“My mission in life not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.” – Maya Angelou
I remember the first time I actually noticed my mom had a drinking problem. It was after her and my dad had split, and my little brother and I were at her house for the weekend. It was a small place in a not so great part of town in Richmond, Virginia. This was probably the fifth or sixth place she had lived in the last three years, but was actually one of my favorites. It was relatively clean, had a little eat in kitchen, and a big window in the front room to let a lot of light in.
It was about 2:00 in the afternoon, and I was thirteen years old. My mom had passed out on the couch that was just perpendicular to the big sunny window, and snoring loudly as she always did. I noticed an empty cup on the floor in front of her that reeked of vodka. My little brother seemed to pay it no mind, but he was only ten or eleven at the time. I called our dad and asked for him to come pick us up early. When we arrived back home, he said “Why did you have me come get you?” The only response I could muster was, “Mom drinks too much.”
Less than a year later my mom called me one day at my dad’s house and asked where I was. It was early afternoon on a Tuesday, and we only saw her some Wednesdays and every other weekend, so I explained to her that we were supposed to be at dad’s. After a few minutes of conversation she was still confused, but decided I suppose to let it go for now. That was the last conversation we ever had.
She was sent to the hospital, and on life support for nine days before the doctor told us there was nothing to be done. Her death certificate said Sirosis of the liver.
My dad was a champ. You would never know that prior to these events, he was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and had been undergoing chemotherapy. While not only providing for my little brother and I, he fought cancer, and never missed a softball game, a play, or a Sunday night dinner.
After years of watching him go back and forth to the hospital, lose his amazing ponytail to the side effects of chemo, and be carried away in an ambulance more times than I can remember, a bone marrow transplant was the next step.
We had Christmas early, and shortly after he was sent to the hospital for the procedure while my brother and I tried to carry on with our lives as best as we could.
After a few weeks, some complications ensued, and he was moved to the ICU and placed into a medically induced coma. I visited every single day after that. They told me they weren’t sure if he could hear me or not, but I spoke to him anyways. I told him all about my day, what we could do together when he got out of there, and how I couldn’t wait to be back on his 2005 Road King Custom Harley Davidson that waited for him back home.
On January 23rd, 2008, I slept in. I had ceased going to school weeks earlier despite it being my senior year, but decided to get just that one or two extra hours. I had already been up getting ready to make my way to the hospital when my grandmother called and said I needed to come as fast as I could. When I arrived, my family was in a small room closed off from the world, and Granny told me he was gone and hugged me so fiercely I was unable to collapse to my knees like I wanted. This was the moment the trajectory of my whole life changed.
I had always worked hard in school to get good grades and go to college. I took Latin for three years, because I knew I wanted to be a science major. I had plans of joining the Peace Corps, traveling the world, seeing great things. I played sports, did theater, padded that resume… I had been accepted to Old Dominion University, where I really wanted to go, but it didn’t feel the same. When I received the letter, I was packing up the house I had grown up in, and I was alone. I was still mourning the loss of my dad and not understanding what to do as a 17 year old with no parents.
I moved in with my aunt to complete my senior year of high school, and went off to O.D.U. for one whole semester. By then, I hadn’t realized it yet, but the depression had really set it. I quickly came home, and bounced between my aunt’s, my (older) brother’s house, and living with boyfriends. Although my family was the MOST supportive they possibly could have been, and I mean the MOST, I wasn’t ready to climb out of this hole.
I couldn’t explain it, but I was in a fog. Depression will do that too you. It clouds you, and convinces you there is nothing you can do to make your situation any better than that shitty little dark place you are in right now. So I went down deep. I was partying hard, drinking a lot, doing drugs, staying in unhealthy relationships, unable to finish classes at a local community college, alienating friends and family as best I could, and blowing through the very little inheritance money I had received. This went on for YEARS.
The first time I moved into the city and got an apartment of my own, the fog began to lift a little. I realized I had no idea WHO I WAS or even what I liked anymore. What kind of music did I want to listen too, what activities did I enjoy, what food do I even like? It was a time of rediscovery for me, but that didn’t mean I was suddenly not depressed. My parents were still dead, and I still relived all the traumatic things I went through as a child.
Then I went for a run.
I was always sporty all through high school, and enjoyed working out as a teenager when I could. Renting my first room in the city, while not making a lot of money, meant no gym membership for me… but I could use some old tennis shoes to put one foot in front of the other and get to know the city I had just moved into a little better. And it felt good.
I was… happy? What was this feeling? This lighthearted, not so bad, maybe you will continue to live after all, feeling? Everything was brighter. It was like I was seeing color again for the first time in years. It was incredible. Naturally, I sunk myself into it and it felt better than any antidepressant I had ever been on.
I was finally beginning to go from merely surviving, to thriving.
I was working front desk at a spa at the time, not for any other reason than they were hiring, and I needed a job. After getting to know the massage therapists there and learning more about what they actually did, I quickly decided, I wanted to do that too.
My journey gained momentum quickly and led me to pursue certifications in massage therapy, personal training, yoga teaching, and health coaching. I now strive to share this information with the world.
Mindful Athlete Yoga & Wellness was born out of this story, out of disparity to not merely survive, but to thrive.
*This blog post accompanies Ep.1 of the Mindful Athlete Podcast – “Surviving or Thriving – The Mindful Athlete’s Personal Story.” Find the SoundCloud link on the Podcast page of this site.