Yoga came into my life at a very dark time, though I can see now that it was the perfect time for this gift. When life gives us a crappy situation, it's up to us to find the bright side of that situation instead of playing the "Why me" card.
We all have the ability to change our thoughts, and that's why we all have the power to change our lives. This is one of the things I learned from yoga and – now that I'm a yoga teacher – it's something I want my students to discover.
Here is my story: On May 9, 2012, I was admitted to the hospital for my 20th surgery on a hernia repair. I had had a colostomy bag for four years because I was born with a tumor in my colon.
When it was biopsied (I was in my early 20s), the incision got infected. The biopsy left me with a rectal vaginal fistula, a pesky colostomy bag, way-too-many-more surgeries, and a bunch of internal and external scars.
During pre-op, I told the doctor (who had been part of my medical ordeal for the past ten years) that I had a couple of lumps in my breast.
"Don't worry," he said. "It's probably nothing. But just to be sure, while you are under, I'll go in and take a biopsy from the lumps."
About an hour later, I woke up to find my husband standing next to me, waiting for me to regain consciousness again, just as he has been doing since the surgery I had exactly two weeks after our wedding. I blinked up at him and said, "Hey, babe. How did it go?"
He looked back at me. "You have breast cancer, honey."
I had stage 2b breast cancer. I was facing a double mastectomy, chemo, and radiation. And no, the 20th colo-rectal surgery had not cured that problem either.
I could have despaired at that point. I could have grabbed onto the "Why me" card and played it for all it was worth. You see, I have played that, and it's really easy to do. Really easy. In fact, it's so easy to do that I have played it several times in the past.
Let me take you back to my early 20s. I was the single mom of a beautiful little two-year-old. As a single mom, I had to work my butt off to support the two of us, and I only had a high school diploma and no special training to rely on. I worked as a waitress all day and bartended at night. My sister and my cousin lived with me so that someone would always be with my daughter. They were such a help – I couldn’t have managed without them. But I was tired all the time. I felt overwhelmed. I also felt sorry for myself – everything in my life was hard. I wanted to have some fun, too. All the folks I saw at work were having fun.
Why not me?
I had been born and raised in Medellin, Colombia. From my earliest years, I know what cocaine did to people. I grew up afraid of drugs and even in high school, I stayed away from the hard stuff.
Until one Saturday night. I’d just come back from having my first colon surgery. I had worked all day and into the night. I was sitting at the bar after we closed, and a friend offered me some coke. It wasn’t my first offer or even my tenth, but for some reason my thought process was, What the heck? My life sucks right now. My boyfriend hasn't called all day. I barely made any money in tips, my salary’s crap, my butt hurts from the surgery, and now I have huge medical bills in addition to all my other problems. Why not?
I fell in love with that first line of coke.
Suddenly all my problems were gone. I no longer cared about my reality; this new feeling was much better. I partied all my troubles away for the next few months. I worked all day and partied all night. Some days, I'd stay up all night and go straight to work. I looked forward to the coke all the time, suffering when I couldn’t get it. What an awful feeling that was, and yet I kept doing it night after night.
Finally, I was having fun.
At that time, my boyfriend lived in Brooklyn, and I lived in New Jersey, so we didn't see much of each other. One of the times I went to visit him, we went out with his friends. I drank too much and mentioned doing coke to his friend. She told him what I had said.
Unaware that I had been doing coke for the past three months, he was shocked. He confronted me about it, and I denied everything. Two weeks later, he showed up at my house unexpectedly and, yes, I was high. He sat with me until the morning and we talked.
I faced the fact that I had a problem. I hadn't seen my daughter in weeks. My baby, my life, the light of my eyes — I had chosen coke over her. Suddenly, I hated the person I saw when I looked in the mirror. That woman, the one who’d ignored her child, had tried breaking up the relationship between two friends. I had no idea why I’d tried to do that. I couldn’t much remember even doing it. I had played the "Why me" card, and it had led me into a very dark place. I hated myself.
My boyfriend found me a bed at a 28 day rehab, so I packed my bags and off I went. There I learned all about addiction, Alcoholics Anonymous, and Narcotics Anonymous. I also learned that my 28 days was nothing like Sandra Bullock’s 28 Days.
Fresh out of rehab, I decided to go to AA instead of NA. I'd do 90 meetings in 90 days, change people, places, and things — I'd be the poster child for rehab, and my life would be fixed.
Later that month, I got sick again. I had a second colon surgery. I spent a week in the hospital alone because everybody, including my boyfriend, had to work. No one came to visit me. I felt alone and very sorry for myself. I got so depressed that I ended up in the psychiatric ward twice in the next four months. There, they put me on anti-depressants. When I got out, I continued to go to AA, but my heart wasn’t in it.
Rehab got me off coke, but it hadn’t fixed my life.
I tried to keep everything from my parents. They worked so hard. I didn't want to worry them, but they could see something was wrong. They decided that, for my birthday, they would send me to Colombia for a month. They thought a vacation would be good for me.
I don't even have to tell you what I did most of the time I was there.
I came back from Colombia hating myself. I moved lo Long Island with my boyfriend. I went back to AA. I stayed sober for a while, but I never felt that happiness and the joy that the people of AA were talking about.
My boyfriend and I broke up after four years together because we grew apart and our relationship was just not strong enough. I moved back to Jersey, and the dreary cycle continued. I’d do coke again. I’d hate myself. I’d quit. I’d go to AA. I’d do some more coke. I’d quit — and then, during one of the quitting times, I found yoga.
In my very first yoga class, I felt the happiness and the peace I’d been searching for. And I still feel this way. Practicing yoga, I lose track of time. My mind stops thinking about the future or the past. I feel whole. I am able just to breathe and be aware of the breath, to be present and only present. I let go of everything else. Yoga is my happy place, which (I think) makes me my happy place. Because of yoga, I can find the bright side of a crappy situation.
So now —when life has served me cancer on a silver platter — instead of playing the "why me card," I have chosen to share my journey with the world via YouTube. I hope to bring awareness to women about the importance of checking their breasts every month. I hope to show my readers that despair is not the only choice. I don't ever want to go back to that dark place again. It was very hard to get out of, even with the love and the help of many people.
For me, yoga was the light in my darkness.
Perhaps it can be yours, as well.