Published on Elephant Journal, 3/3/15
My name is Jamie—I’m an alcoholic and an addict.
I happily introduce myself in this manner at 12-step meetings, even now as a recovering woman with over 12 years sober.
People ask why I still refer to myself in these terms. They regularly challenge me, saying: “Surely Jamie, you’re healed by now? You know so much about trauma too—you teach this stuff for God’s sake! Why do you still call yourself an alcoholic and a drug addict?”
I continue to identify as an alcoholic and an addict because it keeps me in touch with reality.
The reality is that alcohol and drugs won every time. I believe that if I chose to put them back into my body, the chance of them engulfing me again is quite high.
Sure, I now have an enhanced understanding about the traumatic and biochemical origins of my addiction. Yet the reality is, drugs and alcohol made a dangerous impression on my body, mind and spirit. Why would I risk putting that into my body again? Just to prove that enough counseling, specialty trauma therapies and holistic modalities sufficiently healed my brain?
I choose to identify as an alcoholic and addict, to keep me in touch with the reality of where using these substances took me. Being reminded of this reality has special purpose for me because I drank, used, and engaged in other dangerous activities to escape reality.
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I discovered Dancing Mindfulness at age 5 although I don’t believe it’s creator Jamie Marich was born yet. It was a common day. I was invited over by some older teenage girls to come play “American Bandstand” in their makeshift playhouse….an abandoned school bus carcass discarded at the end of their driveway (If the Harler girls from Mathias Drive in Columbus ever read this please contact me as I want to thank you for saving my life). I can remember it like it was yesterday when the 45rpm began whirling on the little plastic record player and they encouraged me to “strut my tiny stuff” down the aisle of the bus to the thumping sound of “These Boots are Made for Walking”. Without knowing it I embodied my first Element of Dancing Mindfulness: breath. As I was given permission to show up fully in a non-judging environment I felt myself inhale fully and exhale completely. Unbeknownst to me I had been holding my breath since birth as if to guard myself from harm. As they smiled and cheered me on I remember, for the first time ever, I felt joy inside of me well up until it overflowed to the point I had tears pouring out of my eyes. My face had spent many of my short 5 years covered in tears but never from joy. I couldn’t contain this new feeling nor did I want to. I felt foreign freedom and sense of letting go as I danced, shimmied, swayed and of course strutted. This dance brought me intense elation, a lightness of Spirit. For the first time ever I wasn’t trying to be good enough, smart enough, perfect enough. In fact I wasn’t striving at all. I just was. I was one with my body, my breath, the amazing sounds. I caught myself giggling like the other girls I would enviously watch on the playground at school and I didn’t even know why I was laughing. I do now. I had touched my innocence. I must share I didn’t have much to laugh about at that time. I was growing up in a home ransacked by alcoholism. I began escaping to the “playhouse” every chance I got. I would hide in a hedgerow in my backyard which gave me a perfect view to the school bus and like a panther I would sit crouched and wait until I saw signs of life near the bus and pounce out into the open hoping the Harler girls (and not my troubled and intoxicated mother) would see me and ask me to dance. But all too soon the Harlers moved and with them went my safe haven in which to thrive. My short lived freedom was sweeter than anything I had ever known but it was over. My hedgerow hideout was also soon discovered and I was no longer allowed to disappear. I soon found sanctuary in a tree but soon I was told was for “boys” and made to get down-and stay down.
After that my “her-story” is not unlike many other women that I know. I grew up in the tender yet tumultuous 60’s-70’s with a lot of family secrets. By age 11 I began discovering substances that would bring me fleeting feelings “similar” to that of the abandoned bus dances and the safety of the hedgerow bliss I had enjoyed. That discovery caused over 20 years of self-destruction including full blown alcoholism by the time I was 14.
My return to movement didn’t come for another 46 years. I had a span where my life resembled a bad country song. In 2007 within months my dog (the ultimate confidant) died, my dad died (he had been my hero my whole life; the only steady, constant person in a pool of insanity), my only child moved 700 miles from home to try and rebuild a relationship with his father and I got divorced. I was thrown into premature menopause from the stress according to my physician. Everything that had ever made sense to me was suddenly gone. The following few years were a roller coaster of emotion. I had deep and powerful spiritual beliefs and practices yet I found myself struggling. I entered a relationship with a wonderful man, a spiritual partner, and yet I found it growing more difficult to give of myself. Then as if on a death wish type mission I made some career decisions that although looked good on the outside from an intellectual perspective yet was a horrible fit for me. My gut, my heart, told me not to make the change yet I didn’t see any other way. My heart had endured so much pain in recent years and without even knowing it I had at some point given up trust in it. I began plummeting deeper and deeper and I rapidly sunk into a depression deeper and darker than I had ever known. I no longer had the sweet ease and comfort brought on by mind altering substances. I was raw and it was real and I couldn’t find relief. I had developed a beautiful meditation practice as part of my 12 step recovery program and during this time I couldn’t quiet my mind no matter how long I sat. It was during this time that a friend in casual conversation mentioned going to a Dancing Mindfulness class. Something on the visceral level sparked. I am convinced it was Divine Intervention in answer to the screams of my soul begging for help night after night. Instantly following her mention I went online and unfortunately found there wasn’t a class anywhere near me but I immediately ordered the DVD available. Well....let’s just say I haven't missed a day of movement since. I began taking “Dancing Mindfulness” breaks each hour at work (a perk of the less than stellar fitting job was a solo office where I could close the door and dance). I would close my office door and “drop in”. I found my breath again. My spirit. A new story began to emerge. At the end of those sanity breaks I felt like I could go on. These mini Dancing Mindfulness moments gave me the energy and clarity and connectedness to my Mind, Body & Spirit I needed. When I got home at night I would dance as best I could for 20 minutes trying desperately to follow along with the instructions on the video learning about the Attitudes and Elements. On days when I didn’t have to go in early I would start my day dancing. Me! A woman who was on the floor 2 months prior curled up in a ball wondering if suicide was once again my only option?
I followed an inner nudge and began researching training classes only to find there was one being hosted in the near future by the Dr. Marich only 2 hours from my home. Until my training I would dance day after day in my basement after work. I started developing an insatiable desire to share the technique. It didn’t make sense. I had never even stepped foot in a Dancing Mindfulness class. I followed this nudge and miraculous financial, physical and emotional synchronicities began appearing culminating in me being certified as an instructor.
I knew this is what I wanted to do but fear and inadequacy keep me in it’s grip. I had tried to teach “other” movement forms before and just couldn’t get off dead center. I feared this would once again be my story. I decided to continue my personal practice. As I began training deeply on my own I found myself suddenly devastated by a mysterious back injury. In the first days following the injury I missed dancing more than anything as I lay day after day on the floor. Some days all I could do was focus on the rhythm of the dance of my breath or do my best to embody the vibration of sound. In my mind I would tell a new story by visualizing my cells moving inside my body healing the inflammation, pushing the bulging discs back in place, soothing the angry muscles in my hips. Some days all I could do was as the creator of this movement, Dr. Marich, had taught me in training “think of the floor as your canvas. Your body the brush.” I would mindfully move one leg, then the other. I would gently arch my back with a crescendo of music. During this challenge I had no choice but to practice acceptance and non-striving. As soon as I could so much as stand upright, I tapped into the element of “beginners mind” and began to mindfully stand for 5 minutes, 10 minutes, as long as I could and sway listening carefully to my body’s needs. I was literally teaching myself to listen to my inner wisdom and trust that my body, with its now weakened spine and damaged hip structure, would support me in a new and glorious way. I learned unique ways of moving and I embraced this meditative form of movement like a hungry child with a fresh orange. I devoured every drop of soul nectar available. Daily I practiced non-judging as I fell short of my ego’s goal to return to full movement each day. Slowly, dance by dance, moment by moment, as all the elements and attitudes fused together I not only found physical health but my spirit healed in miraculous ways. I have danced in witness each morning as the 53 year old woman I am has organically merged with the enchanted 5 year old school bus queen of the strut. I write this 12 weeks post injury. I have regained full range of physical motion from my daily practice and much more importantly I have regained full range of motion in my heart. As the technique began shining a light on my truth I found that the grief I experienced in 2007 had hurt so much I had slammed the door on my heart shut. With each session the door begins to crack open a bit. A little more light enters. Today Dancing Mindfulness has not only flung the doors wide open but I am blinded by the light of healing I have experienced. In 2015 my hope is to share this incredible mindfulness in motion. To share the thrill of a truly holistic personal experience. The ultimate experience of self discovery; becoming one with myself.
Dr. Jamie Marich
Curator of the Dancing Mindfulness expressive arts blog: a celebration of mindfully-inspired, multi-modal creativity