Meth at the Yoga Studio: Making Amends

By Hannah Sward 03/19/17

“I am not here to make excuses for my behavior, but I wanted to be honest with you and own up to what I did.”

A woman in a difficult yoga position.
Making amends may feel uncomfortable, but the rewards are great.

When I was doing crystal meth, I worked at a yoga studio. I had helped the owner paint the studio when it first opened 15 years ago. Standing on ladders in overalls, paint rollers in hand, listening to reggae late into the night. Part of my job was to collect the money from girls who came in wearing burgundy leggings and wrists oiled with frankincense as they signed up for Visana classes each day. I put the money in a small gray metal box that had a key kept under a cactus next to the yoga mats. After the class began, I’d put the money in the box. If I was out of meth, I’d put some of the cash in my pocket and text Turtle, my dealer.

By the time the class had eased into Sun Salutation, I’d be outside pacing, waiting for Turtle. He’d take forever, as dealers do. Finally I’d see his orange low-rider with a skull decal on the back window pull into the lot. I’d run down the steps and we’d do the exchange in front of Tony the Tailor’s, then Turtle would walk across the street to Tacos Benito's for a burrito. I’d go back to the studio, tiptoe across the room while the teacher instructed the students to follow their breath through a guided meditation, and lock myself in the bathroom. I’d sit on the toilet with a copy of Wellness Today on my lap and crush the crystals into lines.

I worked at the yoga studio for three years, the whole time doing crystal and stealing. What made it worse was I had grown to like the owner. She was beautiful, exuding peace and harmony. She encouraged me to take the meditation classes—sometimes I did. That was hard, meditating on speed. She must have known something was off about me, but I was never fired.

When I stopped working there, I continued to live in the area. Over the years I must have driven by the studio hundreds of times. I’d look up at the big orange OM sign, and every time I felt shame. I hated myself for what I had done.

I have been sober for six years and 10 months and I have made many financial amends. I had been stealing since I was six so it was suggested I start with a smaller amend. I chose Skylight Books. I had stolen a copy of George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London. At the time I was working on a film that was shooting at Skylight. In between takes, I began reading the book. At the end of the day, I left with it. At home, every time I saw it stacked among my book collection, I felt like I did when I drove by the yoga studio. I don’t know why I never got rid of it.

The day I made my amends, I parked at a meter outside House of Pies. It was a hot day. I walked into Skylight with the book in my sweaty hand and asked to speak to the owner. A few minutes later she approached me.

“Is there something I can help you with?” she asked.

I blushed.

“Years ago I stole this book from here,” I said.

She just stood there, waiting for me to continue.

“I am here to see if there’s anything I can do to make it right.”

“You are not the first to come here and tell me that. You can buy a book to make it right. I wish you the best on whatever path you are on.”

I don’t think Orwell’s book went back on the shelf, but it didn’t come home with me. What I did bring home was a paid copy of Bukowski’s Tales of Ordinary Madness and a sliver of relief.

As I continued to go down the list and make amends, I began to feel a sense of integrity. At six-and-a-half years sober, I chose one of the hardest amends. I wanted to drive by the yoga studio without shame. The fear of telling the owner was gripping. I couldn’t imagine facing her and being honest with what I had done.

I called to set up a time to meet with her. I was vague about why now, after all these years.

“It sounds very cryptic,” she said, “but of course I’ll meet with you. You know I’ve always loved you and it would be great to reconnect.”

Her saying that, it made it harder, but I knew I couldn’t carry all the things I had done within me anymore. Not if I really wanted to become the woman I always wanted to be, a woman who could hold her head up with dignity, without shame—a woman with a sense of self worth.

The following week, I walked past Tony the Tailor’s and a dentist’s office, Smile Brite. A giant close-up of a Hollywood white smile covered the window. I stood there for a moment looking at those big white teeth. I wanted to turn around.

I took a breath as I walked up the stairs. As I opened the door to the studio, I was greeted by a ringing bell and the scent of patchouli. My eyes went straight to the bathroom door. The bathroom I used to lock myself in during meditation class and snort, snort, snort. The image of myself so clear in my mind, I felt no time had passed at all. It was terrible. I turned pale, nauseated. I didn’t want to remember the horror of those hours that turned into days, months—and too soon—years.

I had the money I owed in the pocket of my cords. The owner stood behind the bamboo desk. She looked the same, but with fine lines around her eyes. We gave each other a hug and sat cross-legged on the hardwood floors, facing each other. I looked into her pale eyes, and behind her, a reflection of myself in the mirror covering the wall. I didn’t want to see myself, a woman overflowing with shame and guilt. I turned back to her.

“I was not a woman I was proud of during the time I worked here.” My ears turned red hot. “I stole from you, I am here to pay you back.” I took the money out of my pocket.

She placed her hand on mine without taking the money.

“Tell me more about it.”

I just wanted this to be over and to go home. Tears streamed down my cheeks. She squeezed my hand, gently nodding her head for me to go on.

“I was really not in a good place back then,” I said. “I was at a very low point and got involved with drugs.” My heart was beating so fast. “I am not here to make excuses for my behavior, but I wanted to be honest with you and own up to what I did.”

“I knew something was going on, that you weren’t right, but I didn’t know what,” she said. “I am grateful you are finding your way and to be a part of your transformation. Money is too easy, though.”

I agreed. I know it’s never that easy; to make amends and walk away. I know it will always be a part of me, all the things I did that I wasn’t proud of. There was a way, though, to face up to it.

“I think it could be healing for you to be a part of this environment again.”

What did she mean?

“Would you be willing to work here once a week for a few months?”

The thought of walking back in there, it was the last thing I wanted to do. I’d rather give the money. 

“Yes,” I said. “You trust me to actually be here again?”

“Yes, I do.”

I couldn’t believe she did. I also couldn’t believe I trusted myself. But I did.

The following week, I went to the yoga studio. I had pictured myself checking in people for class and collecting money as I did when I worked there. When I arrived, the owner said, “I will show you where the cleaning supplies are kept.”

Cleaning? I hated cleaning. I had spent 10 years on meth cleaning. I would see a speck of dust on my bookcase and for the next four hours I’d be fixated on that shelf. I was a cleaning tweaker. When I first got sober, I had an aversion to it. I’d stare at my unswept floors telling myself to pick up the broom, but I couldn’t. The horror of a drug-driven life lived in the broom and now here I was sober, cleaning. 

I stood there, in the same bathroom I had been in so long ago, crushing lines on the tile floor while women chanted "OM" in class outside the door. I could still feel the burn up my nose, drip down my throat—then I'd go straight to the cabinet to get the scrub brush and begin cleaning the floor, even though it wasn’t part of my job at the time.

Now the only sound I heard was the spray of vinegar and tea tree oil that I squirted from the bottle to the mirror, blue rag in hand, as I saw myself reflected back, wiping away the spots.

My first two weeks at the studio, I dreaded every minute. By the third week, I knew I needed to bring a better attitude to get through the next two-and-a-half months. I was making myself miserable. I put on some reggae, opened the studio door to let the air in, took off my shoes and socks, knotted my hair on top of my head, and walked towards the stack of yoga mats lined against the wall. I unrolled, sprayed, wiped and rolled back up one purple mat at a time with Meyer’s lemon basil spray until it was done. I knew I wouldn't be taking one of the meditation classes offered, but I tried to approach the cleaning as a meditative practice.

I’d like to say I continued to feel that way, but I didn’t. I went in and out of resistance, and the truth is I haven't completed my hours yet. I still have a month to go. But next Tuesday, despite how I feel, I’ll return. I will mop the floors, clean handprints off the mirrored walls, disinfect stacks of yoga mats, and water the plants. At times, it’s hard not to see the irony and even the humor of how I am literally cleaning up the wreckage from my past.

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