There’s been a beehive buzzing in my heart for over six years. I couldn’t hear it, didn’t want to hear it, acknowledge it. But my chest has gotten tighter and the bees have gotten louder. They say the second year of sobriety can be harder than the first. I don’t know about harder, but it certainly has it’s own rocky terrain.
The first year was spent mostly finding my feet, figuring out what life would look like sans alcohol: who I am, who my tribe is, what makes me feel good, what is in my self-care tool box, what recovery modality, if any, will be my go-to. Now that I’m in my second year the layers are beginning to peel off and it’s becoming more clear what drove me to drink. Other addictive habits pop up and keeping them in check is like playing a game of whack-a-mole. And over and over, I’m left to look at myself in the mirror, not always happy with what I see.
Last weekend I went to a yoga workshop with two of my favorite people, Holly Whitaker of Hip Sobriety and Laura McKowen. The workshop is called Never Not Broken. From the event description on Hip Sobriety: “What if we understood that our greatest strength comes from the times when we are broken open? And what if we never sought to “fix” that brokenness, but instead drew our deepest wisdom from it? Inspired by the Hindu deity, Akhilandeshvari, the Goddess of She-Who-Is-Never-Not-Broken, this workshop will flip the commonly held ideas of strength, weakness, power and struggle. We will cultivate a new kind of gentleness, understanding and compassion for ourselves and others.”
I’m not sure what I expected, but it was not to spend 3 hours on my yoga mat being broken open. Laura and Holly took turns leading us through traditional and kundalini yoga practices while providing writing prompts to jot down in the journals at our sides. I remember clearly the moment I cracked open. I was in a deep cobbler pose, my forehead resting on my toes, when Laura’s voice asked repeatedly “What broke you?” My mind flicked through the slide show of my life: My parents divorce? Over it. Mom’s alcoholism? Accepted. The rape/s? Discussed at length and processed. Visions flicker through my mind of my 20’s, my marriage, motherhood, creating a family, a home, a life, divorce…………….my throat caught.
A few bees buzzed out of the crack that opened in my heart, swirled around in my mind. The divorce was my choice. Well, not so much a choice as I didn’t see any other way to stay alive. I felt like I was drowning. I could barely get out of bed in the morning, couldn’t keep up with the house, rarely made dinner, and had to ask friends to drive my girls around. At 39 years old I’d been a wife for almost 20 years, since I was little more than a child, and I was lost. I was failing as a wife and as a mother. I couldn’t see any way to find and save my own self if I stayed in my marriage. So I blew it up. I left.
Leaving my daughters 50% of the time broke me. They were my world. They were 11 and 13 years old, and needed me more than ever. I had been a stay-at-home home-schooling mom for the length of their lives. Attachment parenting, family bed, nursing-nearly- forever kinda mama; that was my identity.
As I lay on my yoga mat I remembered my daughters rolling their suitcases to my car after the days they’d spent with me, my youngest sharing my queen sized bed while her sister slept on the couch in my studio apartment. A sob broke from my throat. I remembered stalking their social media accounts to see what they were doing when they were with their dad: slumber parties with girls I barely knew in the cabin that was once my home, wearing clothes I didn’t recognize. Pictures of them swimming with manatees in Florida, horseback riding in Half-Moon Bay, doing all the things I’d always wanted to do with them for the first time. To quiet my grief I turned to beer and bars and boys and doing all the things I couldn’t when I was married, because otherwise I threw it all away for nothing, right?
Worse was when my girls came back home, and I still wanted to escape. I was emotionally absent, on my phone, obsessing about a man, sneaking away to smoke cigarettes, anything to avoid really seeing my beautiful daughters and recognizing just how much we had lost.
I remembered the look on their dad’s face as I walked away from him in the front yard to leave one of the final times, his face crumpled into tears, mine doing it’s best to hide the relief I felt to be free for another handful of days. Free so I could party with my friends and flirt with boys and forget for a brief while that I’d destroyed my family, abandoned my daughters, and broken the heart of the man who’d stood by me and given me everything for 20 years. I was so cold, so hardened to him and his sorrow I feared I was a narcissist. I took all the quizzes. How can you spend 20 years with someone and not cry at the end? Well, turns out there were always tears. They only took six years to escape. If I’d let them out then I may not have survived it.
Laura guided us from cobbler pose to lie on our stomachs. Helpers walked around the studio with boxes of tissues; I wasn’t the only broken one. My shoulders shook as I sobbed, flashing through the final years of our marriage and the perfect little family everyone saw from the outside. The perfect little family in our tiny cabin in the woods, that was filled with a sad, tense energy we all felt but no one talked about.
Now it’s Memorial Day weekend. Social media is filled with gatherings and families and vacations. My home is silent. Later today I’ll be with my girls. They’re 17 and nearly 20, and they’re alright! The kids almost always are. What our family went through was as much a part of their paths as it was mine. Maybe someday they’ll lie on a yoga mat and remember lost feelings from these years, and know it shaped them and couldn’t have happened any other way. I don’t doubt they’ll always know, have always known, how fiercely I love them.
The tears are still coming. I miss having a family sometimes, and I miss my little girls, and I grieve all the time I didn’t have with them. The crack is opening wider and there are more tears to release, lots of bees buzzing and needing to be let out, so they can come and go and fill my heart with honey.
By the end of the workshop we had created a map in our journal, tracing our way from where we are now to where we are going, through the devastation of all the things that have broken us. Just like Akhilandeshvari, we ride the crocodile of our confusion and fear and use it to reach our destination of wholehearted acceptance and compassion for ourselves and all beings. I see now that these years have been making me who I am and beneath the surface I’ve been writing the guidebook on how to live my life; it’s been inside me the whole time. And I pray I’m never not broken.