The Journey From Ground Zero and Beyond
Life changing habits that had an immediate impact.
In the summer of 2019, if there was anyone who needed a win, it was me.
I was tired, scatter brained and fat. I don’t mean that I had body image issues.
I was clinically obese.
I was also an addict.
Alcoholism was in complete control of my behavior. I drank so I could relax. I drank so I could sleep. A brutal irony; I couldn’t sleep because I drank. The effects of sleep apnea were wreaking havoc on my brain, and my marriage. I developed “floppy eye syndrome,” a very real, and very gross side effect of sleep apnea.
It’s important to note, without breaking my addiction, nothing else I did would have changed. Alcoholism was ground zero for a myriad of physical and psychological impediments I was forcing myself to live with.
The gory details of my journey to recovery can be found here.
What follows are habits I implemented after delving into the world of self care, after the startling discovery that I was, in fact, in charge of my own life. It took some old fashioned trial and error, but, without alcohol consuming the majority of my time, time spent being drunk, recovering from being drunk or working so I could get drunk, I devoted my time to actively changing how I felt, and more importantly how my brain worked.
The results changed my life.
1.) 7 to 8 hours of sleep.
Did you know that some of the greatest disasters in history have been attributed to sleep deprivation? Three Mile Island ringing any bells? How bout Exxon Valdez? There was also the great breakfast buffet disaster in the spring of 2017. I stayed out drinking until 4 a.m. then drove home with one eye open to sleep for three hours. I had to be back at 8 a.m. to put out a breakfast buffet for the bridal party following a wedding. I managed to make it out of bed and to the restaurant in just enough time to realize I had my dates confused. One would hope that I learned from my mistake, and in turn, would come to work the next day rested, and, at a minimum, sober. Wrong. History, as it often does, repeated itself. I still remember the general manager screaming at me to scramble eggs faster. The problem was, after a week straight of binging, then working through the hangover, I was running out of gas.
The CDC estimates that one in three adults aren’t getting enough sleep.
One in three.
Sleep deprivation hampers cognitive function, limits our ability to effectively problem solve, in addition to greatly hampering my ability to scramble eggs quickly. Making matters worse, potential health hazards associated with sleep deprivation include; high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and increased risk of stroke.
Just as important, sleep is a vehicle of diffuse learning and memory preservation, allowing us to hang on to all the information our brains processed during the day.
Without the effects of alcohol hampering my ability to sleep, my body AND my brain began to slowly recover from the abuse. I started taking the quality of my sleep seriously.
I rarely eat after 8 p.m.
I set my phone to do not disturb and devote the time before bed to reading. The additional mental clarity, combined with a rested brain significantly increases the amount of information I retain.
An earlier bed time came with a bonus discovery. I am a morning person after all. With the extra time in the morning I invested in a gym membership, confronting my weight problem head on.
Thanks to the gym time, combined with intermittent fasting and a slow carb diet, I’m down nearly fifty pounds in six months.
With additional rest combined with the clearheadedness that comes with sobriety, I’m constantly learning and developing clear, sometimes, elegant thoughts. I’m also becoming distinctly aware of what I want out of life, as well as what it will take to get there.
My first instinct was to grab a pen and paper.
The adage goes, what gets monitored gets managed. The results that correlate with the practice of writing down ones goals are hard to ignore. I’ve been able to formulate simply plans to accomplish the items on my daily to do lists as well as long term goals.
Journaling can help you manage stress, deal with anxiety, and cope with depression, as well as lead to better organization, visualization, and managing your goals and aspirations. Setting a few minutes aside each day to organize your thoughts will not only help you prioritize better. Getting your thoughts in front of you can help quantify and categorize them. Focusing on what matters, or what’s been bothering you can help to quiet the anxious noise in your head. It did for me.
Among the four or five long term goals I’ve been working on, first is staying sober. Sobriety isn’t a merit badge that I can sew on to the uniform of life and boast about. Sobriety is a new lease for life, and the rent is due every day. By keeping this goal, and actively journaling about it each day, I’ve become acutely aware of the journey, and less focused on the end result, or rather morbidly put, on death. This awareness has opened doors to a wider world view, which pushes my brain to work harder and allows me to appreciate each day as it comes, while simultaneously being thrilled about the prospect of what lies around the next turn.
Without the option to turn to the bottle for relief I needed an outlet, a way to decompress.
Bryan Ye’s piece, found here, was the catalyst for my journey into the world of meditation, a practice that has returned exponential dividends when compared to the relatively small investment it requires.
Meditation has been proven to help reduce stress and anxiety, leading to better sleeping habits. It also has been proven to enhance self awareness, lengthen attention span, and reduce memory loss. It can be as simple as starting with ten minutes a day.
For me, meditation allows me to ease into the day. It’s allowed me to step back and look at my world from an outsiders perspective. While this may seem inane and almost irrelevant, especially considering I generally only reach this state for a minute maybe two each day, the impact can be seismic.
By slowly training my brain to think this way, the pathways are slowly opened to allow information to flow in this manner. The initial benefit of mediation was the calm demeanor with which I started the day, which, if the benefits had ended there would be enough. What’s truly magnificent about meditation; the way I think, and react in social and professional situations has evolved.
Instead of reacting immediately, or emotionally, I now step back. I became the kind of person who makes measured decisions, and offers thoughtful input, often being able to observe the influence on the micro and the macro.
“The snake which cannot cast its skin has to die. As well the minds which are prevented from changing their opinions; they cease to be mind.” Friedrich Nietzsche
Keep in mind, while the impact was almost immediate, these habits require commitment and daily practice. I’ve since dabbled in with other forms of bio hacking, productivity exercises, and all other manner of self help advice. I consistently come back to these three as a mental and physical “home base” for maintaining my sobriety.
A word about change.
Life ends. One hundred percent of people die. I’m sorry for the morbid sentiment, but it’s an inescapable truism. It seems as though it’s the only truism we can all agree on. Taking pause to appreciate the journey, will teach you to place supreme value on two things; time and change. While change does take time, not changing wastes it.