The following is an edited excerpt from “Work in Progress,” an essay by Vytas Baskauskas in “Yoga & Body Image: 25 Personal Stories About Beauty, Bravery + Loving Your Body” (ed. Klein and Guest-Jelley). In his complete essay, Baskauskas writes about his battle with low self-esteem and heroin addiction and how his yoga practice plays a key role in coming to a space of wholeness.
Heroin addiction was never my problem. It was only a symptom. Drugs gave me the tranquility and serenity that I could never find on my own. I’ve always wanted to be comfortable in my own skin but didn’t know how to get there. My deep-seated fears and insecurities seemed to always win out. Was I born insecure and afraid? Doubtful. I often try to examine, though, where my path went afoul.
Heroin addiction was never my problem. It was only a symptom.
When I was 14 years old, I had the best group of friends. We were rebels and misfits and it was the most fun of times. We graffitied, smoked weed, and went everywhere together. I don’t remember being overly self-aware or uncomfortable back then. I felt part of something. Our crew had a name: DMT. It was an abbreviation for Demented. I would tag that name on every wall I could find and doodle it on every piece of paper I owned. I was a DMTer for life! At least so I thought.
One day I got a call from the crew, not just one member, but all of them, on speakerphone no less. They had apparently called a meeting that I was not a part of. The meeting was about me and they unanimously decided to kick me out of Demented. These were all of my best friends and they were telling me what?! That I could no longer hang out with any of them? That the group I felt so close to and bonded with was giving me an unceremonious exit? I didn’t see it coming. When I asked them why they did it, I couldn’t get a logical answer. One by one, they just kept saying, “you need to make new friends.” But I didn’t want to. I thought I already had the best group of friends. They obviously didn’t reciprocate that feeling. In 9th grade, it wasn’t too easy to make new friends at a big high school. My only friend was my 12-year-old neighbor. When people in my class heard that I had but one friend and that he was a 7th grader, they laughed at me. This was the beginning of a lot of internal pain. I felt rejected and left out. At a time when the building blocks of social interaction were being formed for us freshmen, I was on the outside looking in. In my young mind, this event formed a strong pain memory that would last a very long time.
The trauma of being shunned by my peers left me feeling hesitant and anxious in social situations. Eventually I made new friends and found a group that I could be a part of. Deep down, though, I was afraid that I wasn’t really ever going to be a part of anything. I started doing more drugs and exploring new ways to act out. The more I could change the way I felt inside, the easier life was for me.
I was a young man with absolutely no idea of how to deal with life on life’s terms.
My journey through drug addiction spanned many years with plenty of high points but mostly low ones. It culminated when I was 19 years old with a year in LA County Jail and no more bridges to burn. Unlike many of the people I used drugs with along the way, I was fortunate enough to get clean. To this, I credit the 12 steps and the many fellow addicts who have helped me over the years. Getting clean, however, was not the solution because the problem was never drugs. The problem was me. I only used heroin so I could escape my fears and uneasiness. As soon as the needle was taken away, I was faced with the reality of my situation. I was a young man with absolutely no idea of how to deal with life on life’s terms.
Since childhood, one thing that has always given me comfort and solace is food. A great meal can conjure up the feelings of love and warmth that my mother gave me with her home-cooked meals. A full belly can make the emptiness and loneliness inside disappear for an instant. When I got clean, and drugs were no longer an option for dealing with my problems, food became an easy solution. Just as I loved the nod from a good shot in the arm, I love the buzz from eating a savory meal. There is something so sensual about how food makes me feel. It transports me to a place of joy and satisfaction.
As I continued on my journey of sobriety, my relationship with food morphed into an unhealthy one. My addictive behavior transferred to how I ate. Binge eating become more frequent but it was embarrassing so I started to hide it. Ordering two entrees at dinner with friends would elicit strange reactions so I’d eat normally with them and get fast food by myself on the way home. My mind started to become increasingly preoccupied with what I was going to eat for the next meal and I began making deals with myself about food: justifying binges by promising a juice fast in the near future.
Food wasn’t the only vice I turned to when I got sober. Things like sex, love, validation, and shopping are all quick fixes. When I’m feeling empty or down, my mind can easily justify using any one of these superficial remedies to feel better. But my relationship with the things that make me happy is always challenging. It’s a fine line to walk, because I always crave more.
Unfortunately, chasing good feelings isn’t sustainable, because at the core lies the fear that I’m not enough, that I’m not loved, and that something is wrong with me. And none of these fears are addressed when I overeat, have a night of passionate sex with a new partner, or buy the latest Smartphone. As soon as the food is eaten, my bed is empty, or my toys lose their cool, my mind tumbles down a whirlwind path of negative self-talk and I feel like the biggest piece of shit to ever walk this planet. Amidst this diseased thinking, I refute my own reality. I went to a gifted school as a child, but I believe I’m stupid. I have people that love me, but I believe I’m alone. I have money in the bank and a successful career, but I believe I’m a failure. And while it’s not true, I believe that I’m fat and ugly.
Unfortunately, chasing good feelings isn’t sustainable, because at the core lies the fear that I’m not enough, that I’m not loved, and that something is wrong with me.
I can talk myself into a reality of my own making where I’m worthless, and this is the crux of my problem. Food, sex, and shopping are temporary and superficial “fixes,” and eventually I had to find something in my recovery that would give me true harmony and peace.
To read about how, despite resistance, Baskauskas discovered the transformative power of yoga and the ways in which it allows him to practice and grow self-love, read his entire essay in Yoga & Body Image: 25 Personal Stories About Beauty, Bravery + Loving Your Body.