One of the questions I get asked the most is how I got started with yoga and teaching my The Science of Letting Go method.
I first came to yoga after being a victim of sexual assault over ten years ago. At the time I was experiencing depression, hyper vigilance, panic attacks, high anxiety and to say the least, I was not living a fully functioning life.
I didn't immediately love yoga but somehow it was helping me and it made me able to function without antidepressants.
One of the things I have noticed is that yoga is being very generalized. So when I talk about yoga helping me, don't put all your faith in just any yoga class that can help you. There are a lot of different forms and variations of yoga, especially physical, asana yoga. When I first started yoga with all my internal demons I was fighting, I walked into a power yoga class, which actually wasn't right for me at all. If anything I was being triggered a lot in class. Yes, it did help me on some level but it took me years before I started seeing real benefits. It wasn't until I found new teachers and got introduced to the bigger aspect of what yoga is that I had the weight lifted of my chest.
In 2014, I married a man who was at first very charming, good looking, sweet and funny. We got married really fast and shortly after the wedding and moving in together I started to notice a change in him. He became easily angry and hot tempered and with time it started to escalate. It started with threats about leaving me, criticism and verbal abuse. Less and less I was allowed to see my friends, even to meet up with them for coffee, some of my bridesmaids I didn't see again since the wedding until years later when I had left him.
I wasn't always allowed to work, only if he allowed it.
At first he wasn't physical, he seemed to be able to stop himself and calm himself before anything happened. Then one day as we were decorating the Christmas tree with his son he got angry about me not hearing him correctly in regards to the Christmas lights so he hit me in the forehead with a box of Christmas ornaments, whispering under his breath that I am lucky his son was there or it would've been worse.
This was the start of the physical abuse. What came after was throwing things at me, leaving holes in the walls, slaps, then tossing me into furnitures and trying to throw my dog off the balcony.
One day I was sitting on the kitchen floor fixing the plumbing in our kitchen, and I must have said something that triggered him because before I knew it he had kicked me in my back and I was on the floor not able to get up. I remember the cold kitchen floor on my right cheek and how I was panicking that I couldn't feel my body or lift myself up. I laid there for awhile while he yelled at me to get up so that his son wouldn't come out and see. All I could say was "I can't, I can't feel my legs." He carried me to the couch and gave me some ice, muttering something about him not meaning to kick me that hard. After awhile I was able to feel my back with my hands and I could trace the bumps and swelling on my spine, they felt raw and tender and I felt this panic inside of me that I was still not able to feel my legs.
During our entire marriage, I did not have health insurance. At the time I thought it was because he just didn't like doing the paperwork because it had to be under his name, but now after I have been wondering if it was something more to it.
This went on for two years. Two years of trying to run for my life, him chasing me down the hallway of our apartment building, him taking my phone so I wouldn't call the police, me screaming for help but no neighbor ever opening their door to help.
He would take my wallet, my car keys, my phone and hide it so I had no where to go and no one to call.
I had forgotten about one incident, tucked it away somewhere. It didn't come out until one of my friends gave a statement to the judge a few months after I was free and safe from him. She told the judge that one night I had called her and asked if I could come with Molly, my dog, to her house. That I had told her that I didn't have any clothes and Molly didn't have her leash or collar, if I could borrow something from her. I had came to her house and she had noticed I was covered in bumps and bruises on my legs.
After she shared this I started to remember. This was that one night he forgot to take my phone, keys and wallet away from me and had left me to go to the upstairs bathroom. I remember him walking upstairs and I knew I only had a few minutes to make a move, a decision. I knew the two most important things was Molly, my dog, and my keys. If I could just get us out before he came back downstairs then that was all that mattered. Somehow we made it to the garage and to my car before he had noticed I was gone.
Isn't crazy that a person can be so scared of someone they had once promised to love forever? Their life partner.
Just like any other time, he promised he would work on his anger, he bought me flowers the next day. And then it usually only took a day or two until it started again.
Going through this process can be very overwhelming. People ask why you didn't leave sooner or when he started to become abusive. A lot of people don't understand dynamic of domestic violence, or even people being captured and fall in love with their capturer, hence where the Stockholm Syndrome comes from. The other person, usually a sociopath, go through a process of first making their victims feel like all they have is them, that they are too weak to make it on their own, or not strong enough to leave. You have old emotions of once have loved this person. You are supposed to fight for your marriage and not give up.
I even had one opportunity, about one year in, that could've saved me from another year of abuse. We were celebrating our one year wedding anniversary in Palm Springs. He got angry about something I had said about me growing up in Europe and at first he locked me out of the hotel room. Which wasn't too bad. I was used to being locked out, usually at night without my clothes on and on cold concrete floor, and this time I had clothes on and on hotel grounds. After some begging he let me back inside wishing I had stayed outside. He took a glass beer bottle and crushed it on the nightstand, I don't remember a word of what he said, all I was focused on was getting back out as he chased me around the room with the broken bottle. Somehow I made it out and out of the hotel running down the street with him after me. After probably 50 feet a police car sees us as they pass, hit their breaks and drive up the their car on the sidewalk to block him from me as they jump out of the police car. One of the officers come to me while the other police officer goes to him. The officer with me keeps asking me if I am okay, if I need them to arrest him and take me somewhere safe. I remember feeling so confused. My husband screaming that this is none of their business and it's between him and his wife. Screaming to me to not say a word. The police trying to get him quiet and the other one telling me not to listen to him and if I want them to arrest him. They can't arrest him unless I say it. They are trying to talk some sense into me, but all I end up saying is, "no, he's my husband." I remember the officers looking so reluctant and powerless as they let us go.
If you have ever felt like you are so stuck and you have no other way, trust me, I know that feeling.
I had tried to fight against him, I had tried to flee from him, I had tried to be still and do nothing, but nothing worked. Somehow I ended up stuck in my own hell.
That's our fight and flight response, and the third response, freeze. Those three responses are our survival instincts, they come from our amygdala which controls our emotions and feelings and is connected with your hippocampus, the memory part of your brain. I became fascinated with this after my rape and even more after the years with my husband how easily we get stuck in survival mode and how this is affecting our memories. The better I got, the safer I felt, the more I started to let go, the more I was able to remember and process what I had been through. Before it was just laying there, hiding, and affecting my life without me even knowing it.
In the spring of 2016 I started feel like there was no way out a way out and even if it was, I was doubting I would get out alive. At this time my husband was seemingly proud over how much he had been able to get away with over the years and his manipulation skills. One day he told me about how easily he could manipulate his son's mother to think she was the bad parent or something was her fault when it was really him. He sounded proud. He even showed me text messages where he had manipulated her to thinking she's a horrible mother, turning around something he had done towards her.
At another time, just shortly after this, he was proudly talking about his manipulation skills again, this time how he would get away with murdering me. He started to talk about all of his thousands of followers on instagram, how easy it was to manipulate them, almost half a million people. If I died, then everyone would feel sorry for him for losing him beloved wife, no one would suspect him, the family man they all loved so much, and with him being able to trick them, manipulating a jury and judge would be easy.
I texted my mom to please come and take Molly if something happened to me. I had her promise me she would come fast to get her.
I started to get rid of a lot of my things. Donated almost all of my belongings. If I was going to escape, it had to be quick. I told myself that next time he goes on a work trip I would leave. Part of me felt like I might not have enough time until then but it was either that or sneak him a sleeping pill which sounded too dangerous so I was left hoping I would have enough time until the next trip and he wouldn't do it before then. He always left me responsible of his son so that I wouldn't be able to do anything when he was gone so my plan was to drop off his son with his mother or his grandmother.
About two or three weeks before his next trip, he got really angry again. He started talking about his plans again to make me go away and as he was talking about this I looked down at my phone, no battery. So I tried to make him happy but no matter how much I tried to calm him down and trying to comply with him he would just get angrier and angrier. But all of sudden he stopped. And somehow his silence had made me more worried. It felt more calculating. I had this feeling, an intuition that I wouldn't have enough time to wait for that trip, my best bet was to get out whenever I had the chance. I would get out the next morning when he went to the gym.
I slept on the couch that night. Pretend sleeping. I was right awake. Just in case that bedroom door would open.
He left in the morning for the gym, I packed a bag quick, got in my car and called my friend to tell her I was on my way. I had escaped. But later that day he called me, threaten me to come back home.
Whenever I was away from home, he would always make up a story that I was with another man, a whore. It went so far I couldn't even spend enough time in the grocery store.
Same thing this day, he started accusing me, threatening me to come back home. That I should be happy his son is there when I get home or else...
My friend begging me not to go back to him. I got in my car and drove back to him.
When I got there he was angry. He wouldn't let me inside. He blocked the door so I wouldn't be able to open it. In the State of California, what he was doing was illegal, so I called the police. When the police first go their they thought it was just for a dispute. As they started to talking to me and asking me questions, they realized there was much more to it. After just a few minutes, one of the officers turns to me with a big concern in his eyes, we are still outside the apartment and haven't approached my husband or our home. He starts telling me about cases he have worked, how many times it turns into murder, how domestic violence are one of the most dangerous calls they get. I tell him about my plan to leave when he's gone on the next trip. The officer continues telling me he doesn't think I have enough time to carry out that plan and he doesn't feel safe leaving me with my husband. He tells me I have an option, to go upstairs with them and pack as much as I can for now while they keep him away from me, and then they will escort me to my car and out of the neighborhood and I promise not to come back until I call them again to come and be with me when I get the rest of my things.
That's it. That's what I needed. The police officers before, my friends, I wasn't ready but this time I was. I knew he was right. I knew it was now or never.