I anticipate this will take me a while to write. For reference, I am beginning Friday night, April 13 at 8:03 pm...we'll see when it posts.
This is a story I have told in parts many times over the years, without putting the whole thing together. It's the story of my transformation and my journey from victim to survivor, and the beginning of everything.
In April 2008 I escaped an abusive marriage. I could write a dozen blog posts about the nature of the abuse, and the unhealthy dynamic of our marriage and how we both contributed to it, but my story begins where that story ended.
So I was 33 years old, an emotionally stunted wreck, and I had a two year old daughter to care for. I hadn't had a healthy relationship in at least 16 years, and how no clue how to have one.
This is the part where I credit meditation with literally saving my life. The inability to sleep for days at a time, all the while suffering innumerable anxiety attacks, was overwhelming; I was later diagnosed with PTSD. Meditation kept me (relatively) sane and got me through.
My usual workout routine took an obsessive turn, despite the fact that my body was run down from lack of sleep. While exercise is an excellent therapy for anger, punishing your body for the sake of your mind is foolhardy and short sighted. Before long I was in the hospital for an emergency appendectomy, and the forced recovery time that came with it. At the time, I didn't appreciate the disruption to my workouts, but in hindsight it was a good thing.
Fast forward through five months of healing to early 2009, when I had healed myself enough to know that even if I wasn't looking to find my soul mate, I was ready to tackle a relationship that had some substance to it. I still had a lot of healing to do before I could be ready to get serious about someone...so the Universe decided to send me the perfect partner just then to test me out. I always say, "Trust the Universe" for a reason.
And that's how I began the healthiest relationship of my life with Richy. The anxiety attacks gradually lessened in intensity and frequency. Healthier personal habits emerged. I was surrounded by unconditional love and true support.
In mid 2010 we moved in together, merging our offspring into one family. I finally had the happy home life I had always dreamed of. We built a bookcase for all my books. We bought stainless steel pots and pans. We created a Pandora account and made stations for one another...and that's when I discovered MC Yogi's music. His album Elephant Power was a musical ball of positive energy. It renewed my zeal for meditation and spiritual health.
Around the same time, my bestie, Jodi, became a yoga teacher. She knew of my long standing apathy for yoga, and despite her exuberance for it, I didn't fall in love. Yet.
In January 2011 Richy and I eloped.
In May 2011 my best friend, the man who had been my first boyfriend and my soulmate for a quarter of a century, died by his own hand.
In June 2011 I fell on my honeymoon, damaging my back very badly.
2011 was a year of extremes for me, from the happiest I had ever been to one of the lowest points in my life. Upheavals like that change you, and hopefully for the better.
I had always been annoyingly friendly, but the realization that smiling at someone, or that offering a simply nicety to a stranger could literally save a life cemented my resolve to always be the weirdo who smiles and says "hello." I started going out of my way to pay it forward, to be kind to random people, and to never let anyone feel invisible or unseen.
First the first time, I didn't just bounce back from an injury. In the past, warnings from my orthopedist about the state of my spine had seemed more like challenges to me. This time the healing was slower, and while I eventually returned to normal activity, my body was not the same.
In 2012 a longtime friend (also a survivor of domestic abuse) discovered that Women In Distress had an annual 5K to benefit their domestic violence shelter. We formed a team, I took up running (which I hated more than yoga), and began raising money. I was ecstatic to raise over $1000, knowing it would go to help other survivors thrive. Three weeks before the 5K, I found out I was pregnant. At least I had a reason to give up running.
Our daughter was born in June 2013, just before my 39th birthday. When she was four months old, I pushed her stroller in the 5K for Women In Distress. We have participated every year since 2012, raising thousands of dollars for other survivors of domestic violence.
I changed my entire workout routine. I concentrated now on matching my movements with my breath, using a fraction of the weight and moving deliberately. Does that sounds like anything familiar to you?
I told Jodi that I wanted to give yoga another shot. She came to the house and gave me a private lesson, then helped me book a two hour beginner workshop at a local studio. I began going to classes at my local gym.
Yoga culture is pervasive, once you do a few down dogs and friend one yoga teacher on Facebook, it's all over you. Somehow you end up on the Wanderlust festival mailing list and your Spotify mixes are full of Deva Premal and Krishna Das. If you know who DJ Drez is, you know what I am talking about. And that's how I found out about Wanderlust 108 Miami, and that MC Yogi was going to be there.
His music had become the soundtrack to my life, it was uplifting, reminded me to be mindful and to celebrate love above all else. There was no way I wasn't going to try to meet him. I was a little apprehensive about going to a yoga festival, would they accept me as one of their own? I dedicated all my extra time to my practice so I wouldn't make an ass of myself. Wanderlust day came, a beautiful day on Historic Virginia Beach Key, and my amazingly supportive husband and I were there to enjoy it. I met MC Yogi and his beautiful wife, Amanda, I did yoga outside with over a thousand other people, and I realized this wasn't a community I had to work to fit into, because everyone was welcome. This WAS my home.
Yoga Cure opened around the corner from my house. I began taking classes in a studio setting regularly. Despite the decrepit state of my spine, I actually felt better than I ever had in my adult life, and had far more flexibility and mobility than I had since I was a teenager. I quit my gym and concentrated solely on my practice. When the teacher training was announced a few months later, I was intrigued but not particularly interested. That's when Jodi decided I needed to be a yoga teacher also. She worked with the owner of the studio to ensure I got a scholarship and enrolled in the course. Before I knew it, I was a YTT (yoga teacher trainee). A YTT with no clear purpose and no clue how she landed there.
I had made a few friends with other students at Yoga Cure, two of them enrolled in the YTT program as well. I was happy they did, and I had no clue the sorority-like environment it would become for the ten of us.
Shortly after YTT began, my father got very ill and passed away. It reminded me that the past nine years of my life had been so marked by loss. But I don't want to identify as That Girl Who Loses Everything, I never did. I prefer to revel in the fact that I always carry on, because MY life isn't over.
I did weekend training with Connection Coalition and began volunteering for them. They bring yoga to at-risk youth and other under-represented communities. Around this time I heard of Inhale to Exhale, an organization that does work with survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault in New York and Los Angeles. That is a group I definitely need to be involved with, I thought. I contacted them and asked how we could bring the program to Florida. They had no interest in expanding into Florida, unfortunately. I thought, I can make a program like that in Florida. And the idea marinated in my brain for days...for weeks...until while speaking to one of my yoga sisters on Messenger, I exploded and literally word-vomited an entire diatribe and my plans to start my own non-profit all over her.
Once an idea like that is out in the Universe, there is no bottling it up again. It gathers energy from those around you, and it picks up steam. It becomes a life force of its own.
I graduated in May 2017.
In June 2017 I led my first yoga retreat with Jodi. When we returned home, I began teaching and planning.
Because of yoga, I have made so many new friends.
Because of yoga, I am strong yet flexible.
Because of yoga, I dedicate my life to something greater than myself.
When you're trapped in a cycle of abuse, all you can do is survive. There is no room for anything else, except struggling to exist another day.
Today is my ten year escapaversary.
Today I am teaching a To Breathe Deep class for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.
Today I freely give my time and love because I can.
Today I will meet with other survivors and when we connect, we will build off one another's energy, we will lift one another up, and we will raise our vibrations. Because we are alive, we have survived, and we are thriving.
Not bad, it's 12:26 pm on Sunday April 15 and I never had a chance to sit and write yesterday.