. The studio was a block from my apartment, and I taught three to four classes a week there. I added classes at health clubs and corporate settings, and saw my following expand. It touched me to see that I could be my authentic self in front of a crowd and truly affect people. I started to get a following of loyal students. Wasn’t this what I had always wanted—the ability to be seen, to affect others, and distill my life experiences to some good end?

As wonderful as all this was, I found myself missing my chosen work. And as much as my students responded to my teaching, and showered me with love and affection, a small voice nagged at me, “Why aren’t you doing what you came to New York to do?” I would occasionally dip my toes back in the waters of my chosen career, either taking a class, or a small job, or writing and acting in a short film. I even put together a stand-up set and started doing open mics, only to get subsumed back in to the waters of my burgeoning new career and lifestyle.

Yoga gives me predictable, quantifiable results. If I practice, I know my body will look strong and lean, and my mind will be peaceful. In many ways, my practice opens me to receive grace and synchronicity. This is what I have always wanted, and what I sought to find in drugs and alcohol—consistent nirvana. The control freak in me loves that. So much so, that when given a choice, I will usually choose yoga over meetings.

And that, my friends, is a bit of a red flag. Because, news flash! Yoga classes aren’t meetings! And if I stop going to meetings, because they don’t tone my body and always soothe my mind, I start to lose my focus. And if I stray from my primary purpose, I won’t get the luxury of attending yoga classes at all—much less anything else. I’ll be lucky if the worst that happens is I’m squirrelly and dry, and you all know what the worst case scenario could be…

A decade has passed, and I realize that I have used yoga to escape. I turn to yoga when troubled, and its familiar bliss still removes all desire. The beautiful silence I find in my practice is a place of solace, but it is also something I crave to quell my unease. This is great for my peace of mind, but not so good for my ambition. I realize that as parent to a first grader in New York City, I need to make more money. I need to return to my creative path, even if it’s challenging. And I really need to put my ass in an uncomfortable meeting seat and give away what I received so freely in the 12-step meetings: my experience, strength, and hope. Yoga taught me that attachment causes pain, but now I can see that the flip side is true: detachment can be pretty painful, too. I remember one of the yoga precepts states that both aversion and attachment are obstacles to realization. The yoga scene is full of people who are looking for a magic carpet ride, many of whom, in my humble opinion, could derive more benefit from a meeting. Not to take anyone's inventory. I just don’t want to be lotus-eating and navel gazing to the point that I never accomplish what I know still calls out to me.

I can’t avoid what scares me or I will never grow. I need to get off the yoga mat and back into the ring, to test my mettle and slug it out. I need to try to make art again, even if it hurts.

Now, don’t get me wrong: just because I will abuse anything that feels good doesn’t mean that the thing itself is bad. Food tastes great and nourishes me. Sex is awesome and helps make babies. Yoga is a wonderful pursuit for many people, and teaches balance above all. It’s just that in the wrong hands, there actually can be too much of a good thing. My own nature must be confronted. No matter where I go, there I am. So, I have decided to stop going to yoga class for a while. I now do a little home practice in moderation instead of attending classes at my favorite studio. The time and money I have saved are significant. And guess what? I am acting and writing again. 

I am not going to abandon yoga wholesale. That would be rash. And we all know that’s not me! But I do pledge to be more mindful about my time management, and more diligent in practicing my craft. I am back to attending more meetings and have picked up a new sponsee. I recently reinstated my Equity status. And when I am a huge star, I will hire my own private yoga instructor, just like Alec Baldwin.

I’m kidding.

Lucinda Lumiere is a pseudonym.

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