I got into a fight with my Yoga instructor yesterday

It wasn’t the kind of fight where punches were thrown or vicious words were exchanged, it was an internal fight, a struggle against an outside voice that ultimately triggered my fight or flight mechanism.

At the recommendation of a close athlete friend of mine I began showing up at Bikram yoga a few months ago for a couple of reasons. One, it was a 3 minute drive from my apartment and two, it seemed like an interesting and untested method of recovery from a week of tough workouts.  At first the idea of going to hot yoga seemed awful as the only memory I had of it was from a few years ago when Matt, Matt, Brisa, and I went to a class in Bend to work off our hangovers from the previous night of partying at my buddy Hix’s rehearsal dinner.  With that memory in mind I hesitantly showed up to my first class here in Corvallis without a matt, and an 8 x 11′ inch hand towel…rookie move.

The first couple of weeks, attending 2-3 classes per week, were a struggle.  I judged myself and my experience based on my lack of flexibility and my lack of balance.  To top it off the first instructor I had was a technique nazi, constantly critiquing my form out loud, bringing unwanted, unsolicited advice into a place that I was paying to be at, which seemed backwards to me.  I remember saying to myself “listen chick, I chose to be here, I don’t want your advice, I just want to stretch in peace, so please leave me alone” (I’m trying not to swear here). Then I would get annoyed with how she said terms like “savasana, japanese ham sandwich, bones to the skin, namaste, etc”  Who does this chick think she is and what the hell was she talking about?  I felt like I was a character in Eat, Pray, Love. It was all annoying.  Those first several classes I was annoyed, and my fight or flight mechanism was severely tested.  But then an interesting thing happened.  I started to realize that not matter how bad I felt going into the class, or how bad I struggled during the class, I always walked out of there in a better place than where I was before.  Being a good-natured addict, I was hooked.

Fast forward to yesterday and a few things have occurred since those first weeks when I go to class.  I have begun to realize that all of the annoying little circumstances that percolate in my mind during a class are the same thing as the annoying little things that happen throughout any given day, whether it be at work, or Safeway, in traffic, or even walking around OSU’s campus.  I have begun to realize that no matter what there are things in life around us that can annoy us and get in our way of progress, if we choose to let those things in.  It’s a matter of what we choose to decide to do with those distractions.  Do we let them get to us? Do we react? Or do we accept that those situations will always be a constant.  Guess what, there will always be things in our world that are going to get to us, and annoy us, it’s a matter or how we choose to cope, do we fight or do we take flight.

Circling back to yesterday my anxiety started when I got annoyed when my instructor commented on my cobra pose.  I reacted, and got pissed, my inner child came out and rejected the unsolicited advice  Then everything about her started to bother me.  It got so ridiculous that I was fighting her inside my head because I didn’t like the way she said the word “pose.”  So let’s get this straight, I just paid her to spend 90 minutes of my time to fight everything she was saying, even the way she pronounced her words.  Then, as I walked out of the class and past her, she made a comment to me that she had seen tremendous growth in my ability to stay focused and maintain poses and balance, that my strength and flexibility had seen great improvement.  Once again, just like every single time before, I left that class feeling better than when I arrived.  More importantly I was reminded that she was only trying to help, that it served as a practice to test my fight or flight mechanism, and ultimately to remove myself from self, be in the present, and not to let things get to you as they always seem to do when I’m not in a mindful state.  It wasn’t a matter of who won the internal fight I had with her, it was a matter of how I reacted to the situation, and what I had learned from the experience.  Respect the process Spence, it’s this mechanism that has brought you to where you are now, from being a lost closet alcoholic to a dude that is walking out of a yoga class thinking about how I can learn from, not only a 90 minute session of sweat and tears, but from every single situation in life.

I can’t wait to go back.  In fact, I hope I have the same instructor.  She tests me, whether she knows it or not, and I learn something about myself every single time.


Goal Setting and Sobriety

A couple of weeks ago, Betsy and I, as the Novo-Veritas duo, gave a presentation on the Oregon State University campus about our separate journeys to successful change for a group of aspiring high school aged FFA (Future Farmers of America) students.  Towards the end of our presentation we opened the talk up for questions from the students themselves.  To me, opening up for questions is the most interesting part of our talk because you never know what you’re going to get.  Given the age of the audience I was pleasantly surprised with the insightful questions about the process of change, most notably around the subject of goals.  Answering these tough questions continues to help me explore the reality of my process of change, as well as the accountability I have to myself and the folks that have an interest in hearing my story.

Perhaps the most insightful question pointed in my direction was if I thought that I was just going through a phase, insinuating that maybe in 5 years I could go back to having a beer at dinner, casually drinking like I once used to.  My answer was that I had no idea.  What I’ve learned in this process of recovery is that I cannot go into the head space of thinking 5 years down the road, that way of thinking just does not work anymore when it comes to alcoholism and addiction.  Maybe it never really did in the first place, but more than ever tackling sobriety is truly day-to-day.  Once the notion of being okay to drink in 5 years is input in my head then I will start obsessing about it, which will typically lead me to not waiting 5 years to drink, but rather wait 5 minutes, the time it takes to go to 7-11 and chug a 22 oz’er.  Future-tripping about alcohol would lead to game over for me.  I’d be screwed if I thought about it.  All of this being said I am still getting used to this way of thinking, in NO WAY am I a veteran in living day-to-day.

After a couple of similar questions from the students I began to think about the root of why they wanted to know.  What were they getting at? Did I seem like someone, on the outside, who didn’t have a problem with alcohol? Did they themselves have a problem or did they know of someone in their life with a drinking problem?  Hard to say. Betsy and I were only there to share our stories, not to get people to admit something they weren’t ready to share

In other facets of my life I am able to set and follow through with various goals, in athletics, work, writing, etc.  Most of the goals I have in life are big picture oriented, so why can’t I apply this big picture mentality to drinking and alcoholism?  If I said to myself “let’s make it to two years sober and reassess if I’m alright to have another shot of crown royal” then I’d be setting myself up to fail, because for some reason I know exactly what would happen…I would drink again.  I fucking know it. Flip the subject to athletics and the same mentality doesn’t apply.  I thrive on having long-term athletic goals like Badwater, Ultra-man, etc.  That sort of thinking excites me, and at the same time I am still able to focus on the present, which is currently training for Pine to Palm 100 miler in September.  So why the disconnect? Why can I take a big picture mentality with one subject and not the other?  Seems like it should be an easy question to answer.  Maybe alcoholism is just too damn complicated to take a linear approach.

As I sit here this evening, a few hours removed from helping one of my best friends complete his first Boston Marathon, my emotions are high because I’m strung out from people over-load today.  As we ran through Boston College I caught myself being envious of a group of college kids having a good time chugging beers, watching the runners go by.  I had a fleeting moment of jealousy, of them being in college, living and drinking in a seemingly consequence free environment.  It looked like fun, I even picked out one dude with a Sam Adams Cherry Wheat, my favorite east coast beer.  Going through that 5 second experience serves as a reminder that I am not invincible, alcohol is everywhere, and it is OK to feel uncomfortable around it, even when I’m with the two people (Matt and Matt) who know me better than anyone.

My takeaway this evening is that there can be different approach’s to goal setting in my life.  When it comes to drinking, passing on the craving for whiskey or an IPA, is just a goal that I have tonight.  When it comes to endurance athletics, well ,that is something I want to make a lifestyle for the rest of my life.  So I suppose that they are very different goals, but goals nonetheless.  It feels like a privilege to be able to set a goal, regardless of if it’s just for today or for a lifetime.


Change, Isolation, and Role Models

Something is happening, changing, and I don’t quite know how to describe it.  I feel like I am becoming more intensely aware of my surroundings, nuances in my behaviors, thoughts, and actions.  I feel different, not in the way that I felt when I stopped drinking, but in another way, a way that makes sense and seems to be clicking.  Parts of life are coming into greater focus, for instance my ideas around friendship and trust.  Thus far the most difficult part of this process of change isn’t to stay sober necessarily, but rather  the discomfort of completely re-wiring my brain to think in a different way, without the crutches that I used to hang on to both mentally and physically.  Yes, I hit a rough spot last week and maybe this feeling that I have now is a rebound from that low.  But this feeling that I have right currently is much different that any rebound feeling I have had in the past when low patches hit. It is one of continued clarity.

One term that I have heard recently is isolation.  “Spence, be careful, you don’t want to isolate yourself, that can lead down a dark road.”  From an outsiders perspective I can understand why some of my actions, to those around me, would be viewed as isolating.  There are some times when I go on lock down, and friends of mine get worried for me, as I would be for them if the tables were turned and I didn’t know what was going on.  To set the record straight, when I fall into this seemingly isolated behavior I do not sit at home by myself and sulk about how hard life is.  When I isolate, I take the time to sit and think, process life, and get some good fucking head work done, work that I haven’t been able to ever to do in my life because of who I’ve pretended to be in a past life.  When I isolate I experience the most growth and I get shit done.  It is only when I am not distracted by the incessant ambient noise of life that this happens.  Think about how often we as humans are distracted my texts, tweets, calls, posts, Instagram’s, Snapchat’s, TV, etc etc.  It’s amazing to me how well I used to put up with, and emphatically contribute to, all of these things that come at us all day every day. The point is, I am learning to embrace the fact that it i only in times of peace and quiet that I can tune out from the outside world and focus my attention on doing work for myself that has been a long time coming.  “In times of peace prepare for war.”

So why is this change being realized now?  Up to this point I have not had a role model that has gone through almost the EXACT circumstances that I have, even at the same age with the same background and passions.  Well, I am happy to say that I have found that person and it feels like a relief to know that I have someone out there to hang my hat on and to use as an example of what life could be like if you keep pushing and doing the necessary work, all while living day to day.  It doesn’t matter who it is, what is most important is that this person exists and that there is someone out there using the same tools (exercise, nutrition, spirituality, etc.) as I to help in the process of successful change.  Knowing that we’re not alone in the battle for vitality and self-realization is something that I’m going to hold on today, tonight, and if I’m lucky, tomorrow morning and beyond.  Keep pushing dude, things are happening.