Some years ago, I reached a critical juncture in my life where the path down which I was travelling was leading me to my own inescapable annihilation. My failing health was a reflection of the mental crisis that was destroying me. Paralyzed psychologically by the after-effects of a traumatic brain injury and the shit-storm that followed, my recovery was blockaded, in large part, by my neglect for my physical health. My personal revolution, the road to recovery, began with one push-up.
I am not ashamed anymore to talk about the accident (read more about traumatic brain injuries and my experience) or my deplorable behavior that followed which led to the collapse of my business, the loss of my home, a divorce from my wife of 11 years and incurring a massive debt to the IRS. I binge drank every night to counteract the med’s I took each morning. I ate shit food and never bothered to exercise. Horrible nightmares interrupted what little sleep I could manage. I swung between moments of dark depression and white-hot rage. I threatened and chased people on the road and picked fist fights in bars. My memory of those nearly two years of my life is a blurry, incomplete puzzle for which many of the pieces are still missing.
One memory from that time that left an indelible mark is the morning that I woke up in a drunken stupor to The Shawshank Redemption on the TV. The scene in the movie when Andy Dufresne tells Red, “It guess it comes down to a simple choice: Get busy livin’ or Get busy dyin’.” Something clicked for me in that moment; all of the joy and hope in my life was being replaced with debauchery and despair. I had to do something radical to change or I was going to die in my sleep or at the hands of some poor fool in a barroom brawl.
All of the crap about acceptance and letting go of the past had not worked for 2 years. Counselling and confiding in friends only made me angry. The only relief I felt from the chorus of negativity in my mind was through physical activity. Having lost my company and the job I had begged for from one of my previous competitors, I found myself working as a laborer at a construction company. I found a strange comfort in digging ditches and performing manual labor. Physical activity would have to be the thread to stitch my life back together.
I did 50 push-up’s that first day. Something about the burn in my muscles that day and soreness I felt the next day was exhilarating. I did 50 more the next day…And the next day. Soon, I began adding crunches and squats. I started looking for places to hang from to do pull-up’s and chin-up’s. Within 2 weeks, I found myself spending as much as two hours a day exercising. A week later, I decided that I would invest all of the money I normally spent in a night for alcohol and prescription medicine on signing up for a gym membership.
An incredible transformation had begun: Time that I would have normally spent drinking and carousing at the bars was now being spent at the gym. The amount of alcohol that I once needed to drown myself to sleep went from nearly a fifth of Vodka (750 ml) to almost none. The erratic behavior and violent moods yielded to a more contemplative, amiable demeanor. Weekends that previously consisted of marathon drug and alcohol binges now included hiking and camping trips filled with adventure races and fitness challenges.
Within a few months, I had dedicated the entirety of my intention to my physical health and fitness. I committed to fitness challenges that pushed me far beyond anything I had ever imagined possible. I eliminated all processed sugar, bread, rice and fast food from my diet. I limited my alcohol intake to 2 beers, 2 times per week.
Here’s what my diet looked like each day:
1 to 2 gallons of water
8 servings of raw vegetables
5 servings of greens
5 servings of fruits
2 servings of mixed nuts
2 servings of legumes
1 serving of plain yogurt with local honey
3 servings of meat (chicken sausage, chicken breast, steak, beef jerky, fish)
3 servings of whey protein
6 months after doing those first 50 push-up’s, I was in the best shape of my life at 39 years old. I had more positive mental and physical energy sustained throughout the day. I was stronger, more mentally sharp and in greater command of my emotions than at any time I could recall.
Two and a half years since doing those first 50 push-up’s, I have struck a balance with my fitness and nutrition; I still eat all of the whole, natural foods…but I also allow myself ice cream, a few beers when I feel like it and the occasional pizza night. I don’t live in the gym like I used to, but I make time to regularly workout and continue to push my physical limits.
This physical wellness overhaul was precisely the foundation upon which I could begin building a new life. I have begun similar revolutions in the way I work and express my artistic side.