This series began as a project to celebrate good things and positive actions we, as punks are doing. For some it’s exercise, or meditation. Or giving up unhealthy behavior or addiction. I got in touch with Mya who is doing it all. She was kind enough to share her story in her own words. Here is Mya Wollf.
When I first saw this series on healthy punk living, I got really excited. Punk, radical sobriety, veganism and yoga totally saved my life, each in their own different way, and I feel that it’s really important to share our stories with each other, without judgment, in the hopes that we can use our experiences to help motivate one another to break free of the systems of oppression that hold us down. I want to add here that, in my opinion, the only way to do this is to act without judgment. There are so many amazing subcultures of punk that celebrate healthier, less oppressive ways to live, but if we keep judging others for not being like without first trying to understand how that individual person is being affected by external oppression, then we’re going to stay divided and powerless against the real systems of corruption. However, the more we can lead with love, the more we can find understanding, compassion and empathy for where others are at and THEN move forward unilaterally towards dismantling the oppressions that bind us all, the more freedom we’ll all find. But back to healthy living…..
Like so many other punks, I got mixed up in a lot of shit when I was young. I left home at 14, spent a bit of time on the streets and in abandoned houses and then got mixed up with some pretty serious gang activity. Before too long, I was selling hard drugs, fighting, drinking too much and just doing whatever I could to numb myself to the life I was living. I went through a lot of abuse, as so many transient young women do, and the more I got caught up in that life, the more I drank, and the more I drank, the more depressed I became. I did my best to stay active, as I had always been an active kid, but some days I couldn’t even get out of bed. I used a lot of speed and ecstasy to keep myself going, but when I crashed I would really crash. I ended up having a mild seizure on ecstasy that had been cut with some gnarly chemicals, and by the time I reached 17, I had been in 6 car accidents and my body, mind and spirit were a mess. I really needed a change, but I didn’t know how to get out. I finally hit rock bottom about 6 months before I turned 18 when I was arrested for possession and some other gnarly stuff and could have been facing a bunch of time. But, since it was a first time drug offense, I was an underage white kid and I had my tough as fuck mom there giving the cops all sorts of shit (thanks mama), they let me off. I had been to juvi once before with a weapons charge and I sure didn’t want to go back, especially since I was so close to being charged as an adult. I got a chance that most kids don’t get to walk away and to be supported by someone, and I think it’s important to acknowledge how my privilege brought that about. I was lucky, but most kids aren’t.
So, fast forward about a year. It was incredibly hard to change my life, and so many days I just couldn’t get out of bed, but eventually I got off drugs and went back to school. I was still having a hard time with alcohol though, as I was working in bars and battling a lot of depression and really didn’t know where to go with my life. I really wanted to get back into performing, as I had danced a lot as a kid, so I ended up enrolling in theatre school, which helped me to shake off the walls I had built up around myself and to figure out who I really was, and then I found punk. I knew I didn’t like the way the system operated, of course I hated authority, and I found in punk this way to express myself in a way that I never knew I could. I joined my first metal band, gradually stopped drinking, started being more active, and then was introduced to veganism by a co-worker who couldn’t believe that someone who loved animals as much as I did and wanted to be away from the corruption of a capitalist system would participate in the oppression of other beings. I watched “Meet your Meat”, cried all night long and went vegan the next day. Of course I didn’t do it right at first and got sick like so many folks do, but the more I started to explore what my body really needed and how I could source it from plants, the better I felt. Around this time I also read Dharma Punx by Noah Levine, and started to open up to this idea that I could start to do more for myself and others by living simply, and giving back. Once I started to volunteer for animal rights and environmental organizations, I finally started to feel like I had direction, and a voice as well. I started to feel more alive than I had in years… I wanted to sing, dance, play super heavy music, help others, be healthy and find peace. So I did some traveling in South America to explore peace and spirituality and then moved to Vancouver where I could be closer to a rad music scene, volunteer gigs and somewhere I could really start to be free.
I spent the next 5 years doing exactly all that. I did theatre, I volunteered at a centre for terminally ill cats, I walked dogs with the SPCA, and I played a lot of music. I played in a couple bands, but spent the most time with a thrash band that toured coast to coast, and then I ended up marrying the guitar player. I was happy, I was motivated, I had energy, but as it happens in punk circles, I started to get into drinking again. My husband at the time drank a lot, as did all of our friends, so I got back into it pretty hard, and after a while I lost track of what I had originally set out to do, besides play music. Don’t get me wrong, we had a blast, especially when we were playing and touring, but outside of music I started to feel pretty lost. I woke up one day, probably sometime in 2010, when I realized that I had lost a lot of who I was. I wasn’t being an activist, I had stopped being vegan, my actions (particularly when drunk) were harmful to others and myself, and I wasn’t being the person I knew I could be. My marriage was crumbling, filled with violence and alcohol abuse, and I scared and suffering such heavy anxiety that I could hardly function. I started to cut down on the partying, got back into veganism and activism, and then decided to quit my job, apply for stress leave and start 3 months of daily yoga. I learned more about myself in those 3 months than I had in years, and it was after that when I really started to open up to my own path. In the following year I left my marriage, quit drinking completely and claimed edge, and dove into doing everything I possibly could for the earth and her inhabitants. Here’s a quick sidenote about why I decided to go straightedge…. It’s true, there is a lot of misogynist, thug bullshit in straightedge, but there are also some of the most wonderful, caring, sensitive, dedicated, fearless and open folks I’ve ever met within that scene too, and those folks are who they are because they made decisions in their lives to be better to themselves, and to others. That’s the part about straightedge that I want to celebrate and talk about, because the other stuff is just the same nonsense that exists in most social circles that can be changed and moved away from. So, without the hindrance of alcohol, I found I had sooo much more energy for the stuff that meant the most to me. I was beginning to actually heal, and soon I wasn’t missing protests or yoga classes because I was too hung over, my body wasn’t hurting as much from past trauma, and I wasn’t so depressed I couldn’t get out of bed. I really began to find my own individuality and not be scared to let it show. And because I wasn’t partying, I had all the time ever to stand up for those who couldn’t stand for themselves and to live my dream.
After a lot of rad campaigns, exciting adventures, traveling the world to work with animals (hint: if you want to do something, go volunteer and learn without the cost of institutionalized education!), rad band tours, TONS of learning about responsibility and accountability and yoga, yoga, yoga, I eventually found my way down to Costa Rica and here is where I’m writing from now. I’ve been working on myself a lot over the years so that I can be better to others, and I find with each passing month I get a little more grounded, a bit more centered and lot more focused on the path I want to be on. I’m a yoga teacher now, as well as a self-taught-and-still-learning wildlife rehabilitator and conservationist, and I’ve found that the more I clear out everything that holds me back, the more life really opens up. The practice of yoga has been so, so, so beneficial for me, because not only have I been able to heal my body, but I also work every day to heal my mind, address my trauma and begin to clear the poisonous thoughts that have been stuck inside for way too long. And as a teacher, I get to share my own experiences with others, and I get to learn from their experiences and personal stories as well. It’s not easy, for any of us, because we all face such brutal conditioning in a colonial, patriarchal system full of oppression and hierarchy, and it really takes a lot of time to detox from all of that conditioning. But, each and every one of us can do it in our own unique way, and the important part comes in supporting one another and realizing that it is a huge process, sometimes even one that can last a lifetime, and that empathy, understanding and compassion are so crucial in our community spaces so that we can support one another through the changes. I find that there are a lot of people moving towards healthier ways of living these days, and that’s so incredibly special, but as we start to awaken to the lives we want to be living, I think it’s really important to not expect it of everyone right this minute, or be harsh to those who are still working through their stuff. ESPECIALLY within straightedge and vegan circles. We are all at different points in our paths, we all come from different backgrounds and have different support systems, and not everyone has the same access to information, food sources, healthcare, safe spaces, etc etc. The more we can broaden our understanding of where others are at and then work together (even if we haven’t all made the same lifestyle choices), thus inspiring one another to get free in ways as different and unique as we all are, the sooner we will all be able to find this path of freedom and liberation together. We’ve been angry punks, activists and anarchists for a long time, fighting the system with whatever we’ve got but not taking any time to care for ourselves, but now is the time to be mindful, to practice a bit more self-care and understanding for one another, and to build community. Then from there, from that point of grounding, moving forward with a clear head and an open heart, we can be fiercer than ever and united towards building a better world for us all.
Mya Wollf is a straightedge, vegan anarcha-feminist from Vancouver, unceeded Coast Salish Territory, who now resides with her family of 2 dogs, 3 cats and 1 partner in Costa Rica , teaching yoga and volunteering with sea turtle conservation and street dog rescue. Her project, Total Liberation Yoga, offers free and donation yoga in community spaces and works towards eliminating barriers that prevent people from accessing the teachings such as cost, language, location and accessibility. Currently, she is working on her next project of a youth drop in centre/safer space for street kids and at-risk-women that combines food cultivation and sharing, music, yoga and working with animals to explore relationships that exist without judgment. She still plays music, her last project being grindcore band Violent Restituion, and she also runs a punk distro from the jungle called FelinarchyDisto to support her volunteer efforts.