The Worst Two Things That Ever Happened To Me Led To My Recovery

By Esther Nagle 03/02/17

The pain of my brother’s death and the agony of a breakdown set wheels in motion that led me to sobriety. 

Esther Nagle
Photo by Dan Wood Photography

In 2005, I experienced the worst thing in the world when my brother died at the age of 30. There was nothing to blame, he was just one of the people who die young.

The only object I had for anger was a god I didn’t really believe in, a god that my brother had been devoted to. My brother’s death hit me hard, although I now see that this was as much to do with my untreated depression as it was grief. I suffered with terrible survivor’s guilt, it should have been me who died, I was the one drifting aimlessly through life; I was the one who was the mess; I was the one living dangerously.

He was the "good" one.

He shouldn’t have died.

At his funeral, when I heard beautiful things said about him by friends who had loved him, I pondered what would be said about me if I was the one who had died. I couldn’t come up with a great deal that was positive. It was quite an eye-opening thought!

Out of the pain and anguish I experienced for a couple of years after his death, I gained one of the most wonderful things I have ever had in my life; I discovered the sheer joy there is to be found in going for a walk in the hills.  

What started as something to do with my mum that didn’t involve sitting around a table feeling sad, became a passion that changed my life completely. My love of walking has guided my holiday choices, fundraising efforts and taken me to South America where I did the Inca trail nine months after giving birth to my youngest child. It was also my grief therapy. Had my brother not died, I might never have discovered this pleasure, and all the many gifts that it brought to my life.

Walking helped me to connect with my body more, and I started to take better care of it, exercising lots more. I started going to the gym, swimming and attending various classes then found my love of yoga. I ate better and felt healthy.

But there was a huge denial going on in my mind. While it is true that I was healthier, I was also self-destructing. I had been in active but unacknowledged alcohol addiction for years, was a heavy smoker of cigarettes and marijuana and dabbled with other drugs from time-to-time.  

I would have glimpses of my addiction at times, such as when I made a conscious decision that I couldn’t allow my brother’s death to lead me to regular daytime drinking, but mostly I convinced myself that my drinking habits were normal.  

Given that these habits included drinking alone regularly, engineering social occasions where I could drink, encouraging friends and family to drink with me, only having friends I could get drunk with and drinking all day with friends when I didn’t have childcare responsibilities.

I wasn’t behaving "normally." I was behaving very much as an alcoholic, but I am sure anyone who has any experience of addiction knows too well the way we can convince ourselves of anything.

I loved yoga, but would often return from my class to a bottle of wine and a joint, continuing to stretch while drinking and smoking. While the physical aspect of the class was doing wonders for my body in terms of my physique, there was clearly still a great deal of tension in me. It would calm and soothe me, but only for a short while. I saw it very much as an exercise class more than anything else, although I did feel calmer when I was there.  

Yoga was to become far more than an exercise class to me in a few years, but first I was going to have to fall apart completely before I was truly ready for it.

In 2013, I experienced what I consider to be the worst year of my life. (Yes, worse than the year in which my brother died. That year had been, up until that point, a pretty good year in lots of ways!)

From January 2013 onwards, life seemed determined to break what little resilience I had. Tension and insecurity in the place I worked meant that, as a single parent, I was on a knife-edge financially. My relationship with my youngest son’s father had ended very acrimoniously and was becoming more so. A close family member revealed the alcoholism and mental turmoil he was in, and the fallout from this took a massive toll on me, as I was, for the first time, truly seeing myself mirrored back to me while trying to support my family through a very difficult time.  

When this was topped off with my mother being diagnosed with cancer just as I had started a new job that I was out of my depth in, I could take no more. I quit the job after just seven weeks, and allowed myself to fall apart.  

After a couple of months of increased drinking, smoking, crying and very erratic behavior, I started to calm down a little and start to think about planning my future. I knew I couldn’t stay on the government support I was currently getting, and didn’t want to go back to nine to five office work, so I began looking into self-employment options.  

Suddenly, it dawned on me that this would be the perfect time to look into yoga teacher training. I loved the yoga and the way it made me feel, and knew that at some point in my life I would teach it. I could never find a course that worked for me, either time, money, or location was always a problem.

This time, however, was different. There is a saying, when the student is ready, the guru appears. This was certainly true in my case. A local teacher had just started to promote her first teacher training course, so I contacted her and put my name down.  

The course started in April 2014. I entered her studio thinking I knew lots about yoga, and left feeling like I had just discovered it for the first time. I knew the postures, I knew nothing else about yoga.

Yoga is not, contrary to what I had previously experienced, merely an exercise class. It is a way of life, a guide for a healthy, meaningful, balanced way of being.  

Through my study and practices, I felt years of tension, self-loathing, need, fear, anxiety, depression and cravings melting away. I began to process emotions I had repressed and drowned for years and years.

I began to truly see myself, to accept my flaws, to see my truth. I stopped lying to myself and others, as telling the truth suddenly became the preferred option. I started to forgive both myself and others for the things that had happened in my life that had led me down the path of addiction and misery.  

I discovered the amazing power of the breath and the truly magical way your world changes when you learn to breathe well. I was able to relax properly, to feel joy in the simple things in life, to see and feel gratitude for the gifts I have, instead of focusing on how I wish my life was different.  

Life changed dramatically, and on October 12, 2014, I woke up with my last-ever hangover. I didn’t realize at the time that I was going to stop drinking for good, but I knew I was never going to feel as ill and angry at myself as I did that day. A slow process of daily decisions not to drink led me, six weeks later, to realize that I had really enjoyed my six sober weeks more than I had enjoyed the last six drunken years, and I embraced the concept of a life of sobriety.

I haven’t looked back since.   

My sobriety has been the greatest gift I have ever given myself. Sobriety and yoga have given me a purpose in my life, they have given me a passion and awoken the writer I knew always lived in me. I have renewed enthusiasm for life, for health, for self-care and for helping others.

I might not have sobriety if it wasn’t for the worst two things that ever happened to me. The pain of my brother’s death, and the agony of a breakdown set wheels in motion that led me to sobriety. I have only just recently realized the link between my brother’s death and my sobriety, I think my drinking actually increased after he died, but it started the process of my awakening.  

I will always miss my brother, and would never feel glad that he died, but I am profoundly grateful for the seeds that he planted in me at his death.  

One of the key lessons I gained from yoga is that everything that comes our way in life is there to teach us something, if only we choose to learn the lesson. Approaching life with gratitude and a desire to learn and grow from every experience can transform how we see ourselves and our life. It forces us out of victim mentality, it is impossible to feel that life is "out to get you" if you view all your experiences as learning opportunities.  

I am profoundly grateful for all the chaos of my 20 years of addiction and misery. I would not be the person I am today without it all, and as I now like myself, how can there be room for regret?

Esther Nagle found her path to sobriety through yoga after 20 years of addiction to alcohol, cigarettes, marijuana, misery and self-destruction. Sober since October 2014, Esther is passionate about the power of Yoga to heal body, mind and soul. Esther is the author of Bent Back into Shape, Beating Addiction Through Yoga, the host of the Sober Living Rocks podcast, and recovery guide on the Sparkle in Sobriety coaching programme. Visit her Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter for more info.

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Esther Nagle found her path to sobriety through yoga after 20 years of addiction to alcohol, cigarettes, marijuana, misery and self-destruction. Sober since October 2014, Esther is passionate about the power of Yoga to heal body, mind and soul. Esther is the author of Bent Back into Shape, Beating Addiction Through Yoga. Follow her on Twitter. She can also be found on Linkedin.