Why I stuck with yoga even when it got ugly

Recently, a very dear friend and fellow survivor introduced me to Linda Sparrowe, yoga teacher, former editor-in-chief of Yoga International magazine, and past managing editor of Yoga Journal. She’s a participant on the upcoming panel discussion, “Yoga Continuum: Facing Challenges with Courage and Compassion”, as part of a collaboration between Naropa University and Yoga Journal. She kindly asked me to detail my experience with yoga as therapy. I share her questions and my answers below:

How have yoga and meditation helped you in your own journey through diagnosis, treatment, remission, and even recurrence?  

When I began practicing yoga 4 years ago at the age of 39, I had no idea how much of me was broken. At 18, I experienced intimate partner abuse at the hands of my boyfriend, who was also 18. The relationship didn’t last more than 6 months, but my life and outlook on life changed forever. 

For 2 decades, I suffered from, without realizing I was suffering from them, depression, alcohol abuse, and post-traumatic stress (PTSD). My inner world was out of control, but I thought I could compensate by controlling my outer world. My perfectionistic tendencies ran the gamut: I had to look perfect from head to toe; I had to get perfect grades; I had to perform perfectly in my jobs; I had to have a perfectly clean and ordered house; I had to look like I had a perfect life despite the fact I hated myself. I didn’t even understand why I hated myself, which made hating myself that much more intense and burdensome on my mind and spirit. I became obsessed with food and acquired an eating disorder. I feared criticism and didn’t want anyone to think I was stupid. So one degree wasn’t enough. I had to go for advanced degrees and certificates, anything to prove my worth and value. Just being me wasn’t enough.

At 39, I escaped another short-term abusive relationship. I was lost. I wanted to kill myself. Luckily, I had family who loved and supported me. But even that didn’t seem like enough.

Then I discovered yoga two months before my 40th birthday. Within a few weeks of practicing, I overcame my binge eating and bulimia. Within 6 months, I quit drinking and was finally diagnosed with PTSD. For good and bad, my yoga practice opened the pathway to all of the repressed memories and denial I had been trying to bury for years. All the harm inflicted upon me by myself and others surfaced. I thought I was going to lose my mind. I thought I was going crazy, because, for the first time since I was 18, I was facing all of myself head on, and I couldn’t look away. Yoga unveiled my inner being, and my inner being wouldn’t allow me to look away. This process of going inward and seeing myself “naked” was painful, humiliating and shameful. Initially and despite practicing yoga almost daily, I fell even deeper into the pit of darkness and self-hatred. 

Fortunately, the side effects of my bottom were short-lived, because yoga helped me find my voice. I wrote and self-published my first book in 2012, “Escaping the Boy: My Life with a Sociopath”, which highlights my last abusive relationship. From there, I created and maintained a blog on which I purged myself of more “stuff” and connected to others in the process. At the end of 2014, I self-published my second book, “Unashamed Voices: True Stories Written by Survivors of Domestic Violence, Rape and Fraud”, which features 38 first-hand accounts of abuse submitted to me by visitors of my blog.

And I feel like that’s only the beginning of my life’s work. 

Last year, I completed a 200-hour yoga teacher training, because I not only wanted to deepen my practice and understanding of yoga, but I want to give others the gift yoga gave to me: my life. 

I teach yoga twice a week and yoga nidra guided meditation once a week. Over time, I plan to transition away from my corporate job as a web content developer and trainer and into teaching yoga and being a health coach full-time. My deepest heart’s desire is to help as many people as I can escape their pain, shame, and humiliation and awaken as I awakened.

How are yoga and meditation sources of healing, understanding and acceptance? 

Yoga taught me acceptance and letting go. At the heart of yoga, I learned:

1. Compassion for all living things. The first I had to master was compassion for myself. 

2. Being perfect is unattainable, because nothing is permanent except change, so there is no such thing as a state of being perfect. 

3. How others treat me is about them and not me. How I treat myself is what matters, because how I treat myself is how I will treat others. I want to be good to people, not indifferent, mean, or nasty. It’s a daily exercise to elevate my levels of self-love and self-trust. 

4. The humiliation, shame, and pain I experienced doesn’t mean I’m weak or unworthy of love; it means I’m human. I’m perfect just because I’m me. Yoga taught me that.

And, what would you put in your own yoga toolkit that you could draw upon as you face aging, illness, or even death?

To never stop. To keep going. It’s never too late to live or take another breath toward a more fulfilling life. Life is the absence of the fear of growing old and dying. Life is love. Death just happens.

Is it possible to explain why yoga? Or, maybe more precisely, what it was about yoga itself that allowed you to trust the process? That allowed you to stick with the pain of investigation and self-inquiry? What can yoga do for us that, for instance, talk therapy can not? How did yoga help you find your voice and feel comfortable and safe sharing it? How did it help you find more compassion, courage and perhaps patience with yourself?

First and foremost, my teachers, their patience, and their spirit of acceptance kept me motivated. I felt safe with them. I didn’t feel judged in their presence, which allowed me to be less critical of myself. Reciprocity of energy and vibration. If I fell out of a posture, my teachers would either encourage me to try again or encourage me to let it go for the night and try again the next night. No need to become frustrated or angry with myself, they’d say. It’s only yoga, and tomorrow is another day. Wow! That was a lot for my perfectionist nature to handle and accept. But my teachers made it effortless for me. I was never made to feel like I failed, like any attempt was a poor attempt, or like I had to attain a certain level of expertise or experience before becoming a yogini. I was permitted to be a yogini the second I walked onto my mat for the first time. Being accepted and respected without the need to prove myself worthy…that’s a powerful motivator. 

And because my teachers were so good to me, I wanted to be good to me. I found myself surrounded by acceptance, and peace washed over my hypersensitive nature which was normally agitated and accustomed to being preoccupied with seeking acceptance from others. This unconditional acceptance from my teachers on the outside allowed me to be focused inwardly on my journey into a new frontier of self-discovery, self-acceptance, and self-love. My entire perspective shifted because my teachers showed me so much love and acceptance, and they didn’t even know me outside of the classroom.

Despite how tough my inward journey became at times, I refused to give up on myself. If I gave up on myself, I saw it as giving up on my teachers and all the love and kindness they freely and generously bestowed upon me. If I felt like giving up, I’d grab my mat and head to the studio. I always had my teachers, my breathing, my asana, and the collective energy of the studio to ground me. And for me, an introvert and highly sensitive person to rush to people rather than away from them for energy and motivation, that’s heavy.

Today, I’m more inwardly motivated and look to my personal transformation the past four years as proof that this thing called yoga works…for me. So why give it up? Why stop? I keep learning more and more and getting healthier and healthier. I’ve been 100% medication-free for over three years! No therapist would be able to do that for me, because 1) people on drugs keep therapists in business; and 2) no therapist understands or would believe that medication acts as a band-aid and blocks the user from finding their inner power. Medication couldn’t cure or heal me; medication kept me numb and lifeless. With yoga, I learned that being in motion and being in tune and aware of my body, mind, and spirit is the only path to resurrection, renewal, and an authentic life. Disease and sickness don’t stand a chance against the detoxifying power of perpetual motion, which keeps the mind open and the body successfully moving in the direction of health, homeostasis, and balance. 

Om Shanti,

Paula Carrasquillo

Letting Go of Perfect

Letting go of perfect ~Paula Carrasquillo

source: Creative Commons by gnuckx

After posting Sociopaths, Approval and Victim Perfectionism yesterday, I thought I’d share how I discovered the root cause of my perfectionism, which I believe primed me for being a perfect target for the sociopath from my past.


Most of my adult life I was a perfectionist. I allowed myself very little wiggle room when it came to making mistakes. My perfectionism led to little mistakes becoming huge mistakes and little victories becoming completely diminished in my mind. I beat myself up over bad stuff and never gave myself any credit for the good stuff I created. Thankfully, I now understand the source of my destructive perfectionist thinking, and it has made all of the difference in finding my path in life.

As a child, I was a carefree and happy person. Despite my parents’ divorce and a few moves in elementary school, I was always able to push through the little and the big things with relative ease. I bounced back from change and disappointments like a spring.

At the age of 12 (puberty actually), my spring broke. One day I had an itchy and flaking scalp; the next I was being dragged to the doctor feeling completely ashamed. Psoriasis! Even the name sounds gross, huh?

I hated being associated with this condition. I hated when my friends would see my scaly elbows and say, “Ooh! What is THAT?! What’s wrong with you?!!” I had never gelt like such an outcast; it was crushing. I hated being preoccupied with hiding my little scaly patches on my knees, elbows, back and hairline. I hated avoiding activities like dancing for fear the costume would fail to cover me “just right.” I hated that my freedom seemed to be taken from me.

Early in my treatment, I knew that there was really nothing the dermatologist could do to help me. Sure, there was always a new lotion or cream to try. But they were just band-aids. And some of this crap stunk! I got so sick of it all. I stopped all prescription lotions and creams sometime in my early 20s. I became a Palmer’s cocoa butter girl. It helped to a degree, but because I felt helpless and like I had zero control over my skin, I pressured myself to expect nothing but the best in every other area of my life.

I had to get the best grades. I had to have the cleanest room. (If you had as many sisters as I do, you’d understand this one.) I had to have the best job. I had to be the perfect weight. I had to be the perfect wife. I had to be the perfect mother. I had to be perfect.

Period.

Being a perfectionist can lead a person to behave self-destructively. Perfectionists can suffer from a multitude of conditions including anorexia, bulimia, drug or alcohol abuse, binge drinking, obsessive compulsive disorder, and/or depression.

In two words: perfectionism sucks!

Why and how did I figure out that my inability to overcome my troubles stemmed from trying to be perfect? Like most people in denial about bad habits and addictions, I had to hit rock bottom. Once I did, I was finally determined to change and to never put my life and future at risk again. To accomplish this, I had to take a good hard look at myself in order to fix myself.

I inventoried my entire past, beginning with my childhood. I created a timeline of my happiest years and my most depressed periods. During happy times, my psoriasis flair ups were few. During unhappy times, my psoriasis flair ups could be best described as volcanoes, which left me feeling out-of-control, which led to me trying to fix myself with perfectionist thinking, which always failed, which led to extreme feelings of worthlessness and self-hatred, which led to self-destructive behaviors.

What a vicious cycle.

I soon realized that I had to shift my perception of the disease or continue being controled by it. I had to embrace my psoriasis (I’d be lying if I said I fell in love with psoriasis, but I have gotten as close to “being in love” as possible).  More importantly, I had to become dedicated to learning as much as possible about what psoriasis really is and how flair ups can be prevented in the first place.

While educating myself, I discovered and embraced mindful techniques and approaches to managing my condition. Yoga helps. Meditation and manifestation help. Sticking to a vegan/plant-based diet helps. Eliminating alcohol and sodas helps. Writing  helps. Talking about it helps. And the best part? Although I still have psoriasis (there is no cure), I do not allow the appearance of my skin to control me anymore. Flair ups happen, and that’s okay.

Through practicing simple acts of self-awareness, self-acceptance and self-love, I have been miraculously cured of my perfectionism and all of the distasteful side-effects related to that disease.

If you are a perfectionist and are tired of never reaching the peak of your potential, find out the source of your perfectionist thinking. Taking a good hard look at the source is the best way to eliminate this toxic thinking from your life and to start living more joyfully.

Namaste!
Paula Carrasquillo
yogi. author. advocate.

“Unashamed Voices” will expose sociopaths in our midst #ebook #preorder

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The ebook collection of survivor stories is available for pre-order!

Last year, nearly 50 readers and survivors submitted their survivor stories to me. Last month, I edited and published a story a day to my Communities Digital Column. This month, I compiled all of the edited and previously-published stories (plus two previously unpublished stories) into a working draft for an ebook. Yesterday, I designed the cover and uploaded the draft to Kindle Direct Publishing for pre-order status review. Today, the pre-order status was approved, and now everyone can pre-order their copy before the release date of December 31, 2014.

As promised, the book will also be available for FREE upon release next month. The purpose of the pre-order period is to generate interest and profit in hopes of being afforded the opportunity to also make the book available in soft copy.

I thank everyone who visits this blog for giving me the strength, courage and determination I needed to dedicate to this project, which has consumed me for nearly the past 20 months. Our voices would not be able to build the stength and momentum they have without the support we give to eachother. XOXO

Book Description:

“Unashamed Voices: True Stories Written by Survivors of Domestic Violence, Rape and Fraud – Exposing Sociopaths in Our Midst”

Not everyone moves from a place of care and respect for themselves and others, because not everyone has (1) a conscience; (2) the ability to feel remorse; and (3) the ability to tap into affective empathy–the type of empathy that allows one to see and feel a situation from another’s perspective. People lacking these qualities are referred to as sociopaths, psychopaths and narcissists. They exist everywhere in society, including our homes where their toxic and parasitic lifestyles are destroying families, children and communities every single day.

This collection of 33 true stories from across the globe written by survivors of toxic and abusive relationships sets out to expose the unchallenged pathological personalities and behaviors of psychopaths, sociopaths and narcissists. These personal accounts will dispel the myths surrounding domestic violence and intimate partner abuse and have you questioning what you thought you knew about crimes being committed behind closed doors. You will also understand the impact to victims and survivors and start gaining an understanding of why so many remain silent and that most, if not all survivors, are walking around undiagnosed and/or under diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression and other debilitating conditions resulting from the physical, emotional and spiritual abuse they endured and continue to relive in the aftermath.

With greater awareness and education, victims and survivors of pathological abuse at the hands of sociopaths, psychopaths and narcissists will have a greater chance of experiencing justice and a greater chance of protecting potential victims who are the future targets of these manipulative and malignant criminals hiding behind the false and delusional facade of moral righteousness and victimization.

If you are interested in being a part of the solution to one day see an end to domestic violence, rape and fraud, read this book and pass it on to anyone and everyone you know who has been or is currently being impacted by a sociopath, psychopath or narcissist. With 1 in 25 people estimated to be a sociopath, the chance that you know someone affected by an individual with a pathological personality disorder is extremely high. Allow the many voices of truth in these pages open your eyes to the answers behind the senseless acts committed against you, your loved ones and/or your friends.

Paula Carrasquillo, MA
November 18, 2014

http://www.amazon.com/Unashamed-Voices-Survivors-Domestic-Sociopaths-ebook/dp/B00PUMN6HW/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1416430397&sr=1-2&pebp=1416430399152

Survivor Story #30 – Eva’s story: Lies, theft and extreme love of material possessions and status

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Eva’s story: Lies, theft and extreme love of material possessions and status

“After being in the new apartment for almost a year he proposed to me. The way he proposed was sick. He is from Iran and claims he came to The United States by himself when he was 17. He also stated that he had criminal charges for possession of marijuana and that he could get deported on his court date. I said that I did not know if I was ready to marry him and then he said that he could just pay someone else to marry him. I thought that it was extremely rude for him to say that, but I did not want to have to live with him getting deported just because I did not marry him.” Read more.


Each day during the month of October, column author Paula Carrasquillo will feature a story written by a survivor of domestic violence. At the end of October, a compilation of all stories will be available for free as an e-book.

*All names have been changed to protect the survivor and the survivor’s family and friends.

Survivor stories 25, 26, 27 and 28: Zoe, Alice, Beverly and Christina #SeeDV #abuse

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October 25, 2014 – Zoe’s story: “The relationship absorbed me; I was hypnotised by it.”*

October 26, 2014- Alice’s story: Leave abuse; it is not worth the anguish and loss of yourself

October 27, 2014 – Beverly’s story: Lies, manipulation and emotional abuse

October 28, 2014 – Christina’s story: Building up after being broken down by abuse


Each day during the month of October, column author Paula Carrasquillo will feature a story written by a survivor of domestic violence. At the end of October, a compilation of all stories will be available for free as an e-book.

*All names have been changed to protect the survivor and the survivor’s family and friends.

Naomi’s story: “On more than one occasion, I imagined killing him.” #dvawareness @commdiginews

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October 14, 2014 – Naomi’s story: “On more than one occasion, I imagined killing him.”


BETHESDA, Maryland, October 14, 2014 — Naomi* is a survivor of domestic violence and pathological abuse living, raising her children and recovering in The United States.

Before the relationship, I was on a great path. Picking up new hobbies and skills, working out regularly, eating healthy, caring for and bonding fully with my then one-and-a-half-year-old son.

Then I met him. Read more


Each day during the month of October, column author Paula Carrasquillo will feature a story written by a survivor of domestic violence. At the end of October, a compilation of all stories will be available for free as an e-book.

*All names have been changed to protect the survivor and the survivor’s family and friends.

Everything feeds our healing journey #sociopathabuse #recovery

Outside of educating ourselves about sociopath abuse and finding the proper support to guide us along our journey, another key ingredient to healing and recovery is nutrition.

When I use the word nutrition, I don’t just mean the food we eat. I’m referring to everything we subject our bodies and minds to from a holistic approach:

1. Food – Is it balancing me or causing me heartburn or indigestion?
2. Air – Am I actively breathing in fresh oxygen?
3. Water – Am I keeping my organs hydrated?
4. Sunshine – Am I remembering to get outside at least once each day?
5. Exercise/moving our bodies – Am I getting out of bed/off the couch like I should?
5. Friendships – Are they really my friends?
6. Co-worker relationships – Are they harming my job performance?
7. Career/job decisions – Is this the right job for me?
8. School/academics – Am I focused?
9. Books/Films – Are they depressing me or inspiring me?
10. News – Is it triggering me or motivating me?

Examining all of these areas in the aftermath of sociopath abuse is vital, because all of these things can affect how we feel about ourselves in any given moment.

As you embark on your weekend, consider these key ingredients and determine your areas of strength and those of weakness and see how they can complement each other.

For example, if you have a really great friend or group of friends, but your diet is dragging you down, consider organizing a healthy cooking demo with your friends or ask one of your friends who has a healthy diet if she/he will help you to improve your diet.

I learn so much everyday from the amazing and intelligent people I have met and welcomed into my life. If you would like to share a “recipe” that has helped you get healthy, please share!!

Namaste!
~Paula

Stick it out; don’t give up #healing #recovery #patience #sociopathabuse

The day I stepped onto a yoga mat for the first time I was a few months shy of my 40th birthday, suffering from depression, a lot of knee and joint pain, unknown post traumatic stress, and alcohol dependency.

Was I scared? Yes. I was scared shitless!

I didn’t know if I was going to hurt myself or help myself. I didn’t know if I was going to laugh or cry. I didn’t know if others were going to laugh at me or cry for me.

Nearly three years later, I am no longer depressed, I’ve been sober for 2 years, I laugh WITH myself, and I cry because sometimes it’s what I need. I’m no longer ashamed of my past mistakes or the abuse inflicted upon me. I’m no longer afraid to fail OR to succeed. The nightmares have stopped, and room was made to start my life over again from scratch–for me and for my family who never doubted me.

I realize now that the first step toward my current freedom was completely in my hands. The power to transform, grow, and heal was within me. Stepping onto that yoga mat back in October 2011 began my awakening.

But my awakening wasn’t instant. Nothing transformational is ever instant. We must work hard for it. With each practice, I learned to be more patient and more gentle with myself and to remain hopeful.

Despite occasional set backs and struggles, I stuck it out. I kept going back to the mat. I kept learning something new about myself and my abilities, both mental and physical.

I’m glad I stuck it out. I surely wouldn’t be in a place to write today if I had given up many yesterday’s ago.

If you’ve started on your transformational journey through yoga or some other practice that fits your needs, I want you to stick it out, too. Even when you don’t think there are changes happening, stick it out!! You rarely have the capacity to realize or appreciate the changes and transformations in the exact moments they occur. Life informs you days, weeks, or months later. So be patient. Stick it out.

And if you haven’t started, start today by telling yourself that you’re worth it and you deserve joy, peace, and a chance at an awakening and new beginning.

Namaste!
~Paula

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