Sometimes, setting yourself up for a better future means learning from the worst periods of your past. For me that was the year 2005. It was the year I turned 32. It was also the year I hit rock bottom. You see, after working so hard, for so long, and sacrificing so much, I had finally made it. I was officially a practicing lawyer.
But no one knew I was also suffering inside.
Yes, I was a professional, but I was also disconnected, self-medicating, in a broken marriage, overweight, and suffering on a daily basis from gastrointestinal issues, depression, anxiety (including five or six panic attacks daily), and fatigue. Of course, this wasn’t obvious to anyone close to me because I just put on my poker face and buried myself in the practice of law.
Then one day, the dam broke.
It was 6 a.m., and I was on my way home from the gym when a police officer pulled me over for allegedly running a stop sign. Except I hadn’t run the stop sign. After a short back and forth with the officer, he asked for my driver’s license. Of course, the one day I did not take my driver’s license with me was the very day I needed it the most. I told the officer I did not have my license, but that I could get it from my house, which was literally right across the street from where we were parked.
He told me to get out of the car, which I refused. Next thing I know, this police officer was trying to pull me out of my car as I resisted and screamed for help.
All my life, people have made assumptions about who I am. They project whatever stereotypes they have about Hispanic women on me. Here was this older white male officer treating me like a common criminal for something as small as being accused of running a stop sign.
I can’t say what he was thinking, but at that moment it felt like he was judging me. Just like everyone else had for the past 32 years. I felt so violated. All I could see was my rage.
Needless to say, the interaction didn’t end well. I was arrested and found myself sharing a jail cell with prostitutes and drug addicts.
There it was: rock bottom.
I knew something had to change.
The Physical Healing
My healing journey began at a routine appointment with my gastroenterologist, Dr. Marlon Ilagan. He’s a brilliant man and an amazing doctor. Even better, he’s married to another doctor who practices alternative medicine.
In addition to all my gastrointestinal issues, he also diagnosed me with Barrett’s esophagus. His advice was two-fold: 1) take these pills, and 2) start doing yoga.
I wasn’t too keen on the pill-pushing since I knew that, while the pills would provide some relief, they really wouldn’t fix my issue. That’s what the yoga was for, the doctor explained. This threw me for a loop. I couldn’t connect how doing a cobra pose would eliminate my excessive bloating and burping. But I was desperate for a solution.
I figured it wouldn’t hurt to try, but, actually, it did hurt. A lot.
I threw myself into Bikram yoga, one of the most physically demanding practices I had ever experienced. Strangely enough, I took to it like a baby to a pacifier. I loved it. Every intense sweaty minute transformed me not only on the outside but also on the inside. I didn’t understand what was happening, but I could feel myself changing.
And Now Comes the Emotional Healing … The What?
As the yoga opened up my body, I could feel my heart opening up, too.
For the previous 30-something years, I had avoided confiding in people, even my closest friends. I don’t like to feel vulnerable. And I don’t like to burden people with my problems.
But around this time, I found myself having deeper, more meaningful conversations with the people in my life. They weren’t easy conversations. I remember talking to an employee who had the nerve — and the kindness —- to call me out. She said I seemed disconnected and invited me to talk about how I was feeling.
I thought she was crazy. But before I knew what was happening, I began to allow myself to be open and, more important, to share my feelings.
All of these negative experiences and emotions from my past started bubbling to the surface. I had buried these feelings so deep that I had consciously forgotten about them. But my unconscious hadn’t. I realized that in order to heal, I had to address the painful aspects of my past. I knew intuitively that if I continued to suppress these feelings, they would continue to manifest themselves in the form of anxiety, health problems, and self-destructive habits.
I had to get out from under myself.
The journey has by no means been an easy one, but, I will say, through yoga and learning from and addressing my past, I was able to grow. More important, I was able to heal.
Today, my gastrointestinal issues, including Barrett’s esophagus, are gone completely. I know how to manage any feelings of depression and anxiety, and find ways to self-care that don’t include drinking excessively or other unhealthy behaviors. I ended up getting a divorce. But in the process, I recognized that I had contributed to some of the problems in our relationship. I took blame where necessary and was able to apologize to my ex.
I also met someone new. We’re now happily married, and while we have issues like any other couple, we know how to talk about the problems that come up and work through them together.
On top of all that, I also found my purpose.
For many years I felt ashamed of my past and hitting rock bottom. Then one day something clicked. Rather than judging the experience, I thought about how powerless and violated I had felt when the police officer accused me of running that stop sign. I thought about all the others out there who also feel powerless and violated, who feel they’re being judged for aspects of their life that are out of their control. I realized I could help those people by sharing my story.
Sometimes we fall down. Sometimes we fall down really, really hard. But no matter how low you go, you can always pick yourself back up and move forward.
In the end, that’s the only part that matters.