by Jamie Marich
Life is often compared to the art of dancing. How many times have we seen phrases that are now a bit cliché like, the dance of life? How many memes and inspirational posters come into our view giving advice such as life is not about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain?
For me, the comparison of life to a dance is very fitting. Life is a balance between movement and stillness. There are times when the dance really seems to flow through me without any effort, and there are times when my feet and my muscles hurt. In these moments, I don’t really feel like dancing anymore.
During much of my active addiction and early recovery, I really didn’t feel like dancing at all. Drugs and alcohol seemed to dull my inhibitions so I could keep moving, both literally when I went out to dance in clubs and metaphorically. Yet when the high wore off, there was no joy—no dance left within me.
I’ve been continuously clean and sober from drugs and alcohol since July 8, 2002. I began seeking help and going to meetings about a year and a half before that official date. My recovery journey is a dance in progress as I address issues connected to codependency, compulsive overeating and workaholism. With every day of my recovery journey, my Higher Power continues to challenge me as I address the entire picture. Taking our metaphor a step further, every day allows me an opportunity to try out new dance moves and discover facets of my dance, freedom in my movement that I never knew existed.
Because of concurrent mental health issues, I lived in a state of chronic suicidal ideation for about fifteen years of my life. My emotional lows took me to such depths, eliminating myself from this life always seemed like an option. My drinking and drug use added fuel to this destructive fire, and towards the end of my active using, I describe my consumption as passively suicidal — I didn’t care if I woke up from any given binge. The suicidal ideation continued into my second or third year of sobriety.
Recovery gave me the strength required to seek the trauma-responsive mental health services that I so desperately needed. Receiving this help in the form of counseling has allowed me to celebrate my life instead of regret that I am alive. During Thanksgiving weekend 2000, I came to following a night of hard partying and chemically-fueled dancing. I heard the little voice inside me say, “If you don’t do something, you’re going to be dead by Christmas.”
At that point I enlisted the geographic cure by moving to Europe. However, it was there, while working in Bosnia-Hercegovina teaching English from 2000-2003, that I met my first sponsor. She introduced me to recovery and I gradually started going to meetings and learning how to get sober and well. These first years were a big step out of comfort zone, like learning new dance moves for the first time. It took a little while for me to receive the help that my Higher Power was placing in my path, I eventually began to reap the benefits of dancing in this new way.
The last six months of my active use were some of the most difficult in my life, and not because I experienced some kind of typical “bottom” experience. At that point I’d been going to meetings and working with my sponsor to some extent. Having a little bit of recovery knowledge became a major spoiler on my drinking and active using! Those last six months were hell. I was 22 going on 23 and I felt like I was so exhausted from living, I would have been fine if God removed me from this life at any time. I was ready to die. Looking back on it now, those last six months were so impactful because I knew what I was and what I needed to get well—but I refused to accept these truths. The existential exhaustion that resulted was truly my bottom. When I took my last drink of wine on July 8, 2002, I actually spit out the first sip. It’s as if my body was telling me, “You’re done.”
In some ways, I can tell you that life has been amazing since that day in 2002 and I haven’t regretted a moment of it. I have a new life, new friendships, an amazing family of choice, and career that I love. However, every year brings a series of new challenges that require me to up the game on my recovery program, which I define as the series of proactive measures I need to take to stay well and keep growing. For me, incorporating holistic practices like meditation, yoga, and dancing have all proven to be vital pieces of this puzzle. After my experience with counseling that allowed me to fully heal the root causes of my suicidal tendencies, meditation practices entered my life. From there I began practicing yoga and noticed immediate benefits, realizing just how “cut off” I’d been from my body.
I also began experimenting with different ways I could dance in my recovery. As a child, I took several forms of dance (e.g., folk dance, jazz, ballet), yet I always derived the most enjoyment from just putting on some music in my parent’s basement and dancing the way I wanted to. I created and danced out beautiful scenes and this practice, from as young as age five, was a big part of what helped me cope. In my recovery I tried out things like ballroom dance and Zumba, but ultimately did not connect to these forms as much as when I was introduced to conscious dance while on a yoga retreat in 2011.
Conscious dance is the practice of moving with greater intention or awareness, tapping into some of that joy I experienced as a child. I began studying several forms of conscious dance that are available and was ultimately inspired to create an independent form of conscious dance and community that we now call Dancing Mindfulness. Our Dancing Mindfulness classes began in my Ohio home based and then I began taking these classes to conferences in my professional community to introduce others to the freedom that can be attained from mindful movement. I am honored to see how our little practice has grown, as my team and I have now trained close to 150 facilitators internationally since 2013. What warms my heart even more is to witness how many individuals who identify as being in recovery have been drawn to the practice and are now facilitating it themselves or using it as part of their holistic program of recovery.
Another famous metaphorical dance quote, attributed to Eckhart Tolle, proclaims that “life is the dancer and you are the dance.” Today I can claim my birthright to dance and move in this celebratory way throughout my days. Recovery makes this possible and for that I am grateful.
Jamie Marich is the founder of Dancing Mindfullness. Look for our interview with her in the upcoming fall issue of Renew Magazine.