Abagail Bernard is a Certified Therapeutic Recreation Therapist, and author of 12 Steps to Sober Leisure. As a recreation therapist, Abagail helps people in early recovery rediscover the rewards of sober leisure!
I interviewed Abby about her recommendations for staying strong, healthy and sober through the Corona virus pandemic. The interview will be released on the main Facebook page for Spiritual Adrenaline and on our blog at 9 a.m. tomorrow.
For the past 30 years she’s been working in the field of addiction recovery at Conifer Park, a treatment facility located in upstate New York. Back in 2012, Abagail developed a leisure education group and workbook entitled “12 Steps to Sober Leisure”. The response from patients was overwhelmingly positive! After much encouragement from patients and coworkers, she published it in 2018 and put it on Amazon. Since then copies have been sold to treatment professionals and people in recovery throughout the United States, with copies sold in Canada and the UK as well! In 2019, she had her work translated into Spanish. t’s a simple, effective and meaningful workbook that addresses a crucial part of recovery-healthy leisure. Written in person centered language it’s suitable for everyone!
You can contact Abby as follows: Facebook: @12stepstosoberleisure
Doc Gooden is a New York sports hero and someone who has been open about his difficulties in staying sober. He has been in and out of the rooms since 1987 and shares honestly about his experience with relapse. He also shares his advise for newcomers and those having a hard time coming back after relapse. This is interview 2 of 4 with Doc. I’ll release another video with Doc’s experience, strength and hope next Monday. Check out www.goodenbrand.com. For more information on my book, check out www.spiritualadrenaline.com.
How Processed Food Manufacturers Get You Hooked to Their Products….
I recently posted about how food portion sizes and calories are much higher in the United States compared to England. The same exact products in the U.S. have substantially more calories! Seems hard to believe but it’s true. Why? It’s due to something known as the bliss point.
What’s the Bliss Point?
To maximize your enjoyment of processed foods, the food industry works hard to formulate their products to maximize the endorphins rush. Scientists use focus groups to try out different recipes before a product is released. These scientists tweak salt, sugar and fat content until the maximum enjoyment level is reached. This means the greatest number of endorphins produced. There’s a fine line between maximum enjoyment and too much. Scientists call the point of maximum enjoyment the bliss point, beyond it, the yuck point.
Sounds A Lot Like Drugs?
If you think this sounds similar to drugs, you are right. It’s a substance that gives the maximum pleasure possible and provides instantaneous gratification. However, not long after, the crash and cravings start. I cannot open a bag of potato chips or Doritos and have just a few. I finish the entire bag. You too???? To some extent, it’s because of my genetic pre-disposition to always want more. However, it’s also due to how products are manufactured, making it almost impossible to have just one or a few.
Portion Size and Tastein the United States
The person credited with pioneering research into the bliss point and how it can be manipulated was carried out by Howard Moskowitz, a Harvard educated scientist who went to work for the soda industry in 2004. After working for years in the soda industry, Moskowitz developed bliss point markers for other industries and products including spaghetti sauce, soups, salad dressings, pickles, and pizza. Over time, as you consume more sugar, your bliss point continues to change. It takes more sugar to achieve the same endorphin rush. Hence, the palate of Americans has changed over time as sugar has been included in an increasing number of products. More sugar, more calories. Not just calories but empty calories without any nutritional value.
What’s the Solution?
The solution is eating more whole foods and staying away from processed foods. It’s also possible to satisfy your sweet tooth with natural sweeteners, some of which contain antioxidants and other healthy substances, and which won’t spike your blood sugar. If you’re interested in learning how to eat healthy to enhance your recovery and reduce the chances of relapse, check out my book, Spiritual Adrenaline: A Lifestyle Plan to Strengthen & Nourish Your Recovery. In Spiritual Adrenaline, I discuss why it’s important to transition from processed foods to whole foods and provide a number of healthy sweeteners as an alternative to refined sugars (Pages 23-25, 89-92). To empower yourself in recovery, check out Chapter Nine and my list of Recovery Superfoods. For more information, visit www.spiritualadrenaline.com.
References: The Extraordinary Science of Addiction Junk Food, The New York Time Magazine, Michael Moss, Feb. 20, 2013; How The Food Industry Helps Engineer Our Cravings, National Public Radio, Dec. 16, 2015.
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.
I slept like a baby last night at the Cottonwood Campground. From inside my tent, I could see the star’s shining bright up in the unobscured night sky: It was magical. I woke very early and watched as twilight started and a blue silhouette arose above the red rock cliffs all around me. The sky turned slowly from black to blue and then the sun came up with beaming rays of pink and purple, before turning to an unobstructed blue sky over Cottonwood and the Grand Canyon.
After our grilled bacon, egg and hash brown breakfast, we packed up and set out at 6 a.m., for another day of hiking along the Bright Angel Creek. The only way I can describe the cathedral like red-rock walled canyons surrounding Bright Angel Creek is spiritual. The area is known as “The Box”. Being in The Box felt like attending a mass or sermon in a beautiful natural cathedral. I felt as if the rock canyon was speaking to me. Being here reaffirmed my belief in a power greater than myself. Some call that a higher power, others call it God and still others call that the Creator. For me, I spent many hours communing with the Creator as I made my way through this spectacular place. Towards the end of our hike, we pass the world-famous Phantom Ranch as we arrived at our next campsite: Bright Angel.
We anticipated a 90+ degree day and lots of sun. It turned out to be 106 degrees! The heat was exhausting but both Cottonwood and Bright Angel are near creeks with ice cold water. I got in the creeks as frequently as possible to avoid overheating. It’s an all-natural form of air conditioning and cooling and worked perfectly well.
I’d always heard of Phantom Ranch and was thrilled to finally have the opportunity to see it in person. The Ranch is a 1930’s retreat with cabins and dorms. The Ranch has become an icon of a bygone era. It’s like going back in time. It’s limited number of accommodations are in high demand. The only way to stay at the Ranch is to win a lottery or like us, stay at the nearby Bright Angel Campground along the creek. The camp is full of adventurous, sunburned, outdoor enthusiasts, most of whom are having the time of their lives. No alcohol is allowed in the camp-sites so the environment is not loud and crazy. The lack of alcohol also has a lot to do with the fact that you’d have to pack it in and pack it back out. Carrying alcohol adds lots of weight to your pack so you’d have to be a real alcoholic to bring a large amount with you. The Campground is peaceful and contemplative. I’d describe it as an oasis of serenity surrounded by breathtaking natural beauty. \
Some in my group decided to head to the Phantom Ranch. I decided to turn in early and enjoy the relaxing sound of the creek, review my amazing photos from the day and put together my gratitude list. Here it is: I’m grateful for: the natural beauty of the red-rock canyons that mesmerized me today: my wonderful guide Julie and fellow hikers who I laughed with continuously throughout a challenging day; getting to visit Phantom Ranch, which I’ve heard so much about and never thought I’d get to see; the cool water of Bright Angel Creek that made 106 degrees bearable; my lungs which have now permitted me to hike many miles from the North Rim to Bright Angel Camp without difficulty and a fifty-pound back on my back; the twelve steps and sober activity community which has inspired me to push myself and always do more rather than less; overcoming my fear of heights and not letting fear keep me from hiking here; the absence of internet, text messages and emails that would distract me and take me out of the present; and, a willingness to live a life outside my comfort zone.
As I climb into my tent after one of the most rewarding days I’ve had in my entire life, I get excited to put self-care first. I went to bed at 7 p.m. rather than heading back to Phantom Ranch to hang out until late. I’m also excited to look for the Big Dipper through the screen on my tent and enjoy looking at all the other stars without city lights or pollution. I’m excited to wake up tomorrow which wasn’t the case when I was in active addiction. I’m truly blessed and smart enough to know it. I’ll have sweet dreams given the beaming gratitude emanating from my heart. Good night!
Tom Shanahan is the author of Spiritual Adrenaline: A Lifestyle Plan to Strengthen & Nourish Your Recovery. You can purchase Spiritual Adrenaline on Amazon or at Barnes & Noble.
It’s 4:30 a.m. and I’m in a van heading for the northern most point in Arizona to begin my four-day, three-night, hike from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon to the South Rim. The sun is coming up over the horizon. There are no buildings or other traces of modern “civilization” for as far as the eye can see. As we enter the Navajo reservation, I cannot help but think of how blessed I am to see the beauty around me and to be getting started on this magical adventure. I am getting quite emotional as I am overcome with gratitude, for the gift of health that permits me to be here to enjoy this experience.
It was only eight years ago that I had difficulty walking a city block without wheezing. My lungs were damaged from twenty-four years of smoking and eating unhealthy foods. My lower gums were bleeding from putting cocaine on them. I had constant chest pains from the cocktail of deadly substances I ingested as well as the processed and comfort foods that comprised my active addiction diet. I was so sick in May 2011 that on the way to Conifer Park, a drug and alcohol rehab in upstate New York, I had to be taken by ambulance to the cardiac unit at Ellis Hospital near Albany. I spent two days there for observation before being released and transferred to Conifer. I stayed at Conifer for twenty-eight days. Fast forward eight years and I’m on my way to hike across the Grand Canyon. Last year I hiked to the Mount Everest Base Camp and before that to Machu Picchu, the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, Mount Rainier and other smaller mountains.
My trips to these places are called “Gratitude Trips”. When I go on vacation, I try to focus on places I’ve always wanted to go, but only talked about and never followed through. I focus on celebrating my health and embracing the recovery process: A process of health, hope and healing. My gratitude trips reinforce the radical change in my physical and mental health that happened once I let go absolutely of old ideas that led me to dark places. The lifestyle I lay out in my book Spiritual Adrenaline: A Lifestyle Plan to Nourish & Strengthen Your Recovery, published by Central Recovery Press, is the plan I followed. It incorporates the twelve step into what I eat, how much I exercise and my spiritual program. I’ve learned that self-care is the opposite of active addiction. In my book, I share with you the tools that I utilized to radically transform my life and got me started on my journey. I invite you to join me for the next four days.
We arrived at the North Rim, our start point after a four hour van-ride through the Navajo reservation and rolling empty dessert hills as far as the eye can see. Fear always tries to exert itself when I am starting a hike. Fear starts to tell me “you shouldn’t go, you’re not going to make it”, “your too old for this” and “turn around before its too late”. I usedto listen to fear and believe its self-limiting message that sabotaged me on so many levels. That has changed over the last eight years. Given all that I have accomplished, I tell fear to go f*?! itself and I push on down the trail into the Grand Canyon. Fear no longer has the power it used to have. It’s been replaced by the confidence that comes from succeeding one day at a time for the last eight years. As we descend into the Canyon, the landscape looks more like the moon. The rocks and cliffs in the distance give you perspective on the millions of years it took to create this place. It’s awe inspiring no matter which way I turn. I also realize that I am not getting calls, receiving texts or emails and am totally present right here, right now. No external distractions from back home and my professional and private life to interrupt the spiritual connection I am having with nature and my creator. I have my phone in airplane mode, which I write about in Spiritual Adrenaline. To me, airplane mode is a spiritual tool that enables me to practice mindfulness. As we carefully head down seven miles into the Canyon, I focus on my breath and how my lungs feel so strong, without any wheezing. I focus on my steps and think of something I am grateful for each time I take a step. I meditate on how radically different my life would have been if I had not gotten sober. I realize I’d probably have had a stroke by now and maybe COPD. You cannot hike the Grand Canyon with an oxygen tank! These meditative practices always bring me back to my breath. My breath brings me back to gratitude.
Today’s hike was no walk in the park. It was exhausting with the sun shining and temperatures hovering around 100. The sun heats up the rocks, making the terrain even hotter and more challenging. I had high expectations for the beauty of this place. They were not only met, but exceeded, on my very first day. The color of the rocks and the vegetation come together in a kaleidoscope that had me mesmerized. The scope of the place also had me in awe. Geologists confirm that for every foot of sedimentary rock is equal to 10,000 years of earth’s history. We started at the North Rim, where the rocks are 250 million years old. We camped at Cottonwood Campground for the night, seven miles down and surrounded by rocks that are 1.7 billion years old. The scope of this place is almost impossible to comprehend.
I made a short gratitude list at the end of the day to memorialize how I was feeling. I am grateful for: my health, my sobriety: my family: my sense of adventure; friends who are wonderful and extremely giving; people in my life who inspire me and challenge me to be a better person; the amazing people who I’ve gotten to know from Spiritual Adrenaline; nature; god; and, being born in the United States.
Tom Shanahan is the author of Spiritual Adrenaline: A Lifestyle Plan to Strengthen & Nourish Your Recovery, published by Central Recovery Press. Spiritual Adrenaline is available on Amazon or at your local Barnes & Noble Store.
Patricia Moreno is the author of the IntenSati Method and creator of the IntenSati movement. In this interview, she shares on experience, strength and hope with us. For more information on Patricia, visit http://www.patriciamoreno.com.
Among the fun events at the Gay Sober Men’s Conference in 2018 was rooftop yoga at a hotel in Times Square. You can check it out in the video and interview. For more information on the Gay Sober Men’s Conference, visit http://www.gayandsober.org