Everyday Goddesses: Aislinn Coleman

Aislinn is, without a doubt, one of the most inspiring people I’ve been lucky enough to meet in this lifetime.

I met Aislinn at an assisting workshop a few years ago, and immediately fell in love with all that she is. She’s silly and quirky, she’s serious and thoughtful, and she’s an incredibly knowledgable teacher. The first time I took her class, I was blown away by how much she could pack into a single 75-minute practice; I left with my practice turned upside down (both literally and figuratively) and ready to absorb all the knowledge I could from this new teacher in my life.

Before asking Aislinn to be a part of Everyday Goddesses, I only knew a little bit about her story, and was blown away by her authenticity and bravery in sharing it here for all to see. I have no doubt that her words here will help countless others walking a path similar to Aislinn’s, and I couldn’t be more grateful for her willingness to be a teacher in a new (and arguably scarier) capacity.

Honestly, nothing I write here can compare to what Aislinn has written. I ask that you give her words a read and honor her openness today and every day.

The following contains direct references to drug use and disordered eating, and may be considered triggering to some.

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“Erasing everything I loved in service of my addiction eventually erased me.”

Who are you? What is “your story?”

My story ​is a long one, so bear with me as I spill my guts here! It ​starts in the Bay Area, where I was born and raised. I am half Chinese, half Irish Canadian, and I do remember feeling a little different in my predominantly white community; I wasn’t even personally aware of being Asian until I was probably six years old, and that happened because I was constantly being told by others that I was different.

I enjoyed a peaceful upbringing, skipping a grade, doing well in school, and going away to NYU at age 17; as is the case for many, that was where my life took a seriously different turn away from the comfortable upper-middle-class path I’d previously been traveling.

Right before I began my junior year at NYU, a friend of mine asked me to find some cocaine for her birthday party, because she wanted to try it out. I was 19 at the time; I remember this sequence of events like it was yesterday. Not only did I find her some, but I basically fell in love with how the drug made me feel instantly, and spent the next two and a half years using every single day, eventually sleeping only every two days or so. It’s honestly a miracle to me that I somehow graduated while in the vice grip of serious addiction. I iced out friends who were caring enough to say something, because I didn’t consider it an unmanageable problem, and I couldn’t stand to see myself through their eyes – so I denied everything and told them to go to hell. The six years following that fateful night in July were a blur of self-loathing, wastefulness, and tearing through life leaving nothing but the smoking carnage of ruined relationships in my wake.

I used, and used, and used, and used. I lived to be high – whether it was cocaine, or benzodiazepams, or Adderall (which is what eventually landed me in rehab at age 25), I would take just about anything, and lots of it. I couldn’t stand to see the reality of the life I was creating for myself, and so I just sunk deeper and deeper into the self-destructive vortex I was spinning like a tornado to shield me from reality. I wasted an inheritance meant to be my cushion as I entered adulthood. At one point, my only sister, with whom I’m incredibly close, stopped speaking to me altogether. I risked my relationship with my parents. I isolated myself with unhealthy romantic entanglements, all the while doing my best to hide this huge secret about me from literally everyone. It was exhausting. At my worst, I was only sleeping every three or four days for about four hours at a time because my body just gave up after being high for so long – and upon waking, I’d immediately begin heavy drug use just to get out of bed. I lost more than one job. I lost my shine. I tried running away to other cities and countries, but I could never quite outrun my addictions; even as I quit taking stimulants for about two years, I found prescription-level downers over the counter while I was backpacking in Asia, and became viciously dependent on those almost immediately. To this day, I have a very hard time sleeping as a result of heavy Xanax and Klonopin abuse; I know I’m stupidly lucky to be alive. As I swirled around my rock bottom like the clumps of hair I was losing circling my shower drain, I wrote off the people and things I loved the most one by one:  my family, my friends, my health, running, surfing, reading, waking up early to see the sun rise, baking, fashion, writing, enjoying good food. Manic and single-minded, a selfish disciple of the pills I swallowed in what could easily have been lethal handfuls, I kept writing everything and everyone off until one day I woke up and realized that, somewhere along the way, I had crossed myself off that list of what I cherish without even noticing. Erasing everything I loved in service of my addiction eventually erased me.

I tried some gentle yoga in rehab, which was one of the worst, most world-shattering experiences of my life, and also one of the best choices I’ve ever been coerced into (thanks, family). I remember so clearly the feeling of voicing my toxic secret in a Pills Anonymous meeting that first night when I arrived at the center. It felt like I was heaving off an invisible anvil that had been sitting on my chest, pressing down onto my heart and soul, slowly but surely suffocating me, since I was a teenager. I can only compare the feeling to taking my first deep, full breath in six years.

Recovery sucked. I gained probably twenty pounds in the first couple of months as I cut way back on drugs but continued to drink, my skin erupted like I was hitting puberty again, and my life felt aimless and wrecked. I would lie in bed and watch movies for ten hours at a time to avoid confronting reality. I continued using for two months after I left rehab, until new years day 2014 when I finally decided enough was enough and that drinking and using were just no longer an option. In the early hours of January 1st, 2014, I vowed to myself that I would do my best to actually live to see 30, if not for a better life for me, then for my family, all of whom I’d already put through years of absolute hell. To this day, I consider this moment of epiphany to be best decision I’ve ever made for myself, and I haven’t drank or used since.

The next week, my sister dragged me to my first vinyasa class, and the rest, as they say, is history. I’ve never cried or sweated so hard in my life – I actually couldn’t even tell you if I was crying or if my eyeballs were just sweating in that CorePower class. It was incredibly cathartic, and gave me the tiniest glimpse of the inner peace I’d been craving, clawing, smoking and using my way towards for years. I had used to quiet my demons, and for a fleeting moment, they were silent; all I wanted was to feel that quiet, expand that silence, live in that tranquility where nothing was goading me to use or hatefully criticizing me and everyone around me. Finally, I’d found the dragon worth chasing, and I haven’t stopped practicing since.

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“I no longer see it as purely aesthetic or decorative; my body is special because it’s strong and capable, not because it’s fit or beautiful or whatever.”

   Has yoga impacted your journey? How?

Yoga, I’m convinced, is what has kept me sober more than anything else. When I started using, one of my primary motivators was a desire to be thin. I had never had a positive relationship with my body at any point in my teens/adult life; I was very thin as a child, and then gained about 20 lbs over the course of my high school years, which is normal but I really didn’t like the way my body changed from coltish to, well, normal. I loved how stimulants suppressed my appetite and made me the kind of person who could forget to eat meals; I had tried extreme diets and struggled at various times with disordered eating, but with the drugs, I didn’t even have to try and the weight would just fall off.

My yoga practice has completely changed the way I interact with my body. I no longer see it as purely aesthetic or decorative; my body is special because it’s strong and capable, not because it’s fit or beautiful or whatever. That shift has completely turned my world upside down in the best possible way. I am so lucky to have found yoga when I did, because I am sure it saved my life – and continues to not only save my life, but enrich it, every single day. Beyond the physical, it has taught me that I can change, and that my happiness is something that I create consciously, minute by minute, day by day.

 Tell me the lowest or darkest point in your life. Tell me the happiest point in your life. Now tell me the connection between the two: how did “rock bottom” become a foundation for success?

At my worst, I was a self-destructive, unhealthy, angry, selfish shell of the person I really am. I didn’t care about anything except getting high; I sold family heirlooms, I stole, I cheated, and I lied to myself and everyone around me – even when they could easily see through me. I told myself it was normal to be 92 lbs and 5’8”, and that anyone accusing me of being obviously on drugs was just jealous of how productive I was and how great I looked. When a friend I’d known for half of my life passed away suddenly in 2013, I spiraled out of control and stopped even trying to moderate my drug use. Her death started the tailspin that eventually landed me in rehab; the days and weeks before I started detox were the darkest of my life as a grappled with the pain of sudden loss without the emotional tools to properly deal with it, because I’d been numbing out for so long.

This may come off as cheesy, but most days now are my happiest days. The life I’m living now is filled with love, connection and purpose; I have never had a better relationship with my family, nor have I ever been in a romantic relationship as healthy and wonderful as the one I’m in now. Without my rock bottom, I probably wouldn’t have been led to try yoga, and I can’t imagine where I would be without it.

There’s a saying in AA and the recovery community: You know you’ve hit rock bottom when you stop digging. I think about this all the time, because when I was in the throes of addiction, I constantly told myself that I was fine, I wasn’t even in the same zip code as rock bottom, and I could stop anytime if I wanted to. When I finally did stop digging, so to speak, it threw everything into sharp relief for me in a beautifully excruciating way. I had always thought that addiction was the same thing as weakness, and so I never wanted to admit to myself that I had a serious problem, but what I eventually realized was that running away from the help and support of my loved ones was the only thing that made me weak. It takes incredible strength to ask for help when you really need it, and to me, my family and yoga together form the lifeline that made me drop the shovel and start slowly climbing out of the depths of despair I’d dug my way into.

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“What I eventually realized was that running away from the help and support of my loved ones was the only thing that made me weak.”

What does it mean to be strong?

When I think about what it means to me to be strong, I think of bravery, and how it often is interpreted as meaning a lack of fear. We think of brave people as fearless, when in reality, true courage is not an absence of fear; it’s action despite fear. When I first started to teach, I was nearly paralyzed by my fear every time I had to teach a class. I’d lose entire nights of sleep before every single class, and actually came close to quitting teaching because of it. Over time, what I realized was that my fear was actually a symptom of me caring so deeply about my work that I was afraid of doing poorly. Fear can be a roadmap for us if we let it, and courage/strength are derived from the overcoming of fear itself. I’m always encouraging my students to befriend their fear and use it to grow their courage, rather than allowing fear to hold them back and prevent them from living and growing.

Sharing my story here is definitely scary for me, as even though I’m pretty open when anyone asks me about my journey, I’ve never publicly shared the details of my addiction and recovery. However, I think there’s great strength in honesty, and if my story gives anyone out there struggling with addiction even the tiniest glimmer of hope that recovery is possible, then it’s worth it a thousand times over.

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“I think there’s great strength in honesty, and if my story gives anyone out there struggling with addiction even the tiniest glimmer of hope that recovery is possible, then it’s worth it a thousand times over.”

Describe the fearlessly authentic you.

I am a woman with a very wry and acerbic sense of humor who finds joy and hilarity in just about everything, and delights in making others laugh. I am a bookworm who reads constantly; I am always reading something, and right now I’m on a sci-fi kick. I am a student of yoga, and am blessed to be a humble teacher of yoga. I am pretty impatient, which I am always trying to work on. I am quick to get along with most people, and can talk to just about anyone. I am an extroverted introvert, meaning I am outgoing, but being around people drains me, and I need quite a lot of alone time to recharge and feel whole. I love easily and fully. I am fiercely loyal to those that matter to me. I can sometimes be flaky with plans but only because I have a lot of trouble saying no and disappointing people. I’m an autodidact; I love nothing more than teaching myself about anatomy, kinesiology, and movement. I don’t like loud music, and I am not made for an office job. I am a flawed, whole human who wakes up every day feeling lucky to be alive.

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Follow Aislinn’s story and teaching at yogawithaislinn.com and on Instagram at @yogawithaislinn.

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