Everyone who has suffered psychological trauma in life has a choice: You can let the pain completely destroy and eventually kill you. Or you can fight so hard to pull yourself out of it that you develop the warrior-like inner-strength to transform yourself into an unbreakable survivor.
The very circumstances which once made you feel so powerless could be the catalyst for your future empowerment. You can decide right now that you will no longer allow the past to detrimentally define you. It's never too late to make this resolution. Every moment is your metaphorical fork in the road. Which path will you choose?
After being born into an abusive biological family, I spent a large chunk of my formative years being shuffled around between youth shelters, residential treatment centers and a foster home. I finally got out of that system at the age of 15 and was living on my own by 16. I had to drop out of school because I didn't have a stable home or family and subsequently resorted to a life of crime to support myself financially.
The dehumanizing environment in which I was raised was a veritable lightning rod for dysfunction. The abject humiliation of the sexual and emotional abuse I suffered during the earliest years of my childhood caused me to devalue myself immeasurably. I had no idea how to form (much less nurture) healthy relationships. Probably because I never experienced that at home. As a result, I debased myself in ways it repulses me to remember now... all because I just wanted to be accepted and loved so desperately by someone, anyone.
All of the other kids I knew took the kind of affection I craved for granted as the norm. Even if their families weren't perfect, it was obvious that their parents loved them, that they'd never do anything to purposely hurt them. I saw how it was supposed to be on TV shows, commercials, at the park, in supermarkets. I assumed that the lack of it in my life had to be my fault, that there must be something wrong with me. I felt inherently unlovable and I hated myself for it.
This mindset caused a chain reaction of reactive behaviors. My life had completely spiraled out of control by the time I was 12. I was breaking away from what had broken me by becoming the master of my own destruction. I didn't want to be a victim anymore, so I became my own abuser. Even after years of intense therapy, both in-patient and out, I still didn't recognize that my actions were simply a perpetuation of the cycle set into motion by my biological family.
The truth didn't fully crystallize within my soul until I became a mother myself. On that day, 15 years ago, when my own child was placed in my arms for the first time, I finally realized that something of value could come out of the turmoil of my childhood after all. I had learned what NOT to do. My journey though marriage and motherhood has revealed what I should have known all along; I am capable of loving others in a healthy way and, despite my past, I am worthy of being loved in return. My son is a living testament to that fact. As a dear friend recently told me, "People who had the worst parents usually end up being the best parents. He's a very lucky young man to have such a great mom."
It's definitely a crazy life story, but it has taken a happy turn. I've been blessed with so many awesome life experiences that I never would've believed possible during the darkest days of my childhood. This is not to say there haven't been emotional struggles and setbacks along the way. The scars from my childhood run very deep. It's something that will always be a part of me. However, instead of allowing the pain to destroy me, I've fought to become a warrior-like survivor. It turns out that the very circumstances which once made me feel completely powerless were actually the catalyst for my empowerment.
Thanks to a dedicated yoga practice, my perspective on so many aspects of the surroundings I once took for granted have been irrevocably altered. To borrow a line from a Fiona Apple song; "...as the scenery grows I see in different lights. The shades and shadows undulate in my perception. My feelings swell and stretch; I see from greater heights..."
Even after only a few yoga classes, I began noticing cracks in the negative mindset I once accepted as an inherent part of my personality. I discovered that the impervious fortress of cynical pessimism which I'd built up around myself in order to survive my childhood may not be necessary in my adult life. The walls slowly crumbled and beams of sunlight started to break through. My self-imposed prison of psychological darkness became illuminated by small, but precious, rays of what appeared to be contentment.
At first, I thought all of these fluctuations were merely a temporary shift in my soul and prepared to revert to my former sinister-self at any moment. As time stretches on, however, I've come to believe my transformation could be of a more permanent nature.
I don't have to shield myself from hope in order to protect myself from disappointment anymore. I've begun to trust that good things are possible for my future due to the paths I'm taking in the present, regardless of the pain of the past.
Before these changes, I always felt like I had to secret away a part of myself and wear assorted masks for various occasions. It was easier to detach, avoid friendship, and keep to myself. My hermitage was a shell of protection from potential pain. If I never trusted anyone, never let anyone in, then no one could ever hurt me.
Yoga, more than anything else I've ever tried, has helped me to overcome those insecurities. As I melt into a puddle of sweaty, primordial ooze upon my mat, I realize that opinions are all a matter of perception. Once you reach a point of self-acceptance and stop trying to project your own version of perfectionism to the world, you begin to experience the first fruits of emotional freedom.
Freedom - which is defined by T.K.V. Desikachar as "the absence of the consequences from obstacles and the avoidance of actions that have distracting or disturbing effects" - is the ultimate goal of yoga.
My past is a part of me, my mistakes have shaped me, and I refuse to be ashamed of any of it. No longer will I put a veil over my life for the sake of appearances. What others see in me is not up to me. The judgments they may or may not make have no bearing over my fate. My path is my own and I choose to pave it with truth.
To quote Jay Fields- as written in Teaching People, Not Poses- "I've come to understand that the very things I used to try to hide are what make me more interesting, and also what enable me to connect with other people in a way that is real and meaningful. I've discovered that the only person who thinks I should have my shit together when I walk into a room full of people is me. And I've come to accept that being myself, even if I'm sometimes needy or jerky or scared or sad, is far more preferable (and less exhausting) than constantly trying to outrun myself.
Last year, I was granted a full scholarship to get my 200-Hour Yoga Teacher Training certificate from Arts Holding Hands and Hearts and The Light Within Yoga Studio. Since completing the training, I've been teaching yoga to girls in crisis at a local shelter. As I once was a girl in crisis living at a shelter, the opportunity to help and inspire others in similar situations means the world to me.
I realize I still have a long way to go on this journey, but I'm also taking time to stop and express my gratitude for every step of progress along the way. One day, through intense faith and sufficient effort, perhaps I will arrive at the storied gates of some far-fetched philosophical finish line. Perhaps samadhi - the enlightenment of self-realization, the last limb of the eight-fold yogic path, that which B.K.S. Iyengar described as "seeing the soul face-to-face, an absolute indivisible state of existence in which all differences between body, mind and soul are dissolved," and what my teacher Alison Donley simply calls "the rational result of rational behavior" - will be attainable. For now, it's one breath, one step, one moment at a time.
About The Author:
Alexis lives in Amish Country, USA with her husband, step-daughter, and son. She's had many amazing adventures and unexpected journeys... one of which introduced her to yoga. A fateful spur-of-the-moment decision to attend a class in order to prepare for an athletic vacation has led her down a path of well-being and opened the door to an unintended array of incredible friendships and opportunities.
Alexis completed her 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training at The Light Within Yoga Studio and continues her yogic education by regularly attending classes, workshops, and specialized training sessions. As an avid writer, volunteer, Kundalini Yoga devotee, and social media guru, Alexis offers a unique perspective on the cultural, emotional, and philosophical aspects of mindfulness. She currently teaches yoga and expressive arts at the Chester County Youth Center with Arts Holding Hands and Hearts of CultureTrust and is the social media coordinator for Transformation Yoga Project.