Exercise, Nutrition & Self-Care as Coping Mechanisms During Crisis….

            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.  

Cranford, NJ, USA March 28, 2020 A sign in a park in Cranford, New Jersey reminds walkers and bikers on the trail to keep their social distance

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.    

Exercise Recommendations:

            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].

Nutritional Recommendations:

            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.   

Spiritual Recommendations:

            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)?  

Conclusion:

            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 of Nature 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.

Sustainable Resolutions Guide – Start, and Maintain a Sober Year.

SUSTAINABLE RESOLUTIONS

FOR PEOPLE IN RECOVERY

According to Forbes Magazine, just 8% of people who make a resolution keep it.  Most, break their resolutions in the first two weeks of the New Year. Here is a list of the most popular resolutions for last year:

  • Lose weight
  • Get organized
  • Spend less, save more
  • Enjoy life to the fullest
  • Stay fit and healthy
  • Learn something exciting
  • Quit smoking
  • Help others achieve their dreams
  • Fall in love
  • Spend more time with family

Although these resolutions are based upon people in the general population, it is likely that many people in recovery share these goals.

So Why Do So Many People Fail?

The problem with these resolutions is they go to the end game without a strategy to get there.   In other words you really need to have a plan, both short-term and long-term, to lose weight and keep it off, quit smoking or stay fit and healthy.   Rather than have such broad and sweeping resolutions, what worked for me, and I think may work for you, is to have the long-term goal in mind, but break it down into manageable subgroups, and really focus on making progress, baby-step by baby-step.  By focusing on the micro-level and succeeding, we are better able to gain the self-confidence necessary to ultimately achieve our desired end result.  No coach goes into a game without a strategy and, given that your quality of life is at stake here, neither should you.

Recovery-Based Resolutions

The list of last year’s top ten resolutions involve a lot of issues we address at Spiritual Adrenaline: lose weight; stay fit and healthy; quit smoking; etc.  Rather than incredibly broad resolutions, I recommend breaking down your resolution into smaller, more realistic goals and doing everything possible to achieve this realistic resolution.  Once you achieve it, you can set another and keep going.

For example, if you are looking to quit smoking you need to develop a plan to address “triggers” that lead you to smoke.  For me, that was coming and going from buildings.  When I was about to enter or leave a building, I would chew a nicotine lozenge to avoid lighting up.   Once I broke the habit of smoking coming and going from buildings, then I addressed not smoking in my car, etc.   It was the smaller victories along the way that ultimately enabled me to quit smoking.   It all starts somewhere and the smaller victories along the way build the self-confidence needed to ultimately win the war.

In the movie “What About Bob,” Bill Murray repeated the mantra “baby steps” over and over.   In early recovery, I adopted that mantra for most things.  It was incredibly important for me to stop self-defeating and self-sabotage and instead focus on getting out of my own way and being my own best friend.

Here are some achievable resolutions that will enhance your recovery and can start you down the road toward major change.  I picked one for each of the major areas we focus on here at Spiritual Adrenaline.

Recovery Nutrition:

Replace processed sugar and sweeteners with a natural sweetener:   Diabetes and hyperglycemia are a major issue for people in recovery.  The percentage of people in recovery with these conditions is well above the general population; according to some studies, as high as 93%.  These conditions often make it much more challenging to stay sober as fluctuation in blood sugar levels dramatically alters mood and energy levels.  Moreover, many people in recovery, especially alcoholics, have compromised liver function.   If this applies to you, your liver may not be able to break down high-fructose corn syrup and other processed sweeteners.   High-fructose corn syrup is quite common, and often the main sweetener in candy, ice cream and many other products.   Over time, high-fructose corn syrup builds up in the liver causing a whole set of other health-related problems.   By replacing processed sweeteners with natural sweeteners, you take a major step forward in diet modification and a healthier you.

Recovery Exercise:

Walk At Least A Mile A Day:  Move a muscle, change a thought.  It is undisputed that cardiovascular exercise will help burn calories, help lower cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure and enhance production of brain chemicals and hormones that lift your mood.   A mile a day is not a long distance at all, and this resolution should be an easy lift for most folks.   It can also be the first step towards incorporating exercise into your daily routine, which is a must if we seek to enhance our changes of long-term success in recovery.   Once you get comfortable with the mile, you can always go a little further, and then a little further.  However, we all must start somewhere.

You can measure your mile the old-fashioned way, by actually measuring the length to and from certain locations or by driving the route ahead of time.  There are countless gadgets and apps that will do it for you.   So there is no reason not to give it a try.  For folks in recovery, this is a great time to meditate, go over a gratitude list in their head, call a loved one or just enjoy nature.  If you tend to isolate yourself and have a history of doing so while you were using, invite someone to join you.  Maybe you can walk to and from a meeting together.

For people trying to quit smoking, cardiovascular activity is of great importance.  Most people who smoke tend to engage in limited activity.  The longer you smoke, the less you tend to move, as even minimal movement can be challenging for a smoker, especially those with lung diseases or other smoking-related health issues.   When you engage in cardio, you force your lungs to work.   By doing this, you can feel the impact of smoking on your lungs and their ability to provide you with oxygen.    I can tell you this first hand because this was true for me.  After heavy cardio, I would have great difficulty breathing and my lungs hurt.  It convinced me that it was a behavior that could not continue. By incorporating exercise and proper nutrition into your lifestyle along with like-minded people (i.e., non-smokers), smoking becomes less and less acceptable and appealing.

Smoking Cessation:

Inventory The Times You Smoke and Make At Least One Change To Your Routine:  Sit down and figure out the times of day you smoke, and commit to erasing at least one. When I smoked, I was lighting up when I went in and out of buildings, hanging around the front of twelve-step meetings with the smoking crowd, in my car when I was driving, and in my apartment at night.  When I committed to stop, I changed the ways I went to and from work to avoid places where smokers congregated and where I traditionally lit up a cigarette. I changed my meetings, went later and/or left early to avoid smokers, pulled over as opposed to permitting myself to smoke in my car, and left my cigarettes in the mailbox at night so I did not have them available to smoke in my apartment.

Breaking these types of habits and routines in the context of smoking is huge.  The habits are what perpetuate the addiction.  By changing them, you change the neurological associations and cravings in your brain, and take a huge leap towards kicking the habit.    It all starts by inventorying your smoking and developing a battle plan.   One victory and change in the routine will give you the confidence to keep going and not give up.

Recovery Vitamins, Minerals and Hormones:

Eat Something Green Every Day:  It sounds so simple but you would be surprised how many people do not eat green vegetables on a daily basis.  Green leafy veggies are our best friends for so many reasons.  First, they are not carb-heavy vegetables, so if we are looking to lean down, they enhance that goal.  Second, they do not contain substances that convert to sugar or glucose in the digestion process.  This is incredibly important given the disproportionate number of people in recovery with diabetes and hyperglycemia.   Third, leafy green vegetables pack the most nutrients per calorie than any other food group.   Greens contain significant amounts of Vitamins A, C, E, K and several of the B vitamins.  In addition, they are rich in calcium, magnesium, iron and potassium.     As people in recovery, our bodies are often used to calorie-rich, nutrient-deficient foods, chief among them candy and alcohol.   The benefits of eating something green everyday will pay off exponentially as you will be restoring the building blocks necessary to meet your body’s needs and proper brain chemistry.

If you eat some greens every day, you won’t have to worry about the recommended servings per week, as you’ll easily exceed them.  In case you were wondering, the USDA recommends three servings of leafy greens each week.

Recovery Spirituality:

This is a tough category because the issue of “spirituality” is so subjective. So in this category I will give you three suggestions:

Establish A Morning Self-Care Practice:  How we start the day sets the tone for the rest of the day.  A morning self-care practice establishes you and your recovery as the priority and the absolute first thing that gets your attention in the morning.   This need not be a lengthy, highly formal practice.  Set aside 5 minutes every morning to reflect on gratitude, your goals for the day, or whatever else you would like to focus on.  Use this time to reflect inward, towards your soul, and be driven by your needs.  Not the needs of others, clients, significant others, family or any other person, place or thing.   Enjoy your 5 minutes of solitude and stay in gratitude.  A person who stays in gratitude will not drink or use drugs.

Journal About Your Feelings:  Feelings are not facts and putting them down in black and white is an incredibly powerful experience in many ways.  Oftentimes, when I write down how I am feeling, it makes it unmistakably clear that what is happening in my head is absolutely ridiculous.  By writing down my feelings or, as I sometimes refer to them – the “chaos in my head,” I gain perspective. Journaling also grounds me in reality, makes me think about how my brain processes people, places and things, and makes it easier to share with a sponsor or friend at a later time.   A journal need not be War and Peace, but rather a few sentences, at the beginning, during or end of the day.

Reach Out to Someone and Just Say Thanks or Hello:  Once a week, biweekly or monthly, chose someone who is important in your life, someone you have not connected with for a while, and say thanks or hello.   Let them know how and why they impacted your life and that you care about them.  These types of random acts of kindness will lift your spirit as well as that of the person to whom you are reaching out.   We are all so busy these days that often the only time we communicate with people we care about is when some terrible event happens, such as an unexpected death.  Have no regrets, seize the day and reach out and say thanks.

Pick up a copy of Spiritual Adrenaline for More Resolution Ideas!!!

If you are looking for lots of ideas on how you can supercharge your recovery in 2020, pick up a copy of my book, Spiritual Adrenaline: A Lifestyle Plan to Strengthen & Nourish Your Recovery.  It’s full of helpful tools you can integrate into your lifestyle right away to achieve your dreams.  

We wish you and your loved ones a happy, healthy and sober 2020.  We would love your feedback on this and other blog posts.     We hope you’ll remain an active part of the Spiritual Adrenaline community in 2020!!!!!

Sustainable Resolutions – 2019

This year, I put together a new set of sustainable resolutions for people in recovery for 2019. This year I am proud to be collaborating with Central Recovery Press. Happy holidays and a safe, happy and healthy 2019!!!

Spiritual Adrenaline: 7 Day Detox, 30 Day Plan & Maintenance

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. 

Mount Everest Journal: My Trek From Lukla to Everest Base Camp – Days 9 to 13

What goes up, must come down, so after achieving our goal of reaching the Everest Base Camp, it was time for the long trek back down to Lukla and then Katmandu. Our route back tracked our route up. We hiked five hours to Periche where we would stay overnight and retrace our steps back to Lukla. It’s a slow trek down to avoid injury and because it’s the final opportunity to enjoy the natural beauty of this place. I used these days to reflect on the trek. I focused on what I learned, how I can integrate this knowledge into my life and also how I can share it with other members of the Spiritual Adrenaline community

Smoking & Recovery: I am proud to report my lungs functioned amazingly during the trek. I had no issues getting up steep inclines and hiking through difficult terrain, often times in exceptionally cold weather. After five years smoke free, my lungs functioned exceptionally well and past the “Everest Base Camp Test”. I remember when I was trying to quit smoking, reading materials that explained how lung function improves after one year, two years, three years, etc. I am proud to report that what I read back then has come true for me.  My lungs have the capacity to heal and they have. The good news for people in recovery is this is also true for the heart, liver and kidneys. Cutting off toxins and integrating a healthy lifestyle can aid healing in the lungs and other critical organs. Throughout the trek, all the way from Lukla to Everest Base Camp, cigarette butts littered the pristine natural beauty of the trail. Tourists, porters and Sherpa’s alike smoked to get their fix and more often than not, threw their butts on the ground, contaminating the very natural beauty which drives the mountain economy. Like any addict, the only thing smokers care about is getting their fix. The damage to their health and the majestic beauty of the mountain country in Nepal matters not. The only thing that matters is getting their fix.  I am glad I did not contribute to the cigarette butts littering the trail. I could not have completed this trek if I still smoked. I’m glad I quit and did not contribute to the destruction of the natural beauty of the Everest region. If you are trying to quit, visit our smoking cessation page at spiritualadrenqline.com.

The Benefits of Community: This trek was challenging for two reasons. First, we trekked more than thirty miles over some really tough terrain. A couple of days we trekked for hours at a time up steep mountain passes with inclines exceeding forty-five or fifty degrees. Second, the weather was 20 degrees Fahrenheit or thereabouts during the day and as cold as -10 to -20 Fahrenheit at night with the wind-chill. Dealing with the cold became a major emotional challenge that at times exceeded the challenge of the actual trek. I don’t think I would have continued up without the support of my five fellow trekkers. I raised the issue at breakfast one morning and they all confirmed the same was true for them. There is a power in being part of a community, whether it be a group fitness class at the gym, your home group, a class or club at an educational institutes or group therapy, that make challenging and sometimes down right unpleasant situations more palatable. Research has confirmed that people are far more likely to continue to participate in activities when they are part of a group. I think it’s fair to say I would have turned around and headed back to a warmer environment had I not been part of a group of trekkers. The same is true for my recovery. If I hadn’t had an amazing sponsor and home group in my first year, I am not sure if I would have hung around and succeeded. In so many ways, being “part of” increases the chances of success in so many areas of life.

Life Off the Grid: A wonderful part of this trip was living off the grid for almost two weeks. By “off the grid” I mean no access to cell communication, Wi-Fi or any other type of social media. Given the demands constantly placed on me (I bet you can relate), I am rarely present in the “now”. I am multi-tasking, constantly receiving texts and messages on my social media sites. So even if my body is present, my mind is often not. It’s off in other places thinking about other things. It took me three days to fully “withdraw” from the toxic effects of my electronic devices and social media. Once I did, I felt a profound sense of happiness. I am actually in Nepal, without any outside people, places or things to obstruct connecting with the Nepalese people, my fellow trekkers, and nature. My anxiety went away, I feel so “one” with the people and my surroundings. I truly feel like I am living, rather than trying keep up with the demands being placed on me by others back in New York. Working is not living: It took me almost fifty years to learn that. For most of the last two weeks, I’ve truly been alive.

Gratitude for the Little Things: One thing that becomes unmistakable in Katmandu, and even more I the mountain culture is how difficult life is here for the average person. This is not unique and true in many developing counties. However, up above the clouds in the mountain country of Nepal, it smacks you right in the face. People carry heavy loads of goods on narrow mountain passes for miles and miles for the equivalent of $1.50 a day. Women wash cloths in mountain steams barefoot in high elevation. Most live without running water and heat even though temperatures can -20 with wind-chill at night. Whenever I return from a trip like this, it grounds me and reminds me that on my worst day in New York City, I live in better conditions than so many people around the world. It reminds me to stop bitching in the morning when a train is late, or a waiter takes to long to deliver my food at a restaurant. It reminds me to stay in gratitude for all the blessings I have been given. This trek reinforced that I have no excuse but to maintain an attitude of gratitude for how fortunate I am.

Comfort Zone: This trek has been hard. Many times I considered turning back. Waking up in the freezing cold was jarring. Endless hours of trekking up steep inclines, sucks no matter how beautiful the surroundings. However, as the days passed and I successfully cleared physical and emotional hurdles, the sense of accomplishment pushed me to continue on. I developed an attitude of gratitude for my recovery program, my lungs which have been restored to health, and all the other blessings in my life. Accomplishing positive things can, in and of itself, become addictive. Addictive in a good way! It makes me want to challenge myself and push myself further. I am not looking to hide in what I know and makes me comfortable, but rather to learn new things and continue to grow, even if it makes me uncomfortable. That’s where life and recovery begins. Think about this: If you weren’t willing to step out of your comfort zone, you would have never stopped using drugs and alcohol? Probably not! So you’ve done it before and benefitted with a whole new lease on life. Why not try it again, in sobriety, and see where it takes you? That’s my attitude about life. When I step out of my comfort zone, even if it doesn’t take me where I want to go, it takes me where I need to be.

The Power of Nature: I was born, raised and live in the concrete jungle of New York City. It’s a place I love but also a place that makes me feel disconnected from nature and the natural rhythm of things. For the last two weeks I’ve been almost completely disconnected from the concrete jungle I know and have been almost exclusively surrounded by nature. Not just nature, but probably the most majestic and grand natural preserve in the world: Sagamartha National Park! which includes the Everest region, in Nepal. I was not only surrounded by nature but lived within its rules and in concert with its rhythms. I awoke when the sun came up, went to bed when it set, hiked during daylight and avoided trekking at night given how dangerous it is in the dark. I ate primarily foods gleaned from the land or animals that can live at high altitude, for example “yaks”.  I lived as one with nature rather then apart. It took me back to my instinctual roots. I feel like this is how I was meant to live. Most of the time, I am in a city with de minimus green spaces, where most of the social events happen after dark and most things I eat have no connection to my local community. Although I love where I live, I’ve felt much less stress and anxiety living within the natural cycle of things. It’s made me start thinking about how I can make changes to my lifestyle back home to try and keep a closer connection to nature. I think it’s easier to stay sober when you live within the natural cycle of things rather than an environment where man manipulates nature.

Active Sober Lifestyle: I could have gone to a beach resort as my vacation. At various times during the trek I wished I had. However, for all the reasons I already shared, this trek was where I wanted to be and what I wanted to do. Whether I went to a beach resort or on the trek, I think it’s critical to vacation in a manner consistent with my desire to stay sober. it’s self-defeating to put myself in a “party” like crazy environment when I purport to want to live sober. I say this because this is my second go round at sobriety. The first go round, I refused to leave the “party like crazy environment” and thought I’d be the “sober guy” surrounded by partying and all the decadence that comes with it. Guess what? I relapsed badly. However, I’ve learned from my past mistakes and now make sure to vacation in a manner consistent with my goals in sobriety and life. I place great emphasis on being surrounded by nature and by showing my gratitude where appropriate. For example, in addition to the trek I visited the spiritual birthplace of Buddha. Lastly, I try to incorporate an active sober component into the trips I take and places I go. All of theses things make it not only easier to stay sober but so much more fun. This trek has been a blessing and in some respects, life-changing in a positive way. I won’t be returning home the same as when I left. I’ve grown exponentially from my experience.   Come with me on an adventure.  Check out the “adventures” page at spiritualadrenaline.com.

 

 

Mount Everest Journal: My Trek From Lukla to Everest Base Camp: Day Seven

We woke up at 14,600 feet and trekked to Lebuche at 16,175 feet. We also officially entered what I refer to as the artic zone of our climb.

The cold Is really beginning to impact me and the others. When the sun comes up during the day the temperatures reach 15 to 20 degrees. At night, the temperature goes down to -15/-20 degrees with the windchill. Thankfully we are in tea houses and not in tents. However, the tea houses this far up have no heat and very flimsy construction. I can feel the wind blowing outside. I just stay completely covered up in my sleeping bag and as warm as possible. However, it’s wearing me down as well as the others in our group. I told the group at breakfast

The morning hike was hard. It was a 40-degree incline for about two hours. When the sun is out it’s warm, when it goes in it’s cold and when the wind blows it’s really cold. So all morning long I was taking off layers, then putting them back on and repeating this over and over.  

However, the view all around was spectacular. Soaring snow-capped mountain peaks including, Socholotse, Tbuchej, and others in every direction. We also crossed the glacier runoff field which is full of water in the monsoon season and early spring. It’s full of huge boulders thrown around like pebbles from the force of the water coming down from the glacier.  If I was standing in the same spot I stood today in rainy season, I’d be carried off and be killed for sure. Thankfully, it’s the dry season However, seeing this is a reminder of the awesome power of nature and why we as humans need to show nature great respect.

Our afternoon hike took us up a winding zig zag trail that was very challenging. It reminded me of the ascent to the summit of Kilimanjaro. The big difference is the Kilimanjaro zig zag trail goes on for almost six hours. Having experienced the hell of zig-zagging for six hours on Kilimanjaro, this seemed like a piece of cake.  

Around 2 p.m, we arrived in Lebouche. This little town only exists to cater to trekkers and mountain climbers. I felt sick and had no appetite. I became very concerned that I was coming down with a big from the water. I got a couple of hours sleep and felt much better. I attribute my feeling sick to sleeping in sub-zero temperatures for days at a time and not sleeping well. The tea house we have here in Lebuche is quit warm in start contrast to the freezing cold shit hole we stayed in the last two nights.

I’m hoping to get a good night’s sleep and be in top shape for the eight hours of hiking tomorrow to the Mount Everest Base Camp.

Mount Everest Journal: My Trek From Lukla to Everest Base Camp: Day Six

After six days of trekking, it is becoming crystal clear that the physical challenge of hiking is taking a backseat to the mental challenge of living in freezing temperatures for days at a time. Yesterday was 19 degrees and overnight reached -15 degrees Fahrenheit with the wind-chill. The tea houses we are staying in are definitely warmer than a tent, but not heated and quite cold at night. This morning when I woke up my water bottle which was outside my sleeping bag was partially frozen. I slept with my phone, head-lamp and charging batteries in my sleeping bag as otherwise the cold would drain the batteries! If the cold can do that to electronic devices you can imagine it’s impact on the human body.

Increasingly, the challenge we face are mental rather than physical. Part of the altitude acclimation process is for the body to slowly to adjust. I’ve experienced many of the usual symptoms which include flatulence, difficulty sleeping, intense dreams, difficulty breathing (especially at night) and loss of appetite. My fellow trekkers have all experienced similar effects from altitude and cold. As someone who tries to be as respectful as possible to my body, given I abused it for so many years, trekking seems to be completely inconsistent with self-care. However, this type of short-term challenge to my physical and mental limit is a very healthy thing. It gives me the opportunity to test the limits of my abilities and pushes me further and further out of comfort zone. It’s a form of physical, mental and spiritual growth that empowers me to continue to grow as opposed to staying safely in the comfort zone I know. To me, that’s a form of death. Slowly expecting less and less from myself. That’s the opposite of growth. I am fully committed to aging optimally, rather than gracefully. To do that, I must continue to push myself.

Everyone in my group went for an acclimation climb today. I decided to stay behind and give my body a rest. My back is staring to hurt and my feet need a break from being in my hiking boots. So I decided to stay back, stretch my back with yoga poses like up and down dog, journal, tape some videos for Spiritual Adrenaline and just relax. I bring my morning spiritual reading with me. In Just for Today, my morning reading included this passage.

“We inventory our lives in great detail, and discuss our inventory with our sponsor. We ask the God of our understanding to remove our character defects, the shortcomings that are the source of our troubles. We take responsibility for the things we’ve done and make amends for them. And we incorporate all these disciplines into our daily lives, practicing these principles in all our affairs”.

I skipped the acclimation climb today to have a “me” day full of introspection. The reading this morning brought a smile to my face as I believe it’s a message from my higher power confirming my choice for today was the right one. It’s my higher power’s way of signaling his or her approval. I’ll put the day to good use and be ready for the tough days to come.

 

Mount Everest Journal: My Trek From Lukla to Everest Base Camp: Day Five

Today wake up at 13,500 feet and trek to Pheriche at 14,600.

It was a beautiful morning once again. My trek took us past yak farms and that’s about it. I didn’t see much else except stunning views of snow-capped mountains and an increasingly spartan landscape. The entire morning, I enjoyed the roar of the Dudhkosi river below me.  A fierce and beautiful river that roars very loudly.  I could hear the roar all the way up where we were trekking and I’ll bet up to the top of the mountains as well. It’s a beautiful sound to hear as you slowly make your way along narrow mountain trails on the way to Pheriche.

What starts to set in as I made my way along the narrow mountain trails was just how far away from civilization I truly am. This place is like being on a whole different planet. I was aware there were small mountain villages up here but not aware that such a strong mountain culture existed. There is an entire civilization here that lives completely differently from the way we do. Everything is a struggle and only achieved through hard work. Clean drinking water takes work. Heat takes work. It’s impossible for me not to reflect on just how much I take for granted.  

Another thing that becomes crystal clear is just how far off the grid I truly am. There’s almost no cellular service and minimal Wi-Fi. If you want to get online, you have to pay for the privilege. For the first time in a really long time, I feel completely present right here and now. I’ve got no email to check, no texts, no social media just the present. It’s an awesome thing, but in some way scary thing, to be in the here and now. For me, it’s an opportunity to turn completely introspective. Tomorrow is a rest day and I plan to inventory where I am in my life, both in positive ways but more importantly in areas where I need to improvement and prepare a gratitude list. I will also do a detailed tenth-step inventory.

Mount Everest Journal: My Trek From Lukla to Everest Base Camp: Day Four

Waking up in Tashinga was an experience. When we arrived at this small village the evening haze blocked the view. The weather here is pretty consistent with clear morning skies and overcast and foggy afternoons and late evenings. After waking up I went outside to check out the scenery and my jaw literally dropped. In each direction you could see tall snow-capped mountains. The view was one of the most beautiful I had ever seen. I am not exaggerating when I say the view brought tears to my eyes. This is what I came to see! I felt so alive and excited to get back out and trek higher. Like any addict or alcoholic, one gorgeous mountain vista is not enough: I want more. I want to go higher, see bigger mountains and more of them. I just finished my morning spiritual program, reading Just for Today and Daily Reflections. So I tell myself easy does it. Pace yourself. Stop chasing more and enjoy what is! Stay in the present and breath deep.

Today we wake up at 11,500 feet and when we arrive at our destination, Pongboche, we will be at 13,500. Off we go….

We hiked for two hours on a forty-five-degree angle straight up. Right at the beginning of our trek we came to a suspension bridge. Not as high or as long as some of the others we encountered. Having gone over so many yesterday, I took Deep breath, said to myself “fear is not my friend” and “fear is not a fact”. I kept my eyes on the other side and made my way across. It was a little less challenging than the day before. When you confront fear, it loses its power.

Our two hour forty-five-degree incline climb was hard. To say this was a challenging is an understatement. There were a couple of times I thought my heart might pop out of my chest it was pounded so hard. I needed a lot of breaks as did everyone in our group. Once again each of us was supportive of one another and slowly but surely we arrived in Tambuche.  

Tambuche is the location of a stunning Buddhist Monastery with a breathtaking view of the valley, including Mount Everest. No matter what direction you turn, snow-capped mountains take your breath away. You can see a number of peaks, including Themacrku, Khonde, Amadablam and of course Everest. The place has a surreal and almost magical feeling to it which is hard to explain. Prayers have been carved into rocks all around the town and prayer flags also adorn the hilltops. I will never forget the beauty and peacefulness of this place. I will also never forget how it sits so perfectly in the valley and seems like it belongs there. As if it was meant to be by the design of some higher power.

After Tambuche, we began another two hour hike up to our final destination of Pangboche. I think it’s worth pointing out that we don’t just go higher, but drop down hundreds or thousands of feet and then have to re-climb back up to the altitude where we started before going higher. We have to follow the natural contours and that means often going down and then back up. Both the morning and afternoon hikes took us way down in altitude before we began our ascent. It’s frustrating but part of the trek and everyone has to do it and you kind of get used to it.

When we arrive in Pangboche, the skies are still somewhat clear but clouds have rolled in. The clouds give the mountains an eerie, almost ominous feeling. The landscape becomes so much more dramatic when the clouds role in. On our hike up, we passed massive prayer rocks high up the cliff face. We passed rolling fields with mountain yaks grazing, lots of Sherpa’s carrying heavy loads up to the villages in the higher altitudes and of course fellow trekkers.

Our tea house for tonight is the Everest View Lodge. True to it’s name, we have a view of the summit of Mount Everest with the snow and wind blowing flares of snow off of the summit. As we go higher, the tea houses become increasingly basic and quite cold. Not like sleeping in a tent kind of cold but all the luxuries from lower on the mountain are slowly disappearing, Aside from the cold given the building has no insulation, the lights flicker on and off. As I laid in my bed, I started to realize that this altitude isn’t really meant for people. We as humans are able to master nature to some extent, but up here nature is showing us who the boss truly is. It’s not us! By recognizing nature is in charge, I avoid the mistake of my ego not showing nature and the mountains the respect they deserve. Mountains show no mercy! So it’s good for me to remember this and keep my ego in check as we begin our final days of trekking into much higher altitudes.