Why living well is the best way to honor those we have lost.
Each day when I wake up and turn on the news, I’m reminded of the horrendous death toll caused by the pandemic. It’s a tragedy on a scale hard to imagine. I’ve lost friends, colleagues and loved ones just like most other Americans. As the pandemic is far from over, I continue to pray for those who have been taken by the virus and hope the vaccine will mitigate future death and misery.
As dark as the COVID cloud may be, the irony is that the pandemic has also had a silver lining. You may wonder how that could be possible!? At the outset of the pandemic, I resolved myself to use my time “sheltering in place” and in isolation as productively as possible. I watched as many relentlessly posted depressing and often obnoxious messages on social media and/or complained about having nothing to do. This behavior only reinforced the fear-mongering of the main stream media and accomplished nothing.
In contrast, I decided to focus on gratitude, spending more time with family and helping others. If any of the 500,000 Americans taken so far could come back for even one day, I’m confident they would be grateful and focus on family, loved ones and enjoying themselves. Not embracing anger, fear and obnoxious judgmental behavior on social media.
Here’s the silver lining in my life resulting from the dark cloud of COVID
Having had the opportunity to work virtually, I spent much more time with my family. Rather than rushed visits, I was able to spend many days at a time and enjoyed more meaningful conversations and activities. Most importantly, my Mom is 91 years-old. Each hour I get to spend with her is a gift. I’ve embraced this gift made possible by the pandemic.
Pre-COVID, my nephew Benjamin was always too busy with high school during the week and as a referee at soccer games on weekends to really spend time with me. We usually connected with each other briefly at family dinners or celebrations. At the outset of the pandemic, he expressed an interest in hiking, one of my passions. Since last April, we’ve hiked in New York, Connecticut, Massachusettes and Vermont. This past week, to celebrate his 18th birthday, I took Ben to the Grand Canyon. We enjoyed a five-day hike and camping along the Grand View trail at the bottom of the Canyon. It was an epic adventure he’ll remember all his life! During the hike, we spent hours discussing his interests, passions and goals for the future. You cannot put a price tag on that type of bonding!
To help others in New York City struggling with their mental health due to the pandemic, I along with a small group of others, most notably Ben Green and Esther Yang, formed Sober Active NYC. We offered free workouts in Central Park. We then merged with Scott Strode and The Phoenix, the largest sober active group in the nation, to form The Phoenix NYC. Now, New Yorkers can enjoy all kinds of free programming, but more importantly, be part of a community of supportive people who truly care about others. Go to www.the phoenix.com or @thephoenixnyc on Facebook to participate.
Financially, I set goals to pay down my mortgage. Since travel wasn’t possible and so many businesses were closed, it seemed like an opportunity to focus on work and get my finances in order. I was able to pay down my mortgage and just refinanced. Although it was often hard to focus on work given the tragedy unfolding all around me, I recognized that succumbing to fear and endlessly watching the news or surfing on social media would get me nowhere. Now, as we hopefully emerge from the pandemic, I am in a much better financial place. This will enable me to dedicate more time to my passion projects like Spiritual Adrenaline, The Phoenix NYC and service to others.
Being anxious, depressed and living in fear would not have made the last year and one-month better for me or anyone else. In fact, it would have made it worse. Just like all of you, I struggled to maintain focus, avoid acting out with food or other substances as coping mechanisms and was challenged to remain positive and optimistic that things would be better in the future. It was a struggle each and every day but I stuck to it! I took it one day at a time and utilized coping tools I developed over the last ten years.
Many of the tools I utilized to not only survive, but to thrive, during the pandemic are included in my book Spiritual Adrenaline: A Lifestyle Plan to Strengthen & Nurture Your Recovery. It’s available on Amazon and at Barnes & Noble. For lots of free ideas on how you can thrive, visit www.spiritualadrenaline.com. Every morning when I wake up, I focus on gratitude for being alive. I cherish each day as a gift! I endeavor to do the best I can to improve my life and help others. I truly believe that living well is the best way to honor the memory of those we have lost!
I’d love to tell you David Clark and I were good friends, but we weren’t. Like many others, I stood in awe of David from the sidelines. I watched his videos and read his Facebook posts. I first met David in 2012 when my wife Sheena was running an Ultra Marathon to benefit victims of the Aurora Colorado shooting. David not only ran the race but won it. Afterwards, he took the time to speak with Sheena and the rest of the Addict2Athlete team. David shared his story with us. The members of our team shared their stories of addiction and recovery as well. From that point on, it became clear that we were all cut from the same cloth. When David was attempting to break the world record for the longest treadmill run, we made Addict2Athlete t-shirts with his photo on them.
The shirt had a silhouette of David running with a Superman cape flowing behind him. He indeed was an example of holistic recovery and unwavering dedication. As years went on, David and I had many conversations about Veganism and Buddhism. David was a wealth of knowledge but was always careful to say: “That’s just my opinion.” Regardless, his words touched my soul. I would frequently transition between being a vegan and following a paleo diet. Every time I called him for plant-based diet pointers he would say: “Well, well, the prodigal son returns.” Of course with a laugh and he never stopped helping.
I am a four-time Ironman, but after my fourth Ironman, I started to struggle with anxiety. I dropped out of several races including a half and full ironman. After a year of rest, I signed up for my fifth Ironman to honor a few friends who had passed on. Finishing the race meant the world to me. The night before, I was stuck with terrible anxiety and spent most of the night crying and scared. I was going to drop out. But just then, I was scrolling through Facebook and saw a post from David. I was filled with envy of his fearlessness. I reached out to him in the middle of the night asking him about anxiety. He responded in typical calming David fashion, and told me: “I do have anxiety. I enjoy all of it. I try not to win internal arguments; be in the moment you’ll be fine.” I took his advice and finished the race.
David has spoken at several Addict2Athlete events, and when I tried to help him sell books his goal was always to get books to the people who needed them rather than those who could afford them. A hand-full of us started the active recovery movement. Like the others, I have a vast amount of people who look to me for guidance, or at least experience strength and hope. I am incredibly grateful to have had David to lean on. In retrospect, I now see that it seems like David was holding all of us up. In one of the last conversations I had with David we discussed Buddhism, leadership, and recovery. The last message David sent to me regarding recovery and leadership was: “The path is authentic communication with self through meditation and action.” David, although I didn’t get to see you often, I already miss you. Your teachings will live on through everyone you touched. You truly were Superman!
Rob Archuleta Co-Founder of Addict2Athlete
Rob’s words tell the story about the type of person David Clark was. I’m sure if you asked other endurance athletes and folks in recovery, you would hear a similar story of a time where David took a moment out of his life to be there to help lift others. He always expressed the desire to do more, to help more, to carry the message of hope to even more people.
Now we have a chance to do more for him in his memory. Please give what you can to support Davids’ family in this heartbreaking time. If David was the one here asking to help support another person in the recovery/endurance/athlete community, I’m sure he would be running 150 miles across the Mojave Desert trying to raise $20,000.00. He would do anything to help support the family of someone he barely knew because he felt in his heart it was the right thing to do. Please, give what you can to help his family through this difficult time.
The sober active movement certainly has lost one of our heroes. I will miss your smile, laughter and big hugs. But most of all, your beautiful spirit and eternal optimism. Rest peacefully David Clark. We will feel your energy in the moments of the marathon of life and recovery, where we all need to find the courage and strength to endure. “We Are Superman!”
Life has certainly gotten more complicated for all of us over the last few weeks as the full impact of the Corona Virus becomes clear. For those in addiction recovery, short or long-term, the impact has resonated in ways that rock the spiritual foundation for many addicts and alcoholics. Well-accepted pillars of addiction recovery, including reducing isolation, getting to twelve step meetings and engaging in fellowship with others, are no longer recommended for a simple reason: they are no longer safe. For most of our country and the world, getting out and actively engaging in twelve step meetings or fellowship would likely result in violating shelter-in-place orders. The sudden need to not only accept what you cannot change but embrace it right now at risk of death, presents an unprecedented challenge.
Liquor Stores and Marijuana Dispensaries are Essential Businesses
At the same time, while most businesses are closed, in New York State and many others, liquor stores remain open as they have been designated as “essential”. Patrons can call in orders to bars and have their favorite cocktails delivered. In Colorado and other states where marijuana is legal, non-medicinal marijuana dispensaries also remain open and have been declared “essential.” According to the market research firm Nielsen for the week ending March 22, 2020, hard liquor sales were up 75%, wine sales up 66% and beer up 42%. Online liquor sales were also up 243%. Sales are up at marijuana dispensaries and in the pornography industry. In a country where so many cope with crisis by numbing themselves with addictive substances or behaviors, those seeking to maintain their sobriety seem even more isolated and alone. A.A., N.A. and other major recovery communities have moved meetings and other types of support online. There are twelve step meetings offered via zoom and other platforms almost 24/7. However, online meetings and other traditional recovery modalities do not necessarily support the physical health. That’s where using this time of shelter-in-place to develop a self-care lifestyle can benefit you in the short and long-term.
Self-Care, Your Sobriety and the Pandemic
Studies show that those who integrate a self-care lifestyle, including exercise and nutrition, into their recovery, have much higher rates of success. Exercise can prompt the brain to regenerate dopamine receptors, reduce cravings for alcohol and drug, prompt the body to produce “feel good” hormones like endorphins[i]. The reason, exercise stimulatea the dopaminergic reward pathway and contribute to a reduction in levels of stress, anxiety and depression, all of which are prevalent in people who identify as being in recovery[ii]. In fact, some researchers have identified a correlation between exercise-related activity and the ability to cope with stress and anxiety in order to stay sober[iii]. The positive outcomes increase exponentially for those who also integrate healthy eating[iv]. It turns out your Mother was right all along: “you are what you eat” and “move a muscle, change a thought”. Advice for those in recovery regarding exercise routines and healthy nutrition, specific to the addiction recovery, is not so easy to come by. Here are some recommendations, all evidence-based, that folks in recovery can try during the shelter-in-place. Time at home over the next couple of weeks or months can be used for one of two purposes. To reinforce negative behaviors that will drag you back to addiction or develop positive new habits that affirm the desire to maintain your sobriety, even in these most challenging circumstances.
Although shelter-in-place and social distancing have changed how and when you can exercise, some good old-fashioned ways have resurfaced. Walking, probably the most under-appreciated form of workout, is becoming very popular. Put on your mask and gloves and walk around the block, to the store or go to a park. You can even invite someone to join you: I call that “green fellowship.” Even five minutes a day or regular waking has been shown to improve self-esteem and mood! Studies show outdoor workouts increase the benefits you receive compared to indoor workouts[v]. Almost every day I take a walk or a bike ride through a park or along a river or lake. Just like I never feel worse after attending a twelve step meeting, I’ve always feel better when I get home from my morning workout! If you can develop the habit of walking in the morning, it will help put you in a positive mind-set all day long. Take advantage of green spaces, fresh air and lack of crowds during the shelter-in-place and you might just get “addicted” to this positive habit[vi].
Bill W., one of the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, created a list of the “go to’ foods for alcoholics which undercut their sobriety. He referred to these foods as “The sister foods” to alcohol. They are French fries, potatoes, white rice, pasta, soda and refined sugar. The reason you want to avoid these foods is they are all calorie rich, but nutrient deficient, just like alcohol. They prompt your body to overproduce dopamine and other feel good hormones in an unsustainable way. This creates fluctuations in blood sugar and mood, just like alcohol and other substances did in active addiction. Here’s my recommendations for healthier alternatives: instead of french fries, sweet potato fries; instead of potatoes, yams or sweet potatoes, instead of white rice, whole grain or brown rice; instead of a starchy pasta, try a vegetable-based pasta, instead of refined sugar, honey; instead of soda with refined sugar, tonic or seltzer with fresh fruit to add flavor These are simple dietary changes that can lead to profound changes in your body, mind and spirit during shelter-at-home and beyond.
In our society, which requires almost everyone to multi-task and juggle many responsibilities simultaneously, shelter-at-home is a chance to breathe. If you can frame this opportunity to be home with family or just yourself as a positive one, you can appreciate the opportunity to reflect on your life and sobriety. In the context of nutrition, exercise and your recovery, the chance to reflect and journal is an opportunity that may not come again once things return to “normal.” It’s an opportunity to make conscious contact with your body, by integrating the Twelve Steps into what you eat and how much you exercise. Journaling will be even more impactful if you have applied the specific nutrition and exercise recommendations referenced earlier in this article.
Conduct a Fourth or Tenth Step inventory on how what you eat and the amount you exercise impact your health and sobriety. Here are some suggested questions: How does what I eat make me feel? Do I tend to eat emotionally and why? Do I tend to eat late at night, if so, why? Do I eat many of the sister foods to alcohol? If so, how can I modify what I am eating? Do I eat to numb emotions or avoid dealing with them? Do I eat at my problems? If so, how can I better handle these emotions or problems?
Now apply the Tenth Step to exercise or the lack of exercise in your life. Does my lack of movement impact how I feel? How has my lack of exercise impacted my health? How has lack of exercise impacted my sobriety? How can I better integrate exercise into my daily life? If you have gone out for walks as I recommended, try these questions: How do I feel after I go for a walk, better or worse? What did I enjoy most about going to the park today? What type of exercise can I commit to when I go back to work? Where can I work in exercise in my daily routine (use stairs rather than elevator)?
Don’t make the mistake so many Americans are making by choosing to numb yourself with alcohol, drugs, food, sex or other addictive behaviors during the next couple of weeks or months. Use shelter-at-home and social distancing as valuable “me” time to reflect on your relationship with food, exercise and your spiritual life. Keep an open mind and try these simple recommendations that can transform not only your sobriety but allow you to make conscious contact with your body, improve your physical health help foster a more positive outlook on life. For lots of ideas that can benefit you during these difficult days, visit www.spiritualadrenaline.com.
About the author:
Tom Shanahan is a civil rights attorney who lives in New York. He is also a personal trainer and certified in sports nutrition. He is the Author of Spiritual Adrenaline: Strengthen & Nourish Your Recovery, published by Central Recovery Press. Spiritual Adrenaline teaches people in recovery how to integrate exercise and nutrition into their twelve step practice.
[i] C.L. Robertson, et al., “Effect of Exercise Training on Striatal Dopamine D2/D3 Receptors in Methamphetamine Users during Behavioral Treatment,” Neuropsychopharamacology 41 (2016): 1629-36.
[ii] A.H. Taylor, et al., “Acute effect of exercise on alcohol urges and attentional bias towards alcohol related images in high alcohol consumers,” Mental Health and Physical Activity, 6, no. 3 (2013), 220-26.
[iii] S. Strode, et al., “impact of aerobic exercise training on cognitive functions and effect, associated to the COMT polymorphism in young adults,” Nuerobiology of Learning and Memory 94, no. 3, (2010): 364-72, cited by K. Blum, S. Teitelbaum, M. Oscar, Molecular Neurobiology of Addiction Recovery: The 12 Steps Program and Fellowship (New York Springer Publications, 2013): 26.
[iv] J.L. Medina, et al., “Exercise-related activities are associated with positive outcome in contingency management treatments for substance abuse disorders,” Addictive Behaviors 33 (2008): 1072-75.
[v] J.O. Barron and J. Pretty, “What is the Best Dose ofNature and Green Exercise for Improving Mental Health? A Multi-Study Analysis,” Environmental Science and Technology, 44 (2010);: 3947-55.
[vi] J. Thompson Coon, “Does Participating in Physical Activity in Outdoor Natural Environments Have a Greater Effect on Physical and Mental Wellbeing than Physical Activity Indoors? A Systematic Review,” Environmental Science and Technology, 45 (2011): 1761-72.
Joe Cannon is a nationally recognized expert in sports nutrition and supplement benefits/safety. He has an MS in exercise science and a BS in chemistry and biology. He’s the author of six books including Nutrition Essentials: A Guidebook for Fitness Professionals. He teaches Sports Nutrition and certifies personal trainers for the AAAI/ISMA and is a sought-after speaker on the role of nutrition and supplements and health. He’s so smart, he’s even been retained to lecture at NASA. Yes, NASA! Joe is among the foremost experts in supplement safety and regularly reviews scientific research and shares his opinions at www.supplementclarity.com.
I had the chance to interview Joe about the importance of nutrition to good health and a strong immune system. He also shared about what to avoid or be cautious about given so many scammers are making promises about supplements and the Corona Virus..
My approach to the Spiritual Adrenaline lifestyle help you get started slowly, and build on your success through incremental change. I offer a seven-day detox, thirty-day plan that you can modify based upon your health history, present circumstance and long-term goals. After my seven-day detox and thirty-day program, I teach you how to build your own long-term plan by integrating the basic components of Spiritual Adrenaline, exercise, nutrition and spiritual tools, into your daily life. Not only will I teach you how to integrate these tools, I’ll teach you to maximize the benefits by timing the tools you use throughout the day. Your goal will be for you to learn basic tools that can then become your new norm or modified “comfort zone”, where you are sober, happier and healthier.