How Do You Move Toward YOUR Freedom?
A narative by Alan Calkins.
I came to in a jail cell on April Fools Day 2014. I wasn't particularly surprised, but I wasn't exactly sure what I'd done to get there either. I had accumulated countless arrests after more than two decades of drinking, drug use, and fighting. I'd spent the last seven years in-and-out of 12 step programs and rehabs, with little success. I always got hung up on the spiritual aspects of them and eventually found my way back out. This stint in jail, however, proved to be far different from the rest. I made a decision during my first day in, I was either going to get clean or kill myself
I started meditating daily and reading every spiritual book that I could get my hands on within the first week of being in Jail. I also worked the 12 steps by mail with my sponsor. After three months I finally received my sentence. I was sentenced to one year and then transferred to Community Transitions Center (CTC).
Some of the other inmates told me that CTC offered a weekly yoga class and that it was the best thing about the place. Reluctantly, I decided to try it. I previously trained to fight mixed martial arts and I always felt amazing after a couple hours of sparring, I figured an hour of stretching couldn't hurt.
I was amazed by the courage of the female instructor. She not only came to a corrections facility to teach yoga but she connected with her students even though she had never been incarcerated herself. 20-minutes into the routine, my muscles were shaking and my body was pouring sweat. By the end of the first class I felt better than I ever had from hours of sparring.
Somewhere in that first month of practicing weekly, I cried on my mat for the death of my sister, who passed away 14-months earlier. It was the first time that I had allowed myself to FULLY feel that grief without numbing myself with chemicals. It was the most healing experience of my entire life.
I spent well over half of my life a slave to chemicals, harsh thoughts, and low opinions of myself and others. I found my freedom in jail, of ALL places. I was a shell of a man when I walked in a few months before but my daily practice was cultivating me into a whole human being.
Negative traits like anger, self-centeredness, and judgment were shrinking, while traits like empathy, compassion, self-worth, and serenity were growing. Perseverance became my mantra and I gained experiential understanding on my mat over and over again. I learned that I didn't have to immediately react to discomfort. A wise woman once told my class, "you can do ANYTHING for 3 more breaths.” These words still echo in my head whenever I feel overwhelmed.
A couple of months after my release, I was participating in all the community classes that I could that Yoga 4 Change offered in Hemming Park. I was also practicing yoga at home. In April 2015 I served as a volunteer at One Spark, only one year after my arrest. I continued showing up to classes and volunteering every chance I could. I was then, and still am now, grateful beyond words for the opportunity to work with such an amazing team!
I kept hitting hurdles in my efforts to be a part of my daughter's life again. I was also dealing with some incredibly painful events in my personal life. When the pain was too much to face in stillness on my meditation cushion, I could always bring myself to get on my mat and move with my breath. Yoga got me through those times, and it got me through them sober. It quite literally saved my life.
Since my release, I've been giving back to Yoga 4 Change in the form of volunteer hours and the occasional monetary donation. I also give back through my continued sobriety, staying active in a 12 step fellowship, and by living my yoga off the mat, practicing the lessons they taught me, kindness, integrity, discipline, empathy, and compassion. My sponsor, who has over 20 years of sobriety, took up yoga when he saw how well it works for me. I had the privilege of teaching him before a meeting this weekend! I'm living, breathing PROOF that this program works.
I'm deeply honored and incredibly grateful for the opportunity to soon teach with Yoga 4 Change. In preparation of becoming a yoga instructor, Yoga 4 Change invited me to attend a series of trauma-informed yoga workshops, and I went to every one. I assign value to my painful past when I share my experience with others, empowering them to find their OWN path to freedom.
I’ve been sober for 3 years and 8 months. In that time, I've saved the lives of multiple addicts, literally through CPR but also through words of encouragement and by providing an example that a better way of life is possible. I've had the good fortune to watch some of these people grow into their own freedom, and pay it forward by helping others eventually do the same. I don't say any of this to brag, and I didn't do ANY of it alone. I simply say it to give a small example of the ripple effect that Yoga 4 Change is having in our community.
How can you help others do the same?
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