The power of mentoring in recovery

The power of mentoring in recovery

Alison is beautiful. Calm and composed. Gentle. Quiet. Unassuming.

And Alison is a recovering alcoholic. I know that because she tells me. We meet for an informal chat in the Serenity café in Edinburgh, a recovery café set up to support individuals in recovery from addiction and staffed by individuals in recovery – a wonderful environment of authenticity and acceptance.

Alison came to the Serenity café back in 2014. Her CPN mentioned it to her as a place to find support and friendship. She came with a friend, initially to the social nights held once a month on a Friday night.

‘When you try to set yourself free from addiction, you sometimes have to move away from some of the situations and friends that would encourage you to drink. You can find yourself quite isolated. It was good to have a place to come to where people immediately understood what I was dealing with.’

Through the café, Alison had the opportunity to attend a course of yoga sessions. It was to be held at the café, so familiar territory. With people in the same position as her too. At that stage, no way could she imagine herself attending a yoga session in a mainstream studio with people she didn’t know. She was far too self-conscious and lacking in confidence for that. That would have been far too stressful.

At that time, she went to yoga thinking it may help with stress relief and relaxation. She wasn’t overly anxious because she’d done some yoga before in the past and this time, she’d persuaded her partner to come with her. She was a year sober by this stage. The group was a good mix of men and women. They were encouraged to come just as they were – to preferably wear something comfortable, but whatever that meant for each individual was just fine. Confidence was more of a challenge for the women. They were the ones worried about what everyone else was thinking. More concerned about getting it wrong. About looking all wrong.

Not for long, though. The yoga teacher Lorraine was great at what she did. She made everyone feel at ease. Alison had been pretty sceptical about yoga, but began to realise that it was making her feel better. She had no idea why. When she missed a week, she noticed. There was a noticeable change in her body and wellbeing.

At the end of that course, she found the courage to start attending Ashtanga sessions in a nearby studio. She found it really challenging, but embraced Mysore. Now she can do it as and when she has the time at home in the mornings.

And then what developed then was kind of a mentoring thing. Nothing structured. Nothing planned. But the yoga teacher Lorraine saw something in Alison and their relationship started to develop organically. She encouraged Alison to train with her teacher Shaura Hall in ‘Yoga and Mindfulness for Stress and Anxiety’ and ‘Yoga and Mindfulness for Addiction’. Alison had never found mindfulness particularly helpful in the past but she’d come to trust Lorraine and was willing to give it a go and see where it led. In her recovery, she’d learnt a lot about self-awareness through the 12 steps – relaxation, meditation, mindfulness…she’d come to see that all of these are a crucial part of recovery.

Having trained as a MARK facilitator on an 8 week programme developed by Shaura for the Minded Institute (the training is designed for both yoga teachers and people without a yoga teaching qualification who work with the community), Alison was now ready to lead her own 8 week programme of ‘Yoga and Mindfulness for Addiction’ herself under the supervision of Edinburgh Community Yoga Outreach. She used her own experience to help her through. And so all the frustrations around attendance which fluctuated a lot were alleviated somewhat by a personal insight into the chaotic lifestyles that individuals in recovery often lead. And whatever happened and however anyone reacted, Alison learnt to not take it personally, that it was unlikely to ever be about her, but more to do with what was happening inside a person’s own life. This kind of work seemed to highlight the ups and downs of life, her own life included. She took things slowly, didn’t over commit, made sure her lifestyle never became too frenetic or too pressured.

And she had the support of Lorraine which proved invaluable.

Having someone believe in you is so empowering. It gives you the confidence to believe that you can do it. She sees potential in me when I don’t see it in myself. She makes me believe I can do it. Having Lorraine and yoga and mindfulness have been a major contributor to my stability.

So what’s next for Alison? She pauses. She ponders for a moment. She takes her time to think about what she wants to say.

And then she talks about the new women’s project at the café. ECYO are about to begin a 6 month funded yoga programme for women affected by trauma with Alison as the support worker in the class alongside the teacher. The women’s programme has ‘big sisters’, where women who are down the line a bit mentor and support those who are just starting out in recovery. It’s included in the 12 steps to do that. To give something back. To support others in the way that you yourself have been supported.

As for everything else, Alison plans to take a day at a time. Lorraine has big plans for Alison. She’d love to see her do her yoga teacher training and join her in the work of Edinburgh Community Yoga Outreach. Alison smiles quietly to herself as she hears Lorraine voice her aspirations.

Alison knows how important it is not to get carried away and not to take on too much. She has a dual diagnosis of Recurrent Major Depression, an episode of which she has been fighting since she got sober 3 years ago. In the past, she used alcohol to self-medicate this other illness. Now that’s not an option. This has definitely impacted on her ability to grab opportunities as readily as she might. All of this makes the supportive way Lorraine has mentored her through the process even more valuable.

Alison is in recovery and she is doing well and she wants to stay well. That’s the most important thing. But she’s not ruling anything out either. She’s already come so much further than she ever imagined she would. She’s open to see what exciting opportunities come her way. In her past life, she used to be an Occupational Therapist. Now she is finding new ways to help others – new ways that include mindfulness and yoga. She has just been accepted onto Yoga Scotland’s Foundation Programme for people interested in teacher training funded by ECYO in exchange for the work Alison has already done.

We look forward to seeing where this new path takes this amazingly courageous, honest and open-hearted woman.

Helen Redfern

Helen Redfern is Yogamatters very own in-house writer. Living life to the full for her currently includes Yoga, Pilates, running and contemporary dance and she enjoys encouraging everyone around her to embrace the new.