I get a lot of questions from people asking me what it is I’m doing. They tell me they see my posts on Facebook, they like what I post, and generally want to know more about it.
8 1/2 months ago, I made a decision to make an earnest commitment to my health. With out getting into grim detail, I was binge drinking and smoking regularly, eating unhealthy foods, and averaging 4 hours of sleep most nights. Believe me… That is the clean version.
I’d never considered myself alcoholic because of the education I’ve received on the subject, both personally and professionally. I have witnessed the power of addiction up close and personal in my own family, and I’ve spent the better part of the last 15 years working with many people who suffer from addiction or have been forced to suffer the consequences of someone else’s addiction problems. I’ve also helped refer many people to treatment, and have participated in the treatment of other’s.
I would come to find out I needed to reconsider that notion.
With all of that knowledge, my natural conclusion was always that my drinking was different. My drinking was about blowing off steam and relaxing after work. I viewed my drinking as a sort of social outlet. I generally drank with the same people in the same places- often having a meal with a friend or friends. To me, it was just what you did after a long day trying to rationalize with irrational people.
I worked in a position that was often dangerous- managing crisis situations (which frequently turned violent and physical) involving emotionally disturbed men, women, adolescents and children. I am a trained, certified (by Cornell University), Crisis Intervention Specialist. I specialize in remaining calm and rational while those around me cannot do the same, and are escalating towards an outburst or explosion (can be read as becoming violent towards themselves or others). I’m also certified and trained to intervene physically and safely (so as not cause injury to myself or parties concerned) if need be. To me, it made perfect sense to go have a few cold ones and some wings after a long shift of madness at work.
Years of this had added significant weight to my frame, withered my immune system, evaporated funds from my bank account, and eroded the quality of life I sought to protect. But it never occurred to me there was a looming problem- I was unhappy.
Granted, no one feels their best when hungover, but beyond that I felt lost, and didn’t know what I was looking for.
Eventually, I began to soul-search. Asking myself who I am, and what my purpose is. I had established a reputation as person who helped ease the suffering of others- particularly children, through my work. Unfortunately I slowly began to feel I was working for the company more so than the children. I began to feel as though I were working more for a place of stability within my agency (one that would provide me just the right amount of pay, some authority, an office and a desk… 2 out of 4 is not so good). I felt as though I was wanted my professional work to become my identity.
Thankfully, that led the following epiphany:
How can I truly teach others to make healthier decisions for themselves when I’m not healthy myself?
I began to feel like a bit of a fraud. Which only worsened over time, turning to depression. I was using an unhealthy practices as a form of entertainment.
It finally dawned on me, something needed to give. I just wasn’t sure what it was going to be, or if I’d be ready when it finally did.
I also began to worry about my health. I regularly had a sore throat and coughs, I had developed acid reflux, my body fat percentage was way up, blood pressure and cholesterol counts were rising, and my knees were aching because of the weight gain. The worst part was that I had a tendency to ignore the symptoms and just gut ’em out.. That’s what hard workers are supposed to do, right?
Ultimately, the realization that I had some habits which were likely going to die very very hard, added to the depression, and I entered therapy just to keep my head on straight.
Over the next couple of months, I would see my therapist twice a week. We spent a lot of time talking about the idea of “toxicity,” and that I seemed to have a few toxic influences in my life. We discussed everything from alcohol and drugs, a DWI conviction from years past (don’t think I mentioned that until now, but it happened), to stress in the workplace, relationships, family and home life. The result was me realizing I was living a toxic lifestyle.
My first thought was the only way to rectify the situation was with medication… Anti-depressants, Anti-anxiety.. Anti-whatever.. I’ll try it- more toxicity when you really think about it..
I wanted to make some changes fast, because I was genuinely afraid of a bad outcome, but my therapist and I agreed we would table a med trial until after we did some more work together. After assessment, it was determined by an actual clinician that I wasn’t an alcoholic, but that some of my behaviors (binge drinking) were alcoholic behaviors. I never kept alcohol in the house for myself. Primarily, I drank with my friends at our favorite bar, or elsewhere together after work and on weekends.
We were also able to identify my main motivation was socialization, not escape. We discovered I made a choice to engage in an unhealthy behavior because that’s all I had come to learn- that drinking was a social activity. One I was particularly adept at. I grew up thinking, “Men go out and drink with the boys to blow off steam.” I had witnessed my father drinking for hours with softball buddies after games (he played a lot of softball). In high school the ultimate social gathering was a keg party. I drank with teammates after practice, or the occasional beer with an uncle or a friend’s dad.. Ya know, guy stuff.
We also realized, over time, I gradually stopped pursuing some of the solitary pursuits I used to engage in- like writing.
We decided I needed a life detox- namely removing the toxic elements in my life; which all centered around my choices- my behavior. I needed to identify the behaviors I felt were toxic and find an alternate activity that was just as satisfying.
At first, that meant showing up at the bar, pounding down some drinks, and leaving early- drunk. I thought it wouldn’t seem I was doing anything different if I still got drunk with my friends. But when I started to realize, I was doing most of the drinking, not the majority of my friends. It became time to confront the volume of alcohol I would consume. That took some time. It also made me question whether I really had “the gene.” There were a few alcoholics and substance a users in my family.. I pulled the “get drunk and ponder life” routine many times over the next few months.
It eventually occurred to me this habit was going to die hard on some serious “Yippie Ky Yay” proportions..
I add some changes.. Limiting the nights I went to the bar, instead starting to spend time with non-drinkers doing actual activities like hiking, or going to someone’s house to watch a movie or play video games. I got more involved with social media and met people with similar interests to mine- which I’d forgotten I enjoyed.. I still went to the bar, just not 7 nights a week.
But I still wasn’t happy. When I went to the bar, I still lived it up, and I wanted that to stop.
One day, in a particularly dark moment, I received a call from a friend who told me about a health program she was trying. She explained how it worked, and also mentioned that it was a 30 day program with a restriction on alcohol.
It sounded good, but I wasn’t quite ready. Then one Saturday night at the bar; as I was contemplating how to break the cycle, it dawned on me that I needed a strategy. Change wasn’t going to come just because I said so. I needed a reason to change. I needed a system that would elicit the change I was seeking..
Soon after, I agreed to try this 30 day health program. I figured if I was committed to improving my health, I would do what was necessary- I would make the sacrifices to make it happen. The best thing about this program was that the main goal was to “detoxify” the body, and “transform” my life
8 1/2 months later, I’ve quit smoking, I’m down 30 lbs, I drink way less (and a responsible volume), can’t remember the last time I was in a bar (in a good way, that is), and live a much healthier lifestyle altogether. I have resigned from a job and work environment that was often described by many working there as toxic.. I’ve become a Consultant for one of the best companies on the planet- where I introduce others to the possibilities of health, wealth and wellness. With my newfound clarity and personal experiences, I have also obtained a Wellness Coaching Certfication, allowing me to help guide others to higher levels of personal wellness, as professional- my true calling, and an identity I welcome.
I now spend my days working with people who truly value and appreciate my efforts and experience. I am sought- I do not have to seek clients, yes, clients. I now conduct a private practice.
Also, as you can see, I have a blog which allows me to continue writing my way to a higher state wellness, and giving me a very time consuming activity in lieu of partying- highly effective therapy, I might add (and less expensive).
So that’s it. That’s what I’m doing. Healthiest decision I’d made in a long time.
-O. Salim Thornton