A remedy for the gray: turning the phone off, going off the grid, and heading into Eastern Oregon for a few days of adventure

Eastern Oregon is a rural part of the West. Heading east, out of Bend, OR, there is very little to speak of in terms of the population until you hit Boise, ID, a solid five-hour car ride away. Two hours east of Bend, in Burns, OR, the home of the Highlanders and the former starting QB of the New York Jets, Kellen Clemens, you see the last gas station for miles as you continue into the barren and remote outback.

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The Steens Mountains in the distance

Every year I make a pilgrimage to Eastern Oregon, normally in the fall. It’s my way of regaining key personal perspective and getting peace and quiet. The formula is simple: the phone goes off, no wifi, and I go off the grid for a few days. Last Wednesday when I began my trip, about seventy miles outside of Bend, while driving through the pristine Ochoco National Forest, I had a moment that helped kick me out of busy mindlessness and back into a fleeting reality, one that I’d like to normalize once more. On top of mind were an annoying encounter with an egotistical maniac just a day earlier, a bum shoulder, and a benignly irrelevant memory of something that happened in my life a full decade earlier. The noise was loud and my emotions were following their nonsensical pathway to nowhere. However, the moment I crested the summit of Ochoco pass on Oregon Route 26, and down towards the ranching town of Mitchell, OR, I had a firm revelatory sensation and shouted at myself, “Shut up, Spence!” This moment clicked me over and signaled the beginning of my road trip.

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On the backside of Domingo Pass looking over the vast and open rangeland to the west of the Pueblo Mountains

On Thursday evening I found myself in the remote town of Frenchglen, OR, writing in an old rocking chair on the porch of the National Historic Frenchglen hotel while awaiting the family style dinner that is served every night to the guests. The evening’s menu consisted of pork chops, salad, and potatoes. In the quaint hotel dining room, the smells are reminiscent of how the dining hall at Burke Mountain Academy smelled after our long-tenured cook Harry spent all day preparing a communal meal for the students. The hotel, which used to serve as a lodging house for the cattle industry, has been around since 1923, seemingly forever in this rural nook of land.

To the east of Frenchglen lie the Steens Mountain Range, a gorgeous geographic sight. From Frenchglen, the range gradually and unassumingly slopes up to 9000ft from the west, only to drop off two thousand feet within the span of just a mile or two into the Alvord desert to the east, an area akin to Utah’s Bonneville salt flats where numerous car commercials and movies are filmed (think the Area 51 scene in Independence Day). On my trip last year I got my rig drastically stuck in an unsuspectedly damp part of the desert and had to get pulled out by some dude that was trolling for amateur desert-goers like me. My truck had sunk a foot into the desert. The whole ordeal only cost me fifty bucks, a hell of a deal out in the outback.

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The Alvord desert

The pace of life here is seemingly slower and much more casual than the rest of the world. It’s almost like time forgot this land and left it as a distant memory. It’s here that I find it easier to breathe and feel a sense of calm. I really like it here, in fact, I could live here someday.

Perhaps my favorite go-to spot in all of Eastern Oregon are the remote and barren Pueblo Mountains, just south of Fields, OR. A couple of years ago I stumbled across these mountains almost by mistake, thinking there was a trail system to experience. I had caught wind that the Oregon Desert Trail ran through this country. Let’s use the term “trail” loosely, the path is almost unrecognizable in most spots, which nowadays adds to the allure of the area for me. One of the owners of the local diner/grocery store/hotel (which I came to find out was haunted) mentioned to me, as I was face deep in a pile of greasy eggs and bacon, that she did some running up in the Pueblo’s on occasion while preparing to run ultramarathons. Curious about her comment, I implored to learn more. With her recommendation, I sought out a sparingly traveled and un-marked dirt road which led up to Domingo Pass, a scenic lookout over vast miles of rangeland to the south and into northern Nevada. While on top, the goal of my trip, to get back in touch with wilderness, peace, and solitude, was actualized. I had found what I was looking for.

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Early morning while on a run up to Domingo Pass

The West is known for its big sky, open lands, and unique wildlife. Its aura and mystique serve to keep me coming back year after year. Its various mysteries are just as wild as the landscape. Just up the road from Frenchglen is the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, a place made famous when Ammon Bundy and his crew of armed militants took hostage a couple of years ago to seek an opportunity to advance their view that the United States Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management are constitutionally required to turn over most of the federal public land they manage to the individual states. The case caught the attention of the national media.  In terms of the animal life, on my way down to the area and throughout the trip, I saw a smattering of animals cross the road including elusive pronghorn, frantic coyotes, and the random heifer cow casually crossing the highway minding his business, without regard to oncoming drivers. The beauty of the open range is beholden to the landscape.

On Wednesday, after I turned my phone off on my way out of Bend, I was fully charged with a busy mind and relentless open-ended thoughts. In a way I had let the last couple of weeks, mostly spent in another depressive episode, get the best of me, while tempting to bring me down. Seven years ago I was medically diagnosed with depression, which is different than having bad days every now and then. Over the last couple of years, I find that it’s just about every three months where I am struck with an episode. With time, they seem to get more manageable, however, they still hurt. Being out on the open road, with the relative silence as my backdrop, I felt the episode begin to pass.

When I’m tuned back into the world, surrounded by the noise and bustle of everyday life, my pseudo-ingrained insecurities tend to pop up when I’m not being mindful. Largely through a weekly dose of psychotherapy, my crux of being in recovery as an addict/alcoholic, I’m able to step back and realize the noise that I entrench myself in the day-to-day. Without a sense of awareness, the noise can come from anywhere and everywhere and affect me in profound manners. When I tend to get in patterns of paying close attention to the media, both social and news, I begin to lose my sense of awareness in a sweeping cascade of constant outside stimuli. This is one reason I travel to Eastern Oregon, to purge my sense of being entrenched in things that really, when it comes down to it, just don’t matter to me day to day. I come to this landscape to purge out the noise.

On my journey back to Bend, after being on the road for four days, I reflected as to why this trip was important and what I could take away and re-implement back into my life. The profound notion that sank in was that I have the ability, to a large degree, to control my reactions to the surroundings in which I live. Left unchecked my mind can wander to places that are not productive for me. Perhaps it’s the constant bombardment of noise that helps contribute to depressive episodes. Yes, some of it’s chemical, but I’ve got to believe that part of it has to with my surroundings. Re-integrating myself into the barren Eastern Oregon landscape that I love sure seems like a complementary remedy to help soothe the longevity of an episode.

I look forward to returning to Eastern Oregon soon, for I have a pretty cool idea brewing in my head for a race down there. For now, as I’ve written down on my vision board, I strive to reimplement the sage teachings of that vast remoteness and beauty the landscape lends to me. Plus, I’ve got physical proof of my experience in a collage of photos that I took over the four days to help remind me of why I go in the first place.

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On top an un-named peak in the Pueblo Mountains

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Dude, what’s up with all of the negative self-talk​? Doesn’t it get old?

A good buddy of mine just finished my memoir, Appetite for Addiction. His feedback was incredibly insightful, timely, and profound.  The main comment of his that stuck in my head was: “hey dude, I hope you’re able to move on from all of the negative self-talk you’ve suffered through over the last several years.”  He had a very valid point.

Another good friend of mine is in the midst of battling alcoholism and cannot put the bottle down.  I can relate to where he is.  The physical scenes he describes for me is very reminiscent of how I used to be.  Constantly drunk, depressed, in a state of withdrawal, and in some regards, utter despair.  And, I hear the relentless negative self-talk in his voice, just as I had experienced.

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Moments before speaking at Roundabout Books last month in Bend, OR, pondering my approach as to how I would address the audience.

Why does it have to be that some people, including myself (when I’m not in a mindful state), treat themselves like assholes?  In the past, I would constantly feed myself with never-ending negative self-talk.  I’ll never have a chance with that girl; I’ll never be a good athlete; I’ll never be worthy of love.  Those self-inflicted comments were a huge part of the reason that I drank all of the time.  When I was properly imbibed all of my insecurities would vanish the minute a shot of whiskey went down the hatch.  The negative self-talk would turn into impenetrable self-praise.  I could date that girl; I could win that race; I could have the world.  That was all good but when you take away the alcohol I went right back to beating the shit out of myself with verbal vomit that promoted the fact that I was, indeed, worthless, depressed, and lonely.

I was an expert at playing the comparison game, always wanting what other people had. I had good buddies with tons of money, nice cars, nice houses, great families, and seemingly no problems. I was jealous, envious of their lives, always fuming at the fact that I didn’t have what they had.  The jealousy drove me mad.  It was persistent enough that the only cure for me was to drink, heavily.  The minute I had a buzz most of those comparisons went away for the most part.  When I drank I felt invincible, which led me to fabricate a narrative in my head that I was better than, fitter than, and worthy of every bit of success that was coming my way (somehow I became omniscient when I drank, can anyone relate?).  Then, when the party was finally over, and the booze was taken away, the comparisons and the negative self-talk became demons that I was not ready to fight.

Getting sober is so much more than just not drinking.  Sure, not drinking is the first step, but the self-examination that lies ahead (in my experience) is just as profound as the courage it takes to put the bottle down.  When I resigned from my corporate gig in 2015, more than a year into sobriety, I launched myself into a new lifestyle that required a certain amount of self-governance. At first, it was exciting, but as time wore on and the negative self-talk persisted, I began to question my choice and motives.  I didn’t realize the comfort that having a fulltime job and consistent paycheck gave to me.  Even though I was pursuing several long-term projects (running a business, writing a book, chasing athletic dreams) it took me a couple of years to get comfortable with the fact that the negative self-talk was the primary culprit to my hesitations.  Luckily, I am thankful those hesitations have disappeared for the most part, because, quite frankly, I’m all-fucking-in on my endeavors 100%.

So where does this negative self-talk come from?  As much of an asshole as I was prone to be to myself, it had to come from somewhere.  My childhood?  Depressive tendencies?  How about this option:  the shit we tell ourselves is largely an illusion, a fabrication of bullshit narratives stuck in our heads about who we should be (please avoid the “should” game if you can, it can be a waste of energy) and what we think of ourselves. C’mon, I used to tell myself I was worthless!  Not one person in my life has EVER said that to me, so where is it coming from?  It comes from the mind, and largely, the mind is pretty damn good at creating illusions, as well as baseless, non-factual assumptions of who we are.  So, the next time you find yourself steeped in negative self-talk, think about where it ACTUALLY came from.  You might just find, as I did, that the majority of it is based on a mere illusion.  Can it be that simple?  I think so, it may just take a while to get to a place where you can accept that fact.  I hate to see people suffer when their suffering is created by non-factual information.

Sure, I’m human and I still go through self-doubt sometimes, but for the most part, it’s compartmentalized into a place where I can properly assess where the doubt is coming from.  That particular approach took some time to develop.  The good news, today, is that I can recognize in an instant when any negativity pops into my head.  For me, when self-doubt rears it’s ugly head the trick is, at first, to quite simply breathe and gain a clear assessment of the situation at hand.  And when I come to the conclusion that it’s based on an illusion?  I can tell it to piss off and I move on with my day.

Thanks for reading!  I would love to hear your feedback on how you approach negative self-talk.  Do you listen?  Can you push it aside? Everyone’s got a unique personal journey and it would be interesting to hear other people’s takes on the subject.

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A Preview of the Follow-up to Appetite for Addiction: “A Comeback From Addiction”

After years of being on a crash course with self-destruction, I woke up on the morning of February 11, 2014, knowing that something in my life had to change. At the rate I was going, it was certain, if I continued my self-destructive tendencies, that I’d do something that would end everything for me. For the previous few days, knowing that my party was coming to an end, I locked myself in my apartment and drank an endless amount of alcohol all by myself, to blackout, for 72 straight hours. On the morning of the 11th, I felt hungover, depressed, emotionally and spiritually bankrupt, in an utter state of despair. That day serves to remain as the day that I stopped drinking and the day that I began to unravel the incredible mess that was my life. To this day, four-plus years later, I have not had one single sip of alcohol. So far the journey has been messy, non-linear, confusing, emotional, insightful, and humbling. February 11th, 2014 is my sober day.

A Comeback From Addiction will serve to shed light on the learning process that began on the day I decided to stop drinking. Millions of people all across the world suffer from the disease that is addiction and alcoholism. Everyone’s journey through recovery is unique and personal, although the devastating backstories are generally very similar. The following pages will describe the process that I’ve gone through to stay clean and sober ever since 2/11/14.

Experiencing the “reveal” of my new reality once I quit drinking was a very humbling process. To this day it continues, although it’s substantially settled down, for now. Some of the extraordinary and not-expected features of the reveal were: understanding myself as an introvert; understanding how ego played a role in my addictive tendencies; transferring addictions; coping with extreme depression/suicidal tendencies; over-training as an endurance athlete; understanding the role that “fear” has had in my life; how psychotherapy plays a pivotal role in my continued sobriety; and lastly, what it was like to go public with my admissions to alcoholism and addiction.

As well as being a story through my process of recovery these pages also help me to stay accountable to myself. While writing Appetite for Addiction helped serve that purpose, this book will help to continue to put the pieces of the puzzle together in a manageable and sustainable way.  With writing, I am better able to process the emotional and physical transitions that have occurred in a relatively short amount of time. Putting pen to paper also keeps my mind at bay, because, let’s face it, I’ve got a pretty rabid squirrel cage between my ears when left unchecked, can create more anxiety than I need. Some folks in recovery say that a relapse can be a part of their respective process. Who am I to say that I will never drink again? To say so would be ignorant and completely disrespectful to the challenges that the future may hold for me. This book will also serve as a reminder to myself of all of the wholesome and genuine work that I’ve put in over the last few years to get to where I am today.

If I walked out of this coffee shop that I’m sitting in today and over to the nearby liquor store to buy a fifth of Crown Royal, all of that authentic and honest work would vanish in an instant. I’d have to start the process all over again. That notion is not a very interesting option for me. Despite the heartache, that sobriety brings for my soul in some regards, the positive growth that I’ve experienced far outweighs the alternative. I hope to keep growing as a person as much as I can. This book will help me continue to forge ahead in this ever-evolving process.

With that, A Comeback from Addiction is coming soon!

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Running and depression: A symbiotic relationship that can help ease the pain

As I’ve documented several times in the past, I suffer from the disease of depression. Unfortunately, the disease itself can be incredibly stigmatic in our society. However, I do feel that many more folks, who also suffer from the disease, are beginning to bring the subject into the light. Most recently, I came across NBA Basketball star Kevin Love’s honest and candid admission to his own personal struggles with mental health (Kevin Love on mental health).  Because of my pre-disposition to being an athletic enthusiast, it’s these stories that particularly catch my eye. For myself, running has been an integral part of my own coping methodology.

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Cruising down from Mt. Sanitas in Boulder, CO, during last years RunMindful camp hosted by Krista and Timothy Olson

Done in a responsible and sustainable way, running can be a terrific mechanism for getting through the dark times of a depressive episode. I especially find solace and comfort while running on the trails. The feeling of running step by step through a tranquil and lush forest can become meditative in nature, a state of mind that can be influential in keeping the dark thoughts at relative bay. One thing in particular that I took away from Timothy Olson’s RunMindful (Run Mindful Camps) camp last summer was the notion of focusing on one step at a time and tuning into the patter of your shoe on the soft ground. Akin to the simple act of breathing, a singular running step can bring the mind to a present state, a state that depression doesn’t necessarily like to thrive in, for me anyways.

Along with being featured in the riveting Netflix documentary, Finding Traction, fellow ultra-runner Nikki Kimball is also outspoken on her relationship with depression and how the sport of running has helped her cope. A recent March 2018 article gives great insight into how her running, amongst other things, can help with her own coping process (Nikki Kimball – Tips on navigating through depression). Check it out, there are several good nuggets of wisdom coming from someone who has a breadth of experience in the matter of depression.

So, why does running help curb depressive symptoms?  Several recent studies have shown that it’s not just the endorphins that help.  An emerging view suggests that running can actually facilitate long-term structural changes in the brain, which can promote states of mind such as elevated mood and overall cognition.  Is this a cure?  Of course not, but I’d take it when I’m feeling particularly down.  It seems to me that running can be a healthy antidote.

Perhaps my favorite method of temporary relief from the “gray,” as I call it, is running down a mountain. When I was living in Corvallis I used either McCullough Peak or Forest Peak to help center my mind. Descending on a tricky trail is the perfect way to become present and one with nature and one’s self. When descending at a quick pace there is no time to let the mind wander because pure focus and finesse are needed in every single step, especially on a rocky or rooted terrain. Otherwise, as I’ve done many times, a full-on face first spread-eagle can be likely. It’s like an intense dance of the feet between the terrain. Done at a high velocity, laser focus is needed, simply for safety. Being on the edge does not give you time to think about how effective depression can be on your mind and body. Running downhill is the perfect way for me to get present and out of my head.

During a month-long bought of depression that I experienced last fall it was running that helped save me in the short term. Even though I spent each day of that bout either in bed or on the trail, I believe I was able to manage the pain that I was feeling inside because of my passion for running. The routine that the sport lends itself during that time gave me the motivation to work around something, anything, during the day, rather than obsess about how lonely and broken I was (negative self-talk is something that I work on every day, whether I’m in a bought or not). At that point in my life I would do anything to keep running, which meant preparation by way of sleep, stretching, foam-rolling, and nutrition. That small routine helped navigate me each and every day through a very tough situation.

One mistake that I’ve made in the past is to solely rely on running. In my case, I suffered several injuries while training, which almost made the depression worse because of my inability to do what I love and rely on most. Today, I am able to approach this challenge with a better sense of balance, as I now incorporate writing into the mix of my coping strategies. Sometimes, just writing free-form helps get my mind out of a hole. Perhaps it’s the creativity that can jog my mind out of a dark place. It’s a new coping mechanism for depression and is also one that can be very effective in a time of great need.

Lastly, when I’m in a depressive state, lots of activity and noise can help irritate my senses even more. On the trail, other than the occasional passer-by, there is total peace and tranquility. The McDonald-Dunn forest in the Willamette Valley is a perfect example of a place that I was successful in implementing such protective methodology and was more than quiet. If you listened closely all you would hear was an occasional animal scurrying amongst the brush along with the trees swaying in the wind. Having this sense of quiet is amongst the best method of therapy that I could ever imagine.

So, the next time you are feeling the gray hit you, just try running or hiking on a quiet trail. It has done wonders for me and I hope that it can do the same for you.

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Alcoholism and addiction: How do you know you’ve hit bottom?

Early on in sobriety, after going public with my struggles, I had several friends and acquaintances approach me to admit that they too thought that they may have a problem with alcoholism and addiction.  After they chronicled for me their stories of their own individual struggles, my reaction was to ask:  Where do you think your bottom is?

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This Crown Royal bag carried the last fifth of whiskey that I purchased more than four years ago.  Today, as a memento, I carry it with me as my Garmin/Heart Rate monitor bag.  It’s a constant reminder for me to respect the progress I’ve made since getting sober.

Many alcoholic/addicts have to reach their personal bottoms on their own.  Before I made the decision to get sober no one could have told me that I had a problem with drinking.  Even though I hid most of my addictive tendencies from family or friends, if someone had the instinct to call me out on drinking too much I, and my ego, would have simply said to “fuck off.”  I wouldn’t have been ready to hear it.

Today I see many people still flirting with the edge of making the “big mistake.”  By mistake I mean a range of things including a DUI, an overdose, killing someone else, or flat-out killing themselves.  Miraculously I was able to avoid these types of repercussions, which still doesn’t make sense considering how often I’d drink and drive or stay up for days on a cocaine binge.  My bottom, relative to other people’s bottoms, was pretty PG.  I simply locked myself into my apartment and drank Crown Royal and IPA’s for three straight days.  Luckily, it wasn’t worse, because it very well could have been.

My intention in asking others where they think their bottom might be is only out of love and care. Even though it’s largely out of my control I just hate to see bad things happen to good people, especially when they are struggling.  Perhaps the question is just a way to help my acquaintances understand the severity of alcoholism and addiction if it goes unchecked. In my four-plus years of sobriety I have heard countless stories about how people wish their bottom had come sooner, before the shit really hit the fan.  And for the folks I know who have 20-30+ (and beyond) years of sobriety?  They’ve got entire novels of these types of stories.  The “bottom” story is not unique, it may just look a little different from person to person.

So, what happened after my bottom came?  I was pretty confident that when I hit mine I immediately knew that I needed to seek help from others in recovery and beyond, I just couldn’t handle it on my own, even though my ego was telling me otherwise.  Do I think that was indeed my final bottom?  I don’t know, I’d like to think so, but the disease of alcoholism and addiction can come back to haunt you in an instant if you’re not careful.  The important part for me early on was that I had a very solid team behind me in Corvallis who could help me stay accountable.  Now that I’m back in Bend after a seven-year hiatus, I am simply adding to my accountability team.  Surprisingly, it turns out,  I actually have quite a few sober friends in Central Oregon.

The other bottom that exists, above and beyond drinking and drugs, is the emotional bottom.  This one is a little trickier to reconcile with, and many times, as it did for me, the emotional bottom coincides with the physical bottom.  When I quit drinking I realized that, developmentally as a person, I was sent back in time to when I was 18, right around the time I started drinking on a regular basis, to restart my own learning process to find out who I really was. In early sobriety, my friends who weren’t in recovery had a hard time understanding this idea, which is totally normal.  Because I spent so many years masking my fears, insecurities, and resentments with drugs and alcohol, when I got sober I was faced with the stark truth that I needed to revisit pieces of my own development that just didn’t happen because I was distracted in my addiction.

So, how DO you know if you’ve hit a bottom?  All I can speak to is from my own experience, as well as stories from other people in recovery. There’s really no way to predict it. For me, it was a gut feeling, knowing that I just couldn’t live in a completely unmanageable state for any longer.  For others, hitting bottom could be standing in front of a judge, going to jail, a DUI, or, heaven forbid, severely endangering another persons life.  Maybe the real question worth asking is:  Is it really worth it to even get to the point of realizing your bottom?  Maybe it is, but maybe not.  Everyone has their own individual path that they must take to figure this out.  I’d just hate to see someone reach their bottom after it’s too late.

 

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The Power of Mentors, Part 3: Ed Hamel

In 1991, cross-country skiing became my new athletic passion, eclipsing baseball.  When I began skiing I still played a little on the diamond, but the majority of my athletic focus switched to being on snow when I met a guy named Ed Hamel.

In the 1990’s cross-country skiing was in its heyday in Western Massachusetts.  The Bill Koch Youth Ski League, which operated out of Hickory Hill Ski Touring Center at the time, was just a few miles up the road from my home in Worthington.  Bill Koch was famous for being the first Olympic medalist in cross-country skiing, which is why the league was named after him (he now shares that distinction with Jessie Diggins and Kikkan Randall after they won the gold medal in the team sprint in Pyeongchang earlier this year).  After Matt Whitcomb, Matt Molyneux, and I formed our brotherly bond, they both convinced me, along with the help of one of my classmates, Jason Lemieux, to join the BKYSL group that met at Hickory Hill on Saturday afternoons.   The group I joined, donned the “fast group,” happened to be coached by Ed.  Little did I know how much of an impact our training group would have on me for decades to come.

Ed had a pretty straight forward and simple approach to coaching.  Work hard, have fun always, and keep an open mind when it comes to adventure.  He was also extremely impressionable to me because of his unrelenting care for the skiers he coached.  I felt as if I was an extension of his family, always keeping an open ear to any advice he might drop on the group.  Within just a couple of years of being a part of his training crew Ed became my first mentor.

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Ed coaching Jason Lemieux and I at the New England Junior 2 Championships in 1995 at Holderness Academy

Hard work, as it relates to athletics, was not a virtue that I was born with.  Before I started skiing I had no endurance engine to speak of.  As the work with Ed started to accumulate I began to come into my own amongst my peers.  Matt, Matt, and Jason were the fastest guys in our group, all of whom I deeply admired. However, within five years of training with Ed, I became ranked in the top ten in my age group in New England, a far cry from when I picked up my first pair of Fischer RCS skate skis in 1991.  The adventure, fun, and success I enjoyed during those years launched a love for endurance sports that, to this day, continues to persist.

One workout in particular that Ed put on, which set the bar for working hard, was his weekly Bust-Butt Wednesday sessions.  Never before these workouts did I understand what going hard meant.  Today, as I train with my coach Michael Larsen, I harken back to the days when I first puked going hard in a workout (Mike has a way of encouraging and pushing me to the point of total exhaustion on occasion).  It was also routine to fall down gasping for air after a hard interval set with Ed, seeing my heart rate skyrocket into the 190’s.  These workouts also taught me what it meant to pace myself, something that I continue to work on to this day, not just in sport, but in life.

I always felt Ed believed in me.  Being so green to the endurance world, with his guidance I was able to establish a new lifestyle.  In Peggy Shinn’s new book, World Class (Peggy Shinn’s World Class on Amazon), while describing the U.S. Ski Team World Cup Coach Matt Whitcomb’s development as a leader, she talks about an adventure that our group had after a BKYSL festival in Jackson, NH.  Ed led us on an expedition up the chairlift at Wildcat Mountain, only to plunge ourselves through endless trees and powder for what seemingly felt like hours.  Somehow, by my recollection, we ended back at our hotel in Jackson largely unscathed, except for a few broken skis and poles.  The adventure in and of itself marked a distinct change for my idea of venturing beyond the bounds of comfort to seek the treasure that was the unknown.

It’s safe to say that if I hadn’t been influenced so much by Ed in my early teens my life  today would look very different.  When I think about sobriety, it is, in a sense, an adventure that requires very hard work and persistence day in and day out.  It was Ed’s infectious sense of adventure that provoked Matt, Matt, and I to go on our own yearly great adventures, which ultimately led me to have the courage to get in a car in 1998 with my best friend to drive all of the way across the country, to a place I had never been, the little old mill town called Bend, OR, to set up a new life on the West Coast.  This sense of adventure has led me to experience so many countless memories, make friends abound, and thrive in a healthy lifestyle.

As I pursue my own athletic endeavors, some 25+ years after being introduced to the world of endurance sports, I often think back and give credit to the man who helped start this whole crazy lifestyle for me.  As an athlete, I continue to work my ass off to be the best that I can be, with the hopes of fulfilling a childhood dream.  Ed helped guide me early on to this point that I sit today.  I have an absolute love affair with endurance sports, which has led me to experience things that I would have never dreamed possible when I got on nordic skis for first time way back when.  Apart from my work ethic in sport, the skill of working hard, that I learned under Ed’s tutelage, has also carried me for years in business, sobriety, writing, and life.  I will be forever thankful for our relationship as mentor-coach / athlete.  Quite literally, Ed, with his relentless enthusiasm and charm, helped steer me to appreciate virtues that, as a kid, I never thought possible.  I’m honored to say that Ed was such a big influence on me.

Thank you Ed, for who you are and everything that you do and stand for.

Also, be sure to check out:

The Power of Mentors:  Michael Larsen – The Power of Mentors, Part 1: Michael Larsen

The Power of Mentors:  Davis Smith – The Power of Mentors, Part 2: Davis Smith

To purchase a copy of my memoir, Appetite for Addiction, please visit:  Appetite for Addiction on Amazon

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The “I Should” Game

Have you ever begun a sentence with “I should…”?  Yeah, I know, I’ve done it too.

“Should” is a funny word.  Here are some recent examples of how I’ve used the word over the last several of years and where the “should” thinking landed me.

– In reference to drinking: “I should be able to handle just one cocktail.”  Right.  Time and time again I would flirt with this “should” and ultimately end up drunk.  It’s no secret that, with time, this experiment ended with a complete emotional breakdown and the decision that I just couldn’t handle alcohol any longer without massive repercussion.  By figuring out this simple equation  I am, indeed, grateful.    

– In reference to ultra-running/racing: “I should be training as much as Bob did when in 2014 he won Pine to Palm 100.  So, if I train like Bob, I should be able to do well at Pine to Palm in 2017.”  I followed this “should” thread, trained well above my means at the time, got obsessed with STRAVA data, and ultimately experienced a severe bout of over-training and burnout, almost compromising my love for a ridiculously fun sport.  

– In reference to “living the dream”:  “I should get married, buy a house, and work seventy hour work weeks, so I can make a ton of money and get my piece of the American dream.”  Really, is this the American dream?  Who is saying that if I were to achieve all of these things then I would be living the dream?  Well, because I relentlessly chased this “should” thread at whatever the cost, I ended up with a dysfunctional relationship, a house that I couldn’t afford, cars that I couldn’t afford, and a lifestyle that ultimately led to me losing everything financially, physically, and mentally.

– In reference to body weight: “After reading Matt Fitzgerald’s book, Racing Weight, given my height I should be below 150lbs.”  This experiment went to hell, as, after several months of obsessing about food and my weight I ultimately got down to 149lbs (I’m close to 6’2″).  At first I took pride in being this light, until, I started to look emaciated and my body started to break down with injuries.  No disrespect to Matt’s book as I know it has helped many folks.  For me, at the time I read it, I was firmly steeped in transferring my addictions, so it didn’t really help me.  

– On being 38 without a steady paycheck: “I should be making $X because all of my friends are making lots of money, contributing to their 401k’s, buying houses, investing in the stock market, etc.”  When I get into this mindset I quickly lose the momentum that I am riding in pursuing my own individual passions. In reality, my current pursuits require long-term processes.  If I put my heart into every fabric of my pursuits the universe might just happen to conspire to make my dreams become a reality. 

So, who is telling me that I should be doing all of these things.  Is someone else putting these ideas into my head?  Are Facebook and Instagram making me compare myself to others which provoke the should mentality? Is someone else creating expectations for me to meet?  Maybe, but maybe not.  Ultimately, I have the power to control my own reality.  So, why would I continue to let someone else dictate how I should feel?  The answer is, I don’t have to if I don’t want to.

I wonder how many people have made life-altering decisions based on a simple “I should” thread that started out innocently and grew into a monster.  When I was so focused on living the dream and making money, which I based on someone else’s definition of living the dream, I became hell-bent on turning that “should” into a reality.  I ended up sacrificing everything to say that I got my piece of the dream, just so I could match up to some of my friends who had already achieved that notion. 

Currently, I am in a prime place to play the “should” game once again.  Luckily, I have fought against the temptation.   With the release of Appetite of Addiction I could very well have started comparing myself to other authors.  One of the ultimate benchmarks for success in self-publishing is E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey.  In a previous world I would have dared to compare myself to the immense success that E.L.’s book has experienced.  Today it’s just not even a conversation I need to have with myself because it really doesn’t matter.  My mission in writing AFA wasn’t to sell millions of copies.  It was to write a book that people, who are experiencing their own struggles, can relate with and know, that whatever the demon, they are not alone.  

So, what are the drivers that help me fall into the “should” mindset?: 

One – Lack of self-confidence.   

Two – Ego. 

Three – Lack of mindfulness and appreciation of where I’m at, right here, right now.  

I’ve especially noticed the effect of mindfulness piece lately.  It seems that when I have a consistent practice of meditation the urge to play the “should” game dissipates.  In fact, there’s a very clear shift in my mentality when mindfulness sinks in.  Curiously, I focus less on the past as well as the future.  In reality, I have no idea where this new life of mine is going to take me.  So why bother stressing about what could or could not happen based on very little factual information.

I know I’m in a good place with the “should” game when I hear others say the word and I immediately cue in to if I am also in the “should” mindset.  

I’m curious, how have you been affected by playing the should game?  Have you followed a thread of “shoulds” that led to something more immense than you could have possibly imagined? 

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