By Jeff Hardy
Today I am lucky. I get to share what saved me. I get to share what has saved me in more ways than one.
Backtrack to 2006. I’m a 26-year-old man living in my parents’ basement. I’m juggling night work as a support worker at a homeless shelter, while lurching my way through university courses trying to wrap up a double minor in psychology and anthropology. University — a place I never gave myself permission to be. University was for the smart people, people of privilege, and people who belonged. Up to this point, I had never given myself permission to exist in this world — to be smart, to do the things that I believed were reserved for everyone else. I was still searching for myself. My identity and my peers were one in the same. No distinction. I was living up my youth. Being social and being seen.
Tall and slender, I was never very athletic — at least not in team sports. I preferred solo, more extreme ventures, such as skiing, kayaking, and anything else that got me outside and testing my limits. I did not require any sort of team cohesiveness. I knew I was different.
In an attempt to explain my contrast to the norm during high school, I had been recommended and provided medication after being diagnosed with ADD. My assessment, and subsequent diagnosis came following a disastrous academic attempt at the eleventh grade. I say disastrous academic attempt, because socially it was a great year. I was three for eight credit-wise, but man did I make friends that year. It was also the 90’s. It seemed everyone I knew was getting amphetamines for their newly diagnosed ADD or ADHD affliction. However, the dexedrine made me withdraw socially and emotionally. I lost all ability to engage during my brief stint as a dexedrine junkie. I quit the drugs, and went back to my new-found crutch. Alcohol.
Alcohol was the serum that allowed me to live in the moment. It allowed me to feel. The legal speed that I had been ingesting around the same time provided me the opposite sensations. This was a no-brainer. A six-pack and a pack of cigarettes please! It’s time to further my social career. If I want my grades to go up, I’ll study, but It’s not like I’m going to university, so who cares. This was 16-year-old me. This was also 26-year-old me, with the exception that I was now in university. Graduation had become the pipe dream.
Granted I had made it through high school. I spent a few years wasting time as a pizza boy, a year working abroad on a cruise ship, and had somehow convinced my local university to accept me as a mature student. After all, I could write. I always could. I believe that everyone has at least one redeeming quality, and the ability to manipulate words on a blank page was mine. The admin department at that university didn’t stand a chance. They were blessed to receive my application. At least that’s the mindset I had when I wrote my way into school.
Not much had changed in my life behaviourally. I was still spending every waking moment either preparing for a party, or recovering from one. In case you’re wondering, the bare minimum for a Jeff Hardy party was beer and some music. No one else required. However, I did have supports in my life. At age 26 a dear friend who was into yoga recommended I connect with a local studio and give it a shot. Ummm, no. I have a reputation to uphold, was my mental response. Despite this unfavourable response, I turned to Youtube for some instructional videos on beginner yoga. I liked it. I stuck with it.
In the summer of 2008 I left school, or perhaps school left me. I was asked to withdraw following what was basically a repeat of the eleventh grade. Since I was on the verge of graduating, I was OK with this. I had been gaining real world experience for over two years now in my role as a support worker for the homeless. Daily meetings with social workers, heading committees — I took my work life very seriously, and decided to hide the party-boy lifestyle that had had me living in the moment my entire youth. Hide, not quit.
In 2009 my volunteer position in corrections landed me a three-week contract as a probation and parole officer. That three-week contract parlayed itself into three years of steady work and professional development. It also allowed me to say yes to an informal office outing to a local yoga studio. This, my friends, was the game changing moment in my life. I was hooked. There was an energy being cultivated in the room unlike anything I had ever experienced. I signed up for a membership immediately upon completion of that first class.
By the time my corrections contract ended in the summer of 2012, I had developed a regular yoga practice. I had also experienced a pulmonary embolism on December 24, of 2011. I stopped looking to external sources and substances for validation, instead finding my salvation through the yogic processes of learning to ground myself to the natural sensations in my body. My yoga practice quickly expanded from the mat to the cushion. I began taking mindfulness meditation classes.
Remember when I said, alcohol was the serum that allowed me to live in the moment? What a crock of shit! All I can do is reflect on this sick mind and smile. I have no choice but to greet my past with compassion. I had no idea what living in the moment was. The fact is I spent my whole life avoiding the moment. A meeting with my psychiatrist in 2014 would reveal that I had in fact spent the first third of my life living under an umbrella of untreated mental health labels.
Social anxiety disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, major depressive disorder, and questionable bipolar 2 disorder. This is what I lived with — the cause of my suffering.
Over the years I have seen my yoga and mindfulness practice translate into a sense of peace, and belonging. Behaviours have changed. I went a year without alcohol simply because I no longer enjoyed the sensations. I gave up cigarettes. I experienced a profound shift in the way I relate myself to the world around me, and from where I draw my self-worth.
No longer do I identify myself through my peers. No longer do I deny myself permission to exist, or excel at life. Most importantly, I’m no longer abusing alcohol as I once did. I am learning to process life as it is, not how I want it to be. No longer is my vision of reality distorted to hide pain.
Today I have made it my mission to make yoga and mindfulness teachings accessible to those who need it. Those in jail. Those in rehab. Those who are accessing local service providers but still falling through the cracks in the system as I once did.