Dancing Mindfulness And The Recovery Journey

I have this vivid memory from when I was about four years old of me laying on the grass in my backyard. My arms were spread out to the sides and my legs were slightly apart. It was summer and I had shorts and a t-shirt on. I could feel the grass on my arms and legs, could smell the flowers from the garden, and had this amazing feeling of being content and connected. I imagined in my head the world spinning and knew that I was a part of that, that everything was completely in harmony around me. The feeling in my body was light and I could feel a slight tingle. It felt almost like I was moving on a gentle wave. The entire world felt right and I knew that my place in the world was to be a part of the connection of everything. Some may call this a g-d moment while others would argue that I just had an amazing imagination.

It makes no difference to me what others think. The important part was how I felt. I have spent a lot of my life trying to recreate this feeling, but the only time I could even come close was when I was dancing. I started dance classes at age seven, going on eight. By this point, the world had tainted my feelings of pure content and connectedness. I was watching my godmother die of breast cancer, beginning to really understand the term “being bullied,” and had an overwhelming sense of being horribly different from my classmates. In spite of my troubles, I quickly learned I LOVED dancing more than I ever thought. From the time I could walk I knew that life was better with a little saunter in my step. Joining a dance class and being surrounded by others laughing and dancing was pure joy for me. The only thing missing was that feeling of connectedness that I just couldn’t seem to grasp again.

Fast forward a decade. I was now a well-versed mental health client, full-fledged self-injurer, and budding alcoholic/addict. Dance class still brought amazing joy to my life, but was no longer enough to break through the darkness that took over my life when I left the studio. I was living a double life: out as a lesbian at school and straight at home, the “perfect” CCD student in church and devout pagan with friends, and happy at dance class, but miserable the rest of the time. My overall joyous outlook on life was gone and I began to accept the misery that clouded my days. To escape this misery I gave into my addictions- seeking out razors, pills, and alcohol to numb my feelings. Leaving high school, I knew I would probably never live to see my 30th birthday.

I spent years searching for a solution to my problems. I came out of the closet fully, I moved across country (and then back), I tried new religions, and I got married. When the reality of my life began to shadow the temporary happiness of each solution, I turned back to my addictions. After one of many suicide attempts left my marriage strained, I decided that I would do anything to find myself and be happy. On a whim, I signed up for a retreat that promised to help me cultivate mindfulness through movement and creativity. That first night of the retreat I rekindled my love for dance, which had gone by the wayside for years. The first experience of Dancing Mindfulness I had was powerful. I had tears in my eyes as the opening dance session came to a close. I knew I had found something I needed. Within the three days of the retreat I made closer friend connections than I had ever experienced.

Somehow between Lexie (one of my new friends) and Jamie (founder of Dancing Mindfulness and co-leader of that retreat), I left the retreat with plans to be trained as a Dancing Mindfulness facilitator. I didn’t have my BA (I had been working on it for 10 years at this point) yet and didn’t consider myself a valid part of the mental health world, regardless of my years of work in the field. I couldn’t understand how anyone would think I was capable of facilitating such a deep practice. Facilitator training changed my life. I came out of it with a deep passion for a part of the practice known as Dance Chapel. It’s a non-facilitated practice and the way I experienced it during that training brought me back to my youth, when dancing and laying in the grass brought me comfort. The world was blocked out and it was just me and the music. I didn’t realize it then, but I was beginning to feel that universal connection again.

I took the concept of Dance Chapel and ran with it. At first I attempted to start a community class and offer a public Dance Chapel once a month. When my small following began to dwindle and the relationship between the studio hosting me and I ended, I turned to my private Dancing Mindfulness practice. I found solace in making playlists for myself and playing with what songs fit where. I woke up at 4.30 am during the summer and drove to the shore to dance my playlists as the sun came up. I played music and danced everywhere. Finally I began to feel that comfort that I had felt as a four year old laying in the grass.

The moments between dancing, retreats, and life were still dark and I continued to use substances to avoid the pain that came in the quiet moments. I was afraid of the contentedness and connection I was feeling. At the time I didn’t understand that I needed to work through this pain and fear instead of running away. I gave up self injury, thinking that meant I was no longer avoiding. Holding onto a belief that I was only alleviating symptoms of my depression, I continued to drink and take “as needed” medication even when I did not truly need the pills.

Eventually my use caught up with me and I was forced to take a leave of absence from my job. As I began to understand that I was abusing the substances I took, my Dancing Mindfulness family was there to support and help me through the process. I learned to dance through withdrawal, hard emotions, pain, and success. I learned to accept support and love. More importantly, my Dancing Mindfulness practice taught me to accept and love myself. I have danced into sobriety, out of my marriage, and into the unknown. Mindfulness is now an integral part of my life; I am aware of what I am doing in every moment instead of distracting myself from reality. My body, my mind, my soul, and my image of Spirit all now exist harmoniously. This came to be by the power of being able to connect to my emotions through dance and movement.

It has been almost three years since my first experience of Dancing Mindfulness at that fateful retreat. No longer do I feel that my place in the mental health field is invalid; Dancing Mindfulness, and the family I found through it, helped me finish my BA and begin my Masters in Social Work. I now dance every day in whatever way I can. Sometimes I set aside time to dance a full playlist and sometimes I just dance around wherever I am (home, car, store, et cetera). I have found myself again. With the help of Dancing Mindfulness, and the family I have found in this community, I have celebrated my 30th birthday, found sobriety, and created a life I am excited to live.

For more information on the Dancing Mindfulness practice and community of facilitators and dancers, please go to www. dancingmindfulness.com. We train facilitators both at live trainings and as part of a distance-based mentorship. Many graduates of our training program are now sharing the Dancing Mindfulness practice in various facets of the recovery world, from rehab centers to sober living facilities, to small private clinical and coaching practices. The book “Dancing Mindfulness: A Creative Path to Healing and Transformation” (by Dr. Jamie Marich, with various contributions from the community) will be released in September 2015. The book is designed for a general audience, hoping to inspire people everywhere to bring meditative movement into their daily life.