Starting Over with Recovery

Sad Man in CornerRelapsing. It’s the dreaded word for anyone in recovery. Unfortunately, it’s more common than one may think, but it doesn’t mean you’ve failed or your recovery process didn’t work. You’re human and relapse is common, with relapse rates being between 40 and 60 percent, per the National Institute on Drug Abuse. This rate is very similar to rates of relapse with other chronic diseases like hypertension, asthma, or type I diabetes.

I’m bringing this all up as I personally slipped up in the beginning of January after becoming more frustrated about my health issues: I was dealing with a broken foot for 8 weeks and previously had surgery that prevented me from bike riding. My ways of dealing with life (being active) were taken away from me, and I didn’t think of other outlets. So, after many years of avoiding narcotics, I slipped up.

The next day and following week I felt like a complete failure. I felt like I let everyone down: my family, friends, and supporters. I kept on thinking, “How could I possibly continue Active For Recovery if I’m a complete screw up?” I was being extremely harsh on myself. The feelings of being ashamed began to overwhelm me. I went into a dark space.

Over the next week, I felt like I could no longer be who I previously was… someone that was an example of being sober.

And then I heard a song while listening to an auto-generated playlist on Google Music (“I’m feeling lucky”). It was by Macklemore called “Starting Over“.

Once I heard the first few lyrics, I focused in.

And every kid that came up to me
And said I was the music they listened to when they first got clean
Now look at me, a couple days sober
I’m fighting demons
Back of that meeting on the east side
Shaking tweakin’, hope that they don’t see it
Hope that no one is looking
That no one recognizes that failure under that hoodie

If I can be an example of getting sober
Then I can be an example of starting over

I was honestly in complete shock that something so appropriate played when I needed it the most. I began reading more about Macklemore and his path from being a drug dealer/user to a prolific artist. That one song brought me back on track as I realized that while relapsing may be a reality we all face, what we do afterwards makes the difference. I began to open up and share what happened with others; I let them into my life rather than ignoring phone calls.

What I learned is that there’s a major decision point when someone relapses, especially after being sober for a considerable time. You could easily say screw it and go back to your old ways. The other option, the harder option, is to accept what happened and realize you’re not a screw up, like I did originally. Take the hard road: Be honest with yourself, treat yourself well, and begin opening up. It’s not easy starting over, but if you have an open heart and mind, it can be an incredible growing & learning experience.

So, what’s helped you when you had to start over? Is there a song you think of? A community you go back to? Leave your comments below!

Path To Recovery

path to recoveryIt’s been a while since my last post and I figured those of you who follow my blog deserve to know what’s going on and hopefully it will help others by sharing my story and being open about it. In a previous post I mentioned that I had a mild form of bipolar and I hit a low point and suffered from major depression for a few months. I was in a vicious cycle where I was depressed, didn’t want to exercise or eat healthy… and that only made me more depressed. I began abusing alcohol. My relationships suffered. Sure I was seeing a psychiatrist every month, but I never disclosed my true feelings because I was too embarrassed. I felt like the worlds largest hypocrite and a fraud. However, this month I finally grew the courage to tell my psychiatrist what was going on. To finally let someone know about my secret lifted some weight off my shoulders, but then I went back to The Breakthrough Weekend again as a student. In front of at least 60 people I told everyone that I had a problem and needed help. Talking about it and letting others know that I was suffering brought me huge relief. That weekend I learned that I had the power to overcome any obstacle that stands in front of my dreams. My dreams are to make Active For Recovery a non-profit, bring attention to recovery programs, and, in the future, provide health coaching services.

Since that weekend, I haven’t purchased any alcohol for my home. Instead of sitting home and drinking, I had to make the very conscience decision to do something else. So, I signed up to the gym that’s less than 5 minutes away and now go there. I go biking, walks, anything that would replace the time of drinking. If I’m doing something, I’m not drinking. I went to a few AA meetings, but really didn’t feel like they were for me. I enjoyed the company of people who want to be sober, but don’t care for the 12 step program (I’m also not very religious). What’s interesting is that I’ve relearned how to have a healthy relationship with alcohol. I went out with some friends and had a drink and was content. I no longer wanted to feel the way I felt after drinking to the point of being drunk. I also learned that drinking alcohol messes with the medication I take to control my bipolar/depression.

So now I’m back on track. I’m working on losing the weight I gained during my depression and realize that it’s a process. I’ve relearned that you just need to take it day by day. The biggest take away/message I can give to those that are struggling is to reach out. You may not realize it, but everyone has some problem going on in their life. They may not be able to understand your addiction, but by sharing it and being open to support you’ll have a huge weight lifted off your shoulders and will be able to take the next steps toward recovery. Everyone’s path is different. And that’s ok. Find what works for you. Attend AA/NA meetings. Go to a therapist or psychiatrist. Find “communities” in your own community like The Breakthrough Weekend. Learn to become vulnerable and accept the love that others are giving you. Eventually, you’ll find your own path and life will become fun again.

If you have any questions further questions about my recent recovery, please post below in the comments or contact me directly.

Thank you,
AJ

Emotional Reasoning and Addiction Recovery

While reading a recent article in The Atlantic called “The Coddling of the American Mind” a few things jumped out at me and really made me think about how, in an attempt to “protect” people, we’ve led people down a path with fewer “tools” than ever before. What do I mean by tools? Tools can mean many things to many people, but for me a few tools have been exercise, meditation, mindfulness, being active in my community, etc. A part of being mindful of yourself is willing to take yourself down uncomfortable terrain, mentally that is. It’s to ask yourself tough questions… ie: why you feel a certain emotion and then dig.

However, in the article, the author writes:

The ultimate aim, it seems, is to turn campuses into “safe spaces” where young adults are shielded from words and ideas that make some uncomfortable. […] You might call this impulse vindictive protectiveness. It is creating a culture in which everyone must think twice before speaking up, lest they face charges of insensitivity, aggression, or worse. […] It prepares them poorly for professional life, which often demands intellectual engagement with people and ideas one might find uncongenial or wrong.

For millennia, philosophers have understood that we don’t see life as it is; we see a version distorted by our hopes, fears, and other attachments. The Buddha said, “Our life is the creation of our mind.” Marcus Aurelius said, “Life itself is but what you deem it.

What’s all this have to with addiction recovery? Well, let’s first define what emotional reasoning is according to the article: “You let your feelings guide your interpretation of reality.” So, one basically takes in an emotion and makes an inaccurate connection with whatever is currently happening in their life. This happened to me when I did the first Active For Recovery Bike Ride. I initially felt inadequate because people weren’t signing up. I became depressed. I thought I was a failure and that the idea was stupid. However, in reality, it was the first time I did an event like that and failed to realize that a majority of people register during the last week and the event was eventually deemed a success. Making quick assumptions about yourself without digging in more can lead you down dangerous terrain; however, many people do exactly this.

Breaking The Cycle of Feeling Like an Impostor

Sometimes I feel like an impostor. Especially over the past couple months, it’s been difficult to get back on track after life takes you down an unplanned path. Even with my certification in nutrition, I would eat unhealthy but give advice to others. I wasn’t exercising as much as I once did, but gave my opinion on different exercise plans. The fact is, to some degree, I relapsed… not back into drugs, but back into an unhealthy life and had troubles getting back into the swing of things. My battle plan wasn’t being implemented any more. With my confidence shaken, I began having thoughts that may be familiar to you as well…

I don’t belong here.
I’m not good enough.
I got lucky.
They’re going to realize I’m that smart.

Researching it more, I stumbled upon something called the Impostor Syndrome which “is a psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments. Despite external evidence of their competence, those with the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be.”

By why does this happen? Most people who suffer from Impostor Syndrome are fully competent. Bertrand Russell, a British philosopher, had an idea:

The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts.

The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts. – Bertrand Russell

Additionally, psychologists found something called the Dunning–Kruger effect which “is a cognitive bias wherein relatively unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly assessing their ability to be much higher than is accurate.” Basically, think of the first few contestants in America’s Got Talent.

And this happens with a ton of successful people:

Albert Einstein:

…the exaggerated esteem in which my lifework is held makes me very ill at ease. I feel compelled to think of myself as an involuntary swindler.

Maya Angelou:

I have written eleven books, but each time I think, “Uh-oh, they’re going to find out now. I’ve run a game on everybody, and they’re going to find me out.”

So, what have I done to cut the cycle of feeling like I’m an impostor? Well, first off, I must admit that I believe this feeling is something that will always creep up. The only thing I can do, I believe, is to become more aware and mindful of when the feeling starts creeping in and examine why and how it made it’s way into my mind.

Anyway, here’s what I’ve done:

1) Take Off The Mask

For some reason, I’ve been comfortable in telling everyone about my accomplishments of beating addiction and obesity, but writing this post has been terribly difficult. I wanted to write it sooner… actually, I’ve been wanting to writing for about a month now. It’s not me telling the world that I’m a fraud, but it’s more about telling the world and those going through their own journey that they may find themselves down an unplanned path. Like many addicts, relapsing is hard on the mind and body. It’s hard to shake the mindset that you can rebound, which leads me to my next point…

Growth vs Fixed Mindset2) Focus On The Growing Mindset

In a previous post, I spoke about the Growth vs Fixed mindsets mentioned by Carol Dweck in her book Mindset. This also goes along with my belief in stripping away performance goals and learn towards learning goals. I’ve been focusing on how I can improve any aspect of my life, even if it’s just by 1% (something that one of my favorite writers, James Altucher discusses in Choose Yourself! and The 1% Rule for Creating All Habits).

“The 1% Rule can be applied to everything. If I spend 1 less minute feeling regret and use that to feel gratitude, how much better for my stress levels will that be in one year’s time.” – James Altucher

Getting back on track requires small steps, and that’s why I love applying the 1% rule everyday until I’m back on track firing on all cylinders.

3) Aim For “Good Enough”

At my job, we often discuss what’s a “minimal viable product.” Without going too technical, it’s part of the Agile Manifesto and lean manufacturer principles originally developed by Toyota. Basically, when we think about a feature we think about what’s the smallest increment we can release to get us towards the final feature we want. It’s not settling for a sub par feature, but we’re always looking for simplicity. We’re looking for what’s “good enough” from the get go. This is important as it also allows us to constantly adapt when we notice things aren’t going as we originally planned, or, more importantly, when bugs are discovered we can squash them before they get out of hand. And bugs do happen, in fact, did you know that Microsoft begins every project with the certain knowledge that they will choose to ship [a software product] with known bugs?

Being good enough isn’t settling for a lower standard. Barry Schwartz, psychologist and author of The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less, says, “The single most important piece of advice I can give is: Remember that good enough is almost always good enough. If people go through life looking for good enough results, the choice problem will take care of itself. Go through your day getting a good enough cup of coffee and a good enough toasted bagel and so on and so on and life will look much sunnier.”

Being good enough is the secret to happiness. Instead of constantly trying to keep up appearances and the illusion that you’re perfect, accept that you’re not. Don’t build on self-confidence, but rather build on self-compassion and learn to forgive yourself when you screw up.

That’s it!

As author Neil Gaiman says:

The moment that you feel, just possibly, you are walking down the street naked, exposing too much of your heart and your mind, and what exists on the inside, showing too much of yourself…That is the moment, you might be starting to get it right.

Lastly, it’s important to know that everyone wears a mask every now and then. It’s part of life. However, from now on if I’m going to be wearing a mask it won’t be because I’m an impostor, it will be because I want to be a super hero. And being a true super hero means allowing everyone to know who you are, how you are, your vulnerabilities, and what you want out of life.

Believe It Can Be Done

Believe It Can Be DoneBack in 2014 when I started Get Leveled Up, I had this “Big Hairy Audacious Goal” in the back of my mind. I knew I wanted to help people by sharing my experiences, but I hadn’t quite nailed down how. I spoke about an event to raise awareness of addiction recovery, but it took me a year to decide what that exactly looked like and then take my first step, which was what was then called Biking Thru Addiction. While Biking Thru Addiction had three “outside” goals….

  1. To raise awareness of addiction and show that recovery is possible
  2. To inform the community about treatment programs and paths to recovery
  3. To introduce those struggling with addiction(s) to biking and the active community in general

There was one goal that I had in the back of my mind. The goal was for it to be a proof of concept… that organizations and the community are willing to support the event’s goals. Sure enough, by the time September 19, 2015 came around there were over 15 sponsors, over $1,000 in prizes, and 59 registered riders. By all accounts, the event was a success (even though I was running around like a hectic maniac, but lessons learned!). Here’s the thing, even if it didn’t have as good of a turnout, I would have kept on going with this idea… because I was so passionate about the cause that I believed that, within time, my dream would become a reality.

So, without further ado, I present Active For Recovery. It’s replacing my previous endeavors (Get Leveled Up & Biking Thru Addiction) and will allow me to focus on educating the public about addiction recovery, eliminating the stigma surround recovery, and helping those support an active lifestyle toward recovery! I also plan on having a variety of events a year to raise more awareness, with 2016 slated to have a 5k in Sprint and a bike ride in Fall.

Why am I so passionate about raising awareness of addiction recovery? While I have my own history with addiction, I believe everyone deserves recovery; to be at peace, to be happy, and to be healthy. I believe that the stigma surrounding those that have gone through recovery is ridiculous, as, in my opinion, the only way one can develop true personal connections is by being open and transparent without any judgement. Lastly, I strongly believe that a key to recovery is community.

This is what I believe can be done with Active For Recovery.