Meet Cleve Willis
  • October 24, 2017
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Meet Cleve Willis

If you are an addict you know how constantly uncomfortable you are and how much your skin can crawl. You’re full of shame and guilt, never good enough– as if you are born this way. You have a hole that can never be filled. Then you find this alcohol substance, this drug: it’s a cure for not belonging, never fitting in– and suddenly you find courage. Unfortunately, it eventually stops working– that sense of worthlessness comes back with a vengeance. Now you’re constantly drinking– you can’t ever drink enough. You can barely even get drunk– but you keep trying. Only when you are truly ready, will you actually receive help.

My life became a merry-go-round of downing bottles of vodka daily, detoxing, and doing it all over again. Until it finally stuck. Until then, you just leave a trail of self-infliction and the many people you hurt, or affect along the way…

Fast forward a few years… I had been clean (off drugs and alcohol) for a while. I had a home group, was working with an AA sponsor, staying sober. However as a traveling musician and having that temptation on a regular day to day basis, I was not spiritually as fit as I craved to be. Though I didn’t pick up or use, I had been in a pretty dark place. I started slacking on my meetings. The band I was working on was falling apart… I was just down. None of which is ever a excuse to drink, but it was a hard place and a lot of temptation. It’s always a choice until you actually pick up to use again, then your choice is taken from you.

My roommate, Rick, also a musician, was touring a lot. A reminder to me that I was not. And my other roommate, Tania, worked for 99x on the bricks; so she was also in the music scene. I say all this to set everything up: being sober can to be hard and being sober in the music industry as the talent is even harder. Around this time I was coming out of a bad relationship and was again in that dark place, you know THAT PLACE– the bottom. After a long night out I told a friend I thought I wanted to use or drink again.

When I got home, Rick was there. When Rick was home from touring he would always let loose and party. That night was no different. Rick was on the couch, seemingly passed out. I wanted to be alone, and was irritated that he was in the living room. I tried waking him up but he just lay there, not budging. I didn’t realize yet what was actually happening.

I woke Tania up to help. She came in and touched him, then backed up against the wall with her hands over her mouth and said to me, “he’s cold…” I didn’t understand what she meant, so I tried to wake him again. That’s when I saw the marks, and blood, on his arm. He loved heroin, but he never shot himself up. I didn’t see a needle, but I knew this was bad. I was confused, in denial, unable to comprehend what was happening.

Then Tania was on the phone with a 911 relaying the operator’s instructions to me to give mouth to mouth to Rick. CPR. My first, and only, experience with that. Though I felt he was already gone, I had to try or I’d regret it for the rest of my life– I had a false moment of hope when my breath was going into his lungs. I guess I was hoping for it to work. It was too late. Within minutes the paramedics showed up, and took over. Still nothing. Rick had passed.

And that was the moment I knew I couldn’t use any more. As much as I wanted to, It was time for something different. I dug deep trying to find peace with meetings and support. A few of my music industry friends– Nicole Jurovics especially– started taking me to Bikram Yoga. I remember Nicole coming to get me, or making me meet her there. I remember falling in love with the sweat. Which is kinda the main thing I remember… like detoxing from alcohol… it felt cleansing.

It started to work. Day after day of taking classes I began to find a little more hope. I gained a new found relationship with myself. It wasn’t overnight, it took time. I became addicted to simply feeling good. I was learning to be in my body and to treat myself with kindness and respect. I began working through the mental challenges that had carried over to my sobriety.

Music started doing better for me; things started taking off with a new band– what would become a great adventure, and a hell of a dream realized. Eventually I found a better AA program. I continued taking Bikram Yoga, which slowly began to change my life, to show me the way. Little did I know I would one day become a teacher. Little did I know, how much it would change me as a person.

I had no idea what I could do for a living other than music but it didn’t take too long to come to the obvious conclusion: it was time to go to Yoga Teacher Training, to give back and to be of service. In 2013 I became certified by Tony Sanchez’s Yogic Physical Culture Academy in the Ghosh Yoga lineage. I have also trained with Jared McCann in Vinyasa Yoga.

I love teaching and being a part of something positive in someone’s life. It’s so rewarding to be able to work with those who first taught me and to hopefully be part of someone else’s healing, be it physical, mental or emotional.

We all come to yoga for different reasons. But mine goes back to that one night… when I could have fallen off the wagon again. Rick lost his life, but he literally saved mine.

Written by Cleve Willis