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Rebecca Harris on Alcoholism, Yoga & Coming Out.

rebThis is the third article in a new series of personal stories about how yoga has helped, transformed or benefited the experience of different people who have been through adversity or otherwise tough times.

by Anne Clendening

I chatted up the lovely Rebecca, who is what you would call an “open book” over Skype on a Friday afternoon. Again and again it occurred to me while we talked what a sweet soul she has.

Are ya ready?

I actually found myself a little bit nervous. But I’m pretty ready. Go for it!

OK! How are ya doin’ today?

I’m doing pretty well, actually! Today is just one of those good days.

Where are you from?

L.A., born and raised. Valley Village. I went to Hollywood High and Grant.

When did the drinking start?

Oh god, the drinking started early, around 15 years old. That was it for me… That was my first love. I loved it the moment I had my first sip. It made me comfortable, it made me not as tall, and it made me not as loud.

Do you remember your first drink?

Yes I do! I was actually 11 when I had my first drink. I was with my friend Tanya at her house, we broke into her parent’s liquor cabinet, we were blaring Siouxsie and the Banshees, and we spun around and danced until we both threw up and passed out and woke up and it was magnificent.

And I bet you could’t wait to do it again!

Exactly! It was kind of perfect.

What was going on in your life at the time? Anything drastic?

No, nothing drastic… I come from a home where my parents were together, and they’re still married 36 years later. But I came from a lot of chronic illness. My grandparents were very, very ill. Time was half spent at church and the other half taking care of everybody else. So I was raised around a lot of illness, a lot of pills and a lot of laughter, if you can believe.

There was a of wanting to escape. I was an only child, and I was teased at school because I was super tall. I was the girl who cried behind the bleachers and tried to get away from everybody.

And you strike me as a person who has a lot of self-esteem.

I believe they call that false bravado? Actually it’s because I’ve built a practice and stayed sober, I do have self esteem. Before, it was all bullshit in the form of liquid. I never really had the real self-esteem, which is why I loved drinking so much; it made me OK.

Was there anybody else in your family that was a alcoholic?

Oh yeah, everyone except my mom. My dad was, but he wasn’t practicing. He was doing what’s called “white knuckling it,” and he was incredibly withdrawn, very hermit-like. And a bit of a rage-aholic. But he didn’t drink heavily when I became cognizant of his drinking. And my grandparents turned out to be huge opiate addicts. It all runs rampant in both sides of my family. My cousin committed suicide when she was 22; she was an alcoholic too.

When did it start getting bad?

I think I crossed that invisible line almost immediately. When I was 16 I was (and still am) a singer-songwriter, playing in clubs and coffee houses, being given tons of fantastic drugs. I got my first publishing deal when I was 17. And I was always hiding something; I would, of course, have a couple of drinks before heading out to an event, and when I got there I would just sip on one drink so I looked like everyone else. Without it, I felt so unfunny, and so fat… there was always a disconnect from my body. I would pour out half of a Gatorade, and fill the bottle back up with vodka.

I had an overdose when I was 23 on a mixture of muscle relaxers and alcohol. I wasn’t trying to die; I was actually looking for Care Bears and unicorns. In other words, I wanted to get away in my head a little bit, because I couldn’t get away physically.

Did you want to be a professional musician?

Yeah, that’s where everything was heading.

What kind of music do you like?

Linda Ronstadt, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Sara McLaughlin, Melissa Ethridge, Portishead. Concrete Blonde. Anything a little dark! But I was an only child, and music was an opportunity to connect.

Did your parents know how bad it was?

Yes, they did. It was really hard to hide after a certain point. And I’m an only child, so there was never any other focus besides me. There was a lot of loneliness, and being in my head, so the drinking helped with that.

Do you think you were born an alcoholic?

I certainly believe that I was born with a predisposition to become one. When you’re in your twenties, maybe you can slide off a barstool at The Abbey and still be cute. When you’re 30, not so much. I never processed alcohol properly; I always blacked out. Something felt like it was missing. I was always extra angry, extra emotional. If I did try and control it, it was a painful process. And then of course there was a sense of shame and unworthiness associated with that. I just kept digging my hole deeper and deeper, and I didn’t have any other tools other than drinking. I couldn’t get out of the spiral because I didn’t know how to.

I ended up getting arrested for a DUI, four years ago. Huge bottom. They call it “pitiful and incomprehensible demoralization.”

Is that when you got sober?

One would have thought! It took me a year of off-and-on to finally get it. The only reason I walked into a 12 step meeting was because it was court appointed. I was 60 pounds overweight, my eyes were yellowing, kidney failure started happening… I was very sick.

I remembered doing a little yoga in my 20’s, and how that brought me a little sanity. I started coming to Black Dog years ago, and I remember feeling connected. So when I was trying to get sober, yoga was one of the first things I went back to. Soon we were doing a combination of a meeting and yoga, called 11th Step Yoga. It was perfect for me, because I just couldn’t sit still. I was too antsy. But the yoga was perfect because I could be still long enough to hear the message and get out of my own head, and out of my own way.

I had one of those moments of clarity in one of those classes, when we were being led though a guided meditation, and everything kind of cracked open inside of me, and I started to cry… Yoga helped me understand what was going inside my body, when I couldn’t yet understand what was going on in my head. I started getting better on a cellular level, before I could even put two words together.

Was there any one pose that helped you?

It was mostly just being in the room with other people, single but together, having the same experience in the same room. It was just private enough that I didn’t feel like I had to compare myself to anyone, and even though I wanted to isolate, I was still connecting to other people, without even meaning to.

When did you come out? And did that have any effect on getting better?

Coming out was a huge, horrible thing in my family. I’m not going to say it was a big reason for drinking, but everybody basically told me I was going to hell. I was raised Southern Baptist, and it was very much cut and dry, where I was going. They were doing their best; they were trying to save me, they weren’t trying to destroy me. I was 15 when this all stared, and when the drinking started. Of course, I didn’t put it all together; I was 15. Who would? And when I overdosed, the therapist I had looked at my mother and said, “you can have a gay daughter, or a dead one.” It was a very long and arduous process. My parents were very concerned about me going to hell. It was all about my immortal soul. So whatever I did, it would never be good enough, and there was always that feeling of shame that I always had to drink away.

Do they still think this way?

No, it’s been a huge transformation in my family, especially in the last few years. And a lot stuff ended up coming to light about just how damaging all that stuff really was. My mom really changed her heart, and it was like, “I love you more than any kind of god that wouldn’t accept you.”  We’re best friends now. I’ve been her primary care giver over the last six months. She’s had stage 4 lymphoma.

My dad actually gave me my first yoga book. It was by Indra Devi, so I had been reading about yoga since I was a teenager.

How long have you been sober?

It was three years September 8th.

What is the most important thing you’ve learned about yourself?

Oh my god… I’m still learning that I’m enough, exactly as I am, right now. Santosha=Contentment. Everything is as it should be, right now. Everything really is Divinely OK. Everything will work out. Also, you can’t think yourself into right acting, but you can act yourself into right thinking. And that’s the thing yoga gave me; when my thinking was insane. I could show up to my practice, on my mat, and I started cultivating a new routine. Three years later, I weigh 60 pounds less, I have a massage therapy career, I’m playing music again and enjoying it, I get to contribute and teach 11th Step Yoga—the thing that saved my life. Everything has come full circle.

I went to teacher training and it helped solidify everything, that these spiritual principles are universal.

What made you want to go to teacher training?

I wanted to give back what had been given to me. It taught me how to not puss out of my life and stay in Warrior pose, even if I was sweating and my ass was shaking! It was a good thing, to find my edge and to live there for a minute, and to do something that was a little uncomfortable. I started getting stronger and I started wanting to get stronger, and it changed everything.

Do you like doing yoga in the morning?

I love it. I take Kate’s 6:00am class. I do it early, before anything else can get in the way.

What’s your favorite yoga pose?

Hmmm… Pigeon. I love Pigeon. I love the feeling. It’s strengthening, it’s grounding and it’s relaxing. Strength and surrender for sure.

What’s your least favorite?

Chaturanga, because it hurts my shoulders. But I don’t really hate or dislike any pose. Arm balances aren’t my favorite, I think because they’ve been a big challenge for me. I’ve tried to power through, and I’ve hurt myself. But now I love Bakasana! But that’s after three years of working on my core.

I also love Peter and Hannah, and Ive always loved flow. I love flow, I love my music, I like it loud, I like to get lost in breath and the energy that’s going on in the room.

What’s your biggest fear?

Well, it was my mother dying… Now I might say not doing the best I can do and disappointing myself after being given a second chance.

Any regrets?

I regret ever hurting anyone. I regret anything I’ve ever done to disappoint anyone.

(And now, for the question we ask everyone…) Whats your favorite Beatles song?

Right now, I’m thinking of “Something.”  I love how it captures longing. It’s like a sonic polaroid of love and longing. It’s a perfect little moment. That one is beautiful, and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”

Thank you Rebecca, you are beautiful!

About the author:
Has 47 Articles

Anne Clendening is a writer, a yoga teacher and kind of a dark little L.A. hippie. She has her own column on elephant journal, where she writes about—what else?—love, life & yoga. Her darker thoughts can be read on her blog, Dirty Blonde Ink. Be her friend on Facebook.. It'll make her feel special.

  1. Debbie

    Wow – I’ve finally found other people who combine 12 step groups with Yoga! Hurray!


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