Fighting through the Gray

This blog is about looking at the process of my recovery from addiction and alcoholism.  My intent is to document the ups and downs so that in the future I can have an accurate recount of the steps that I took in my path to sobriety.  I seek to understand myself and the truth behind what occurs in my life, of who I am at the core.  This is not a glorified story, this is the truth, about how I feel today. November has been a hard month for me and it continues to be that way.  Here is today’s reality.

Depression is relentless and it has got a very firm grip on me right now.  If I look back at what triggered this particular bout it ignited right around the time of my last post about body image.  I do not regret writing about the subject and would do it all over again if I had to.  It was a subject that I needed to discuss and explore for myself.  What I believe happened is that  it opened me up to a new level of vulnerability, in my MIND anyways.  The perception of increased vulnerability, and negative voices, have combined their strength to wreak havoc on me.  It’s a matter of embracing the vulnerability for what it is, not what my MIND wants it to be.

For me, when depression arrives in my life I am stricken by an overwhelming sense of gray.  Gray everything.  It’s almost like I’m wearing sunglasses with a gray filter.  Everything looks gray.  Even if the sun is out it does not matter, life still looks gray.  If I look back over the last year I’ve only had a handful of these prolonged periods.  In the past my methodology of getting past them was to drink heavily and numb the pain.  Now, I just need to  acknowledge it, feel it, not react, and fight through it.  It can be very difficult.

What’s amazing to me is that I’m still able to operate in certain regards despite the grayness.  In fact, I’ve been very productive at work this week with networking meetings, emails, phone calls, and various other activities that are supposed to occur when building a business.  However, it took everything yesterday morning to get my ass out the door for a run with a friend.  I’m glad I did as the conversation we engaged in was fantastic, but it was still hard.  What’s nice is that with friendships like that I can say exactly what is on my mind and how I feel, without judgement.  These relationships are extremely important for me.  They help me tremendously to understand my reality, to talk shit out, and without them I would not know what to do.

Perhaps the darkest it gets is when my MIND starts wandering down a very dangerous road after it is bombarded by negative thoughts.  For instance, the thought crossed my MIND yesterday what it would be like if I walked into the middle of the road and into an oncoming semi-truck.  Who would come to my funeral?  Yes, that shit does go through my MIND. But it’s my MIND, not reality.  This is clearly absurd thinking as I have a tremendously good and fulfilling  life with an amazing support system  around me.  If I were close to taking action there would be several people that would get the call that I needed major help.  As I’ve mentioned in the past I have been close to suicide once back in 2007 when Brian Hetzel saved my life one night after he found me on my stairwell with a vile of Percoset and a bottle of wine, ready to end it.  After seeing how that affected my family and friends, and coming to understand that that particular instance was just a loud cry for attention, I will not let it happen again.

I capitalize the word MIND because I need to remind myself that my MIND and my reality are two different things.  In the past I did not know the difference, I let my MIND do all of my decision making.  Now, as I’ve come to find out how dangerous that can be for me, I try and filter the two, and listen to the entity that is surrounded by the now, the moment, not the past or future.  As my friend Jack always says, “the future is an illusion.”

And so the fight with the gray continues.  I find that when I write these experiences and purge this out to the world it helps me gain a sense of greater understanding of myself.  It also helps me to be accountable to my friends and family, two reasons and reminders that help make my life today as gratifying as it is.  For anyone that happens to read this, you mean the world to me.  I gain strength from having you know my weaknesses.

By the way it has been shit weather in Corvallis this week which probably hasn’t helped the situation.  Luckily however, it’s supposed to clear up tomorrow which is good, because I feel like I need some vitamin D.

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“I like fat Spence:” Exploring my issues with body image

I’m willing to bet that with some of my friends I am officially handing in my “man-card” in writing this post. Then again maybe I handed that distinguished membership in when I started shaving my legs in 2003.  Here goes nothing…

At the risk of attracting criticism and bewilderment of my male friends I feel like I need to explore the issue that athletic men, or just men in general, have with the issue of body image, from my own perspective.  If I’m honest with myself this topic  can help to explain the root  of many of my addictive behaviors over the years, from drinking to training, and many things in between.

The following is a loose transcript of a conversation that I had with a gal that I was in a relationship with back in 2006/07.  I remember the scene well, we were having cocktails and appetizers at the old Staccato restaurant in downtown Bend.  Keep in mind that at this time I had been sedentary for 2 years having gained 70 lbs +/- due to excessive drinking, eating, and working.

Me: “I think I would like to get back on my bike and race a bit”

Her: “Why would you do that?”

Me:  “Because I feel like I want to get fit again, I just don’t feel good.”

Her:  “Why? We know what happens when you get athletic, I don’t get any attention.  Besides, I like fat Spence better.”

I believe that this particular conversation helped to set in motion a downward spiral of how I viewed my own body.  For the first time I had heard the term “fat” associated with my name.  At the time I knew I had gained a bunch of weight but until I heard “fat Spence” actually come out of someone’s mouth I didn’t realize what an effect it had on my self-worth, my self-confidence, and the image that I see in the mirror every single day.

Today when I look in the mirror I see this 230lb version of myself in 2007 (sorry Z-free I couldn’t figure out how to crop the photo):

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Meanwhile everyone else today sees this guy (photo taken in 2015):

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So, why the disconnect?  Why can’t I see myself, physically, for who I am today?  Perhaps it’s because I have not let go of someone calling me fat.  Perhaps there is a bigger issue here as well, fear.  Perhaps I am afraid that if I stop being athletic then I will automatically go back to being sedentary, chunky, and miserable.

For me, I am pretty certain that my issues with body image revolve around resentments that I still grasp onto today.  Maybe I am trying to prove to the person that originally called me fat that I’m a trim and fit athlete now, that I changed, that I rose above her bullshit and became a better, more “attractive” person.  Perhaps all of this is true.  If so I’m willing to own it solely for the sake of getting down to the truth.  I want the truth, nothing more.  I want to be able to be OK with letting go of a silly statement, made in the past, that has rung in my head for 8+ years, that has helped fuel and justify some of the excessive athletic behavior that I have demonstrated in the past.

Back in January of 2014 when I got kicked out of the Gypsy in Portland drunk and high on cocaine, only to wake up 3 hours later and crush a 90 mile training ride, was an example of me justifying one behavior with another.  It was a vicious cycle that, if I had kept up, would have buried me in the ground.  I rode 90 miles the next day so that I can could burn off the calories that I had consumed the night before, so that I could look “good” in the mirror and feel fit.  Looking back it amazes me that I listened so intently to the message that my mind was creating.  “You’re fat, un-fit, unattractive.  You need to go punish yourself for all of the bad behavior.”  Not the best way to achieve peak fitness, huh?

Earlier this year, it was brought to my attention by someone, that I no longer looked healthy and fit, that I was too skinny.  I had gone over the edge with my weight, past the point of no return.  Perhaps that was true at the time, but maybe not?  To me, the comment was made by a person who did not fully understand the transformation that I was undertaking.  Regardless, the comment did send me into a mental tailspin of who I was and what I was trying to accomplish.  The comment was made at a very tender and vulnerable moment in my recovery process and became something that I could not let go of, it crushed me.  Perhaps if I was in a better state of mind when the comment was made I would have been to let it go.

As I continue to explore my issues with how I see myself in the mirror I repeatedly come across the issue of letting go.  Can’t I just let go of the past, live in the moment for how my body is today and appreciate all of the health that I currently have? I have NEVER been more healthy in my life, why can’t I appreciate that!  What a chore it is to let the past go!  This is about so much more than just alcohol, this is about how my mind and body react to the conditioning that I have experienced with taking in and internalizing comments from the past, among many other things.  With that, I’m gonna head out the door and hit the trails and be okay with the fact that I don’t need to run and hide from the past any longer, that I can enjoy running for the sake of running, nothing more.

This is all a process, better to understand it now than to “run” myself into the ground until the point where I cannot run any longer, just for the sake of burning calories and erasing the image of Fat Spence.  Life is so much more than that, just let it go man.

The last question I have is this:

As a guy am I alone in the fact that I struggle with this stuff?  And if I’m not alone then why isn’t the issue brought to light with more frequency within the male population?

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Romanticizing Alcohol

A friend of mine brought something to my attention last night.  She noticed me hesitate when I shared about some of the situations that I used to find myself in when I was drinking.  These hesitations, according to her, have been a common theme over the last month.  I’m glad that she bought it to my attention because it’s the truth and I needed to hear it.

Ever seen the movie Leaving Las Vegas?  Or Flight?  Great films.  While I cannot exactly relate to the stories that are told in each of these movies I do find myself, on occasion, romanticizing about being able to drink whenever, and however, I want, as told by each respective screen play.  Specifically in Leaving Las Vegas I see Nicholas Cage wander through life in a drunken haze, all day, every day.  When I see this situation play out on-screen the thought goes through my head that says “I wish I could do that” and “that looks like a good idea.”  That’s crazy right? Do normal people think about doing this?  Perhaps the fact that I have those thoughts reinforces the notion that I have to respect the idea that I’ve got a problem when it comes to alcohol.

Another of my friends recently told me about some of her transgressions when she was drinking.  As a student she used to bring a triple gin and tonic to her afternoon statistics class.  To me that sounds like it would be a blast.  In fact as she was telling me this story I got a little jealous that I didn’t do that more when I was in school.  Damn it, I missed out!

The idea of “missing out” has seemed to resurface quite a bit these days.  To add another layer to the story I also have the thought that I might be missing out on something today like an all day tailgater at the Beavs game or endless pitchers at Clod’s to get ready for a night on the couch watching college football and getting out of my mind.  As I sit here and write I can say the temptation still exists for me to engage in such behavior.  It’s actually a little scary to think how easy it would be to drive down to the corner store in Adair Village, pick up a 6’er of Ninkasi and get after it.  In fact just thinking about doing that really kicks the dopamine in my head into full gear.  So my solution to not getting in my car to go pick up a ton of shitty beer, just so I can experience the euphoria of alcohol entering the veins?  Write this shit down, get it out, breathe, and move forward.  Today, it’s a hard thing to do.  Unfortunately my mind is on alcohol right now.

I’d be lying if I said that I haven’t thought about what a relapse would be like.  In fact, I know exactly what I would do if I decided to go back out.  I’d make it a sexy-as-hell experience.  I’d plan it around hitting a show At PDX’s Whiskey Bar, go by myself to limit embarrassment around my friends, and go full throttle.  And if this were to happen I would unravel every single shred of progress I have made over the last 21 months.  The consequences would be great. Today, it’s just not worth it.

Thanks for sharing this journey with me.  Some days, like today,  sobriety can really be a gut-wrenching  and revealing experience, for me at least.  One of the accountability pieces in my attempt at sobriety is this blog.  It helps me to write my thoughts down, purge the alcoholism, and perhaps help someone else who is suffering from the same disease that I do.

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