A Holiday Message From a Formerly Homeless Addict on the Importance of Relationships…

The Holidays bring up a lot of feelings in me. I see and hear how everyone is stressed about what to buy, cook, wear, see a relative they don’t like, etc. At times is seems that the holidays have become more commercial than actually about the holidays. All this has caused me, and others, to lose sight of what is truly important: Relationships.

What would we have in life if we did not have connection with others?

How would we feel if the ones whom have loved and supported us on our journey were not there?

The holidays are about honoring our relationships and sharing gratitude that we are all connected as human beings.

What It Was Like

Before I got sober I placed little value on my relationships. I was self-centered, stuck in an ego victim mindset and convinced that the world had somehow betrayed me. My only focus was drugs and getting as high as I could. I dreaded the holidays, the seasons changing to fall, the expectation of gifts and large parties I did not want to go to.

One Christmas eve I never made it home for family dinner because I was too high.   My family was furious and very concerned about me but I could have cared less…

What It Is Like Now

Sobriety has brought many things in to my life. Gifted me with strong spiritual experiences and helped me achieve success in pursuing my dreams.

But the biggest gift that sobriety has given me is my relationships.

During my using days I lost everyone, my family, friends, job, home, EVERYTHING.  By following a sober path and lifestyle, everything I lost has come back to me.

This holiday I share my extreme gratitude for life, connection and spirituality. I am honored to share in this journey we call life. Partake in deep connections to others, support my family, friends and community. I am grateful that I can contribute to making the world a better place simply by accepting everyone for who and what they far. I have learned to value the differences in everyone. Sobriety has shown me anything is possible if you truly believe it is.

On this holiday I am reminded that each relationship is a gift. We are a reflection of our loved ones, friends, colleagues, and acquaintances.

 

We are all connected by the same universal source, some may call it love, some may call it god. Whatever it is, it joins us all together.

 

Let us honor and spread love to all on this beautiful holiday.

 

Josh V.

San Francisco, California

10 Months, Nicotine Free – Jason Tells His Story Of Breaking Addiction.

As the holidays approach, I’m grateful to be just shy of 10 months nicotine-free. The fact that I didn’t give up trying to quit until the miracle finally happened is the best gift I could have given myself and the people who love me.

I started smoking in college in 1993, and started trying to quit a month or two later. Granted I wasn’t very motivated to stop as a 20-year-old student, but even then quitting was already beyond any strength or willpower I could muster.

I got a year and a half smoke-free at one point, about two years into recovery from alcoholism, but I never really applied 12-step principles to smoking and one night after a meeting I decided to bum “just one.” I barely thought twice about it. Just one turned into half a pack that night, and I bought my own pack the next day. For 12 more years I was a smoker who was always ‘just about to quit.’ There were periods when I gave up and resigned myself to my fate, but for the most part—to my credit—I kept trying.

Late last year I started going to the gym for the first time since I was in my twenties, and my 42-year-old smoker’s lungs and oxygen-starved muscles protested loudly.  A friend gave me a copy of Alan Carr’s Easy Way to Stop Smoking, and I read it. At that point I realized what my blind spot had been—for so long I had considered myself a smoker who happened to be quitting, but I never did the same first step with regard to nicotine that had begun my freedom from alcohol.

At that point a number of changes in my thinking began to more closely reflect reality, which eased the quitting process for me:

 

I’m not a “smoker,” I’m a nicotine addict pure and simple. Words matter. As an active smoker I am constantly going through withdrawal and fending off the inevitable by picking up just one more cigarette. As long as I keep the obsession going that sometime I’ll beat the craving, no rational reasoning is likely to get me to stop. It will never be easier; it’s an addiction.

Quitting is 100% possible. People do it all the time. I’ve done it. Part of me endlessly debated whether I “could do it” – which for an addict is an easy out to keep smoking. Of course I could be a non-smoker – I did it every day of my life until I started smoking.

Withdrawal is temporary, will not kill me, and though it will make me a little crazy for a while, that’s OK.

Today, I feel healthier and younger than I’ve ever felt. My colleagues at work have noticed that I don’t smell as bad and am much more productive and focused. I’m downright athletic for the first time in my life, training for a Triathlon next year.

Most of all, I’m not thinking constantly about cigarettes—about when I’ll get my next fix, about the discomfort of physical craving, about how I wish I could sit and focus during after-dinner conversation or enjoy a lazy morning in bed on a cold winter day without having to go satisfy my addiction. They no longer control me as long as I don’t pick up the first one.

Our Inspirations:  Phoenix Multisport and Scott Strode

I read a great article in the October 12, 2016 edition of the Philly Voice entitled Recovering Addicts Using Cross Fit to Exercise their Demons and wanted to share it with you.   The article tells the story of Scott Strode who has been sober from alcohol and cocaine for nineteen years.  About eight years ago he founded Phoenix Multisport in Boulder, Colorado.

Scott Strode, founder and operator of Phoenix Multisport, a nonprofit gym that offers free services for people with 48 hours of contiguous sobriety B64813904Z.1 in Newport Beach. ///ADDITIONAL INFO: cu.1119.phoenixsport - 11/13/15 - BY JOSHUA SUDOCK, STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER - Phoenix Multisport, a nonprofit gym that offers free services for people with 48 hours of contiguous sobriety. Taking portrait of Scott Strode (founder) and the NB gym operator. Picture made at Phoenix Multisport in Newport Beach, California on Friday, November 13, 2015.

Scott integrated hiking, weight training and other forms of exercise into his own recovery.  Following what worked for him, Scott founded Phoenix Multisport to integrate exercise into on overall twelve-step program.   At Phoenix Multisport people recovering from substance abuse along with anyone else who chooses to live sober, come to train in a gym setting and enhance their twelve-step program.   The types of physical activity at Phoenix include: climbing, hiking, running, strength training, yoga, and road/mountain biking.  Beyond the numerous physical pursuits, Multisport also offers social events which help build a sense of community among participants.

 

Phoenix Multisport has expanded beyond Boulder and presently offers programs in numerous cities in Colorado; Orange County, California; Boston, Massachusetts and  Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

The organization’s goal is simple: “To expand people’s sober community while creating a safe environment.”   The organization acknowledges: “people choosing to live a sober lifestyle often find it necessary to make changes to many aspects of their lives, including their social circles, in order to maintain sobriety.  Abrupt changes in lifestyle can lead to loss of support networks, and often cause people to become isolated.”   Phoenix Multisport fills a void for someone in recovery by providing  positive social and physical activities that support a healthy lifestyle.   The program helps people in recovery build “a new identity as a sober athlete in place of a

drug addict or alcoholic.”

The inspirational work accomplished by Scott and everyone at Phoenix Multisport has helped save lives and improve the quality of life for so many already in recovery.   At Spiritual Adrenaline we hope to see Scott’s brainchild spread across all fifty states.

If you are interested in reading the Philly Voice article, go to www.phillyvoice.com/recovering-addicts-using-crossfit-to-exercise-their-demons. Also, check out the Phoenix Multisport website at www.phoenixmultisport.org.

If you know of any individual or organization that is using exercise and/or nutrition as part of an overall twelve-step program and would like to share their story, let us know. Send us an email at blog@spiritualadrenaline.me.

Ordinary Recovery, William Alexander – Recovery Spirituality

stinkingthinkingphotoRecovery Spirituality –  Ordinary Recovery, William Alexander

 An incredibly important part of realizing a spiritual awakening is the journey towards that point while dealing with what is often referred to as “stinking thinking”.  This refers to those thoughts and impulses that pop into our heads without forewarning, or any trigger that compels us to return to our old bad behaviors.   Scientists say that average folk have approximately 40,000 thoughts pop into their heads daily.   When I was using and in early recovery, I think the same three or four thoughts popped into my head 40,000 times a day: “Drink”; “Do a Line”; “Act Out Sexually”; or in early recovery, “Eat at the Problem”. Being bombarded 40,000 times a day with these unhealthy and unhelpful thoughts was a huge problem.

These thoughts or impulses had control for a very long time.  By the time I realized the thought or impulse popped into my head, I was already off to the races to make it happen.  There are numerous ways I have successfully dealt with this in recovery. Gratitude, mindfulness and breath are among the tools I used; Buddhists have known for thousands of years, the importance of breath, as a tool to end suffering.

In his book, Ordinary Recovery, William Alexander, an addict in long-term recovery who was ordained a Buddhist Monk, relates how truly simple the solution is to the complicated problem of addiction. I highly recommend you read Ordinary Recovery and attend the once yearly “Buddhists in Recovery” retreat co-facilitated by Bill at KTD Monastery in Woodstock, New York. If you attend, I can almost guarantee that I will have the pleasure to meet you in person, as I am a regular and huge fan of Bill, his book and KTD.

Bill has a number of mindfulness tools in his book, all of which involve “taming the dragon”. No matter what tool you chose to use, Bill’s advice on how to handle stinking thinking is as follows:

Stop.

Breath.

Look deeply.

Express gratitude.

Tell Someone.

 

It truly is that simple.   By focusing on our stopping the stinking thinking and focusing on our breath, we retake control of our mind.   We must learn how to “look deeply” and Bill’s book and other mindfulness teachings can help you with that.  Gratitude then overcomes the thought or impulse and you share about it.  Only your secrets can keep you sick.

The key to to force the mind back into the positive and to gratitude.  An alcoholic or addict that stays in gratitude will not use.  

I highly recommend you check out Ordinary Recovery by William Alexander for more helpful tools to avoid stinking thinking.

We look forward to your feedback on this and other blog posts or questions. If you have used exercise and/or nutrition as a tool in your recovery or know someone who has, shoot us an email or video at: blog@spiritualadrenaline.me.

Amanda Buck Interview Part 3 – Amanda’s Hope for her Future (From 400 Pounds to Personal Trainer)

This week we conclude our three part look at Amanda Buck’s amazing transformation from 400 pounds to in shape personal trainer at Equinox in New York City.  This week we look at Amanda’s hope for her future and that of others who she works with professionally.   Parts 1 & 2 are available at www.spiritualadrenaline.me, on the exercise page for blogs dated June 2, 2016 and July 11, 2016.

Part 1 

Part 2

 

Teen Challenge New England Interview With Travis N

The Soulfest Music Festival hosts lots of organizations that are recovery based.   Among the organizations at Soulfest 2016 was Teen Challenge/New England. In this post, I chat with Travis N. about the role music has played in his recovery.   We are really excited for Travis and wish him many more years of happiness and sobriety.   For more information on Teen Challenge, visit:  www.tcnewengland.org.

CELEBRATING THREE YEARS SMOKE FREE –  WHAT IT TOOK ME TO QUIT

tom-14-spinning-positions-with-willa-wirth-00_01_20_00-still002On September 27, 2016, I celebrated three years without smoking:  nicotine, and its potently designed delivery system known as the cigarette, which is probably the most evil drug I have ever tried.

I smoked for twenty-four years and never thought I would be able to quit.  Like many people, I started smoking when I was drinking alcohol, in my case in college.  I loved the head rush of smoking one or two cigarettes.  I always said to myself that I would never buy a pack. It’s amazing how powerful addiction truly is, I was buying packs before I ever realized I was buying packs and by the time reason caught up with impulse, I was hooked.   The addiction continued for twenty-four years.

About a year and a half into my sobriety from alcohol and drugs, I was working out regularly, eating right and going to twelve step meetings regularly.  However, I was actually smoking more than I was when I was in active use.

Sharing My Ideas With Others

I started to realize that I wanted to share the exercise and nutrition regimen I had developed in my recovery with others.   I started to call the regimen that I had developed Spiritual Adrenaline.  I felt that the tools that so benefited me could benefit others and wanted to begin the process of writing those ideas down.  The goal was to develop a platform, such as a website and Facebook page, to share my ideas and help others

A Sober Hypocrite?

As I started to write my ideas down, I began to realize that I was chain-smoking as I was writing:  This blew my mind.  Here I was sitting down to memorialize healthy ways to break free of the scourge of addiction and all the while, I was chain-smoking cigarettes. This disgusted me and when I looked at myself in the mirror, I realized that I was a hypocrite. Say one thing, do another.  I figured the world already had enough hypocrites and did not need one more.  I decided that until such time as I was truly sober, i.e., no longer controlled by nicotine that I was not “qualified” to write about a healthy lifestyle one could use to overcome addiction.

The ideas that I have come to call Spiritual Adrenaline, were so important to me that they are focused me on dealing with my smoking once and for all.   I wanted to share these ideas so badly, as I knew they could improve or outright save lives, that I dedicated all my efforts to quitting smoking.  Substances had taken away so many things that I loved and I was determined to mitigate my losses and not allow any substance to control my destiny.

 

Smoking Is Not Sober Behavior

I decided to stop writing things down and developing the website and platform for Spiritual Adrenaline until I could quit smoking.   That decision firmly committed me on the path of quitting once and for all.  As they say at twelve-step meetings, half measures will avail us of nothing.  By recognizing that I had to give up smoking in order to grow as a person and realize true sobriety, the light bulb in my head finally went off.

I was honest with myself that my smoking was not sober and by recognizing this, the behavior became no longer acceptable to my long-term goals and success.

My last cigarette was on September 26, 2013.  My lungs feel amazing, I have vastly more energy, am less anxious, and feel wonderful that I can be in the office, airport or wherever and not be stressing about needing a smoke.   It’s a completely different way to live.

The tools I used to quit can be found on the pages of the Spiritual Adrenaline website: www.spiritualadrenaline.me.   I hope that at least some of the tools that helped me can also help you or someone else you love.

We would love your feedback on this and other blog posts.  Email us or shoot us a short video at blog@spiritualadrenaline.me.

 

Relationships in the First Year of Recovery

The two reasons most people relapse are romance and finances.  These are tough issues to tackle, but very much necessary to ensure that recovery is based upon a solid foundation.   So this week we will take a look at relationships in early recovery and over time as our recovery matures.

 

The Twelve Steps

Twelve-step literature contains no specific discussion of avoiding relationships in the first year. However, it is almost universally recommended that people in their first year avoid them.   When people would give me this advice back in the day, I would ask why?  More often than not, a deer in the headlights look would come over their face.  Usually they would then say: “That’s what my sponsor told me.”  For me, that was not enough:  I wanted to know why so many people give this advice.

But Why?

A great explanation of the underlying rational for this very sensible advice can  be found at www.relationshipvision.com.   Here’s what they have to say:

“The problem is not the relationship or the intimacy. It’s the sex. Sex tends to increase one’s level of emotional involvement and intensity of feelings, especially for women. Men tend to cope by splitting off from their feelings; that is, are more likely to engage in sexual relationships while remaining emotionally divorced or superficial. Sex is a trigger for emotional over-involvement or under-involvement relative to the stage of relationship. Either way, each one’s inability to manage his/her own emotional needs and provide self-nourishment will eventually jeopardize the developing relationship.          

What often happens is that sex, exciting enough as it is, often leads to an infusion of romantic feelings, which can further heighten the excitement, which then awakens the “sleeping giant” — the backlog of unmet emotional needs from previous relationships. The “giant” awakens (emotionally) ravenous and is not aware of the extent his/her hunger drives the relationship. Our unmet emotional needs reside in our unconscious and are sealed off from our awareness.

It’s during the first year of recovery that the addict is to learn how to break the cycle of addiction. A year of sobriety and “relationship abstinence” is meant to allow a sufficient amount of time to deal with one’s own emotions without having to resort to his/her addiction, to build self-awareness and to become responsible for one’s own emotional care. Rather than relying on an external source for relief or emotional gain, which is what s/he is accustomed to do, s/he begins to look internally, to rely on oneself as a source of emotional nourishment.

“The most important relationship is with oneself” poses a complete paradigm shift to the recovering addict. If the necessary amount of time to grow the relationship with oneself hasn’t lapsed, chances are the recovering addict will do what they’ve been accustomed to doing all of their lives; that is to look outside of oneself for relief or to make up for what is missing emotionally.”

 

What About After the First Year?      

The issue of relationships is something that is as relevant in years two, three, four and thereafter.    The reason is simple: we have absolutely no control over another person and when we open ourselves up emotionally, we risk getting hurt.  I often lose site of the potential for being hurt when I am interested in someone.  I tend to focus on the positives and not give enough thought to “what if it does not work out.”  The majority of the suffering in my life has been self-inflicted and relates to this topic.   Another major issue for me and others is that often times, the needs of a potential partner may be completely inconsistent with our own.  They may be in a completely different phase of their life in comparison to our own and as much as we love them (or think we do), it’s just not the right fit.

Another major question is, does the other person respect your sobriety and are they in, or out, of recovery.  I often hear about people who meet in recovery and then one of them goes out, back to their old lifestyle.  Unfortunately, when one person in a relationship gets clean and the other does not that makes for big trouble.  In my opinion, it’s a matter of time before you pick up these bad behaviors again whether this means drinking heavily and/or drinking.  I base this opinion upon years of hearing from recovering addicts at meetings and from friends about people getting dragged down.   Some have even died from returning to their addictive habits.

This is serious stuff so what can we do?

 

Soulful Power

Given my interest in this issue, I recently attended a one-day Soulful Power Soulful Relationships retreat facilitated by Christian De La Huerta in Lambertville, Pennsylvania.  Christian is a nationally renowned breath expert, author of Coming Out Spiritually and the upcoming book Soulful Power.  At the retreat Christian went into detail about removing the obstacles that we place in our own way to finding love.   His premise is if we look inside of ourselves and recognize the obstacles that keep us from being able to connect spiritually with another human being, we can then remove them.  Once those obstacles are out of the way, we won’t have to look for a meaningful and fulfilling relationship:  It will come to us.

 

Examine the Ego

So how do we do this?  Christian’s advice is to examine our ego (applying the Eastern meaning to the word) and how it blocks us from connecting spiritually.  Christian went into detail about how our ego wants to “win, be right, look good and survive” at the expense of our happiness and honesty in dealing with others.   Christian pointed out these truths:

“Ego reaches out to the world and grabs and holds onto things.”

“Ego wants to keep everything as it is and doesn’t want anything to change.”

“The ego’s job is to maintain the status quo, no matter what.”

 

Emotionally Unavailable, Clinging and Projection

Ego forces us to avoid accepting simple truths.  For example, is the person we seek to be in a relationship with “emotionally unavailable” and are we failing to recognize this?  Are we seeking to change or otherwise “rescue” a partner?  Are we projecting onto this person what we want or need for ourselves?  Are we clinging based upon real love or attachment or some other form of codependence?

Really interesting questions to ponder.  When I returned from the retreat I turned these questions into a tenth step inventory and used that inventory to look very closely at myself.

 

Look Inside for Happiness Rather Than Externally

To help us focus really deep inside, Christian had all the retreat participants practice a specialized breath technique.   We were instructed on how to breath very deeply and then went about doing that for a half-hour.  The technique although exhausting, helped to reach what I would describe as a state of bliss.  Christian described this as the point at which the ego is no longer in control.   With the ego out of the way, I was able to think very deeply and ponder my relationships.

The two points that I seemed to focus on were why I am so attracted to “emotionally unavailable” people and my willingness to look the other way at lies and deceit.   I hate to admit it, but think that both are manifestations of my own tendency to be co-dependent.

It was a powerful experience for my first time participating.  Others who had more practice with the breathing technique went really deep.   It seems that the more times people practice their breathing, the deeper the experience.  One individual, who had fifteen prior retreats, had a powerful and profoundly moving experience that is hard to describe in writing.   The best way to describe it would be to say it was intense:  In a semi-trance like state screaming about how beautiful love is and how “it’s all about love, that’s what it’s all about.  Get rid of the bullshit and it’s all above LOVE”.

 

My Experience with Relationships in Recovery

            In my first year, I met someone who I liked very much at an AA meeting in Portland Maine.  We both had about two months at the time we met.  We started dating and everything was groovy.  We went to meetings together and did lots of fun stuff together.  Out of nowhere right after we both celebrated six months, this person stopped going to meetings and told me that they no longer had a drinking problem and did not like being referred to as an “alcoholic.”  Within a month, he was smoking pot and drinking wine around me.  He had been reliable and always returned my texts and calls but suddenly would not respond for days.  When I asked what was up, he wouldn’t answer.    It got to the point of him offering me pot and wine as we hung out.  I was very serious about sobriety and so this was not tempting.

I kept thinking about how hurt I was and how devastating the whole situation was for me   I really wanted to remain with this person but I was committed to my recovery and he was not.   I kept thinking about all the people who had warned me not to get into a relationship in the first year. I had ignored them and just did what I felt was best:  The exact same judgment that had failed me in the past was now putting me at jeopardy again.   I put faith in my higher power and ended the relationship.  It was incredibly hard and he was the first person that chose alcohol and drugs over me.  It gave me some insight into how my family and others felt when I chose alcohol and drugs over them.  It’s not fun.

 

The Fork in the Road

At the time, I did a tenth step inventory about the relationship.  I also drew a fork in the road and did a list of what my life would be like if I took the different directions of the fork.  One fork represented my life if the relationship continued, the other fork represented my life if I ended it and stayed sober.

By doing this, I was able to visualize that in six months or so, the relationship would end whether I liked it or not.   There was not going to be a happy ending with someone who was back using and disappearing for days at a time.  I recognized that by pursing this fork in the road, I would let down my family and the people that really mattered for someone who cared nothing about me and was not capable of caring due to their alcohol and drug use.   I had been down that road before and knew the outcome. It was powerful to sit there and do the inventory along with following the different paths to the consequences to actually recognize that the relationship was not in my long-term best interests.  Affirmatively making this choice to end the clinging and put my own interests over the other person’s was huge.

I ended the relationship, had no further contact with the person and committed to not having any more relationships until I got my own shit together.   I committed to at least one year of relationship abstinence and this wound up lasting for three.

 

Abstinence from Relationships Permits Internal Reflection

 

             Prior to being completely unattached to another for a long period of time, I had absolutely no clue how much mental energy and focus a relationship with another person truly is.  When I was in a relationship, or interested in being in one, the other person’s wants, feelings and needs took a major part of my limited mental energy.  We are all human and only have so much room and energy in our minds and hearts.    By intentionally eliminating another person for a period of time, I permitted myself to use my mental energy to reflect on my own wants, feelings and needs. What a concept!

This freed me up to focus on intensely working steps, attending recovery retreats, rebuilding my business, making my financial amends and ensuring my health was restored in a sustainable manner.  I credit abstaining from relationships or evening looking for one, for a couple of years, as an important pillar or foundation for the success of my recovery.   Now, I would like to be in a relationship, but only with someone who values the same lifestyle as me:  That does not mean just attending meetings.  It means someone who understands: the “outside issues” are critically relevant to sobriety from any substance, and who practices the steps in “all of their affairs.”   Even after 5 ½ years sober, I find the majority of my sadness or suffering is self-inflicted as I continue to be attracted to people who are “emotionally unavailable” or just not the right fit.   As they say in the rooms, it’s progress not perfection!

I think being selfish in this respect in early recovery is an incredibly powerful tool to liberate our body and minds from reliance on external factors, in this case, the approval of another person, for our own happiness.  We will never be happy if we look externally for approval or to enhance our self esteem.

 

Your Own Soul and the Power That Lies Within

The Soulful Power workshop I attended with Christian was an opportunity to reflect on this important topic and learn new tools, such as breath, so I can continue to grow and look deeper into my own soul for the power that lies within.

If you are interested in attending a workshop with Christian, visit his website at www.soulfulpower.com

We would love your feedback on this and other topics we cover.    Email me at tom@spiritualadrenaline.me.