My early attempts at money sobriety were all about control. Controlling what I spent. Controlling what I earned. Controlling what I felt. Controlling what I thought about. I believed that sobriety meant discipline. I believed that it meant toughing it out. To me, sobriety meant setting my jaw and gritting through anything tough with a stoic sense of badassery. (Just so we're clear, I wouldn't have called it "control" at the time. I would have called it mindfulness. Awareness even.)
This is not only how I came to money sobriety, but it's also how I came to every sobriety that I encountered: alcohol, wheat, caffeine, sugar. No matter the substance, I saw the work as being about stripping myself down to nothing and learning how to be okay with it. I believed that life was supposed to be felt in full force. I believed that the entire point of sobriety was to teach us how to be able to stay in discomfort. In effect, this meant that I taught myself to tolerate discomfort.
And this was a terrible mistake to make.
Yoga, on and off the mat, is about connection. On the mat, you’re going to come face to face with poses you don’t like. Maybe they squish you in weird places, or maybe they make you feel like you can’t breathe, or maybe they make your muscles burn and shake.
In yoga, I don't ask myself to bear down and suffer, instead I try to find compassionate ways to relieve discomfort while still maintaining the integrity of the yoga pose so that I can maximize the benefit of the experience. If I drop out of a challenging pose, skip it, or give up, I miss out on what that pose has to teach me. Likewise, if I push too hard or just grit it out and suffer, I'll miss the pose as well. On the mat, I use props to help my body find a more comfortable way to be in a difficult shape. By using blocks, blankets, straps and bolsters, I can support myself through difficult and uncomfortable moments.
Off the mat, let’s face it, sometimes we're going to have to feel some not-so-fun feelings. Anxiety, panic, rage, jealousy and insecurity — none of these are my favorites. Similar to a yoga pose, each feeling has something to teach me if I can stay connected and aware, and some poses (and feelings) are more difficult to hold than others.
The mistake I was making was that I was coming to these difficult poses (aka feelings) without any props. I was straining to keep centered. I was pushing myself too far. I wasn't offering myself any kindness, any relief, any sense of self-soothing. Instead of maintaining the integrity of the pose, I had pushed myself too far.
The thing is: I had confused props for vices. This confusion led me to misunderstand the fundamental components of sobriety. Addictions and vices are things/behaviors that lead to negative consequences. Props are things/behaviors that lead to self-compassion. They do not help you check-out, they do not create a disconnection. Instead, they help you stay in the pose, through their soothing, strengthening and support.
Now, when I'm confronted with an uncomfortable feeling (whether it's the frustration of being stuck in a traffic jam, or the powerlessness of dealing with un-fun aspects of parenting, or the sadness of heartbreak) I ask myself:
What prop do I need to help me with this pose?
This question is powerful and has changed my life on a day-to-day basis in ways that I could not have predicted.
When life got rough, once upon a time I would have reached for a glass (or three) of chardonnay. Or maybe gone to Macy's. Or maybe both at the same time.
In my novice attempts at sobriety, I just slapped myself on the wrist and said, "No alcohol. No shopping. Shut up and deal with it."
Now, in my attempts at a sobriety that includes self-compassion, I reach for props. Maybe I need a walk. Or a yoga class. Maybe I need to reach out to a friend. Maybe a soak in a hot tub or a day at the beach will help soothe the pain. Or maybe I just need to put on my jammies and wrap myself in a soft blanket.
Day by day, hour by hour, my prop list has grown. I no longer see this as a form of weakness, I see it as strength. Instead of tolerating discomfort, we must try to find compassionate ways to relieve discomfort while maintaining the integrity of the feeling so that we can maximize the benefit of the experience. This means we need to stop being so mean to ourselves. It means that we need to learn to offer self-compassion, to forgo the self-inflicted cruelty and reach for kindness and love.
This is my new sobriety story. This is my new sobriety work. To reach for kindness. To give my self permission to soothe. To help myself in any way I can.