My Journey

Starting this journey, I thought it would be important to share my personal story of how a whole-yoga approach to health got me out of my personal prison of low-self esteem, codependency, and physical pain to a paradise of self-love, physical awesomeness and independence.

So here it is…

It was a sunny late winter Sunday and our beautiful Northern Virginia home was blissfully peaceful for a change. You see, normally on Sunday’s when my husband was home there was tension in the air. Usually he was either hung-over or quite grumpy causing a fog of tension to settle over our weekends but today was different. I had told him the day before that it was no longer acceptable for him to drink at home that it was causing too much disruption for our young family for him to be slurring words, bumping into walls or generally being checked out on his rare days home. He had agreed and this first day of “at home dry out” seemed to be going perfectly. He was pleasant, played nicely with the kids and even helped prepare dinner! I was over the moon and a little bit prideful that I had taken a stand and it was working out so well.

The kids, Max who was almost 12 and nearly two year old Sam sat at the table along with me and our 19 year old German Au Pair, Hannah, and waited for my husband, Scott to join us. It took about 6 minutes for Scott to sit down to the table- a strange habit of his to disappear as everyone else sat at the table before a meal had now become the norm. Shortly after sitting, Scot said something nonsensical then fell out of his chair, passed out.

I panicked. Both his uncle and his father had experienced strokes in their early 40’s and I assumed, since he had not had a drink all day, that his genetic heritage had caught up with him. He came too and was having trouble remembering simple things like the day and year which made the case for a stroke even stronger. Waiting for an ambulance would take up too many precious seconds so I called the emergency room as I drove my slumped over husband to the Emergency Room of the nearest hospital. A team was waiting for us and he was given an aspirin and whisked off for tests, leaving me to wait to see what damage had been done. Scenarios of  how our lives might be permanently changed raced through my mind. I was terrified.

After 75 agonizing minutes, a tired looking doctor came out to the waiting room and called my name. “Would you step in here, please?” I was confused by his demeanor. He seemed more annoyed than concerned. Then I heard some unexpected words come from his lips, “Your husband has not suffered a stroke as we assumed. He is intoxicated.” Scott had gotten around the new “no drinking at home rule” by gulping down two bottles of cough syrup he had found in the guest bathroom.

It was in that moment that I realized he had a serious problem and like the good co-dependent I was, I was determined to fix it.

Living with an active alcoholic is excruciating. One lives with the daily agony of watching a loved one slowly kill themselves one drink at a time accentuated by the quicksand instability of a lifestyle of lies, blame, shame and general unreliability.  It looked like a hopeless situation. I felt incredibly lonely, fearful and resentful. My survival lizard brain was triggered by dependence on someone who was undependable. There were sleepless nights when he didn’t come home and turned his phone off so it was impossible to find him. There was the surprise phone call from a credit card company informing me that the card was charged to the max ($20,000.00) and the payment overdue when I was unaware that we even had a card with that company. There was the $17,000.00 mysteriously missing from our joint savings account after I expressly said it could not be withdrawn to cover business debts. There were the weekends of yelling at me and the kids, drinking until he was slurring his words and bumping into walls. There were the tears from disappointed children when promises to spend time with them were broken because “Dad was sleeping it off.”  It was difficult to keep friends. One woman was honest enough to tell me that she couldn’t be my friend anymore because of the way my husband treated me was intolerable in her view. I was holding down the fort, maintaining the house and yard, the kids, the dog, making sure everyone got where they were supposed to be on time, in clean clothes, fed, and with whatever accoutrement was needed. I took care of the cars, doctors appointments, social engagements, party planning and execution, volunteering at school and even worked part-time in addition.

On the outside we looked like an upper middle class Northern Virginia household- nice and neat, living in a nice sized house in a nice neighborhood, a child in private school, a purebred dog, three cars, one of them a Mercedes, etc.  On the inside I felt like an animal trapped by fear and low-self worth. My neck and shoulders were so tight one massage therapist likened them to steel rods. I was in a constant state of fight-or-flight. The littlest thing could trigger me because I was so overwhelmed with fear and responsibilities.  

Once I understood the problem was the disease of alcohol, I was willing to do anything to get him to stop drinking. I went to see a therapist who pointed me in the direction of my first AlAnon meeting. It was through that program that I slowly began to realize how I was contributing to the insanity of our domestic life with my ill-advised attempts to control my husband’s drinking and rescuing him from a rock bottom that might trigger his recovery. I needed to work on my own issues rather than concentrate on his. And I was an anxious mess. Not only was I acting like a crazy person but my body was full of aches and pains due to tension and stress and I had already, even though I was only in my early 40’s, had lost considerable flexibility.

The worst part was how the kids suffered. Max, my son from a previous marriage, was the scapegoat for much of my husband’s anger. I finally had to insist he live with his own father most of the time to protect him from Scott’s almost constant insults and degradations.

Sam, the child of Scott and myself, was also suffering but I had not idea to what extent until she started having behavior problems in the second grade. When her father left for a three month job in Europe, she quickly returned to her happy-go-lucky, sweet self only to revert to the poor behavior upon Scott’s return. Once I understood how Sam was effected and suffering, it was easy to ask Scott to move out.

I had to wake up to something that was happening in my life that was obvious to others. Then I had to take some actions to change my own toxic behaviors.

I had to stop my co-dependent behavior and grow up into a self-reliant woman.

I had to find the methods of transformation that would help me become a loving and compassionate person to myself and others.

I had to let go go the idea that making a marriage work was more important than the welfare of myself or my children. I had to get over the fear of being alone and understand that I could make it on my own if I needed to to save my kids AND myself.

After that first incident of taking Scott to the emergency room when he was drunk, I was determined to become a better person - to heal myself in order to stop contributing to the problem- to end that co-dependent dance.

I read self-help books, worked the AlAnon program, went to therapy, began a study of Zen and Quakerism. I started meditating and practicing yoga asana (poses). I went to yoga retreats and learned about how breathing practices, chanting, service work and intellectual spiritual study could also help me be a better person. I studied the power of positive thinking, visioning the life I wanted and Ayurveda - the yoga of long healthy life. I became more self-aware in mind/body and spirit. Through all of these mediums my attitude slowly began to improve but the yoga was the most effective coping tool of all. The knots in both my mind and body began to untangle. I was better able to relax and better handle whatever came my way. I regained flexibility and balance physically and mentally. It was a life raft in a sea of personal turmoil.

Eventually, I had the courage to end the marriage.  Due to all the work I had done to overcome my fears and gain some self-worth, I was able to end it from a calm place of love and compassion rather than a place of anger and resentment. Because of that, we had one of the most civil divorces I have ever heard of.

Yoga helped me so much over the years that I decided to dedicate my life to helping others find more ease in mind and body by becoming a certified yoga teacher and ultimately a mind/body coach.

As a side benefit, my body is fit, strong and 20 years younger than my chronological age. My doctors are so impressed that someone who is 56 years old has no chronic pain, minimal eye or ear degeneration,  that they ask me how I am doing it.

I so blessed to have this magical mind/body toolkit!  When my life crashed in the summer of 2018 and I lost my major income streams, totaled my car, had a surprise ending to a serious relationship and found myself without a home (all within ten days), I had the wisdom to pause rather than panic.

Instead of doing myself a disservice and getting into an old pattern of taking a job that wasn’t right, signing a lease for the wrong space or setting myself up in another co-dependent situation, I paused, got my mental and physical act together and then was able to take rational action and make better decisions.

Rather than trying to fix everything at once, I decided to spend a month in an Ashram and take care of my mind/body/spirit with a yogi lifestyle of early morning meditation, yoga asana practice, service work and a diet of organic vegan cuisine. Then I spent almost a month with my guru traveling through India and working through my next level of yoga training. I came back from those two months with a fresh perspective of who I am and how resilient I can be.

My continued practice has manifested itself as a reversal of the aging process, if you will.  I look pretty awesome, if I do say so myself. I am healthy and fit. I feel amazing, strong and light on my feet. I am the recipient of many compliments regarding my fit body, and the healthy glow of my skin. Even though, I recently had a financial setback, I feel confident and secure that I can get back on track and rebuild quickly. I live in a beautiful new building in a trendy part of Richmond, Virginia with a stunning view of the city.  I have dozens of wonderful, supportive friends and a blossoming romance with a smart, funny, and handsome man. My kids are healthy and meeting their personal goals. I checked off several bucket list items this year including travel to the Bahamas and India; watching the Red Sox crush the New York Mets in Fenway and earning my next level of yoga certification. Best of all I have clients that have gained or maintained mental and physical flexibility, strength and balance through their work with me.  

If my co-dependant, scared-ass, junk-food-eating, earn-less-than-I-am-worth self can get unstuck and grow to  someone who feels Bold, Beautiful, Brilliant and Badass using a mind/body approach so can you!

Let me know how I can be of service.

Mary Burruss

Flowering Cactus