How Yoga & 12-Step Recovery Saved My Life

Hello, my name is Nikki. I am a recovering alcoholic, addict, the survivor of childhood and adult sexual trauma, co-dependent, survivor of domestic violence, a recovering compulsive spender, and a love addict. 

And today, because of the wisdom and practices of yoga, along with the tools of 12-step programs, I can say those things with as much gratitude and grace as I also say that I am a yoga and somatic therapist, an M.B.A graduate with honors, the founder of two successful businesses, a mother, and a grandmother. All of these experiences are a part of who I am. 

Today, I can truthfully say that I hold it all equally divine. 

Free from the guilt and shame that once bound me, I can tell you that today I am an integrated whole. It’s my experience, strength and hope through addiction and relapse, four marriages, prostitution, domestic violence, jail, institutions, and the deaths of not only unique and brilliant souls who I've had the privilege to know, but also the death and resurrection of my own soul, that I offer this story with the hope that somehow, it brings insight into yours.

There are situations and people in our lives that occur as absolute muthaf$#ka’s — at least at first. Some of mine have been some of the aforementioned things: domestic violence, prostitution, addiction and relapse, divorce, death and of course a couple of ex-husbands. 

Here is the gist of it all: I started using drugs and alcohol when I was 14 years old and followed them down the road to hell until I was 34. 

I was literally the poster child for an “at-risk” life, with all the social and psychological “perks” that it brings. 

In 1987, through the help of an amazing friend and the support of some people who love me, I found a treatment center that introduced me to the 12-step program — and it saved my life. 

During my first eight years of chemical-free living, I completed my BS degree, graduating Summa Cum Laude, and my MBA graduating Delta Cum Laude. I moved from Indianapolis to Boston, co-founded a software company, and co-authored a meta data integration patent. 

And then... After eight years of living drug and alcohol free, living the life I that I'd dreamed of, I relapsed....hard.

After another hell ride, I somehow stumbled back into the 12-step program. It was at this point that I was re-introduced to yoga. (I had started yoga back in the 70s, but men, money, and drugs became more interesting...) 

Through the physical practice, I began to experience a deep reconnection to my body. I started to perceive yoga as the way out of addiction, and made it the basis of my recovery, leaving the 12-step program behind. 

I stayed clean that way for four years during which time I moved from Boston to Chicago and then back to Indianapolis and then...I relapsed again. 

Again led by Grace, albeit ashamed, perplexed, confused, and frustrated, I found my way back into recovery. As I sorted through the confusion of it all, I realized that what an addict like me really needed is both. 

It couldn't work as an either/or. 

It was then that I began to deeply immerse myself in both the practice and study of yoga AND the 12-step program. As of 2013, it’s been 13 years since the last relapse. 

It`s been out of my experience and through my observation that there are many addicts just like me. And so, in 2004 the groundbreaking work called Y12SR (The Yoga of12-Step Recovery) was born. 

Y12SR was developed (with the support and encouragement from my many teachers) as a adjunct to the 12-step program, as another tool to support addiction recovery, not a replacement. 

It supports the addict in recognizing the signs of relapse at the level of feeling and sensation in the body and gives them a set of tools and practices to help restore balance, before the relapse. 

This combined cognitive and somatic approach supports a person to find nervous system regulation in sustainable, non-destructive ways rather than destructive ones. 

Today you can find Y12SR meetings and practices all over the country and the curriculum has begun spread to treatment centers as well. It’s effectiveness continues to be proven helpful, not only with substance addiction (including eating disorders and food addiction), but with other addictions like gambling, compulsive spending, and media addiction. 

I have a rich life – still full of muthaf$#kas – but with a solid, sustainable foundation for walking and awakening through them. 

Yoga and the 12-steps are (and I expect will continue to be) both my lifeboat and launching pad. 

What I’ve learned is that in every difficulty—right in the heart of the shit—is where God, light, source or whatever-you-want-to-call-it lives. 

I’ve come to see it as my job to sort through the crap and find the God in the midst of the muthaf$#ka. That’s actually what Namaste means to me. Introduced to me through yoga, this Sanskrit word, often used as a greeting, is definitely more than that. For me, Namaste is a way of life. 

It's often translated as “the good, God, light in me, honors the same in you.” 

But the bigger question for me was and is: how do I put this in practice? How do I find light and goodness in abuse and abuser(s), pimps, divorce, death, racism and aging? How do I find God in those muthaf$#kas? 

My experience is that finding God is work. Work that involves a little hide-and-seek, excavating, planting, cultivating, sharing and much more. The great news is there are fabulous resources are out there waiting.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com


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