in 2013, poet and artist, Alexandra R. LaFlam stayed at Pacifica Treatment Centre to overcome an addiction fuelled by grief and trauma. While there, she found the Yoga Outreach classes so helpful that she decided to train as a Yoga teacher. In 2017, LaFlam returned to Pacifica as a Yoga Outreach volunteer, sharing mindfulness practices with others recovering from addictions.
Following is an excerpt from Scattered Lights in the Darkness, LaFlam’s autobiographical book of poems about losing her father, surviving as an addict, and the first months of living sober.
On childhood and losing her father
So there I am, 8-year-old me, out on recess from class at school. All the normal 8-year-olds were off playing together and laughing at their good times. In my mind, none of those kids knew anything REAL about life yet and I felt so alone.
My dad died that Spring after a short battle with lung cancer. This threw me into such a shock that all I could do on breaks at school was stare off into space, and walk around outside by myself. I remember feeling this simplistic sadness that only a kid could feel. All I wanted deep down inside was for someone to come up to me and ask if I was okay.
I looked like a good kid on the outside but on the inside I was tormented with losing my dad, poverty, getting bullied, struggling with anorexia and pills, and sexual abuse all the way up until I became an official adult.
Yoga and Recovery
I’m currently 34 and still alive somehow despite all the barriers I faced during and prior to my recovery journey. After numerous programs, doctors, and medications, I can happily say that I have almost 10 years of sober time from my drugs of choice.
What I feel good about is that, not only was I able to become an alumni at Pacifica Treatment Centre, but I was fortunate enough to take the Yoga Outreach trauma-informed yoga teacher training, and then teach gentle Hatha classes at Pacifica!
It felt great to be at that point in my recovery. I was able to introduce the new group of people to some positive coping strategies to self-soothe and to self-regulate from the internal emotional rollercoaster of early recovery. Additionally, I was able to simply give back to the facility for all that they taught me there.
Without my three-month stay, I wouldn’t be the woman that I am today. I remember being a patient at Pacifica and attending the Yoga classes that were facilitated by Yoga Outreach. Those classes really taught me to be able to sit with myself and to breathe through the pain that was overwhelming me.
These days, I’m in a solid relationship with another passionate fellow artist, and things are technically going well in life. However, I still recently found myself in another pit of darkness from my Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD). I have a lengthy mental health diagnosis that does not make life easy either. I have: C-PTSD, Borderline Personality Disorder, Major Depression, OCD, and Generalised Anxiety Disorder.
I’ve been channeling this all into my writing though. I’m thankful to have an outlet that helps me find my voice, even when I can’t speak.
Find LaFlam’s book of poetry, Scattered Lights in Darkness at Barnes & Noble, Scribd, or Smashwords.
Q and A with Alexandra R. LaFlam
What was your experience with Yoga before classes at Pacifica?
I was raised around meditation and Yoga from a very young age. I got into Yoga around age 13 or 14, mainly as a coping strategy for my anxiety, mania, and trauma symptoms.
Alternatively, when I was in active addiction, Yoga became an unhealthy tool for me to lose weight.
Hot Yoga played into my disordered eating, because I used it as a work out rather than something to ground me from my daily stressors.
How were you feeling when you first started taking Yoga Outreach classes?
I remember being really nervous to be in a group, sober, with my body dysmorphia issues. However, I was also very excited to be incorporating movement into my recovery.
My body felt so tense! I hoped to release the negative energy stored up in my muscles, and find postures that might help me self-soothe in my room at Pacifica. I was terrified of the feelings that came up in early recovery, and desperately needed ways to calm myself and self-regulate.
What did you like about the Yoga Outreach classes?
I remember really appreciating Nicole Marcia’s approach with trauma-informed Yoga. She never did hands-on adjustments (which was a relief). And she was very real. Nicole treated us like human beings and shared a strengths-based practice that was simple yet extremely effective. It made Yoga seem less intimidating.
Why did you decide to become a volunteer Yoga teacher?
I was turning 30 years old and I really wanted to educate myself after turning such a huge page in my life.
I ended up taking a 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training and a Level 3 Usui Reiki. The alternative health options that I experienced at Pacifica Treatment Centre and with Yoga Outreach really helped me stay sober once the three-month program was over.
It took approximately five years of sobriety for me to feel strong enough to apply as a volunteer. But once I was accepted at Pacifica, I felt honoured to be in a position to inspire others.
What was the most challenging part of being a volunteer Yoga Teacher?
Heavy emotions were the most difficult part. I know what it’s like to be looking at the teacher as a student. I felt quite anxious going back to a place where I had such a history.
I also felt a lot of pressure to ensure my classes were well planned and non-triggering. A lot of mindfulness goes into creating a peaceful atmosphere for everyone!
What was the best part?
The best part of volunteering was having folks tell me how relaxed they were and sometimes asking for postures or breathwork they could do in their own rooms (which really reminded me of myself).
It was wonderful knowing that during their hard times, I could provide a little piece of relaxation. As an ex-patient, I could relate with what they were going through.
Why did you decide to explore your addiction and recovery through poetry?
I’ve been a writer my whole life. I’ve always loved writing poetry as a way to get out my intense emotions. During active addiction, I really got into the spoken word scene. I loved creating five minutes of material every week for open mic nights. It grew into a full-on narration of my life as an addict.
Once I entered recovery, I dreamed of the day I could go back to doing open mics again. So, I continued with my theme of addiction, mental health, broken hearts, and recovery.
How did mindfulness practices contribute to your writing process?
10 years ago, I was afraid to write about using drugs or dark emotions, because I didn’t want to reveal that side of myself. Mindfulness made me change my style to raw, narrative poetry. To own my story instead of being afraid of it. It truly helped me step into my power.
What would you say to someone in recovery who may be reluctant to try Yoga?
My greatest advice to anyone in a recovery program is to really give it their all (even on those days when all you want to do is sleep)!
It doesn’t matter whether they ask you to do chores, creative writing, art class, educational classes, or Yoga. It’s all designed to get one in a better frame of mind.
Sober living is really difficult, and you need positive, self-soothing activities to survive outside the program. Yoga helps with all the pent-up emotions.
What do people need to know about addiction in BC?
Vancouver has an ongoing crisis of untreated mental health and addiction in our city. I got caught up in it myself.
When I was waiting for my bed to get into rehab, I couldn’t schedule the date and prepare myself. I had to wait for them to call me a few days before it became available. I was on edge, and could easily have died during the waiting period.
If a person needs a bed, they should have rapid access to a rehab facility. Money shouldn’t prevent someone from getting help.
If someone needs a psychiatrist, they shouldn’t have to go on a three to four month waitlist.
If someone requires medication but has no insurance plan, their psych meds should be covered.
Create more beds, create rapid access to them, and provide treatment regardless of how much money or coverage someone has. That’s my ultimate advice.