By Susan Jacobs
For Bob Dylan, the answers were blowing in the wind. For me, they were found on my yoga mat. My habitual behavior patterns (which some might call addictions) have run the gamut from shopping, control, procrastination, love, victimization, and drama. Somewhere in there also prowls an adrenaline junkie, hooked on anything that made my heart pound harder and faster. I’ve never had an addiction to substances, but like a junkie, the price I’ve paid for my habits has been extremely high.
I was among the best at denying this. Within minutes of meeting me, my teacher, Krishna Kaur, told me I was a dancer. “Oh yes, I love dancing,” I said excitedly, proud of our instant bonding. “No,” she replied, “you’ve been dancing around yourself your whole life.”
Busted! And on a yoga retreat in Costa Rica, no less. It was true, of course. I was both Fred and Ginger when it came to the avoidance. I could dance my way out of trouble and was equally skillful at dancing into anything I wanted to control. I believed I was invincible, that no rules applied to me; I had a free pass through life.
My first realization that I had serious behavioral issues came years ago when a friend urged me to attend a Love Addicts Anonymous meeting. She said I was addicted to men. I poo-pooed that idea but my friend was tired of hearing my saga over and over and wouldn’t listen anymore unless I agreed to go to a meeting. So I did.
I located what appeared to be the right meeting, but was mortified that I had crossed over and become one of ‘them’—someone who needed help. I took one of the 25 seats, and then watched as one man after another entered the room. It was me and 24 men. Perfect! With minutes left, somehow I raised my hand. I began to purge something I hadn’t known was there. I cried and yammered on and on for my three minutes, and I felt 24 sets of male eyes staring at me. After the meeting I was greeted with great warmth and appreciation for my courage. I had no clue I was in a Sex Addicts meeting!
I slinked away, proud that I tried, but certain I’d never go back, even to the Love Addicts meeting down the hall that I had intended to go to. I rationalized that my willingness to show up proved that I was okay. Addictions are sneaky suckers when not directly attached to substance abuse. For years I believed I was the model of balance and togetherness. Any behavioral glitches I chalked up to just being part of who I am.
Romance was my drug of choice—the hunt, the flirt, the conquest. Once all that was achieved, I lost interest. The most frightening realization was that my behavioral patterns of manipulation and control were things I had no idea I was doing. With them came a dangerous lack of boundaries, whereby I ignored the invasion of others into my personal space.
Lacking boundaries in love relationships created an escalating, deep-seated insecurity which manifested itself in strange ways. I felt vulnerable and exposed, so to compensate, I mastered my unspoken ability to control and manipulate. It was quite powerful and effective since that behavior was well hidden behind care-taking, people-pleasing, and ‘I love you’s.’
Then came my huge love. I fell hard, fast, and deeply in love. He was the one, my life partner. I opened my heart, my home, and my bank account to him, because to me that symbolized the ultimate declaration of love. Our life together fed my inner adrenaline junkie. It was filled with exotic and dangerous travel to developing countries, brokering international deals, and more. We were living way beyond our means, and I was far out of my comfort zone. Our financial stress magnified and intensified both of our underlying insecurities and behavioral issues.
My friend the Universe came knocking on my door again. ‘Okay Susan, you’ve been getting gentle nudges for a long time but you haven’t paid attention. Now, it’s time to learn your lessons.’
Pow, zoom, kaboom! I got hit from all sides. Our relationship ended. I was left bankrupt, heartbroken, betrayed, and terrified.
I was forced to hit rock bottom and re-examine all facets of my life before I accepted that I had ‘stuff’ to deal with. I ended up on my knees, crying, screaming, talking to the Universe, God, or whatever name you have for that power greater than oneself. More humble now than mortified, I found myself in Al-Anon, which turned out to be the right 12-step program for me. Listening to others’ stories was where I got a sobering education about my destructive behavior. It was an out-of-body experience for me to say, in front of a roomful of strangers, “Hi, my name is Susan,” and to hear a warm and loving “Welcome, Susan.” It was even more surreal finding myself in the circle reciting the ever-soothing serenity prayer: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Finding Al-Anon became a safe haven, a place where I found sympathy, love, comfort, and support from strangers at every meeting I went to. I gained wisdom and insight from people who had experienced far worse in life than I.
A combination of deep introspection and regular meetings brought the realization home to me that the primary reason I had no boundaries was because I was afraid that if I said no to anyone, I wouldn’t be liked, loved, or accepted. I had put everything important to me aside in order to control a relationship that was out of my control. My behavioral habits caused me to lose me, to the point where I was unrecognizable—not just to myself but to all who knew me. People-pleasing addicts look at everyone but themselves. Victimization addicts are just not sexy. Control addicts stop the flow of life energy. I had elements of all three.
Now there was a new problem. I, who love stories and getting attention, loved the meetings a bit too much. I was in danger of becoming hooked on Al-Anon.
What to do now?
Wisely, I began to deepen my yoga and meditation practice and in a quiet moment, a voice said, “You’ve got to do this alone. If you keep going to meetings, you won’t get to the heart of the problem. You need to be quiet, stop talking, and start listening.” Although terrified to let go of that safety net, I did, and there was a huge sense of relief. I let go of trying to control the outcome. I used the tools and slogans of Al-Anon: one day at a time, let go and let God, live and let live, and keep it simple. They became my mantras as I now went at it alone, with my God, my yoga mat, and constant reading of Yogi Bhajan’s words of wisdom.
It took many months of tears and prayer to realize that the only thing I actually have control over in the world is my behavior and my reaction to what comes my way. I went back to yoga basics 101. Yoga is about controlling the mind’s thought waves. I had to come full circle to remember that my mat is where I would rebuild my foundation, where I turned my thinking around to surrender, to see all as a blessing and opportunity, rather than drama and trauma.
In addition to my daily Bound Lotus meditation which I have practiced now for over 1,800 days, I upped the ante and added such targeted meditations as Burn Out Inner Anger. Surrender is key to breaking free of everything. Surrender of ego/control doesn’t mean surrender of self. It means allowing the Universe to flow through me, to listen to my intuition, my truths. To relinquish control is energizing because it takes energy to hold on so tight. I spent lots of time in Surrender Pose (which resembles Child’s Pose with the exception that your arms are extended on the floor with fingers interlaced) crying, begging for relief. There’s a story about a man who goes to Yogi Bhajan and says he has some questions. He’s directed to meditate in Surrender Pose, and is left for three days like that. Upon his return, Yogi Bhajan asks the man what he wanted to know and the man says, “I no longer have any questions.”
After what felt like an eternity, but was only some months, I woke up and, while still filled with questions, I consciously knew that I wanted my life back. Not the life I was living in order to please others, not the life I thought I should be living, but the life that is organically true to who I am, what I want, and how I want to live. There was a moment of rejoicing as I finally felt that the healing was in process. Over time I was able to step back and see a pattern of escalating behavior in each love relationship I experienced that culminated in my crash-and-burn, “wake-up” scenario.
I’ve come a million miles from where I was: boundaries have been set, negative and counter-productive behaviors overcome, and many lessons learned and are still being learned. As I greet each day with my morning sadhana I laugh at the irony—that which helped cure me is truly the only thing I can’t live without. I tune-in, bowing my head in gratitude for all that’s been and all that is.
Susan Jacobs recently launched Thought Bubble Concepts, a full-service marketing, branding, public relations, and event conception and production company. She's a freelance writer working on her first book for The Round House Press. She also teaches Kundalini Yoga and lives in Brooklyn. Contact her at [email protected]