Two years ago, I realized I had a drinking problem. I was spinning my 10 year-old daughter around while she was on my shoulders, with one arm holding her legs and the other holding my holiday favorite – a nice glass of Southern Comfort. Thanks to her dear old Dad’s lack of balance, she ended up banging her hand on the wall. Her reaction as she giggled was: “Daddy, you drink too much”.
My reasons for drinking were probably not uncommon; it was an escape from reality; it was an escape from boredom; and it made a general feeling of disappointment briefly go away. Still, it was clear two years ago – just before New Year’s Day – I had to make a change.
In order to stop drinking permanently and keep a new year’s resolution, I needed an outlet that could fulfill the three needs that drew me toward alcohol and oddly enough, that outlet turned out to be exercise.
After a few trips to the gym, I realized that if I performed exercises that I liked, I was not bored. If I pushed my body to its limits, I could escape reality and, best of all, I found it difficult to feel a sense of disappointment after my blood pressure went from “high” to “normal” and I lost 6 inches on my waist with just a few months of replacing drinking with exercising.
The repetitive routine of drinking also seemed very similar to the repetitive routine of exercise. In order to feel high from booze, I generally had to drink more and more just like when I try to lift a little more weight or run a little faster each time I exercise. My brain seems happy now and at 46 years of age, my body is in the best shape of its life.
Despite not drinking for the last two years and continuing to exercise four times a week, like many of you out there who have a drinking problem, I find the holidays are an especially difficult time. At this time of year, just about everywhere you look, there’s booze. The SAQs (facilities run by the government in Canada) are packed and open late for business, the grocery stores have cases of beer lined up as soon as you enter them, there are endless ads on television showing sexy people lubricated with alcohol and just about any party you attend at this time of year is filled with copious amounts of liquor.
Alcohol, if not promoted at this time of year, is certainly a more than socially acceptable way to get high and perhaps that needs to change.
Even if the time comes when booze ads are outlawed just as cigarette ads are, and we open our eyes and realize that nothing good ever came from drinking, I will continue to wake up early on January 1st each year and find a gym that’s open so I can feel good about myself instead of being hung-over.
I hope you start your New Year in a healthy and sober way. Happy New Year to All.
We woke at 3:30 a.m. on the final day of our hike with the goal of getting started by 4:30 a.m., to beat the sun and allow some hikers who were having trouble more time to ascend. I packed up my tent and camp for the final time and was excited to embrace the challenge this day would bring. I said my final goodbye to Indian Garden and The Plateau and silently thanked this place for hosting me for the previous night. I recognized the privilege I had been given as I embarked on the last major portion of the hike. I decided to break with my group for the day and challenge myself to ascend as fast as possible. I still have a heavy load of about fifty-pounds in my backpack. However, I want to see just how hard I could push my heart and lungs and what they are capable of.
The final ascent was harder than I anticipated. I had seen many-out-of-shape day hikers come down into Indian Garden and then head back up and thought to myself if they can do, it must be a piece of cake. However, I hadn’t realized I saw them after they came down, not after they went back up. The ascent is a consistent incline and continues all the way up. I pushed myself and continued to motor up. As we started out so early, I did not pass any other hikers who were on their way up. I also didn’t pass many hikers who were on their way down until I was almost all the way to the South Rim. I felt amazing! My body was still able to perform after four days to rigorous activity. I could feel my heart pounding. I thought to myself how blessed I am to have a heart capable of such physical activity at the ripe old age of 51. My lungs never failed me and I kept breathing deep, in an out, without any wheezing like eight years ago. I kept thinking to myself how miraculous the body truly is and how it can heal itself with self-care and time.
This got me going on a full-body mediation. I started with my toes and made my way all the way to my head. As I hiked up the switchbacks, I tried to pay close attention to how each body-part felt, the work each was doing to help me ascend and to identify the other parts of my body that were working together to make all of this possible. For example, I really focused on my how my calf, quadriceps and hamstring muscles all worked together to permit me to lift my feet. The more attention I paid, the more I realized that each-and-every-step is a miracle. How each and every breath is in-and-of-itself a miracle. I was sofocused on how my body was functioning one step at a time, one breath at a time, that when I looked up, I was almost at the South Rim. Hours had seemingly turned into minutes and I was very close to my goal. Just as I was about to reach the South Rim, a young man who I gotten to know over the last couple of days of passed me and said: “Ha, ha, I’m going to beat you up!” I was so impressed by the fact that he beat me, I bought him breakfast. Turns out, he is also in recovery. His drug of choice was crystal meth and he has been sober for two years. I then met his Dad, sister and nephew who were hiking with him. His Dad had twenty-years in recovery from alcohol. I thought to myself, what a small world. I also thought to myself, miracles are all around us if we chose to recognize them. I have seen so many miracles over the last eight-years and know that by continuing to live the Spiritual Adrenaline lifestyle, I will be blessed to see many, many more.
My Final Gratitude List and Reflections
As we drove back to Flagstaff, my brain was overwhelmed by the sensory overload that is the Grand Canyon. It’s a lot to take in and I think it will take me a long-time to truly digest all of what I experienced over the last four days. I am grateful for being in the natural splendor of the Canyon, which reaffirmed my belief in a higher power. I am grateful for the people I met in the Canyon and shared the journey with. I met a father and son who were hiking together and enjoying an experience that neither would ever forget. I could sense their love for one another and that each recognized the opportunity to share this experience together as something incredibly special. I’d have given anything to have the same experience with my Dad, who passed away fifteen-years ago. In a way, watching the two of them allowed me to imagine what it would have been like for me to have been able to do this with my Dad. This was a very special and unexpected gift.
I watched members of my small group struggle to get through each of the days but never quit. I watched as things got tougher and we all supported one another. What became important was not that Imake it to the South Rim, but that we, collectively as a group, make it to the South Rim. The power is in the collective, rather than individual experience. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to have been of service on two days, and carried the backpack for another hiker who was struggling. I am grateful to have met other members of the recovery community along the trail. This reinforced my belief in the power of combining exercise and nutrition, a/k/aself-care, into an addiction recovery program. Also, the power of being in nature and way from the concrete and crowds of the big city. Lastly, I am grateful to no longer have my life confined to a small and unhealthy comfort zone. I’m grateful that I now recognize that life truly begins outside of my existing comfort zone.
People, places and things matter. I am grateful for all of the people, places and things, I experienced over the last four days!
Tom Shanahan is the author of Spiritual Adrenaline: A Lifestyle Plan to Strengthen & Nourish Your Recovery, published by Central Recovery Press in January 2019. You can purchase Spiritual Adrenaline on Amazon or at Barnes & Noble. For more information, visit www.spiritualadrenaline.com.
Another wonderful morning waking up to the sound of the flowing creek near our camp and the magnetic red rock all around us. We began our day early once again to maximize our time without direct sunlight. Our challenge for the day: An area known as “The Corkscrew”. After a hearty breakfast of pancakes and syrup, plenty of sugar for fuel, we began by crossing a suspension bridge across the mighty Colorado River. We had seen the creeks and other tributaries that feed into the Colorado. However, the Colorado’s power speaks for itself.
On the way up we pass an abandoned mine that brings back days long-ago when the canyon was mined for cooper and other valuable minerals. We continued up a winding series of switchbacks that comprise the “Corkscrew”. As you make your way up, the full majesty and scope of the Canyon becomes obvious. All obstacles to a full and complete view are removed and the natural wonder of this place becomes clear. The reality is this is not just one canyon, but many that combine together to create a very grand canyon. There are so many levels to the rocks, each foot encompassing ten thousand years of earth’s history (outdating human occupancy by more than two billion years). The Canyon has a way of right sizing even the biggest of egos by silently reminding us that we are not so important in the larger scheme of things.
At Indian Garden, we headed out to what is known as “The Plateau”. The Plateau has what is generally regarded as the most spectacular view of the Grand Canyon. You can see the trail to The Plateau from the South Rim. I had seen years before when I brought my mother here but never thought I’d actually be standing there. From The Plateau, it’s about seven miles down to the raging Colorado River. The only real noise you can hear is the Colorado and it’s rapids. While on The Plateau, I kept thinking to myself “if these rocks could talk!” I imagined the Native American ceremonies that took place here as well as the civilizations that pre-dated the cultures that we know of. People have lived here 15,000 to 20,000 years ago and we know nothing about them. To be standing temporarily on this sacred spot again reminded me of how small and irrelevant I am in the larger scheme of things. It reminded me to make the most of the very brief time I will present on this planet and hopefully make some minor contribution to making it a better place. Some stayed to watch the sunset, but I decided to head back to camp and get ready for the final day of hiking, almost straight up vertically on a series of switchback’s, all the way to the South Rim.
As I laid in my tent that night, again watching the stars in the clear night sky above me, I came up with my gratitude list for the day. On my third day in the Canyon, I was grateful for: the privilege to spend time in such a miraculous place; the sense of comaraderie that had grown in my group; a father and son who I got to know very well that day who were hiking together and making a beautiful memory that neither would ever forget; my body permitting me not only to make my way up to Indian Garden, but to then head back down the Corkscrew to help another hiker who could not make it; the cool water of the creek that kept me from over-heating in the brutal mid-afternoon sun; and, anticipation of the day to come and accomplishing the hike without any concern that I would not be able to make it.
Meet Sean S., he’s committed to follow the program in Spiritual Adrenaline: A Lifestyle Plan to Strengthen & Nourish Your Recovery for a period of six months and to share his experience with you. Here is his background and reason for accepting the Spiritual Adrenaline Challenge. Pick up a copy of Spiritual Adrenaline: A Lifestyle Plan to Strengthen & Nourish Your Recovery, available at Barnes & Noble and on Amazon.
“I moved to the New York area 7 years ago to, among other reasons, live in a more racially/ethnically diverse environment, and to avoid ever having to drive an automobile again. With me, I carried a severe alcohol use disorder that I have had since the age of 17, but thankfully, for over 5 years now, I have been successfully in recovery from alcohol addiction.
Growing up, substance abuse wasn’t noticeably present in my family, or at least not noticeably present to me, being a child with parents that were very adept at keeping up appearances. My parents, who met when the lived in Los Angeles, later moved to Colorado where I grew up. I became painfully aware of feeling different and being uncomfortable in my own skin as a child. Living in a predominantly white town, predominantly meaning all white with the exception of my family, I stood out, and from an early age sought mental escape. I just wanted to be inside of my head where I could feel comfortably cordoned-off from the outside world. In early adolescence, before I had access to alcohol, music, specifically bands like The Cure and The Smiths, spoke to me and took me took me to a world where I belonged.
As I moved past adolescence, a time when a “normal” person seeks financial security, a mate, and an education,. I studied business media and communication, on my 1st go at higher education, and won an audition to co-host an alternative music video show on an awesome PBS affiliate in Denver in the late 90’s. I sought the things that “normals” seek, but my strongest ambitions were for escape and comfort. Alcohol provided that for me. Like seeks like, and I liked to keep the company of those who liked to escape with alcohol.
Alcohol may give, but alcohol most certainly will take away. Everything I managed after my drinking I lost. Eventually everything I managed before my drinking went away too. Recovery, as people say, is about getting those things back. IMore important, one learns in recovery to get a fulfillment and a peace in life one has never had. I am so grateful to be in recovery in New York. There is a huge community here, and so many people and resources to help.
At this moment I work for a British travel company, but my goal, my purpose, and hopefully my future life will allow me to give back all of the support and sobriety that has been given to me, and to help another person break free from addiction”.
Cristian P. co-founded the annual Gay Sober Men’s Conference held in New York City during Pride celebrations in June. In this interview, he shares with me why and how the GSM conference came to be. For more information on GSM, go to http://www.gayandsober.org.
Different types of exercise carry different types of benefits and put different types of strain on your body. When choosing that type to integrate into your addiction recovery program, you need to think through important details. First, what is your health history. Second, what is your current health status and what stress can your body handle after years of substance abuse and for most, malnutrition. Third, what are your long-term goals with your exercise program? Add muscle? Lean out and lose weight? Improve medical conditions like heart or kidney disease? Reduce anxiety and/or stress? Everyone is different so I guide you through the process of determining what type of exercise program is right for you. Not only that, but also fun and something you will stick with in the long-term.
Today we set out for the goal of our trip, to reach the Mount Everest Base Camp at 17,600 feet. This is what we all came for, to see this place, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so full of history of great success and tragic failure. On the way up we passed memorials to climbers and Sherpa’s who have died on this mountain. We trekked for hours, a total of eight, to get to the remote Base Camp location. Along the way, we passed majestic snow-capped mountains that encircled us in every direction. The mountains continued as far as the eye could see. To me, I felt like I arrived in God’s Cathedral. His home up above the clouds that is too beautiful to describe.
The mountains did more than bring a tear to my eye. I was outright crying at various points. When I shared this with my group at dinner, others confirmed they also broke out crying from the awesome beauty of this place. The majesty of the place needs to be balanced by the effort to get there and the toll it takes on the body. Sherpa’s have genetically adapted over the years to live in these altitudes. I am not a Sherpa and neither are the majority of the people who come here. The price paid to enjoy this natural splendor is exhaustion, altitude sickness, digestive problems from contaminated water and the effects of many days of not sleeping (it’s difficult to sleep at this altitude where the oxygen level is 50% of sea level). However, it all seems worth it to see this beautiful place. A couple of times I said to myself “My eyes have seen the glory”. So balancing the good and not so good, we trek on.
You cannot miss the summit of Everest as you approach the Base Camp. It’s the only mountain that creates its own weather and has constant clouds surrounding it and snow blowing off of its summit. Simply put, the awesomeness of Everest cannot be missed or overlooked. It’s the king of all mountains even here at the top of the world. At 29,000 feet plus, it’s summit is the same height as the cruising altitude of 747 and larger aircraft. It’s nature at its most awesome and most dangerous.
The Base Camp is much smaller than I expected. It’s amazing the history of this place and the people who have passed through it. To be honest, the size of the physical space is puny to compared to the hero’s and legends that have come out of it. As I perused the site, I started to imagine what the Camp must be like in prime season when it’s packed with climbers, Sherpas and other support personnel. It must be quite a scene indeed. I said a prayer for all those that have climbed in the past, will climb in the future and those who have given their lives trying to summit. With clouds coming in, it became very cold. It was time to leave and head back to our tea house before the weather turned for the worse. Our group had dinner that night and while we were all exhausted, we collectively shared about how awesome it was to be here, even if it was so cold. For many of us, this was an item on our bucket list that we could now check off. That night, I slept in my heated tea house bed as the temperature outside went as low as -20 degrees Fahrenheit with the wind-chill. Even with the cold and exhaustion, I pinched myself that I was here and told myself this was “a gift of the program”. But for my sobriety, I would not have been here!