The Urban Yoga Den

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The Suicide Blog (Or, How To Keep Living, When You Feel Like Dying) May 15, 2019

May 8th, 2019
Caution: this blog includes detailed description of a suicide attempt.

If you met me today, you wouldn’t guess that I tried to kill myself one year ago. You would see me teaching trauma-sensitive yoga, playing percussion at concerts, loving my Metro commutes, inhaling deeply under flowering trees. You would see my near constant smile and note my “spark of life,” my “inner light” and “glowing beauty.” You would ask about the “.02%” tattoo on my forearm and overlook the telling scar on that same wrist. You would listen to my story and call me “resilient.”MeMay2019

To most people, “resilient” looks like fighting through and bouncing back. To me, resilience requires growth and change. I ask you: if I’m so resilient, why did I end up in a tub of blood, trying to chop my damn hand off with too-dull blades last year? Most importantly: what’s happened since then to finally make me believe that — YES — I am resilient?

*  *  *

On May 8th, 2018, I attempted suicide. Possessed by a PTSD flashback, I believed to the core of my being that I was being threatened to the point of great danger; that I would never escape the futility of mental illness; that I would never stop hurting my loved ones during my hostile episodes; that I would never be well enough to hold a sustaining job; that I would never have what I need to live a stable life. After a huge argument with my housemates, during which I cursed worse than a sailor, threw a coffee cup across the room, and accused them of horrible actions, I heard my landlord say the fated words: “You need to find another place to live.”

My mental state was already beyond my control. But at that moment, it was if the devil himself reached into the crown of my skull and sucked out every last trace of reality, positivity, and hope that may have still existed. Darkened beyond reach, I robotically headed to the kitchen, grabbed two sharp knives, wrote a goodbye note in my journal, barricaded myself in the bathroom, drew a warm bath, and settled in. With pure determination and resolve, I cut my wrist as deeply as the knife would go. Not sharp enough. I tried the other knife and the blood started flowing. I kept cutting. But the blood kept stopping. I dismantled a Gillette razor blade and cut more. When it stopped bleeding again, I banged my wrist on the side of the tub until it bled again. And then stopped again. This ritual of cutting/banging/bleeding/cutting/banging/bleeding continued until the tub filled with blackened blood. At times, I passed out. At times, I was fully lucid. Overall, I was pissed off. This — my 3rd suicide attempt in my adult life — would fail.

When the pain of the cuts became worse than I could bear, I stopped trying. My wrist was swollen and bruised; the bathroom looked like a slasher movie. Suicide was supposed to relieve me of pain, not drag me through more. I called two friends and my psychiatrist, and headed to the Georgetown University psych ward for stitches and 2.5 weeks of refuge. They removed the strings from my hooded sweatshirts, took away my toiletries, and checked for sharp objects.WristCollage

On May 25th, 2018, I emerged from the hospital, skeptical but willing to try and stay alive.

One month after my failed suicide attempt, chef Anthony Bourdain succeeded in his. Until his death, I’d not mentioned my own attempt on social media. Although typically transparent about all aspects of my life, I wasn’t sure how to “go public” with this particular event. I’d always been the writer, teacher, and friend who could guide folks away from suicide by sharing how I’d sidestepped it for nearly 30 years, after my last attempt in 1990. Since that attempt, yoga, therapy, and addiction recovery gave me the tools I needed to process past darkness and ideation — until the tools stopped working after years of misdiagnosis and faulty treatment.

So, how was I going to tell folks that my own advice no longer worked for me? That, despite my best efforts, life’s pain got the best of me? I was ashamed, embarrassed, and afraid to be rigorously honest.

Until Anthony Bourdain’s suicide. Well, no — it was the public’s reactions to Bourdain’s suicide that pushed me to talk about mine.  It all started with a June 8, 2018 mini-blog on Facebook, in response to folks’ nonstop posting about “how to recognize when someone is suicidal” and “how to show your depressed friends that you love and care about them and therefore keep them from dying” and the like. I just could not stand the generalizations and misconceptions. Thoughts, acts, and ideas around suicide are unique to each person. I felt compelled to share mine; and throughout the following months, I continued with periodic check-ins about mental health.

I’d stopped blogging on WordPress — not on purpose, but for convenience. Facebook flows are easier to post. But now, with the one-year anniversary of my suicide attempt, I want to compile related posts here. My aim is to continue blogging here, and, to explore other platforms. In fact, there just might be a memoir and podcast in our future…

*   *  *

Below is a collection of Facebook writings from May 8th, 2018, through the 1-year anniversary of my attempt. I always say: I write transparently to share my experience, strength, and hope, in service to those that might relate, and those that might find something useful. Also, this specific compilation of writings will, hopefully, serve to portray a one-year journey away from a desire to die and toward the triumph of living. There were certainly ups and downs; but most importantly, there were great turning points where my direction shifted firmly away from spiraling downward, to onward-and-upward.

What’s not included in this collection of writings are the posts between, where I was either flowing with joy, trudging through pain, or just plain living. Over the past year, I guided my 2nd and 3rd Yoga Teacher Trainings and taught a bunch of beautiful classes; I watched my father fall, move to a nursing home, and die; my sisters and I reunited, re-divided, and reunited again; one of my dearest friends died; I taught my 13th and final year of my treasured music and yoga summer camp; I started offering yoga classes for the DC Metropolitan Police Department; I moved from downtown DC to the MD suburbs; I watched my beloved hometown protest against hateful visitors; baseball games and nature continued to be a refuge of fun and presence; my work life changed from stable to unstable to stable again; and my dreams and explorations of working with kids as a counselor continued to bloom.

Basically, the past year of life has been exactly that — life. And gratefully, I am alive to tell about it.

*   *  *

May we all find the courage to share openly. May the world accept our health conditions as worthy of sharing. May mental health topics become natural, open conversations for all. Because it is this unbridled connection and rigorous honesty that will make us want to live. And, MAY WE ALL BE BLESSED WITH RESILIENCE.

To this day, I haven’t replaced my hoodie strings. Perhaps I will, now…

Thank you for reading. Love and gratitude. OM Shanti. Holly

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Here begins a collection of Facebook posts since May 8th, 2018

8 June, 2018
What does a suicidal person look like?
Not everyone who is suicidal looks numb and dissociated. Not all depressed people appear down. Some look resilient, even inspiring. Some look hostile. Some are famous, and you can watch them on TV; some are sitting next to you on the bus, smiling joyfully at a silly child. MeMay2018
On May 8th, I attempted to kill myself. I looked angry, violent and out of control.
These hostile episodes had been increasing in intensity and frequency for years – in 2014, they were misdiagnosed as panic attacks, related to PTSD. Always willing to do inner work and utilize healing resources, I started seeking help. Chakra work, workshops, writing, yoga, meditation, retreats, etc. Periodic therapy but not long term. Pops-in to the doctor for refills of my low dose meds.
I rarely looked depressed to people. I looked positive and loving. Or, I looked like an angry dog, backed into a corner. I lost friends and jobs. I also found friends who could navigate mental illness and focus on the love. However, nobody – not my friends, not my doctors, not me – recognized how sick I was.
After the failed attempt to kill myself last month, the doctors in the psychiatric hospital listened to my stories from recent years and connected the dots. I now understand: my episodes are not panic attacks. They are PTSD flashbacks – dissociated periods of memorized trauma. Since a rough childhood, I’d experienced suicidal ideation. And my last actual attempt was 28 years ago. So for a very long time, I did not have the right diagnosis, support or medication.
Now, I have new meds, new doctors, new routines. A changing Holly in the same old externals. But I’ve turned over a new leaf.
I want you to know: there is nothing anyone could have done to stop me from trying to kill myself. There was nobody to blame. There was, simply, a solid belief that there was no way out of a life that felt cemented with immense pain, triggers, loss and futility…
even while deeply loving the beauty of life itself.
With a mental illness that locks me into false beliefs based on true memories, I can’t win at times. And you can’t help at times.
Thankfully, on May 8th, after 4 earnest hours of self-harm, I was feeling more physical pain than I could bear…and still not dead. I made a call. I went to the hospital. I learned a lot. I emerged.
For some in my life, no explanation will repair the damage done during these bouts of anger and hostility. From others, I’m receiving immense love, mercy and compassion. It’s a tender, raw and emotional time. At times I feel bewildered. At times I feel motivated and clear. I am profoundly grateful for those who are in this with me. You may not have been able to stop me on May 8th, but your unconditional love lifts me farther and farther from it.
Onward and upward.
OM Shanti.

25 June, 2018
All the feels…
I haven’t really shared about the process of recovering from my May 8th suicide attempt. Particularly since being blindsided by and occupied with my dad’s accident. [Mid-June, my father had a bad fall and went into hospice care.]
In general, each new step of life seems surreal. As if I’ve never lived through a day before now. Every decision, activity, relationship and element of my world is being reevaluated and feels more precious than ever.
Yesterday was the 1st day where I felt happy to be alive – like my old self: purely present and seeing beauty everywhere. But today, I was tired and weepy.
My higher power seems out of reach. My doctors provide positive motivation and clarity. My friends are sharing more closeness, assurance and love than ever. And solitude is sparse.
Tonight, I’m walking home from a recovery meeting under a hazy waxing moon. And feeling gratitude, uncertainty, melancholy, exhaustion, love…
Much love and thanks to you.

27 June, 2018
Nothing to hide, nothing to prove…
I share transparently for a number of reasons: to diminish my own shame about mental illness; to share and seek solutions and resources; and to feel supported. I know there are folks out there, suffering in silence. And I’ve learned – to be silent is to suffer more.
A “cry for help” is not a demand for pity. It is, indeed, a request for help. Without it, we are alone.
Thank you for not leaving me alone! In the month since leaving the hospital after my suicide attempt, you have reached out generously. I am deeply grateful.
Recovering from this attempt is a strange journey. To be frank, I didn’t imagine being here to deal with the aftermath! Duh!
As you might imagine, there are ups and downs. Well, guess what – there were ups and downs before this, too! The difference now? I have a correct diagnosis for my brand of PTSD; and I have a team of resources that I MUST (and am lucky to) call upon. This includes a psychiatrist and his physician’s assistant; a Dialectical Behavioral Therapist with an ass-kicking workbook; a talk therapist for processing the feels; a beautifully compassionate primary care doctor who’s addressing long-neglected checkups. I’m on a high-ish dose of an SSRI medication, which is weird for this natural health gal – yet necessary for the time being. I practice mindfulness with teachers that are experienced and wise. I follow dietary and sleep recommendations. (OK, OK, I’m trying.) Basically, I take direction from professionals who guide me with expertise.
And, I stay connected to friends that know how to – or, want to learn to – be in relationship with the Holly who is striving to heal from her own death wish due to mental illness. It’s been heartbreaking to discover that not everyone is up for the task…but, my heart is healing as I focus on the essence of love in all beings – whether or not they are able to walk beside me.
Before this attempt, I earnestly believed that I was doing all the right things to address my PTSD. And, I sense that most folks around me were accustomed to my strength and resilience. Well, let me tell you: Memorized Trauma Experiences (aka PTSD Flashbacks) kicked my self-sufficient ass to the ground so many times in the past 4 years, I found myself in a bewildering abyss.
Now, I’ve surrendered to the fact that it can’t be me alone (with all the best intentions) making the effort.
A “cry for help” is exactly that. And I am thankful for all of the help I am receiving.
Although I am eager to give back and be of service…I (sheepishly) acknowledge that my priority right now is to accept help. Or die.
Nothing to hide, nothing to prove.
Sending so much love and thanks…
Holly

1 July, 2018
Hello, July.
Birthday month, thick with teaching summer camp, enjoying Folklife Festival, guiding lots of yoga classes and more. A friend just reminded me that this month (for him) is usually pivotal. For me, too.
I’ve felt myself notably awakening from the post-hospitalization haze.
My heart seeks more. In a healthy way.
How does July look for you?

 

13 July, 2018
!Sigue, adelante!
Made it through the 1st 3-week summer camp session, and set the room back up for the next! The kids’ final performances in all of the camp areas were awesome. Percussion, dance, Orff orchestra, flute, violin, guitar, cello, piano and group songs. And, wow, the team of teachers who guided them! I’m fortunate to teach alongside such amazing educators…
…such as flute instructor Angela Blueskies, whose sold-out Sound Healing session I just emerged from at the beautiful Sky House Yoga. I’m feeling washed clean of echoing stairwells, full of excited (aka loud) kids – and full of serenity.
Grateful for all of these experiences.
I had only one major emotional hiccup in the last three weeks, and it was met with caring responses from fellow musicians, camp staff, friends and healers. Tonight, after rising from healing waves of sound vibration, Angela looked me in the eyes (and heart) and said: “I’m glad you’re here. And. I’m glad you’re HERE.”
Right now, I’m glad I’m HERE, too.
Onward!
Love love love.

23 July, 2018
Today…
My brain feels like nails on a chalkboard.
How is your brain today?

28 July, 2018
Good evening, 53…
Y’know, I didn’t think I’d be here for this day. But, here I am! What an organically sweet day it’s been so far. No big deals, just simple pleasures. The company of friends, great food, recovery meetings, sunshine, bus rides, therapy (yup, even on my birthday), meditation, inhales, exhales, hugs, kisses, smiles.
Feeling humbled, grateful, sorry, sleepy, skeptical, hopeful, full…and…loved.
(Yeah, I know…)
Thank you for loving me.

Onward into the 54th revolution around the sun.
After today’s very engaging celebration of 53, I’m looking forward to some solitude tomorrow – to reflect, to take stock.
So much love to you all.
Goodnight.

30 July, 2018
Tonight…
My insides are screaming to say Fuck You to the people who treat me like an unwanted problem…who have harmed me…who have been cruel to me…who have betrayed me…
Literally. To find them and face them and tell them to fuck off.
This is not a safe place for a recovering alcoholic with PTSD to dwell.
Still…
FUCK YOU ____. Fuck you ____. Fuck you ____. Fuck you ____. Fuck you ____. Fuck you ____.

That’s a good start.
Join me!

Goodnight.
Love love love.
(Yep, that’s your yoga teacher talking!)

31 July, 2018
Angerrrrrrr…
Phew. Last night’s half-mad/half-silly F-bomb rant took a toll on me. I woke up today with a powerful emotional hangover and horribly sore body. I called in sick to summer camp because I couldn’t stand up without serious wobbling. And I’ve spent all day sleeping heavily.
Raw transparency sometimes takes a toll.
And there are consequences – like, missing the pay for a day of work, and, having the F-word plastered all over my FB timeline. Sadly, at this point in my fresh journey of self-discovery, that rawness is all I have at times like last night, when an interaction triggers a PTSD flashback.
My anger does not always own me. You and I both know that I am a peaceful and healthy person.
My greatest trigger of anger? PTSD itself. I fucking hate my illness. It has wrecked my life so many times – most recently, driving me into a bathtub with a blade.
Since that experience – and all that surrounded it – it’s so hard to feel well and whole. Relationships, jobs, home life are on the rocks. It’s hard to not feel an internal pressure to heal, heal, heal (damnit, HEAL!) in order to change everything. And the external pressures are very real – I must move out of my house; and therefore, I must find more lucrative work. I must find true support; and therefore, I must discern which relationships are unhealthy.
This morning’s paralyzing exhaustion was the culmination of these pressures combined with an enormously stressful few months. All of the resources I share and tools I teach via my yoga offerings are not enough to keep me healthy these days – and this is truly humbling. I must place myself in the hands of a higher power that I’m blind to…which is impossible. I must break my pattern of breaking down…which feels impossible. Still, the only thing I’m trained to do is keep trudging forward.
Because, when I give up, I end up in deeper shit rather than released from it.
I guess it’s time to learn to give IN.
Love love love.
OM Shanti.

Hey, y’all.
Had a crucial conversation with my doctor. I believe relief is in sight.
I see some FB messages in the queue…thank you. I don’t have messenger on my phone and am rarely on a computer. Please feel free to email me at the address in my FB profile, or, call or text if you have my number.
Love and thanks to all.

3 August, 2018
HAPPY FRIDAY!
My lord, I don’t think I’ve been this happy about a day of the week since I had a corporate job.
Today is the last day of summer camp! Y’all know how much joy this annual 6-week gig brings me. This year, it also brought intolerable exhaustion. And super-weird dreams! (Well, maybe those are from the mental illness and medication).
Anyhow…
I am looking forward to some “me” time. Pup-sitting all weekend; sleeping in tomorrow; massage Sunday. Cartoons! NPR! Non-rushed Hatha, pranayama and meditation practice. Therapy! (Of course.) Ooooh, and maybe a Restorative & Reiki class at Embrace on Sundayyy…
Infinite options for restoration! Grateful.
What will YOU do to take care of yourself this weekend?
Love love love.
OM Shanti.

5 August, 2018
Joy will return…
There’s nothing like a 90-minute deep tissue massage to burst buried veins of self-love and -compassion. The heart, ladies and gentlemen, has softened. I can see the light.

Last night a friend and I were reminiscing over Spotify selections from the 90s. The trajectory went something like this: ELO, Paul McCartney, Jellyfish, The Waterboys, World Party. Wait. Stop there. World Party. Let’s listen. And there, in my memory, was 1991 – the year after my 1990 suicide attempt in New Orleans (which was the last attempt before this May). From New Orleans, I accepted my sister’s invitation to move to Florida; and I started fighting my way up from a dark abyss. A deep well of addiction and untreated trauma and depression and promiscuity and you-name-it. Music started to pull me up, pull me out, lift me up. I sold my whole CD collection except 30 choices – only positive, spiritual music and great storytellers. Santana/McLaughlin “Love Devotion Surrender;” Coltrane “A Love Supreme;” Pharaoh Sanders “Karma;” The Waterboys “A Pagan Place;” Van Morrison “Astral Weeks;” Hothouse Flowers “People; “World Party “Goodbye Jumbo.” And more.
Last night, I recalled that in 1991, after moving from Florida to Austin, I saw World Party in-concert. I cried sobs of awe through the whole thing. I was fighting hard! I wanted to rise up. I believed I could.

I want to fight for that joy again.
It’s no secret that I’ve been struggling with anger, sadness, remorse and grief since my May suicide attempt. I’ve been running from the intensity of and after it; to the shock and urgency of my father’s accident; to the tiring demands of summer camp. Well, this weekend, I’ve been breathing, y’all. Catching up on sleep and smiles.
Last night, listening to “Goodbye Jumbo,” I was singing and dancing with a surrender and happiness that I have not felt in a very long time. And today, after teaching a beautiful morning yoga class, then enjoying a nourishing massage, my mind shifted.
And at the end of the massage, I sat up crying and said, “I believe joy will return.”
I think I’ll just leave that right there.
LOVE
LOVE
LOVE.
OM Shanti.

7 August, 2018
Well, sh**…
Nothing like starting my Social Media perusing by seeing a public suicide note posted by someone dear to me. Thankfully, the police caught him before he used the gun.
The urge to die does not always come from the same place for every sufferer. But in this case, I grasp that he and I both get caught in the grip of: the pain of causing harm to others; the feeling that mental illness is ruining our lives; the overwhelming belief that, although life is rich with beauty and joy and passion, our lives will often hurt way more than we can stand.
The fear that we will never change, that health is out of reach, that growth is impossible.

Well, now. The post-suicide attempt recovery continues – for me, and so many others.
And, wow…today marks 3 months since my attempt, which means I’m allowed back on the Georgetown University psych ward – to bring recovery meetings and be of service.
Gonna make that call…
(Hoping to see my dear one when I travel south for a family visit this month.)
Love love love.

22 August, 2018
“Hi! Nice to meet you! I can be a raging lunatic…”
I came across the attached article (“How to Tell a New Partner You Have a Mental Illness”) while FB surfing. It made me realize how emotionally distant I’ve stayed from romances and friendships – long before, and, most certainly since my May suicide attempt.
For years, my severe PTSD episodes have wreaked havoc on most of my relationships. The main problem? My illness was undiagnosed, the symptoms were untreated, and therefore, I appeared to have intentional fits of rage.
But if anyone truly knows me, they know that rage is far from my intentions.
The most angering part of life is my illness itself, which – when confronted with certain triggers – sucks every ounce of reality, sanity, reason, balance, peace and beauty out of my being, and replaces it with wildly frightened perceptions and monstrous reactions.
So tell me – if I were to reveal this to you on a first date, would you stick around?
Woot, woot! Sounds like fun! Not.

This article encourages transparency of this order. It tells stories of relationships blooming out of full disclosure. But, it leaves me wondering about the health of the resulting relationships! Why would anyone stick around, knowing the potential for being on the receiving end of a PTSD-triggered attack? Why would anyone want to learn how to shape the way they love, according to a mentally-ill person’s needs? To me, that sounds unhealthy.
Or perhaps, that’s just my shitty experience talking.

For years before my recent diagnosis of “memorized trauma experience” (aka PTSD flashbacks), people abandoned ship after experiencing my episodes. Way back in childhood, I was ridiculed by kids who witnessed my uncontrollable crying or anger. Way later, around 2010, I tried to describe to a hurt friend how possessed my brain felt during these situations. Once, I even pleaded, “I’m mentally ill, I can’t control this,” based only on intuition. But the damage was done. Friendships were dropping like flies.
I dug deeply into therapies, resources and remedies for my destructive patterns. However, the patterns only worsened after 2014, when family troubles struck the nerve of childhood trauma, rocketing me into an even denser state of emotional imbalance. I was having “panic attacks” (a tragic misdiagnosis) at jobs, home – even the yoga studios where I worked. Loss after loss, I trudged forward, trying to change, but staying the same. The past four years have been an emotional hell – which I diminished and denied…until this spring, when household conflicts mirroring painful family dynamics landed me in a bathtub full of blood – and then a team of psych-ward professionals helped me understand my disease.
Great 1st-date conversation, eh?

Is it possible that, as described in this article, full disclosure of my mental illness to new friends or dates could lead to healthy intimacy? Because recently, even after learning about the reality of my PTSD flashbacks (episodes where I was triggered into a state of deep fear, which planted a false perception of threat, leading to hostile behavior), some folks who had already distanced me due to my “bad behavior” jumped ship.
I have been asked to move out of my group house because of triggered outbursts prior to my suicide attempt. And after getting out of the hospital, an associate even told me that my past behaviors warranted their abandonment of me surrounding that crisis.
So, no wonder I doubt the positivity of this article! I currently exist within a twisted blend of protecting myself, defending myself, protecting others, and projecting loss.

The silver lining? I now understand that fear has been the criteria for most of my life decisions – and that criteria must change. Still, even though my illness is now properly diagnosed and treated, my insides will not change overnight. There is major internal and external restructure ahead. At this moment, for the sake of forging a healthier journey, I am seeking a new home, new work, new connections. Simultaneously, I’m working with a team of health experts to grow toward healthier choices.
It’s a lot.
In fact, it’s so much that I can’t even imagine founding new relationships. So, I guess I can revisit this article later?

I’m curious – what are your thoughts about and experiences with this article’s proposal? I still wonder if its success stories are actually textbook examples of codependency… Just kidding. Not.
OM Shanti. Peace. Please.

25 August, 2018
Growth…
I am grateful for folks who share transparently on Social Media. Their commitment to staying rigorously honest (primarily with themselves) about their inner work nudges me to reflect deeply.
This week, I read two posts in particular that helped me glean self-kindness, -compassion, and -congratulation from my typically foggy bog of “when the hell will my sick brain be well?”
Right now, for example, after reading, reflecting on, and then responding to recent posts, I am CELEBRATING my WILLINGNESS and DEDICATION to: face my mental illness; accept the related challenges as opportunities for growth; address my condition with the support of awesome healers; peel away layers of habitual dysfunction; communicate my needs; stay honest when I’m feeling “off;” be accountable and make amends for unhealthy behaviors; and, when loss is a result of my errors, breath my way through disappointment, anger, pain, fear…then trudge my way back to this celebration.
As one friend said, “Knowing is growth.” And it’s true – without plainly acknowledging my condition – and the need for change – I can’t grow. And as I’ve learned the hard way – if I’m not growing, I’m dying. So to speak.
Thank you, friends, for your openness. Whether it’s mental illness or simply unhealthy patterns, we are allies in our conditions…and more importantly…as we commit to honesty, willingness and dedication, we are allies in our growth.
Let’s do this!
Ommmm…Shanti Shanti Shanti.

26 August, 2018
This is awesome!
Hip Hop worship music is waking up my soul on this stunningly beautiful Sunday! My hands are raised and my body is grooving!
You might be wondering, “Huh? Holly’s listening to Xian music?” Heck yes. Y’know, I’ve thrown my arms up to Krishna at Kirtan concerts; I’ve bowed to the Earth at Native American ceremonies; I’ve led the family Passover seder; I’ve sobbed with awe at Al Green’s Church of the Gospel. Anywhere that folks are honoring spirit, soul, higher power…particularly as an avenue for rising up from an abyss of troubles…I’ve either been or want to be there.
These days, I’m not sure what or whom my higher power is. The “g” word feels foreign to me. Three months ago, praying to die, I believed that “god” supported that ending. The end of pain, the end of illness, the end of futility. Since landing alive and back on earth, I’ve been spiritually lost. And it’s not the first time. But every time, something eventually picks me up.
So, when I came across this Spotify playlist, clicked that 1st track, and heard the uplifting lyrics and fat beats, I began to believe that faith can also bring an end to pain, illness and futility. It can free me, as KB raps about here, in “No Chains.”
My question is – how does Jesus feel about my booty grinding to his praise? Seriously. Because I cannot stay still – could anyone?
Love love love.

6 September, 2018
“There is a goodness in the air tonight.”
This thought jumped into my brain just now, after enough positive, caring, loving encounters to restore my faith in the value of living.
A doctor once told me that, for me, human connection is more powerful medicine than any pill. (Yes, I’m still taking my pills.) And, after a day like today – to which many of you contributed – I got shivers through my entire body when the above phrase ran through my mind.
Powerful medicine, indeed.
Thank you. I love you. Goodnight.

7 September, 2018
Mindfulness in the MPD…
In July, Embrace Yoga DC partnered with the Washington Metropolitan Police Dept. for “Yoga With A Cop.” This event was meant to bring together police and community for a simple yoga practice.
Seven MPD representatives from the Special Liaison Unit and 3rd District (Embrace’s neighborhood) showed up – including one woman who came directly from her bicycle shift in uniform, and, four men who practice yoga regularly (two of whom have come to Embrace classes).
Two community members added to the mix.
This afternoon, I return to the 3rd District station to launch weekly classes for our officers – a program we piloted in June. The bicycle officer who practiced in uniform has become our biggest advocate! And, contacts in the Internal Affairs and Homicide Units have expressed serious interest. It helps that one of my MPD friends is a lieutenant, an avid yogi and meditator, and, has PTSD.

Many yoga teachers are pursuing training in Trauma-Informed Yoga. My training has been an organic blend of classical Hatha Yoga YTT, personal practice, and, dedication to applying the practice to my own PTSD experiences.
The 200-hour Integral Yoga YTT I took in 2008 included: encouragement to wear conservative, plain yoga clothes; a standard of using verbal cues only; foundational Pranayama, meditation and Yoga Nidra training; and, practical study of the Yoga Sutras as a design for living. My Trauma-Informed teaching style is strengthened by my genuine appreciation for, dedication to and practice of these very same elements of yoga – “on the mat,” in everyday life, and, as part of my PTSD treatment.
But most importantly, to teach Trauma-Informed Yoga…
I must fundamentally believe in EVERY HUMAN BEING’S innate goodness, desire to grow and ability to transform. Because I not only visit venues where people have the same mental illness as me…I must also be willing to walk into venues and share yoga with folks who may have committed the same harms that caused my PTSD: rape, assault, sexism, anti-semitism, bullying, betrayal, abuse… And I cannot do that without doing my own trauma healing. In order to earnestly and effectively be of service, I must walk the walk, and invite everyone to walk with me.
Everyone.

Back in July, the MPD reps who attended “Yoga With A Cop” chose to be there. They were there because they wanted it – not because they needed it, nor because they were mandated to do it. These willing human beings are curious about or already devoted to mindfulness. And I am honored and eager to share the practices with them.
OM Shanti.

9 September, 2018
L’Shana Tovah.
A sweet treat to spark a sweet New Year – 5779. And, of course, to launch 10 days of reflection about and atonement for the shit that went down in year # 5778…
I am awe-filled.
Love to you!

16 September, 2018
Full Circle…
I’ve been snapping photos of this tree in East Nashville’s Shelby Bottoms Park for exactly 5 years.

The photos on the right (crispy fall leaves and bare winter bones) were taken after I moved to Nashville, Labor Day weekend, 2013. I moved to be closer to my aging father, who needed assistance. That weekend was the beginning of the High Holy Days…
If you’ve read my mini-blogs for a while, you know that this “move” was horrible! Family conflict, debilitating poverty, dark depression – even with my addiction recovery intact, I hit a damaging bottom. I lasted 7 months in Nashville – and was able to assist my dad notably – then crawled my way back to my hometown of DC.
And then – even through I’d returned to my support community – I would start to suffer from what I now understand as PTSD Flashbacks, which went undiagnosed and untreated for years.

The shot on the left (puffy clouds) was taken on my recent TN trip, during Labor Day weekend. I traveled to visit my beloved father, who – after an accident this past June – was moved from his house in Nashville to a nursing home in Columbia. A bittersweet trip, it gave me the opportunity to see Dad in his current state of advanced dementia; it also allowed me to return to my favorite park, whose nature feeds me immensely.
Something about being out of DC – taking the road trip, staying in a wonderful friend’s home, attending recovery meetings with my treasured East Nashville friends, being in Shelby Park – melted me into a state of compassion that I’ve not felt for a very long time.
Compassion for myself, y’all.
This past May, resulting from these past years of undiagnosed mental illness, I tried to kill myself. Now, since this liberating trip to TN, I thankfully shifted from self-blame and -loathing to pure acceptance and love. There’s definitely more to this breakthrough – the progress has continued to bloom since my trip home to DC. Clarity, strength, stability is returning.
Shortly after returning from TN, the Jewish High Holy Days began.

For me, the time between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is a beautiful time of renewal, prayer, amends and devotion. I am in love, I am in love, I am in love. With my sweet, sacred Self.
Finally.
After months of doubting that anything would lift me out of my mental illness to reach wellness and health, I have found faith that this new journey of treatment will bring healing.
I feel free.
Wishing you all a Fall season of breakthroughs and freedom. Love love love.

16 September, 2018
Two poignant encounters today…
Early afternoon, during a break from my “office hours” at Embrace, I saw a man who was in the Georgetown University psych ward with me back in May. He was across the street; and at first, I hesitated to say hello.
At the hospital, day after day, his mental state remained unstable. He’d been found by the Potomac River. Apparently, he’d jumped in; and his face was cut and swollen with wounds.
His mood swings were abrupt. In between, though, he liked to play the piano and sing songs for us. He was immensely artistic, charismatic – and unpredictable. Sweet – and downright nasty.
But today, after my initial balk, I beelined across the street. We hugged immediately, and reminisced about our circle of pals from GU. We were a tight crew, aged 18-and-up, from all walks of life, looking out for one another.
I saw the scars from his May wounds – and noticed some more. He said he hopes to stay out of trouble, and that the only thing that might jeopardize that, is if he “grabs some girl’s ass.” (Sweet – and nasty.)
He asked if he could sing me a song. I answered, “No thank you.” We shared another big hug, and moved on.

Walking home from Columbia Heights tonight, I passed the crowd of young men who like to relax in the park near my old neighborhood. When I lived there, I would pass by on my way to and from the corner market; on my way home, one of the guys and I would playfully chat and trade snacks. He would step away from the group, because they often smoked pot, and he knew about my addiction recovery.
Passing by tonight, we saw each other for the 1st time since I moved away. It was a gleeful reunion, even without the snacks! We hugged and caught up and wished each other well.

I share these experiences to illustrate the joy of connection. Community runs deep and wide, and is defined by my openness to share life and spirit with folks around me…to embrace the hearts of fellow humans.
I could tell hundreds of stories about encounters like these. And I encourage you to shape your own.

17 September, 2018
Will the circle be unbroken?
Yesterday, I posted about coming full circle. It’s felt empowering to have some good days in a row.
Today, however…sh#*. That nice, full circle? Broken.
In therapy just now, I hit another emotional bottom. The doc says that healing happens in cycles. She’s trying to encourage me, I know. But I am doubtful again. Doubtful that illness will give way to sustained wellness, long enough for me to truly improve the facts of my life (finances, home, security, health). I’d walked into the doctor appointment aiming to share all of the healing experiences and breakthroughs of recent weeks, but I ended up crumbling into a puddle of tears and wanting to hide from life. Even though I can identify exactly what was at the root of today’s trigger – and therefore, have the chance to rise from it – I still feel owned by PTSD.
I’m sitting in the waiting room post-session, writing and balancing out. I’ve enjoyed smiling and feeling lighter over these past days, and want to return to that freedom. So, I shall pause here until I regain the positivity – coming full circle, yet again.
Cycles, indeed.
OM Shanti.

Today was a really rough day.
My feelings are at the bottom of a trash can right now. I went to therapy. I went to a recovery meeting. I reached out to friends. Please, Lord, whoever you are… help me change.

19 September, 2018
(After watching the video, “Real Situations Expose Fake People”)
The day I tried to kill myself – May 8 2018 – was a very real situation. 
And guess what…
Yup.
Nearly everything Trent Shelton describes here came true. I’m still reeling from the betrayal. I’m still stuck in this complicated relationship. And my rage is becoming poison. The emotional bottom I hit this week is a direct result of my not letting go and moving on. Of fear shaping my decisions – or more so, my indecision.
So. As Trent encourages:
Will I continue to let this break me? Or will I let it make me?
All day (and now, all night), I’ve been planning my next suicide attempt. Curling up in a ball of defeat – by the fake person, and, by my disease.
But wait! I don’t want to die – I just don’t want to live like this anymore. PTSD can’t keep choosing my actions. And this person can’t keep owning my ass.
Only I can change that.
Wish me luck, folks. Because if I ride with Trent, my tank might get pretty empty for a while. But only from that loss will I gain the room to grow.
Oh, lord.
Here. We. Go.

(After reading the piece, “A Dress Rehearsal for Our Deaths”)
Beautiful perspective piece about the holy reckoning of Yom Kippur. 
“…thinking about your death can bring you much closer to experiencing true joy. It ‘compels us to squeeze out every bit of life out of every day that we have,’ she says.”

Yes, I’ve been up all night, mustering a will to live.

(After receiving a message from FB…)
Dear Facebook staff.
Thank you for letting me know that someone contacted you out of concern for my well-being, after seeing my recent posts. Thank you for sending the hotline number. Please keep doing this for others. Brilliant.
I understand the concern.
Posting transparently about my life is part of my growth process. Rigorous honesty among this amazing community – with whom your media platform keeps me connected – avails me the solutions I seek. Still, not everyone perceives the constructive aspects of my sharing. They are there, they are clear.
If I’m here, I’m here for help. If I’m not here, I’m in trouble.
Posting transparently on Social Media is not for everyone. It works for me, because I have hundreds of kind, wise, experienced and loving friends out there. Bringing my insides into public light frees me from the grip of darkness. And I realize that solutions are abundant. I click on comments and consequently see my way out – as friends urge me through.
I yearn for life and am willing to work toward living.
May my openness and friends’ support serve others. 💚
Love and thanks, Facebook.
Your fan –
Holly

(Later that day…)
Sh’maaahhh…
After a (more than) slight interruption to my originally scheduled program, I’m back to it.
What. A. Week.
Phew!
Thank you for hearing me, for holding me, for helping me toward healing. You are wise and experienced, my friends. I am grateful for you. May I grow balanced, whole and strong enough to hear, hold and help you, as well.
May my “dark night of the soul” be remedied by returning to ritual – in community, with passion. Off to synagogue I go!
(Just in time for the always-poignant breakout groups and social justice panel.)
Signing off until sunset and break-fast, y’all. I LOVE YOU! L’Shana Tovah and good Yom Tov.
ShalOMmmm…

22 September, 2018
Trauma: The Teacher AND The Lesson
“I always share with my students that our biggest traumas are our biggest strengths and deep intimate knowledge that we can use to help/serve others…”
~ Gita Zember

I needed to hear this brave woman’s words today. Although I share the same guidance with my yoga students and teacher trainees, my recent battles with PTSD often leave me feeling like a useless fraud. I’m pondering, “How could knowledge of and experience with my traumas morph into strength and service – when they seem to be getting the best of me lately?”

I’ve always been the one who touted the process of going deep – of facing, addressing and healing from wounds and their scars – because I was an example of the healthy outcome.
Until now. Increasingly, I suffer severely from the symptoms and consequences of PTSD. Despite continuing to seek and utilize a variety of healing treatments, I feel far from healthy. After each dark dip into the abyss of trauma flashbacks, I emerge shell shocked. And sometimes, my treasured brightness returns so quickly that I feel like a dimwit for letting the disease trip me up, yet again. I also wince at the concern I’ve caused in the dear ones who cheer me on, and, the scorn I’ve caused in those who will never understand.

Well, I’m glad I’m writing right now – because gratefully, the answer came to me. This must be a period of learning to understand a deeper layer of my trauma experiences. It makes sense. I’ve felt so bewildered by every symptomatic episode. Clearly, this is completely new territory. Not the same old trauma stuff, hahaha.
I must trust that I am being shown something important and valuable through these current struggles. I must allow the pain enlighten me. And once the process yields new solutions, they will enhance the resources I share with others.

When I do my sacred inner work, and when I trust the messenger of pain – my traumas become my teacher, and, my teachings.
Looking up…
OM Shanti

25 September, 2018
Allí está: la luna preciosa.
We missed seeing her through last night’s stormy skies. I’m definitely feeling her fullness now – even 24 hours after peak.
I keep asking her, “What do you want from me? Tell me – what do you want???” I could just sit here and cry over wanting to know god’s will. If only…
Still, over and over, I ask.
What does she want from me?
Ommm…

Horoscope for Leo & Leo Rising

~ Chani Nicholas
“September’s full moon asks you what your struggle is helping you to become more aware of. Sometimes we need strong encouragement (read: no other choice) to do the thing that is the most challenging to do. As the end of September and beginning of October unfold, the problems that you are able to address will set the stage for future efficiency. What structural support can you provide yourself? What psychological support can you connect to? What daily practices connect you to solution-based strategies? Put your energy there and you’ll find that any current concerns become entry ways into incredibly insightful investigations.”

29 September, 2018
A little scared.
A lot hopeful.
Cutting off my hand
to spite my heart…
Tomorrow morning, I will NOT be teaching my long-running Sunday Slow Flow class…and naturally, I’m feeling blue about it.

For many reasons and after deep reflection and counsel, I resigned from my manager and teacher roles at Embrace yesterday, and was told to make it effective immediately. So, not only am I not teaching tomorrow morning – I’m not sure when I’ll be teaching again. And, yeah, it feels weird!
However.
I am posting super-happy photos with a super-sweet message because I feel so awake, alive and hopeful!
Over the past year, I’ve been pushed to let go of a lot. If you’ve read these mini-blogs since last Rosh Hashanah, you’ve seen me grieve a breakup and navigate my dad’s huge health changes. Now, I’m releasing a living situation, a job and relationships that have not served me for a while. Above all, I’m on an exhilarating journey toward letting go of life long behavioral patterns by working with new guides, healers and resources for personal change.

I often refer to my May 8th suicide attempt as the day I “tried to carve my hand off.” Lately, I’ve come to find more poetic meaning. Perhaps I just needed to let go and move on. May 8th was the beginning of this period of intense surrender, due to a string of realizations and breakthroughs regarding unhealthy attachment, codependence, and absolutely untrue, negative opinions of myself. These traits led me to such a devalued, self-loathing state, in which I feared that my triggered behaviors would never change. So, I tried to carve my hand off…I tried to let go completely, to die. And upon failure, I sought and dove into new layers of help. I’ve learned that there’s a sweeter way to let go than chopping off my own hand…all I have to do is tap gently on my heart, and open up to compassion. I see that love is greater than fear. I feel the rewards of release.
I am free.
And in this newfound freedom, there is room for growth, space for joy, and promise of possibility.
Onward and upward!
OM Shanti.

30 September, 2018
What. A. Week.
The Full Moon.
Another set of soul-mining therapy sessions.
Monthly Ayurvedic massage, interrupted by fussy, sweet little pup.
Posted furniture for sale due to approaching move.
Dry-run Metro commute from new HOME in Bethesda to fave recovery meeting in Takoma Park, for friend’s 6-year anniversary.
Honest conversation at dinner reunion with recovery gal-pal.
First dentist appointment in 5 years!
Eye-opening doctor appointment with sugar, cholesterol and weight diagnoses that demand attention.
Final (who knew?) Basics class in AdMo.
Weekly mindful yoga class with the budding “officers of the peace” at the MPD.
A work meeting and a goodbye.
Gorgeous autumn city walkabouts, FarMar lounging, city strolling and spontaneous quality time with friends.
And, finally, after too many days of overnight restlessness and anxiety – a normal night’s sleep.

What’s next?
Smile.
Breathe fresh air from the wide open window.
Get out of bed late, for a mid-morning Sadhana of Pranayama and Mantra Japa.
Prepare and enjoy steel cut oatmeal with agni-stoking spices, hemp hearts and banana.
Smudge, bless and straighten up room.
Laundry, people…laundry.
Email love and thanks to yoga family.
Update resume and apply for one awesome job.
Enjoy a toasted sandwich with Prairie Bread, ghee, Chao cheese, Asian pear and Atwater’s plum jam.
Head to Silver Spring for tea before the 5:30 meditation class at UP! Yoga Studio.
Continue the transition away from stuck and sick, to fluid and well.

And tomorrow, October 1st:
Make-up for last Monday’s interrupted massage with a free session!
One breath at a time, y’all. Sending love, sharing strength, wishing wellness.
OM Shanti.

5 October, 2018
(Y)our power…
Right now, my FB page is a love song to women and assault survivors. A series of posts that remind me to take care of, celebrate and empower myself.
After spending yesterday afternoon and evening around the U.S. Capitol and Office Buildings, I became bluer than blue. I grieved this country’s great betrayal of women. As I’d posted earlier, I recently watched a woman close to me crumble from the triggers of these times. My heart broke.
Today, sparked by one friend’s uplifting post about the 1st woman to run the Boston Marathon (shared on my page), I sought FB posts with inspirational messages and wellness resources. I’m choosing to deliberately shape my mind toward potential, rather than futility.
Yes, in the coming days, I’ll still grieve if things go any more sour than they already are…I will honor the losses our country is experiencing…and…I will embrace, enhance and rock our/my power.
I pray you will, too.
OM Shanti.

10 October, 2018
Good morning, sad and beautiful world.
Today, I love my perfectly imperfect self. I hope you do, too. OM Shanti.

Stay alive…
For anyone who’s feeling like dying these days…sometimes I imagine a safe, trusted being holding me in their caring arms.

“I will stay with you tonight
Hold you close ‘til the morning light
In the morning watch a new day rise
We’ll do whatever just to stay alive”
~ José Gonzalez

Stay Alive

There’s a rhythm and rush these days
Where the lights don’t move and the colors don’t fade
Leaves you empty with nothing but dreams
In a world gone shallow
In a world gone lean

Sometimes there’s things a man cannot know
Gears won’t turn and the leaves won’t grow
There’s no place to run and no gasoline
Engine won’t turn
And the train won’t leave

Engines won’t turn and the train won’t leave

I will stay with you tonight
Hold you close ‘til the morning light
In the morning watch a new day rise
We’ll do whatever just to stay alive
We’ll do whatever just to stay alive

Well the way I feel is the way I write
It isn’t like the thoughts of the man who lies
There is a truth and it’s on our side
Dawn is coming
Open your eyes

Look into the sun as the new days rise

14 October, 2018
Sometimes I mistake fear for pain.
It would serve me to ask myself:
Does this hurt? Or does it scare me?

18 October, 2018
Last night, after a full-on trigger episode, I fell asleep begging for all gods and goddesses to wrap their arms around me for safety.
“No humans,” I said, because I just couldn’t feel safe with them.
I slept heavily until my 6am alarm sounded, interrupting a dream of my dad and bagels.
It was a dark night; yet, from those same shadows, today’s bright mood emerged. Onward and upward.
Dear HP, may my pain bring me closer to you.
Goodnight, y’all.

11 November, 2018
To witness the dying…
Over the past two days, I’ve had the honor of sitting with my dying father. On another plain already, he gently motions with his hands and softly gazes at things I cannot detect. I wish he’d let go, I wish he’d hold on, I wish he’d let go, I wish…
My sisters, who live near my father in Tennessee, have been navigating this process like champs. A natural mess of tears and reason. I, on the other hand, am on another plain of its own dimension. I sense that this, too, is natural.
Today, I sang and recited Jewish prayers, spent quiet time and said my goodbyes to Dad – I’m still waffling whether to stay close or go back to DC for now. He’ll be put on pain-control tomorrow and will probably leave us soon after.
I’m too tired to write more…
LOVE.

12 November, 2018
One Day At A Time…
THANK YOU for helping me make the decision between staying with my dad during his transition, or, going home to DC then returning when he passes. Your gentle encouragement and beautiful sharing reminded me why I must stay.
As I experienced when my mom passed 16 years ago, there is a personal, spiritual and ritualistic significance to being present with a transitioning soul. Plus – this is my FATHER, who has given me everything throughout life. I was not thinking clearly yesterday, while making my decision to leave TN. In fact, my thoughts were clouded by fear.

As you may know from past blogs, a huge part of my father’s and my relationship included unhealthy financial dependence. Since finally becoming independent in late adulthood, I’ve learned to prioritize work and income. And this colored my decision making process this week. Staying in TN means I’m missing income commitments. In addition, it means I’m delaying securing new work opportunities to replace income lost when I recently resigned from the yoga studio.
So, the ONLY reason I would have left TN is financial fear – and paradoxically, a feeling of responsibility to my father.
However, I must believe that the right work opportunities will be available after this time with Dad. And thankfully, my sisters have given me enough money to stop being afraid, and start being present for the man who supported me in so many ways.

So, I’m staying. And each evening – if or when fear arises – I will revisit your messages, comments and texts. I will focus my entire attention on loving Dad, and sharing this time with presence and reverence.
Thank you.
LOVE.

Thank you, again, all.
I just watched my beloved father die, after decades of watching him live the fuck out of this life.
As he took his last breaths, I repeated, “I love you. Thank you,” over and over.
Dad will forever influence me in so many ways, from deep passion for music, to the ability to love through thick and thin, to a brilliantly effective potty mouth.
Dad was a tough cookie. I learned resilience through hardship – and much, much more – by his example.
Irvin Meyers, may you, indeed, Rest. And Peacefully.
Love to all.

16 November, 2018
Dear Facebook Family,
First, thank you for being just that – family. I never thought that I’d consider social media a source of wisdom, inspiration, strength and much more. But YOU make it that way. And I thank you for filling my newsfeed and my life with great care and love.
Second, deep gratitude for every single word, “Like/Love/etc” click, photo, quote and thought that you have ever shared with me. You’ve brought me through some harsh times, and celebrated the good with me, as well.
Please know that, each time I see that someone has clicked on a post, I take that person into my heart and mind for a moment. I recall the awesome web of connection that brought us together – in-person or online. Life is soooo big – and in delightful ways, the world is soooo small.
Not just this past week – during my father’s final days and passing – but during the big events of my Facebook lifetime, your outreach has truly carried me. I hope and pray that I offer the same to you. Tonight, I’m catching up on your posts and filled with awe at your lives and loves. I wish you all that you need along this journey.
Seeing you in person is, of course, a huge joy, as well! This season, there will be gatherings and offerings and workshops and more. My dad has left me with a strong push toward productivity, purpose, practice and passion. Please stay tuned.
Much, much love to all of you. Holly

28 November, 2018
Some days, the world is so heartbreaking…
…and yet, so beautiful – that all I can do is repeat “Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu” over and over, until that last bus ride ends, and the walk home under the stars brings cleansing tears.
May all beings be free of suffering, realize peace and be filled with light.
OM Shanti.

18 December, 2018
What’s my part…?
Many negative events occured in my world over the past 15 months or so. Family, friendships, work and home were all uprooted by serious events.
And I was wronged by some people. Harmed. Betrayed. Disappointed.
Yet, still, I must ask: what was my part?
When I point a finger at someone else, I’m pointing three back at myself. In the situations where both/all parties have been able to self-reflect and take responsibility, we’ve experienced deep healing and a fresh relationship.
In the situations where someone or I cannot see our wrongs…well, some things must end. (Or, at least, I’m letting go for now. I do believe in healing.)
I must remember, when I’m struggling to see my errors: sometimes it’s simply that I made a bad decision to be/stay somewhere unhealthy. Taking accountability does not always mean that I willfully struck outward in harm (although sometimes, it does), or that the entire event was my fault.
And if I can see – truly see and understand – where I stayed in a toxic situation long enough to get burned, then there’s a huge chance that I will sidestep similar situations in the future. Why did I stay? What fears kept me there? What unhealthy patterns need an overhaul?
Without this reflection, it’s onward to the next painful scene.
It’s my choice – either open the door of healing, growth and change, or, walk by a closed door.
I aim to step through.
Much love and strength as we reflect on months passed…and step forward.
OM Shanti.

25 December, 2018
Merry Christmas from NoLa, y’all!
What a beautiful landing – over Lake Pontchartrain and the mighty Mississippi. Now, I’m running out before the rain inevitably hits. Feels UH-mazing to be in the tropics…and, to renew my relationship with this city, which 25-28 years ago, held a host of light and dark experiences. Looking forward to shining fresh light over these three days!
Ciao for now!

26 December, 2018
Good morning…
May this day be yet another of looking back in order to move forward. May I embrace the power of acknowledging my bumps, stumbles and scars as gifts. May I step forward in service.

I can’t lie, y’all – yesterday made me squirm! How uncomfortable I felt in this city that I know so well! So far, New Orleans has flooded me with STRONG memories of when I lived here in the early 90s. “That used to be the little postal shop where I mailed packages;” “I lived there before I dropped out of UNO grad school;” “That’s the curb I sat on, watching street musicians and drinking tequila out of a paper bag.”
Well, considering that I last visited NoLa in 2003, at 6-months sober, and I now have 16 years of sobriety (thank god and community), this return ought to feel quite remarkable.
I now know why this visit was a must: upon awakening this morning, I understand that missing New Orleans meant that a key part of my healing is missing.

Most of y’all know that I attempted suicide last May. (Sorry if that felt like a bomb dropping for some.) The recovery has been UH-mazing. Thanks to finally receiving a proper diagnosis from the brilliant psych doctors at Georgetown University, and ongoing healing with a wise and experienced team, it’s onward and upward.
Exactly 28 years before last spring’s attempt, I’d tried to kill myself while living here, in NoLa. Just before Easter 1990. From then forward, I’ve tried everything to understand my impulse toward dying (which has been with me since childhood trauma), in an effort to quell it. It ends up that, as long as my mental illness went un- or mis-diagnosed, it would only get stronger…even if it laid dormant or disguised or “treated” for periods. (Let me tell you – being an active alcoholic during much of that time did not help. But being misdiagnosed while sober was even worse.) Hence my progressively imbalanced behavior over recent years and relapse toward suicide last spring.
Today, here I am, solidly sober, devoted to yoga and recovery as designs for living, and finally being treated for PTSD w/ Memorized Trauma Flashbacks. I’ve not felt this positive in my entire life. As I said, my recovery, healing and growth have been immense since May.
And this trip will be a huge chapter of that story.

As I wander the city today, I’ll aim to be more mindful and present. Yesterday, I hit the ground running, and everything hit me just as forcefully. Although it IS fun to cruise these streets as a “local,” today I will ceremoniously recognize the distance I’ve come from those lost and painful days of the early 90s. In the street folks that unnerved me yesterday, I’ll see my reflection, and offer compassion. At the locations where I felt wobbly with memories, I’ll ground down and honor my journey to the now. And I’ll fuse the wisdom from past experiences with the self-knowledge that serves me daily.
I am grateful to the depths of my being to be alive, to be a seeker, to have what I have…and to not have what I don’t! I honor this life and yearn to serve those with similar pasts, journeys and feelings.
May this day be full of spirit, heart and soul.
Love and thanks to you, New Orleans. Love and thanks.
OM Shanti.
Holly

29 December, 2018
I swear, I couldn’t make this shit up if I tried…
‘They say’ that there are no coincidences. Well, I’m beginning to believe ‘them.’ In the final hours of my trip to New Orleans, I took a streetcar uptown, around River Bend and into Carrollton. I explored longer than expected; so, on the way back downtown, I debated whether or not to stop in the Garden District to see my very first NoLa residence. It’s the apartment where, in March 1990 – midway between the chaotic frivolity of Mardi Gras and the reverent rebirth of Easter – I tried to kill myself.
So, Thursday evening, I was on the streetcar, undecided. It was dark and raining hard. I was wet and tired, and my flight was in about 3 hours.
At the last moment, when the conductor announced “Jackson,” I pulled the cord.

I wasn’t 100% certain of my old address. I knew it was somewhere around Jackson, a few blocks or so toward Uptown. But as soon as I saw the blue Victorian turret, I knew I’d found it: 2357(and 1/2) Magazine Street, Apartment #2. My apartment entrance was in the back courtyard, which was now gated and locked. I rang each apartment’s bell on the fence, suspecting that they no longer worked. Nobody answered. So, after a few moments of noble silence, I left.
As I turned and walked out of the driveway, a woman walking her dog arrived. Victoria lived in the front apartment, but gladly let me into the courtyard, where her dog Sam, she and I spent a little time. Victoria asked me when I lived there and why I left.
HM: I lived here 28 years ago; and I left New Orleans because I needed to stop harming myself.
V: So you’ve stopped drinking and using drugs completely?
(Victoria could have answered in a million ways. But she chose to go there.)
HM: Well, yes – it took me 12 years after leaving New Orleans to get sober; but yes, I’ve been clean and sober 16 years now.
V: That’s great!
HM: Y’know…I tried to kill myself in there.
V: Oh, god…yeah, I’ve been there…
HM: Do you drink and drug anymore?
V: No, it’s been 6 years!
(There’s a bit of a “secret language” among recovery program people. One sign is when someone can tell you the exact length that they’ve been clean and sober.)
HM: That is great! Do you do that alone, or with help?
(Another code phrase.)
V: Oh, I have help. I have a 12-Step Program.
HM: Me, too! Oh, wow, how cool to meet you!
And the rest, as ‘they say,’ is history.

In the recovery program, we say, “We don’t regret the past, nor wish to shut the door on it.” In those final moments of my NoLa vacation – because I chose to walk face-first into my past – a door to healing, hope, connection and growth opened wide.
Lord, people, I couldn’t make this shit up!
Wishing everyone the renewal they seek as that calendar page turns from 2018 to 2019 – and on every damn day that our eyes, hearts and minds stay open to healing, growth and change.
Onward and upward! Love and thanks! OM Shanti.
Holly

31 December, 2018
New energy…
Lapiz earrings, amethyst heart and palo santo from my New Orleans rebirth trip; and handcrafted mugwort, lavendar and rosemary smudge bundle from Homegrown Healing.

I am grateful for the unexpected, as synchronicity rains down upon me. Let’s just say that, from Solstice through Christmas, and right now, so many positive energies have been aligning. Exhaling thoroughly…stepping forward…breathing in new energy.
OM Shanti.
And happy 2019.

I’ll just leave this right here:
“…Amethyst is still a remarkable stone of spirituality and contentment, known for its metaphysical abilities to still the mind and inspire an enhanced meditative state. Its inherent high frequency purifies the aura of any negative energy or attachments, and creates a protective shield of Light around the body, allowing one to remain clear and centered while opening to spiritual direction. Amethyst stimulates the Third Eye, Crown and Etheric Chakras enhancing cognitive perception as well as accelerating the development of intuitive and psychic ability. It initiates wisdom and greater understanding, and is a stone of comfort for those grieving the loss of a loved one.
Amethyst’s ability to expand the higher mind also enhances one’s creativity and passion. It strengthens the imagination and intuition, and refines the thinking processes. It helps in the assimilation of new ideas, putting thought into action, and brings projects to fruition. It is a talisman of focus and success.
~ wisdom from Shankari Goldstein

3 January, 2019
Soothe, shift, grow…
Today, I start a new style of therapy. You might wonder, “More therapy? But you’re feeling soooo goooood!” And it’s true, thank goodness!
The fact is, that goodness will not last without ongoing care. Self-care, of course – and, the care of family, friends and professionals. In this new therapy style, I have to accept that Soothing is the 1st step when handling a severe PTSD trigger. For me, at first,that seemed like Avoidance. Because, typically, I jump head first into healing, growth and change. But I’m learning that Soothing is essential. I’ve been practicing this since May, and have experienced more peace and balance than ever!
The point is – if I step back instead of in, I have a chance to shift my response, get grounded, and learn new ways of navigating discomfort.
In this therapy style, Soothing is neither Avoidance nor Self-care. It is a skillful transition from trigger to solution. I’m grateful for ALL the care around me on this wellness journey! The care from others, and, the self-care of yoga, recovery and willingness to utilize infinite resources that I’ve been lucky to find throughout life.
Love to all. OM Shanti.

6 February, 2019
Lucky to be a survivor…
Today, I taught the Commander, Lieutenant and six detectives from the DC MPD Youth & Family Services Division. These folks see and address the worst, y’all.
Their presence, dedication and stillness during class – from intention setting through Yoga Nidra – is remarkable. It is so stirring to watch these officers melt from tension to relaxation with a mindful flow yoga class. And my lord, they deserve it!
I am honored to guide the MPD in this sacred, healing practice. I am grateful to my teachers who trained me in trauma-sensitive yoga. And I am lucky to have the perspective of a trauma survivor.
Yup. Lucky.
OM Shanti.

17 February, 2019
There’s nothing like a good cry…
What. A. Week. In many ways, I feel like the last 10 days define the current condition of my heart and soul.
Being of service, showing up for friends, encountering an ex- with forgiveness and presence…supporting indigenous communities, seeing mentors play live jazz, teaching mindfulness to athletes, kids, and cops…guiding a signature yoga workshop and being inspired by students’ dedication, enjoying new connections and rich conversations, and, navigating, processing and being supportive during my sisters’ current troubles.
Right smack in the middle of all this, I received a Soul Retrieval from a healer. This age-old Shamanic ritual addresses the parts of the soul that have splintered off during trauma. There are a host of contemporary psychology parallels. The goal is to reunite the broken person with wholeness.
Funnily enough, I didn’t think I was ready for the treatment. My schedule has been scattered, my mind has been riddled with resentments, and my health has not been tops. Not to mention – I’d have to go directly from a Soul Retrieval to the police department yoga class via Metro.
Well.
It turns out, I was ready. As the healer journeyed on my behalf, I visited “little me’s” who’d been afraid since childhood – and invited them back into my body. I saw a person I’ve raged at for months – and recognized her humanness with deep compassion and understanding. I saw a lot, I felt even more, I cried, I spoke words I can’t recall, I cried more, and I even laughed uncontrollably. I reached a depth of healing that I’ve not been able to access for months. Resentments softened into forgiveness. My past became useful but distant. My mind felt at ease, my heart felt renewed. All at once, I found I could love myself unconditionally. I felt liberated.
And now, this healing allows me to show up for myself, for others and for life like never before. I am free to love.
But this is just a beginning. I have homework! My job is to continue integrating these sweet, vulnerable, long-lost soul parts back into my being. I must do this without trying to be perfect, without avoiding difficulties, without fear. I must do this with love, and only love.
Before this, love was a challenging thing to define. Is it a verb? A feeling? A lofty concept? Although I still can’t explain it with universal meaning, I do know what it is to me. And I’m humbled, floored, flattened with gratitude.
From indigenous protests to jazz festivals, from self-care to volunteer work – my world came back to life over these past 10 days. My homework is before me, but there’s no test at the end. In fact, there is no end at all. Just process and growth. And love.
OM Shanti. Holly

25 February, 2019
Root down, y’all…
In his FB live message this morning, my beautiful friend Bomani was waxing poetic about this wind and its messages. What foundation do we stand upon when conditions want to topple us over? Are our roots deep enough to withstand challenge? When we “get grounded,” are we cemented, or still flexible? Can we sway and still find balance?
Ancient texts have asked similar questions. And nature – most ancient teacher of all – blows these reminders our way on purpose!
My personal takeaway? As Bomani encouraged…I’m rooting down in life’s blessings, in positivity and in gratitude. And on a very practical level, I’ll probably eat some root veggies, do a standing meditation and avoid dry, cold foods.
With this as my foundation, I feel balanced, flexible and ready for the next gust. ‘Cause we know it’s comin’!
Love and gratitude. OM Shanti. Holly

26 March, 2019
Oh, NPR…
The subject – how to help suicidal youth who have experienced trauma.
One expert opinion on this show: only those who suffer in silence end up killing themselves.
As a suicidal youth, with multiple attempts along with constant self-harm, I don’t know what could have shifted my trauma-damaged brain. And I was not suffering in silence. My struggle was quite obvious. I carved my initials into my arm. I got drunk before and after school. I had violent temper tantrums. I did and dealt drugs. And, as a suicidal adult in therapy for PTSD, in recovery from addiction and practicing yoga for peace of mind, I shared my struggle openly. But flashbacks owned me and simply looked – and felt – like bad behavior. Again, my suffering was not silent. But my community’s and my own misunderstanding of my undiagnosed symptoms made me hard on myself; and in failing to “get better,” I gave up on living.
Another expert on suicide says: suicidal impulses are treatable, because they stem from depression.
But having PTSD, and dealing with a “memorized trauma experience” due to a trigger dynamic is totally different from depression. And in a flashback, there is no grip on reality, no stopping the impulse to die. The attempt happens with blind resolve and at lightning speed.
Thankfully, last year’s suicide attempt led to correct diagnosis, excellent treatment and my ongoing focus on wellness. Today, I want to live. But look what it took to reach this point.
Still, even from the experts, I hear generalizations about suicidal folks that just don’t match my own – and probably millions of others’ – experience.
My non-expert opinion is pretty harsh, though. When it’s time, it’s time. Whether it’s old age or cancer, murder or suicide, everyone has their time. Perhaps that doesn’t make it any easier to say goodbye, or, to deal with a traumatic death. I just wish the world was an easier place to seek help for sadness, for depression, for PTSD, for any state of mind that craves deadness or death itself. For example, in my opinion and experience, anyone who is getting drunk most days is not suffering in silence…it’s an obvious sign of inner pain.
There’s so much more to write. So many cans of worms are open these days. Each week, more struggling souls are reaching out to me to talk about their own pain.
May all beings be free of suffering, realize peace and be filled with light. May the light of truth shine through the darkness.
Love love love.

3 April, 2019
Today was…
…hmmm. Today was raw. As I was out and about, between my temp gig and two MPD yoga classes, I was yelled at, called an idiot, treated like an idiot, called a bitch, called white trash and flipped off – among four separate, remarkable instances.
Such anger out there. My lord, we are all hurting so much. I just kept wishing love. But now, I am exhausted to tears.
Sticks and stones
May break my bones
But words can never
Hurt me.
Then why do I feel so bruised?
May all of your days be free from attacks of all kinds. May all who attack find peace. May all beings, everywhere, find love.
Onward and upward.
P.S. This is not about me hurting. I’ll cry and pray and sleep and renew. It’s about everyone hurting. Everyone. OM Shanti Shanti Shanti. Peace, please.

5 April, 2019
On the brink of spring…
What a difference two days, sharing transparently, and, feeling loved make. Thank you, sacred FB community, for voicing your thoughts about Wednesday’s rawness. In recovery, when we experience such rattling of the mind and feelings, it is advised that we: ask god to remove the intense emotions; discuss them with dear ones immediately; quickly make amends if harm was committed; turn our efforts toward being of service; and, recall that love and tolerance is our code.
Recovery – from addiction, from trauma, from harm – is all about personal growth, and consequently, growing to understand others. It is about growing toward effectiveness in human relations. And it is a lifelong process.
Spring reinforces these ideas. Although it appears as so, flowers do not bloom overnight…their process began the year before, when their petals fell to the ground…and before that, when seeds and sapplings and bulbs were first planted…and before that, when earth was nurtured for plants…and before that…well, you know where this goes.
All lessons can come from mother earth. And of course, from sharing openly, and listening closely.
I love you all.
Holly

8 April, 2019
Last year…
Around this time in 2018, my mental health was starting to bottom out. Approaching this anniversary is, at once, daunting and inspiring.
More to come…
Love and gratitude.
OM Shanti. Holly

17 April, 2019
To my sacred FB community…
I don’t remember the last time I wrote anything like this here. Maybe never?
I am feeling emotionally low due to difficulties in one single and important area of life – my job search.
Positive thoughts and vibes are appreciated.
Love and gratitude.
Holly

Sometimes my ass needs to get kicked…
Last night was one of those times: sitting with my landlord, confessing that my job search has yielded nothing, and accepting the potential consequences – which run wider than possibly having to move. Thankfully, we like each other; and, she’s a wise woman. So, within her stern butt-kicking was the reality check and coaching that I needed. It was humbling, to put it nicely.
I just haven’t been seeing my priorities clearly. Since leaving my last job, I’ve believed that my search for a full-time job in the field I prefer was the responsible thing to focus on. You know – to get a full-time job, you have to treat your search like a full-time job. And a serious full-time job pays the rent, secures the future, etc.
But over these months, my idealism gradually morphed into denial. And I lost sight of my approaching financial crisis.
This crisis. Right now.
So, last night was rough. The solution? Pound the pavement for restaurant and retail work. Put the dreams of a wonderful nonprofit job and grad school aside. Again. For now. Well, just decrease the time I spend on the full-time search. A little.
This morning was raw. Until I reached out. To you.
And here I am, at the end of the day, feeling GRATEFUL. Yes, grateful. Because I spent today being shown that there are so many good things in my life. Including talents, skills, energy, support, positivity, hope, friends, income (little bit), chutzpah, a home that’s more than a roof over my head, and more. Feeling grateful yields possibility. Possibility yields opportunity. And I’m banking on it.
THANK YOU, community, for all of your vibes, concrete ideas and contacts. I promise my networking will be less desperate from here on. Still, feel free to kick my ass when it’s necessary!
Onward and upward!

22 April, 2019
Love, Eros, Life Force…
(From a plaque at the mentioned art exhibit: “Warriors & Heroines: Throughout her career, Sanchez turns repeatedly to females warrior and heroines in classical mythology and history for inspiration. ‘Women have always been tragic and heroic. It is better to see them as love — Eros — or a life force, than Thanatos, or an impulse to dies. Dying has no strength…’”)
Attended the Zilia Sánchez retrospective at The Phillips Collection yesterday, and was caught off guard by the quote on this plaque. In fact, I stood there, frozen, my face in my hands, crying.
About one year ago, over a two-month period, I’d traveled to Florida for Spring Training, attended a beautiful Passover Seder, contracted and battled pneumonia, and then went on a phenomenal Buddhist retreat. I’d also been experiencing increased PTSD triggers – even during the retreat – and was feeling powerless over the futility of repeated and uncontrolled emotional episodes.
Finally, on May 8th, during what I would come to understand as a yet undiagnosed “memorized trauma experience” (aka flashback), I tried to kill myself. I’d had yet another emotional outburst, jeopardized my stability at home and work, and despised the stuckness of my mental illness.
I just could not stand myself.
Nearly a year later, I’m on a different track. Due to a correct diagnosis, appropriate meds and treatment, a shift in interpersonal dynamics, and ongoing wellness priorities, I’ve learned how to stay regulated during PTSD triggers. Yup, they still happen! And always will. The distinction today is, on this new track, I no longer need to react in terror (flight) and defense (fight). I still feel intense emotion – positive and negative. But when negative, instead of rocketing into a flashback, I stay present and respond. Sometimes more gracefully than others – still, it’s progress!
Thank god for the many layers of support on my side – from meds to friends. Today, I want to live this life that I deeply adore.
So, yes, as artist Zilia Sánchez expresses on this plaque and in her art, it is better to see ourselves as a vibration of love and life, rather than the impulse to die.
“Dying has no strength” – living requires strength, and, makes me stronger.
I am Eros, I am love, I am vibrantly alive.
Love and gratitude.

24 April, 2019
Hugely good and bad, happy and sad things happening at once.
Trying to be real with my feelings. But honestly, they don’t know which way to go. Tired. Goodnight and rest well, y’all.

28 April, 2019
A rose between the thorns…
Joy and pain. Sunshine and rain. 10,000 joys and 10,000 sorrows. Whichever way you slice it, life is layered with good and bad. My job is to condition my insides, so I’m sharing an unshakeable core of purpose outwardly. Sometimes that core looks like crying and grief; other times it looks like an empowered smile. What’s the essence? To be real, to be raw, to process. To get grounded, to get connected, to embrace purpose. And then, to share strength.
My classes this weekend invited yogis to journey through the 1st three chakras. To tap the earth’s energy, to trust connection and to empower purpose.
The world seems to be a shitty, scary, hateful place right now. In the midst of that, I vow to do the sacred inner work that informs my state of being and shapes my way of being – whether grieving or smiling.
As y’all have told me – just keep going.
I love you all.
OM Shanti.

2 May, 2019
Accountability…!
Folks, I’m embarrassed but willing to publicize that I’ve gained 15 stubbornly un-lose-able pounds since going on a specific meds combo last spring, after my hospitalization for PTSD. I know, I know – you’re going to say to me, “But you look great!” because you love me and have observed me feeling quite lively of late. And I agree – being alive feels quite good these days; and that goodness shines from the inside, out!
Lots of positive things are happening right now. I have no complaints. However, I am worried. Over the winter, my doctors said that, along with the weight gain, I’ve been storing bad fats and cholestoral, I’m prediabetic, and my sodium is high.
Me?
Yes, me!
And I feel it. My clothes either don’t fit at all, or, don’t fit like they should. Especially around my hips and belly, which is where we store LDL cholestoral. Lord, I feel so heavy. Sooooo…
I’m saying outloud:
I’m starting a wellness challenge for the month of May. It involves increased belly-pumping breathing (Kappalabhati), core-focused Asana (yup, that’s me saying “core”), abdominal twists, brisks walks and green smoothies. And. Decreased sweets, oily restaurant food, and gluten.
If you have additional insights or want to join me for any of this, please chime in! My life depends on losing this weight and adopting new practices. Your wisdom is welcome.
Thank you for loving me. Just remember, though – a glowing smile does not equal excellent health.
Love and gratitude.
OM Shanti.
Holly

5 May, 2019
May the wind take your troubles away…
Feelin’ all the feels here, at the Son Volt concert. They just rock so damn hard, with those heart-plucking, twangy harmonies. And I’m remembering that one year ago this weekend, my mental health was deteriorating to ashes.
Wednesday marks one year since my suicide attempt. It’s hard to pinpoint the exact state that is coming over me as I take in this very soul stirring music. Sorrow and awe. Sorrow and awe. I’m sorry I tried to die. And I’m in awe of my love for life.
More later. Back to the concert. It’s encore time…
Love and gratitude…

6 May, 2019
Looking up…
My brain is telling me to die, but my spirit wants to live. I recognize the disconnect and stay proactive.
Although it’s a challenging day, up there in my brain – during a challenging week for my heart – I’m deliberately re-training it toward truth, beauty, openness, positivity. Discussing the Yoga Sutras with a fellow Raja Yogi. Choosing one friend to call and check in with. Accepting an invitation from a friend in recovery. Reflecting. Apologizing. Forgiving. Walking in nature, and also sitting inside the Medicinal House at the Botanic Garden.
Next, I will head to National Gallery, to gaze at another form of creations. Later, some journaling.
Shift happens. I’m doing my best.
Love and gratitude.

7 May, 2019
Some days are better than others…
I knew this week might toss some surprises my way; but I’d been feeling so positive and present of late. Then the emotions started to hit. On Sunday, memories of last year’s mental health issues – which led to my May 8th suicide attempt – started to surface. At first sorrow. And awe. Yesterday was full-on anger and resentment. I thought I’d like to stay home and write – to skip work, skip meetings, skip therapy. After cancelling everything, I became so distraught, I rescheduled the therapist – who did not see that note and did not show up.
I sat in the building’s stairwell, sobbing. Done. Truly giving up. Giving in to the part of my brain that wants the ultimate relief. The end.
But how would I do it this time? In my journal, I wrote the note. At the end, I wrote: whatever way I choose, it better work.
And it did.
Because here I am today. My spirit’s passion for living won the knock-down, drag-out battle with my mind’s negative brain fart. It was exhausting. And rewarding.
For the first time in a life of attempts, ideation and yearning, I saw and acted upon the deliberate path toward CHANGING MY MIND.
First, I stayed put and cried. I imagined the ways until I’d seen them all fail. Then I called one friend and talked out the way that I would continue the mind shift. Not calling a therapist for talking. Talking wouldn’t work. I needed to engage. So, I walked until I could feel my dissociated body again. Until I could see beauty again. And I indulged and connected as deeply as possible.
Along the way, I texted with a yoga philosophy buddy about Sutra 1.33, compassion, and forgiveness. Then, it was time to head home to meet the recovery friend who, first thing that morning, had invited me for tea.
My psychiatrist once told me: “Holly, for you, connection is more powerful than any pill you could take.” I am on meds (a must for now); still, he’s right. Connecting with my body, nature, beauty, beings is the remedy for tapping into my spirit.
And even when my brain says otherwise, my spirit wants to live.
Thank you all for being with me in spirit. I feel you.
Onward and upward.
Love and gratitude.
OM Shanti. Holly

MeMay2019Blue.jpg8 May, 2019
Exactly one year ago…
…I was at Georgetown University hospital, getting my wrist stitched up. Four long hours later, I was admitted to the psych ward, where I would live for 2.5 weeks.
Tonight, I’m at the John Paul White and Erin Rae concert, more than ready to start the next 365 days anew.
Bright lights in my heart and stars in my eyes! Let’s do this, y’all.
Love and gratitude.
Holly

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

 

Thank you for reading. Love and gratitude. OM Shanti. Holly

 

 

Yoga Class Focus: Gratitude Trumps Adversity November 27, 2014

SunRaysForestPathSometimes, gratitude does not come overnight. Sometimes days, weeks and months can pass before thankfulness finds its way into a broken heart. But from experience (and lots of it), I know there will be a silver lining to every story of challenge, hardship and adversity. If you’ve read my blog before, you are familiar with my efforts to use yoga, addiction recovery, therapy and related resources to heal from past trauma and cultivate a life of balance and wellness. I’m also devoted to sharing these experiences and tools with others. I’m not perfect; still, I do believe in every being’s potential to heal, grow and change.

And for that – the faith, the belief, the hope – I am grateful.

On this Thanksgiving Day, I am grateful for two specific things.

 

*  *  *

“Humility and gratitude go hand in hand.”
~ Swami Sivananda Radha

#1: I don’t know where my father is.

You may have read my past blogs about last year’s family fiasco. I’d moved from my hometown of DC to Dad’s retirement city of Nashville to support him as he ages. There were major issues with his house, his health and his finances. Although I was able to help successfully in many ways, my time there was challenging from every angle – work, health, home, community, family. The most difficult was watching my father fade with dementia. The most damaging was my sisters’ hostility toward me. I became financially, physically and emotionally depleted. After gaining counsel, I made the very difficult decision to return to DC, where – with the support of deep roots and caring communities – I could rebuild from scratch.

Over the past year, I have been ostracized by my sisters and by my father’s community. I understand where their blurred perspectives originate, and know that my side of the street is clean. I was the one who showed up for him devotedly and dependably since my mother died more than a decade ago. Because throughout our lives, Dad and I have shared an authentic love beyond description. This October, he told me he was having surgery for skin cancer on his head. Our last conversation was November 9th, the day before his procedure. And now, I can’t reach him, he’s not reaching out to me, my sisters and his friends are not contacting me, I have no idea how he is, and I can only guess where he is.

And…I AM GRATEFUL? How?

PathWithHeartThis is a case where I cannot (yet) see the positive in the situation itself. And so, to lighten my heavy heart, I choose to give thanks for related gifts:

  • I am not the only one who loves my father. Dad has his own higher power(s). I must have faith that he is being cared for. Plus, I have the chance to utilize my own toolbox of wellness resources in order to love him, forgive my sisters and cultivate compassion about the family dissonance. My prayers are for his whole health, and, for a joyous Thanksgiving, wherever he is.
  • My friends are my family. This year, I was invited to multiple Thanksgiving meals. There is an “Orphans Dinner,” a “Vegetarian Friendsgiving,” a “Gluten Free Thanksgiving” and assorted gatherings in communities I’ve been part of for years and years. My “family of choice” has also chosen me – we share similar roots, shared experiences and a yearning for healing and growth.
  • What a difference a year makes. Last winter in Nashville, I accepted a Second Harvest food donation for my family. It was one of the most humbling experiences of my life – but, that box of food went a long way when resources were short. This past week, I joined a group of volunteers at a DC nonprofit, giving turkeys and groceries to families in need. This experience widened my gratitude for where I stand today. Things are far from stable, but thanks to seven months of recent steady work, I have food in my fridge…thanks to returning to DC, I’ll share holiday meals with dear ones…and thanks to gleaning the best from a past of hardship, I am able to serve others in ways that I once needed.

*  *  *

“Once you know that suffering is for your benefit… You’ll gladly go through it.”
~ Swami Satchidananda

#2: I was recently fired from my restaurant job.

Exactly four weeks before, my boss sat me down for a glowing progress review. A month later, she scornfully scolded and terminated me. I’m a willing, honest and dedicated worker. When I make mistakes, I take responsibility and seek solutions for improvement. Over that last month, however, there was scrutiny. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. And then, bam…see ya.

And you know what? I AM GRATEFUL.

Oh, sure, I’m also feeling a mixture of injustice, anger, financial worry and general upset. With slight hints of self pity. I’m human. But in the end, this is clearly a case (as many friends have remarked in their own ways) where “god” or “the powers that be” are doing for me what I could not do for myself.

LifeIsBeautifulAbsolutely grateful:

  • It is a blessing to be free. I have been liberated from a place that handles professional affairs in a manner that I will not accept.
  • When one door closes, another one opens. Since being fired, I have received numerous offers to teach yoga in studios, at schools, for birthday celebrations, for nonprofits and more.
  • My confidence is boosted! I still must look for sustaining work (because teaching yoga does not pay the bills). And that last job – my first as a waitress/server – was at one of the most popular and busy restaurants in the city. So I am thankful for seven months of training and experience. Even while navigating interpersonal challenges with staff, I honed all of my past professional skills in customer service, marketing, event coordination, catering and more to become an awesome server. And I can take that anywhere. In the meantime, generous friends at a family-owned restaurant are giving me a few shifts, so I can keep up my chops.
  • That job was a gift. One of the managers knew that I’d had a tough year away and – knowing that I had little restaurant experience – gave me work, so I could come home to DC and start strong. Over those seven months, I was able to get on the road to financial recovery. And for these next five months, thanks to generous landlords, I have a roof over my head, and the potential to continue chipping away at bills and debt through new work.
  • I have some healing to do. I believe that I am a healthy woman. Truly. In body, mind and spirit. Thanks to that workplace experience, I am tackling yet another layer of sacred inner work. I had the opportunity to see how staff dynamics can trigger my PTSD – particularly now, after such a tough year with family dysfunction. Thanks to being healthy enough to take accountability for my part and see where I need to grow, I am venturing on a fresh direction toward wholeness.

*  *  *

“…she learned that surrender is quiet.” 
~ from “Snake Oil: The Art of Healing and Truth-Telling,”by Becca Stevens, founder of Thistle Farms, a nonprofit serving women recovering from addiction and sexual trauma.

I’m a fighter.

That’s exactly why the recent job termination meeting was such an ironic victory. I had good reason to defend myself. However, I was silent. As the list of “wrongs” was aired, I squirmed internally and took mental notes. At times, I couldn’t help but look surprised. Although frustrated, I pursed my lips. I kept my feet firmly on the ground, my hands resting on my legs, my mind clear and my mouth shut.

Surrender is quiet.

Funny – I’d read the above line from “Snake Oil” on the bus ride to the meeting with my boss. Chapter 3, “Seeds of Healing,” introduces us to a number of Thistle Farms program participants, who work producing healing balms, bath salts and oils for the nonprofit. “Val, like every employee of Thistle Farms, began every morning in the meditation circle before she began to work. She said during her time at Thistle Farms she learned that surrender is quiet. She says in order for her to heal and forgive, she has to surrender everything. Through the journey of surrender, she learned how much quieter it was than all the fighting in prison, with family, with the world.”

Interesting timing, eh? The evening after being fired, it hit me – I had been fighting a lot at that job. Fighting my own fear of failure and financial insecurity; fighting my own negative voices; fighting other’s accusations; fighting for consistency; fighting for staff accountability. After that much battle, it’s clear: the job simply wasn’t meant to be.

As for the family situation, I’m not as quiet. My grief tends to shout, and, I’m having a tough time quelling that voice. There’s still a bit of wrestling; but I know most of it is within my own soul.

Still, it can feel good to give up. To wave the white flag, and accept what’s here, now, real and true. That job is gone, and it’s time to move on. I can’t reach my father, so I must focus on other joys. For me, acceptance is the 1st step toward Samtosha – one of yoga’s five Niyama, or value-based observances, as described by the Eight Limbs in the Yoga Sutras. Samtosha means complete contentment with whatever exists. And such contentment has the potential to transmute into GRATITUDE for the silver linings or lessons. With consistent observance and practice of surrender, acceptance, contentment and gratitude comes the mindful serenity that yoga promises.

I have to ask myself:

Do I want to walk around in misery and resentment about my adversity; or, do I want to cultivate inner peace despite hardship and nurture forgiveness despite hurt – and therefore contribute to harmony around me and in the world?

*  *  *

Aside from mentioning it in the August Yoga Class Focus blog, I never officially wrote about the September and October theme of GROWTH. I reckon I was too busy growing, and encouraging the process in others. So here we are in November, jumping on the GRATITUDE bandwagon! It simply cannot be helped. C’mon, aside from being connected to Thanksgiving marketing, it’s the perfect tie-in to yoga philosophy. Not to mention, exploring GRATITUDE invites us to take stock, offering an inroad toward New Year’s Intentions.

Nearing the end of 2014, I might say that my last year included a doozy of bumps and bruises. Justifiably, I could focus on the family problems, the job loss, my ongoing PTSD issues and my related fears about the future. On the other hand, I could exercise the yogic tenant of Pratipaksha Bhavana, and replace those negatives with the positives listed above.

The act of being grateful gives me something warm to hold in my heart, even when the chill of adversity breaks it. Gratitude softens me enough to squarely face my wounds. It keeps my mind open to – eventually – giving thanks for what initially shut me down.

No matter where you are in the world, I wish you a day of THANKS-GIVING. Heck, with yoga’s guidance, we could enjoy an entire lifetime of gratitude. I’m certainly aiming for that.

*  *  *

Thank you for reading; and, thank you for practicing with me – even if/when you are miles away. OM Shanti.

 

Pick Yourself Up, Dust Yourself Off (from the uyd archives) November 15, 2014

November 2014:
When I am struggling, friends sometimes say: “Go read your own blog!” Well, this past week has been a doozy of curve balls and losses. I recalled the blog below, from December 2010. I’m a bit embarrassed to share it, because it feels like I’ve been mostly depressed since then! Truth be told, the past 4 years have, indeed, been a severe string of betrayal, physical assaults, family hostility and loss. So, yes, I just went and read my own blog. Because this one – written in the midst of processing a trauma – is “Holly at her best.” Transparency, counsel, action, hope, resilience. Onward.
Thanks for reading. Love to you and all. OM Shanti.

*  *  *

YOGA CLASS FOCUS: ABUNDANCE – GROWTH
(December 2010)

Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, start all over again. – Dorothy Field, 1930s Musical Lyricist

When I was around 6 years old, my mom would drive my sisters and I to a farm outside of DC for horseback riding lessons. A few weeks into our series, a horse threw me to the dirt! I remember bouncing along the ground (I was a chubby little gal), standing up, brushing myself off, and getting right back on the horse – before my teacher or mom could give that standard warning, “If you don’t get back on the horse, you’ll never ride again.” At that young age, I instinctively knew that getting back on the horse was my only option.

So, as I navigate the “throws” of life – even those that take a longer recovery – deep down I know I’ll bounce back.

Reaching the close of 2010, I wish I could promise friends, students and readers that THIS IS THE LAST TIME I’ll share about the betrayal I experienced this past summer. I, myself, wish this will be the last time that I dredge up that pain in this blog. The positive? Each time I write about the pain, I inevitably write about the healing and growth.

Thankfully I’ve been programmed that way from a very young age!

You must know that you can swim through every change of tide.  – This morning’s Yogi Tea bag message.

It feels like everywhere I turn these days, writers, teachers and songs are encouraging me to drop my guard and jump into life with abandon. I’d love to. And I appreciate the encouragement! But the truth is, I’m terrified.

Fears related to the summer’s emotional trauma (and its related past-trauma triggers) are bubbling up again for a few reasons. Lately I’ve received invitations to connect with human beings. (Go figure!) A little romance, some friendships. Gratefully, despite (or perhaps due to?) my history as a trauma survivor, deep in my heart, I adore humans, humanity and humanness. In addition, with 6 months between the summer’s emotional shell shock and today’s invitations, my trust in others is gradually reawakening.

So as new life beckons, I simultaneously feel like jumping in…and running away.

I have been taught – and so I believe – that there is great value in sharing about difficulty and the process of surviving it. Not just for my own release and rebirth, perhaps also for someone who has gone or might go through something similar. So here goes. And maybe, this will be the last time.

Who says I can’t be free
From all of the things that I used to be
Rewrite my history –
Who says I can’t be free?
– John Mayer

Falls from horses were not the only dangers of my childhood.  My family household was chaotic and violent, driven by addiction and emotional illness.  Through a certain age, I found solace in music and god.  I wrote and performed songs (escape), often sang myself to sleep (comfort) and craved spiritual experience (protection).  At the same time, I existed in a state of self-preservation and readiness – prepared for the sky to fall at any moment.  Witnessing the model of my three older sisters, who frequently ran away from home, I kept a small night bag packed with pajamas and toiletries, in case I ever had to run.

Eventually, the false strength of self-reliance and isolation won out over the gentle support of god and music.  I took care of myself and often had to play other family-members’ roles.  I learned to construct elaborate lies about the screaming fights, ambulances, lateness to school and other troubles.  And for relief from the hiding and responsibility, my own addictions kicked in by age 11.

My parents are not to blame.  The inevitable fallibility of lineage shaped them as parents, and they did their best with what they had.  As did my sisters, whose only choice was to protect themselves and therefore grow apart from each other and me.  Although I was resentful toward my parents beyond my college years, I eventually grew to see the bigger picture, and soulfully love and appreciate Mom and Dad for all they offered.

I share this family background to illustrate how it informed my adult life.  Self-reliance, isolation and addiction do not nurture “normal” maturity!  Poor decisions led to dangerous situations and more trauma.  My gravitation back toward spiritual reliance began around Easter of 1990 after I hit an emotional and physical bottom while living in New Orleans.  That summer I would teach myself to meditate by focusing on one sense at a time.  This was the beginning of my relationship with the present moment, with “what is,” and with inner peace.

Some believe we are here to work out our past karma.. i need to remind myself that karma is not punishment.. just consequence. – Ricky Tran, Yoga Teacher

For the next twelve years, I sought personal wellness – and to learn how to relate well with others.  I continued meditation, started practicing yoga (yay!), used therapy, experimented with different religious and spiritual traditions, changed my diet and pretty much tried anything that might make me feel better.  Despite my best intentions, I also continued manifesting different shades of the violence and chaos of my childhood.

Continued active addiction, associated behaviors and unaddressed past trauma cemented me in old patterns.  Not until 2002, when I had a moment of clarity and sought help for addiction, did life crack open and truly begin to change.

Our December [2010] class focus is Abundance. I am sharing honestly about my past because for a long time, I felt ashamed of my journey of stumbles. Now I believe I have nothing to hide. And because of my own transformation, I have faith in every person’s ability to recover from the serious mistakes or conditions of their past.  All it takes is the willingness to ask for help. Abundant growth is possible for all.

Today, all of my positive influences from the past 20 years work in-concert to encourage productive relationships, wellness of body, mind and spirit, productive relationships and serenity.  At the same time, just like for everyone else on this Earth, life happens.  Sometime life throws some curve balls.  And sometimes we get hit by a pitch.

I was hit by a pitch this past summer.  The man I’d been seeing for 6 months revealed something shocking that he’d been hiding.  Not only did the lying hurt horribly, in addition, the nature of what he was hiding could have endangered my own well-being, and, it triggered much of my past emotional trauma. Sadly, I lost trust and love for everyone.  I lived in fear.

Thankfully, the week before that bomb was dropped, I had emerged from a week-long Off The Mat Into The World training at the Omega Institute. The “Yoga, Purpose & Action” Intensive taught self-inquiry, collaboration and activation as tools for cultivating a more sustainable approach to service work. These became the exact tools that I used to trudge through the relationship shock.  I didn’t run, I didn’t hide, I didn’t go back to addictive ways.

Despite the fear, I forced myself to reach out (ugh), and I got support (ahhh).

Always do what you are afraid to do. – Ralph Waldo Emerson, Poet & Essayist

At one point in the Fall, I was catapulted into an impenetrable state of anger and disgust after unexpectedly running into my ex. It broke my heart to harbor such negative emotions, when all I yearned for is to love and trust human beings again.  I gained counsel with Father Tom Ryan – a Catholic Paulist priest and Kripalu yoga teacher – who was firm with me regarding solutions.  He made concrete suggestions for ritualizing the transformation of anger/disgust into forgiveness/compassion.

While I was integrating those suggestions into my practices, I had a session with Somatic Therapist Lois Clinton, whose nurturing and skillful treatment awakened a sense of safety and trust. It’s hard to describe how Somatic Therapy works. In my experience, we identified certain grounding resources (i.e. deep three-part yogic breathing), constantly redirected to the present moment by working with open eyes (vs. getting stuck in the past with closed eyes), and discharged physically stuck trauma (i.e. vibrating hands, clearing lungs).  It was subtle and yet powerful!

With the clarity from my session with Lois, I followed through with one of Fr. Ryan’s suggestions. I wrote a brutally honest letter to my ex – with absolutely no intention to send it.  On the New Moon of Diwali, I burned the letter.  Sure enough, as I watched the ashes and scraps of paper float down a swirling, swollen creek, the negativity was released, I felt a thousand pounds lighter, and the shift toward complete healing was profound.

I couldn’t be more grateful to all of the teachers, healers and advisers who stepped up to the plate to support me through this tough time.  Decades of being willing and open toward these liberating processes have opened doors to immense transformation and emotional sobriety. When life happens, I am fortunate to have a huge tool box of resources, practices and people who support me through anything – from celebrations to disappointments.

Trauma is a fact of life; so is resilience.  – Hala Khouri, Off The Mat Into The World Co-founder

Earlier I mentioned that there are a few reasons my fears were recently triggered.  This week, I attended a spiritual gathering where the guided meditation was about forgiveness. Immediately, I acknowledged the potential risk of participating, and decided to stay anyway. The instructor asked us to recall an instance where someone hurt us…and then, to offer that person forgiveness.  It was tough.  I had to open my eyes to see I was safe, surrounded by (yes) trusted spiritual fellows.  I could feel my entire body vibrating.  Tears flowed.  I wasn’t sure if I was forgiving or releasing.  But I knew I needed to stay in the process.

Pick up your crazy heart and give it one more try. – Ryan Bingham, Songwriter

This morning, I was struck with a note of sadness about the summer situation. I am grateful to say that, for the first time in months, I did not connect this morning’s emotion with all the sad traumas of my past.  It was, simply and specifically, sadness about the loss of my relationship and how much it hurt to be lied to.

Regarding the fresh fears from social invitations…I am rigorously honest with each person, letting them know the shakiness I feel about connecting, particularly romantically.  One day my heart will be ready to try again. I know that I must make myself humanly vulnerable again.  I’m just not there yet.  But I will be.  I will bounce back.

You will not find a spiritual master that will suggest you play it safe, or a sacred text that advises you to avoid pain at all costs. – Max Strom, Yoga Teacher and Writer

To me, some “self-help” messages sound like the old idiom “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps.”  That harkens of my childhood of packed bags and lonely songs.  But when I read firmly encouraging words like Max’s, I yearn so deeply for love, trust and emotional freedom that I cry.

Thank you gentle teachers and butt-kickers, skillful healers and wise advisers for the abundant encouragement, inspiration and motivation you have so generously shared throughout my life.  You assure me that all experiences – throws, stumbles and curve balls of all kinds – are opportunities for growth.

I am scared. And I am growing, too.

OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.

 

 

ATONEMENT October 3, 2014

UnionPrayerBook(Oct2014)“We cast into the depths of the sea
Our sins, and failures, and regrets.
Reflections of our imperfect selves
Flow away.
What can we bear,
With what can we part?
We upturn the darkness,
Bring what is buried to light.
What hurts still lodge,
What wounds have yet to heal?
We empty our hands,
Release the remnants of shame,
Let go fear and despair
That have dug their home in us.
Open hands,
Opening heart –
The year flows in,
The year flows out.”
~ Marcia Falk

+ + + + +

This poem was part of the Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) services I attended with my father in Nashville nine days ago. And today marks the final 24 hours of the High Holy Days. Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement – begins at sunset.

The intensity of this poem truly captures the depth of inner work that Jews approach each year at this time. The new year comes first, then a ritual of casting away obstacles, then a period of forgiveness – offered and requested – and finally, Yom Kippur. Tonight’s and tomorrows prayers, reflections and fasting bring us to neutral, gift us with a blank slate. We step forward with healthy, peaceful, loving intentions after having done our best at releasing past transgressions – committed by and against us.

Phew! Like I said: intense. In 12-Step Recovery, there is a similar process. And in many spiritual traditions, there are processes of examining our behaviors, discovering their roots/motivations, making amends, and, forgiving ourselves and others.

SOMETIMES, THE GREATEST AMENDS AND THE DEEPEST FORGIVENESS ARE OWED TO OUR SELVES…

For me, this was one of those years. Yes, I made mistakes in my actions toward others; and I did my best to process, understand, take action about them. There is a bit more work to be done there; and it will be done promptly.

However, reflections this week have led me to a certain “blueness.” Not depression, not remorse. But grief. Grief of years lost to unhealthy, toxic, harmful and self-destructive behavior. This fall – right now – marks the 25th anniversary of my darkest descent into alcoholism’s painful grip…25 years ago, I was in the midst of the worst time of my life. It’s heartbreaking to recall how much I harm I did to myself, how little honor I had for life, how badly I wanted to die.

No details. Not here. Not yet…

So today, I am reflecting back and also standing right here, in this present moment. After September’s Yoga Class Focus of GROWTH…well, I’d say that I have grown a lot this past month! And as I prepare for Yom Kippur’s 24-hour rally, I am setting the following Sankalpa (an intention of deep resolve and purpose, stated as if it is already happening):

I DEEPLY LOVE AND FORGIVE MYSELF.

Because today, 25 years after not even knowing the meaning of these words, I truly do love and forgive myself.

I wish this for you, too.

THANK YOU for being a part of this beautiful life. You help me know that I am loved, accepted, understood, supported and cared for.

LOVE TO ALL. ShalOM Shanti.
(Book was a gift from my dad – one of my family’s original prayer books for the High Holy Days.)

 

Turning, Churning & Balance September 21, 2014

“Life is to challenge you with its ups and downs. Ride over them without losing your balance.” – Sri Swami Satchidananda

What a beautiful week of teaching at my fave neighborhood studios, Embrace (Adams Morgan, DC) and Past Tense (Mt. Pleasant, DC), beginning last Saturday and wrapping up this morning. Students are so darn devoted to yoga practice! I am honored to share what’s been passed to me, and share the experience of GROWTH…which has been our September yoga class focus. Thank you, yogis, for putting your minds, bodies, inhales, exhales, senses and hearts into our time together.

Hopefully our efforts will pay off during this coming week of intense energy all around us. (And I will admit, for the sake of brevity, this is a very watered-down AutumnLeaves(Oct11)version of true astrologer’s wise accounts of what’s coming.) Tomorrow at 10:19pm EST, the Autumn Equinox occurs, signifying not only the turning of the seasons, but simultaneously, equilibrium. According to most calendars, we observe the arrival of Fall on Tuesday, which also leads into the Libra New Moon, peaking early Wednesday morning at 2:14am EST – and happens to coincide with the Sun in Libra. This combo not only signifies the New Moon’s typical opportunity for rejuvenation and fresh starts, but also, the presence of Libra’s scales, which can be tipped or balanced. Add to this, people of the Jewish faith will observe Rosh Hashanah – the New Year – at sunset on Wednesday, beginning a 10-day period of moral inventory, exchanges of forgiveness and atonement. (Author’s note, 9/22/14: Holy cr#*, how could I have forgotten Navratri, the 9-day Hindu holiday that falls within the same dates as the Jewish High Holy Days? Navratri, the celebration of the Divine Mother during the sacred shift of seasons? Navratri! Jai!)

Even if you are not Jewish, don’t believe in astrology and aren’t attentive to the change of seasons – people around us will be observing and affected by these events. With the energies of deep reflection, inevitable transition and new beginnings abounding, we can tap into the energies of balance and equilibrium for our benefit – and ultimately, for everyone’s.

In today’s morning classes, we worked very slowly…very deliberately…through the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Chakras (earth/origins, water/connections and fire/identity). In my experience, during times of turning and churning, it has served me quite well to focus on these three foundational energy centers before moving into the “open heart” that yogis love to explore in classes. Who wouldn’t want an open heart? From my teachers, I have learned that a healthy, aware, “open” heart requires the support of a healthy base below.

As I prepare to travel back to Nashville for the 1st time since this past Spring’s phase of challenge and churning, I’m grateful to have spent this week sharing yoga’s powerful practices for balance, harmony, insight and heartfelt living. Thank you.

Wishing everyone a Happy New Season, Happy New Moon, Happy New Year. OM Shanti.

 

How May I Serve You? August 12, 2014

“For as long as space endures and the world exists, may my own existence bring about the end of suffering in the world.”
– Shantideva (8th Century Indian Buddhist Scholar)

*  *  *

I’ve written countless blogs, posts, comments and remarks about suicide, addiction, depression and trauma. I’ve described how the power-trio of recovery programs, yoga and therapy is responsible for my hard-won desire to live – which exists despite my ongoing battle with the desire to die.

So although the suicide of Robin Williams is on my mind and affecting my heart, I don’t want to write another piece about how I stay alive despite the odds. I don’t want to write about my belief that some people – whether ailing from addiction or depression or cancer or poverty or drive-by-shootings – are not meant to make it through…and that I could be one of them. I don’t want to write what I’ve written before. (Although, if you’re interested in those stories – which I poured my heart into – they are listed at the bottom of this blog.) Instead, right now, I want to write about the difference between practicing yoga solely for my own well-being, and, practicing yoga for the sake of supporting the well-being of others. Because at a certain point in my 20+ year practice, I became strong enough to shift my focus from me to you. And I believe that shift is the main reason I’m not dead.

Today, the only reason I continually work so hard to heal myself (it’s a life-long commitment!) is to be of service to others. Yes, those efforts do yield a much welcome reward of feeling better and loving life. Still, my primary purpose is to serve.

*  *  *

EmbraceInterior(12Aug14)

Embrace Yoga, in Adams Morgan, DC. I’m fortunate and grateful to call this beautiful space my yoga HOME – for practicing, teaching, and today, blogging!

In 2008 and 2009, just after receiving my Yoga Teacher Certification, I was hired to design and teach a yoga program at a DC public charter school. Back then, I had no intentions of teaching children. Although my personal practice had always been quite mindful, I wanted to be a Yoga Trainer, pass on physical alignment benefits and work with injured yogis and athletes. But it was a good first job, and, paid quite well. So I started teaching 30 kids per session – at-risk inner-city youth, who were literally climbing the walls, with little interest or ability in slowing down long enough to practice a series of yoga poses, no matter how many physical benefits I touted. One day, out of pure frustration, my approach shifted from the physical to the psychological – and I paused the class to tell them my story. To share that I’d grown up in an environment of addition, chaos and violence. That I was a distracted student and troubled teen. That, potentially, a simple yoga practice might have changed my direction from self-destructive to healthy and productive. And that I may have side-stepped years and years of struggles and pain. They heard me. And although some were still incapable of being present for the practice, they did try harder. One student, Erik, made notable progress. Seriously – this was a kid who could not sit still for 10 seconds, who was constantly being kicked out of his academic classes, who was every teacher’s challenge. The Friday before Spring Break, I asked him to co-teach a class when we returned to school. Tragically, Erik was murdered by his mother’s boyfriend the next day. Upon returning to school, all teachers were asked to reinforce the city’s crisis response team. I ended up sitting in the hallway with six children crying into my lap, asking difficult questions and listening to honest answers. And then I visited each class, leading mindful breathing exercises and listening to honest feelings. I even led a session for the crisis response team and teachers.

Right there, the seed of offering yoga as a sustaining tool for service workers was planted. And as I encountered more and more opportunities to share practices for emotional healing, resilience and empowerment, my own practice became rich and resourceful.

Hanuman pic from Wikipedia

Hanuman, a model of devotion and service.

And thank goodness. Because in 2010 and 2011, I would endure a wide range of major life difficulties. First, I experienced a relationship betrayal. I continued to teach, carefully keeping my emotions separate from class, and drawing upon my personal practice to stay centered and sane. Second, later that year while I was on my way to teach, I learned of the horrible car accident and near death of a dear, dear family member. I could think of no other response but to show up for class. Sitting on the train, walking down the block and pausing before entering the studio, I used my spiritual tools. I sent Metta (prayers for well-being) to my family, I breathed deeply and evenly, I grounded into my feet. And then I walked into the room, put on the music, sat down…and started to cry in front of a crowd of students. We held eye contact and each others’ hearts for a brief moment. I took a cleansing breath, got centered, and invited the group to close their eyes and bring into their hearts anyone in their families who may be suffering. We practiced with more earnestness than any class I’d taught before. The closing OM was one of the most healing moments of my life – and after class, student feedback was positive. Third, I was mugged in front of my apartment on a summer night. Early the next morning, without mentioning the incident, I taught meditation and yoga classes themed on compassion. Just as our Yoga Sutras suggest, I recommended decreasing resentment by cultivating compassion for those that are hurting – including those who direct their pain outward and therefore hurt others. Yes, I was helped by those teachings that morning – and, I would end up devoting months to additional PTSD work to address the anger and fear that would gradually begin to surface and powerfully rule my every breath. Fourth, I ended up extremely depressed. There’d been just too much emotional trauma over the course of those years. In the late summer, I started playing percussion and singing in a Kirtan group and pointing my practice toward Bhakti (devotional) Yoga, which resulted in a growing sense of safety and trust. I also took a break from teaching and focused on addiction recovery activity – attending daily morning meetings, sharing with rigorous honesty, re-connecting with community and offering to be of service however possible. When I returned to teach that autumn, I incorporated Bhakti and Karma (serviceful action) Yoga into my classes.

Some might say that I was teaching for my own benefit. Because clearly, I did benefit. To bring the truth of my life into the safety and care of beloved communities; to gain trust where there was paranoia; to discover new depths of love from connecting with a higher power  – what amazing gifts to myself. At the same time, I believe I offer others my example of acceptance and humanness, and, an infinitely wide-open invitation to bring their authentic selves into my classes…to be messy and bold and honest in the company of caring friends and mindful strangers…to feel the safety and embrace of sacred space..and to take their own precious time to heal and grow.

On a winter Friday, 2012, the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting occurred. I was scheduled to teach an evening “Happy Hour” yoga class. After hearing the news, I walked slowly around the city, looking into the eyes and faces of passers-by, wishing wellness for all beings, praying, crying. I knew that my responsibility was to be present with my own response, my own grief, my own needs. To take ample time for that processing. And then, to show up for students. That evening and the next day, my classes were packed – as were classes all over the city and country, I imagine. How noble, when yogis bring their troubles into communal space! I brought my truth to those classes – I shared yoga’s solutions for navigating resentment, anger, grief, pain. I encouraged open minds and hearts. I cried a little. I caught my breath and silently prayed for those crying in front of me. And although my job was to hold space, together, we held space for each other.

None of this is new. For 15 years before becoming a yoga instructor, I brought my struggles, grief, confusion and emotion to yoga classes, and my amazing teachers passed down their tools and solutions. Community connected and supported each other’s healing. Yoga started to chip away at the patterns of pain. Now, as a teacher, all I do is pass that on.

How may I serve you?

How may I serve you?

*  *  *

Yoga does not magically make everything better. But it does offer practical strategies for more gracefully and constructively navigating difficulties. I am driven and honored to share those practices. Today, I teach children, adults, athletes, nonprofit workers, ailing people, healing people, healthy people, studio yogis and kids on the streets. Although I accept many volunteer yoga gigs for cause-related organizations and under-resourced individuals, for the most part, I get paid to teach yoga. Still, I call it Seva – service. I show up for no other reason but to facilitate the students’ practice. I don’t wear fancy pants, I don’t teach exercise, I don’t care to demonstrate hard poses. Simply, I share the foundational yoga tools that have helped me cultivate wellness in a challenging world. And yes, I receive financial compensation for some of it. Because in order to live sustainably, and therefore be available to teach, I need to earn money.

Teaching yoga is an honor and a gift. More importantly, however – practicing yoga is a responsibility. Without that essential sustenance, I have nothing to offer. Without the unmatched benefits of a daily practice that consistently teaches me how to heal, grow and serve (and I will tell you, honestly: on depressed days that practice might only be a little Pranayama and prayer – or a great, big, cleansing cry), I cannot contribute to the healing of the world around me. Each day, I yearn to effectively ask, “How may I serve you?” Each day, if I am useful, I am alive.

Thanks for reading. OM Shanti.

 

*  *  *

Past blogs about experience with and recovery from addiction, depression and trauma:

Jumping Off Of Bridges (From The UYD Archives)

Running Into Nature

Growing Pangs

Shiva And The Darkness

The Yoga Of Being Mugged

Yoga In Action

Wine And Kirtan

Surrender, Recovery And Death

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jumping Off Of Bridges (From The UYD Archives) June 19, 2014

19 JUNE, 2014

A couple of months ago, I heard about a California yoga teacher trainee who committed suicide. Everyone in her yoga circle was completely shocked. They said there were no signs…

Last week, I received a gutsy, honest message on my Urban Yoga Den Facebook page about my “Jumping Off Of Bridges” post from March 2013.

“Even though we are strangers you saved my life,” she wrote.

Her Facebook note went on to courageously reveal:

“I’ve done yoga on and off since I was 14. Within the past 5 years I began to take it more seriously than ever. But, like all good things do when someone is depressed , it got pushed to the way side. … Deep down I knew I couldn’t kill myself… So what does any iphone user do? I Googled ‘why you shouldn’t kill yourself.’ And your blog post about the Philadelphia bridge popped up. I read it. And reread it. And bawled my frigging eyes out because the story was so heart breaking and because low and behold someone got it.”

Wow.

This, folks, is why I write how/what/when I do. The practice keeps me alive, and apparently, some others, as well. I recommend trying it…let us know how you really feel. Stick a pin in it. Don’t be alone. Write it out. Because I no longer say, “I don’t want to live.” I might say, “I don’t want to live like this,” but I know that “this” can change with effort…and/or angels. Because before I could even write usefully about this stuff, I had to first reach out for my angels, my life-savers.

However…I will say this from experience with dear ones who took their own lives: sometimes there are signs, sometimes there are not. Sometimes they reach out, sometimes they cannot.

I argue to say that: we are not saved by each other, but by our own seeking. Thank goodness for the times that we are compelled to reach out – for inspiration, for hope…for each other. For our angels who “get it.” In this, we save ourselves.

Love to you, my dear reader. I’m glad we’re both here to tell our tales.

Here, in retro, is mine…

*  *  *

JUMPING OFF OF BRIDGES
(MARCH 2013)

Five years ago this month, I was scheduled to jump off the Ben Franklin Bridge.  I wrote it on my calendar for March 7, 2008: “Philly.”  I was planning to drive from DC to see the Irish band Hothouse Flowers, get drunk, and then jump.

That February, my fiancé had broken up with me – with no notice, with little explanation, and without ever speaking to me again.

I was devastated.  This was the one.  This was the relationship that erased all of my past failures and illustrated all of my current accomplishments.  This relationship proved that I was beyond a painful history with men, and moving forward with a healed soul.  This relationship gave me everything I dreamed of: a wonderful man, two amazing step sons, an awesome dog and cat, and a happy household.  I hadn’t recognized that, beneath this perfect picture, my partner was harboring his own past relationship resentments, a dark and debilitating depression…and a deep longing to escape.

My heart was smashed with his phone call.  The pain of the loss was unbearable.  So I decided to kill myself.

*  *  *

By March 2008, I’d survived multiple suicide attempts throughout my troubled life.  In fact, I’d spent most of the first 37 years of my life wishing or trying to die.

GtownFoggyMorningKeyBridgeFlipped(Nov11)It seemed meant to be.  I was unplanned – conceived after my mother had a tubal ligation!  I once heard my parents fighting about money problems – saying that if I hadn’t have been born, they would be better off.  I developed a deep feeling of being an unwanted problem.

(When I write truthfully about my family, I always have to add: I love and respect my parents, and I love and respect my family.  I understand that we all suffered – even way before I was born.  The ancestry of pain leaves a tough road to travel.  We do our best.)

As a kid, my first suicide attempt was trying to smother myself with a pillow when my beloved Aunt Jeannie died from Cirrhosis of the liver.  Much of my family suffered from alcoholism and its related violence and neglect.  Despite this, Aunt Jeannie consistently showered me with attention, affection and adoration.  She would swoop in for visits, in all of her New York City glamour and flair, bringing gifts and hugs and kisses.  She was a star to me.  When she died, I wanted to die.  I didn’t know that it’s impossible to smother ones self.  I passed out from crying and took a long nap.

From there forward, I thrived on recklessness.  When I was 17, deep depression felt like a mid-life crisis; and I believed I would be dead by 34.  As I got older, I essentially divorced from my family.  I raised myself, nurtured self-destructive tendencies and geared straight toward danger.  I experienced sexual molestation from community members, rape by a friend’s brother, beatings by strangers and boyfriends, and more.  Other dangers included driving maniacally.  I once landed in a life-risking crash – after which I felt very angry to still be alive.

My next deliberate suicide attempts were as an adult, when I hit an emotional, physical and spiritual bottom while living in New Orleans.  In those days, I was convinced that everyone around me was achieving their dreams, while I was at a dead end.  My “romantic” relationships were abusive and empty, my professional life was non-linear and grasping, my connection to god was willfully severed.  After quitting a retail job, I spent my mornings, days and nights drinking and hooking up with strangers and street musicians.  I used my parents’ gas station credit card to buy booze and food.   And my worried and enabling dad paid my rent (bless his un-knowing heart).  My reality was shameful and sad, and it sickened me.  I saw no other way through, than to get out.  Within one week, I tried to kill myself twice, using different mixtures of alcohol and substances.  I woke up dazed both times.  And again, I was very angry to be alive.

After that week, it appeared that I was not meant to die.  (Yet.)  So I ruefully resigned to keep living.  Over the next decade, despite desperate, in-vain attempts to figure out how to decrease life’s pain…despite becoming a vegetarian, seeing therapists, moving all over the country, observing religious ritual, and even trying yoga, I would drink myself to oblivion countless times.

In fact, all along my life timeline, the most pervasive and slow suicide effort was my succumbing to addiction.  I drank alcoholically from age 11.  For the next 25 years, I would deaden myself to emotions, to growth, to the world.

However, despite what looked like a road to ruin, my journey took a transformational turn after I turned 37, in 2002.

*  *  *

Also by March 2008, I had finally enjoyed a sweet, 5-year phase of contentment and joy.  I had been working a strong program of addiction recovery and was 5+ years sober.  I’d been seeing a very effective therapist for those years, and was healing from my traumatic childhood and destructive adulthood.  Plus, although I started while still drinking alcoholically, I’d been practicing yoga for 15 years, and was feeling it gradually shape my emotions, my growth and my world.

So, when the February breakup happened, I was blindsided and felt betrayed – not just by my fiancé, but by life itself.  After so much transformational work, this crap would still happen?  Well, yes.  It would.  And I could not accept that.  So the March 7th Philly trip was planned.

Yet clearly, I did not jump off the Ben Franklin Bridge.  What happened?  Yoga, recovery and therapy – my power trio – gratefully intervened.

The addiction recovery program taught me to be rigorously honest.  Right after the breakup, I showed up at meetings, blurted out my pain and cried myself into a puddle on the floor.  I spoke about not being able to eat.  Recovery friends came to my house with irresistible Thai lemongrass soup.  I spoke about feeling betrayed by god and feeling that I would die from the pain of loss.  Recovery friends listened intently and sensed that I was at risk.

Knowing that I was planning to go see Hothouse Flowers in Philly – and that my ex and I had taken our 1st road trip together to see that band in that city – a recovery friend invited me to go to a Brazilian Dance class at a yoga studio with her on March 7th.   OK, she didn’t just “invite” me – she pretty much forced me.  Up to that night, I had primarily been practicing yoga on my own at home for a few years.  Being back in a mindful, intentional space felt healing to me.  I bought a class pass and started showing up for (and crying my eyes out during) yoga classes regularly.  I couldn’t believe I’d abandoned practicing yoga with others, in community.  Even the minor embarrassment of crying in public was far outweighed by that public’s absolute embrace and understanding.

Having skipped my March 7th suicide plan in favor of Brazilian Dance at a yoga studio, my therapist was relieved.  Still, because my depression persisted, she wanted me to be evaluated for psychiatric medication.  I visited her recommended psychiatrist, and had an eye-opening experience.

I described my lifelong desire to die.  I described the conditions of my childhood and my history of self-destruction.  I described my self-reliance, separation and isolation.  I described the breakup, the devastation and my March 7th suicide plan.  I also described my rigorous efforts in yoga, recovery and therapy.  I described my friends, communities and connections.

At the end of our appointment, he said: “In my evaluation, I do not see a need for medication.  You seemTouristShot to be doing all the right things.  For you, reaching out for help and sharing with others is 100% more powerful than any medication.”  I was shocked.  “Even though I recently planned my suicide?” I asked.  He countered, “That was supposed to happen on March 7th, right?  Today is March 31st.”  I had to laugh.  The psychiatrist explained that, in my case, suicidal ideation is a coping mechanism.  When I imagine or even instigate my own death, I feel relief from my pain, and start going toward the solution.

I’ve been trudging toward the solution ever since.  Life since 2008 has become more challenging, to be honest.  I have been through additional relationship betrayals; I have lost jobs; I have been mugged; and I have experienced other hardships.  My friends and family have experienced very, very tough trials.  But even with these troubles, life is not like that destructive past.  I am not engulfed in atmospheres of addiction, crisis and danger.  In late 2008, I became a yoga teacher, and my life now revolves around this beautiful community.  In 2012, I celebrated 10 years of sobriety, and I currently continue to attend meetings.  I practice the 12 Steps of recovery and the 8 Limbs of yoga to my best ability.  I strive to show gratitude for my own healing and to share transformational practices by being of service however possible.  And I have continued periodic therapy with the non-medication prescribing doctor.

*  *  *

Yesterday, I was driving from Philly to New Jersey while spending the weekend reuniting with some yoga teacher training friends.  Suddenly, I gasped at the irony – without planning this, I was driving over the Ben Franklin Bridge, five years after planning to jump off of it.  The previous evening, I had been to a Kirtan concert, where much water was consumed.  K.D. Lang’s version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” (made “famous” by suicide victim Jeff Buckley) was playing on my car stereo.  And I was feeling quite distant from devastation, depression and death.

How could I not cry tears of gratitude and joy?  I knew at once that I had to tell this story.  I know people who, right now, are suffering from the pain of great losses.  Who are considering death and actively trying to kill themselves in one way or another.  I love these people.  I LOVE YOU.

I share my story to say: pain sucks!  And pain ends.  This too shall pass.  My healing power trio is yoga, recovery and therapy.  You might need or prefer a different combo.  No matter what, I urge you to seek what works for you.  To start – say “yes” when people offer soup, dance classes, meetings and conversation.  Jump off of that bridge in a different way – allow yourself to fall into the arms of others.  Surrender.

I LOVE YOU.  OM Shanti.