Drop The Rock is among the best-selling recovery books of all time. Concepts from the book are now taught in a seminar type setting. Cathy A. presents the Drop The Rock program in this video taped at the Gay Sober Men’s Conference in New York City in June 2018. For more information, visit http://www.gayandsober.org.
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.
The education portion of my book tracks the latest peer-reviewed studies in exercise and nutrition science, with an emphasis on people in addiction recovery. I track what nutrients can help lessen cravings, provide your body with anti-oxidants needed to remediate years of substance abuse and malnutrition, and other critical nutritional information to increase your chances of success and long-term happiness in recovery. I also track the latest research on how different types of exercise can help address various issues common for people in recovery, for example anxiety. By learning the basics of my evidence-based approach, you are prepared to then apply the benefits to your life and recovery and achieve your aspirations.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
After breakfast, we set out for a morning hike of about three hours to Namche Bazaar. The morning hike was extremely steep and very challenging. It challenged everyone in my group, and made me so grateful that I had quit smoking. I kept focusing on how my lungs felt as I took very deep breaths in and out. As I made my way up the steep and curving incline I couldn’t help but think about how my lungs and body would be reacting to this climb if I still smoked. Here’s what I know: I wouldn’t have made it to this point. It wouldn’t have been possible. I could barely walk a city block without wheezing. I wouldn’t have been here enjoying the beautiful vistas, breathing in the fresh mountain air and physically challenging myself on this difficult trek. If I tried this trek while smoking, an air ambulance would be needed to come and take me to the hospital in Lukla.
The morning hike also brought me once again face-to-face with my biggest fear: A suspension-bridge to Namche. It’s the highest suspension bridge on the trek and I was not looking forward to crossing it.
We came to two smaller bridges earlier which helped give me the confidence I needed as a build up to this bridge. When we finally arrived, my fellow trekkers gave me lots of encouragement as we were about to head across. That really made me feel great and it reinforced just how important it is to have sangha or a community of people to support one another. At various times even this early into the hike, I’d encouraged others and tried to keep their spirits up when they were struggling. Now it was my turn to get encouragement and boy did I need it.
I started out across the bridge, I took the advice of one of my fellow trekkers and focused on the prayer flags. I kept looking at the prayer flags, hoping my higher power was paying attention and kept telling myself “fear is not a fact and doesn’t rule my life”. I made it into a mantra and kept repeating it and it helped a lot. I had a sense of support from my fellow trekker, the Sherpa’s who placed the prayer flags on the bridge and their prayers blowing in the wind to give me strength, and all that my higher power has allowed me to accomplish in the last eight years. There was no way I was I turning back! I walked through the renunciation gate in Lumbini and am committed to my new lifestyle, the Spiritual Adrenaline lifestyle, no matter what. With all that in mind, I successfully crossed that bridge and believe I have the tools necessary to continue crossing whatever bridge or barrier that gets in my way.
The hike continued to an amazing town at 11,000 feet, Namche Bazaar, To reach Namche, you must climb for about two hours through a beautiful but dense forest with steep inclines almost the whole way.
When you arrive at Namche, you cannot miss the Stupa, prayer flags and seven prayer wheels that greet you as you enter. It’s a testament to the strength of the Buddhist faith that even at 11,000 feet, large stone monuments have been constructed to act as a “gate” or entry way into the village. Namche has tiny ancient roads, alleys and lots of other places to explore. I was really careful walking around as people share the steers with donkeys and yaks. In fact, a renegade yak was running through one of the narrow streets chased by a Sherpa during our short visit. Women wash clothes and gather water for their families at the public fountains near the entrance to town. The water comes from the glaciers high above. It’s the easy access to plentiful and clean glacier water that makes Namche’s existence possible. Everyone in the group wished we had more time to spend in Namche. However, we had to keep climbing.
Past Namche we walked along a narrow mountain ledge that winded it’s way to the village of Tashinga. All along the narrow pass was one stupa after another and prayers carved into the rock situated along the trail. The prayer rocks are the Buddhist way of communicating with trekkers, Sherpa’s and anyone else passing through. This gave the ancient trail a feel of being a sacred place. We finally arrived at our tea house for a total trekking time for day was six hours and our altitude is 11,500 feet. We’ll all sleep very well.