Seven years ago, I finally put down the drugs and alcohol for good. That was the beginning. From that moment the learning about myself and my world began. The road wasn’t all puppies and tacos but now I actually truly, deeply know myself for the first time ever. I now show up in the world as the best version of myself to my loved ones, my peers, and my dog (he deserves it.)
It was 4am on November 21, 2012. Everything was dark. I was sitting alone at my kitchen table staring at a bottle of rum and a pile of cocaine. I was scared; all the unaddressed fears from my 38 previous years had shown up and were relentlessly beating on my door. I was in the pain of emptiness, the indescribable emotional anguish that comes from guilt, shame, regret, and the glaring awareness of everything I didn’t want to know or see. I felt an oppressive, paralyzing feeling of impending doom; my thoughts, the clock, and the world around me were spinning at a thousand miles per hour and I couldn’t find the emergency brake to slow any of it down. I had nothing in my life.
Up until that point, I was a runner.. Sometimes it worked for a little bit; a few weeks, a few months or even years. But in the end, none of them worked permanently, and they all came with painful consequences. I was running scared, and searching for safety and peace. I was looking everywhere except the place I needed to look.
The truth is that 30% of men struggle with depression; that means that at least one of your core group of friends is struggling right now. Depression is scary. Depression is dangerous.
Then, for a split second, I had one other thing: a moment of extreme clarity. I was able to see through the fog of booze and cocaine, that this all had to end. It hit me like a meteor falling from the sky.
Fifteen years of battling active addiction and mental illness had to be over.
Now I am 7 years removed from that hell and I want to share the 7 biggest lessons I have learned since that November morning in 2012. I’ve learned all these from getting and staying sober, looking my mental illness right in the face, and walking through life, and a brutal depression sober.
These seven lessons have been, and continue to be, useful to me and will be for you too.
Intentions matter the most.
Where you’re coming from is the biggest determining factor of the end result. Intentions determine everything from the first action you take, to your commitment level, to how you finish. This is true for all your relationships, your interactions, and your personal habits. I first learned about the importance of intentions when I first “tried” to get sober in 2007. The time came time to make amends to my ex-girlfriend. I wanted to say sorry, but my intention was to get her back; that was it. Let’s just say it didn’t go well. It wasn’t until many years down the road when I actually got sober that I was able to really make those amends with the right intention; owning what I had done and only making amends with the intention of making amends and how I could help her going forward. Nothing to do with me or the result I had wanted. The result was that she thanked me but never wanted to hear from me again. And that was ok; it wasn’t about me this time. From this lesson I’ve learned that intentions matter in everything I do.
If there is any “not-so-bueno” motive behind any behavior, relationship, interaction, or belief- check your intentions. There is amazing power in the intentions we set and operate from.
You’re more likely to get what you really want by letting go of what you think you want.
Here’s the truth: you really have no idea what’s next for you; even what you really want is questionable. You might think you do, and you might turn out to be right; but it will rarely look exactly like you thought it would.
I was not “supposed” to move to San Francisco in 2013, fresh out of rehab. I was “supposed” to go to Los Angeles to follow in the footsteps of Jerry McGuire and Scott Boras to become an agent to big name athletes like LeBron James, Tom Brady, and Lamar Jackson. I put “supposed” in quotes because that’s what I really wanted, errr… I mean that’s what I thought I really wanted. But nothing, I mean absolutely nothing, was going my way to get to LA. It ended up that moving to San Francisco was one of the best things that’s ever happened for me. My life took off, I found my passion, my sobriety became rock-solid, and I built life-long friendships. All because I let go of what I thought I wanted and accepted what was actually showing up.
If you’re ever trying so hard to do something and keep getting met with stop signs and detours, try letting go. You will save yourself a lot of pain and energy, and you will probably end up in a better place than you ever thought you could.
The best way out is always through.
If you don’t really go through whatever it is that you’re facing, then it will always be there. It might lay in the weeds for years but unless you really face it and go through you will be destined to experience it again at some point. Look whatever it is that your struggling with right in the face and walk through it.
“Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know.” ~Pema Chodron
Truer words have never been spoken. I have tried to drink away the pain, to snort away the pain, to eat away the pain, and to sex away the pain. None of it works. The only way you’re going to learn what you need to know is to sit in the pain, sit in the fear, and to take your seat on the struggle bus. The bad news is that you will, undoubtedly, be uncomfortable for a little bit. The good news is that it will not last nearly as long you think, and you have the ability, and power to determine how long it sticks around for. It all depends on how willing you are to lean into the discomfort. The harder you lean and the more willing you are to see what the pain is trying to show you, the faster it will be behind you for good.
The only way to ensure your healing from whatever it is, is to walk directly through the thick of it. Depression will wreck your body so the faster you can get through it the better off you’re going to be. It’s beyond not fun, it’s deadly.
Delayed gratification is greater than instant gratification.
This comes down to the fact that discipline really does equal freedom. Shiny objects can be fun, but you know what’s not fun; realizing that because you said “yes” to that shiny object you cost yourself a much bigger, better prize later on. Holding on for real, meaningful things is far better than the instant dopamine hit of a “shiny object”. Having the discipline to say “no” to what is in front of you right now means that you get to say yes to much, much better things down the road. Think about it like this. That extra piece of cake or a handful of french fries will taste really good right now but, in a few hours, when you’re laying down to go to sleep and you’re miserably full, you’ll regret said cake or fries.
Now think about it in terms of fitness, staying in bed at 5:30 or 6am will feel really good in the moment, but then when you have to go to the gym after work, when all you want to do is go home to your couch and relax will not feel so good.
Vulnerability is the magic bullet.
We’ve all been guilty of looking for shortcuts. Whether it be weight loss, learning a new skill, getting over heartbreak, or even falling in love. If you’re looking for a quick fix in a magic bullet, you’re going to be looking (and hurting) for a long time. The search for these quick fixes is actually what causes everything to take longer. The one thing that will get you further in relationships, or getting over pain, and therefore in your life is to get vulnerable. Vulnerability is the highest efforts of courage that we as humans can make.
“Courage is being scared to death, and saddling up anyway.” ~John Wayne
When you open up to others and let them see you for who are it does amazing things. One is that it takes the power away from your fear, your pain, and your discomfort. In terms of relationships it also tells the other person it’s ok to do the same and now you’re both creating a safe place for each other. In terms of getting over depression, anxiety, heartbreak, or addiction getting vulnerable is the quick fix that you’re looking for. When you get vulnerable you start digging and getting to the real root of the problem and then real healing will begin.
Movement of the body creates movement of the mind.
Exercise, move, sweat. Movement is the miracle drug. When your thoughts and your life are going sideways, go to the gym, go for a run, or go for a walk. Just do something to move your body.
Studies at The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that running for 15 minutes a day or walking for an hour reduces the risk of major depression by 26%.(1) I’ll take that percentage.
Another study done at Harvard Medical School and published in JAMA Psychiatry concluded this: after examining the results of 33 randomized clinical trials involving more than 1,800 people, the study found that people with mild to moderate depression who performed resistance training two or more days a week saw “significant” reductions in their symptoms, compared with people who did not. The findings also suggested that resistance exercises may be even more beneficial for those with more severe depressive symptoms.(2)
I know that when you’re feeling depressed, the last thing you feel like doing is anything, much less exercise. I know this because I’ve been there. When I went through my last depression and my first one in sobriety, exercise was my miracle drug. I had tried all the medications, but exercise was the one that would shift my entire mood.
Go to the gym.
Acceptance does not require approval.
It just doesn’t. Your present situation is your present situation. Accept it or suffer. I could stop there, but I’ll go on. I have done the suffering by not accepting. It’s endless, fruitless, and it does nothing to move you forward. If you don’t like your current situation change it. But you can’t change it without accepting it first. Your approval is just not required, but your acceptance is. In fact, it’s a good thing if you don’t approve of a less than favorable situation, it will give you the awareness that this isn’t ok. The longer you search for situations you always approve of, the longer you will suffer. Accept what is happening and showing up in your life as it is. If you don’t like it, take steps to change it to something you do approve of. Let go or be dragged.
And there you have it, the seven biggest lesson that I’ve learned in my first seven years of sobriety. These tips will not only help you with your 2020 resolutions, but they will save your life. These lessons will make your relationships better, your mindset stronger and they change your whole outlook and how you walk through big life events.