Many years ago when I was still your average angsty teenager, my family decided to uproot me from everything I had known and move to the United States from Austria. As luck would have it the small town in mountains of North Carolina they chose was nestled in the county that, at the time, had the highest rate of accidental prescription pill overdose deaths in America. If you take a kid that grew up in a major metropolitan city abroad and drop him into that mix at the age of 16, the odds aren’t really stacked in his favor. I lasted three years. I took my first hit from a bowl when I was 19 and it didn’t take long until I was on a downward spiral that saw me smoke, swallow, and snort anything I could get my hands on.
Before I knew it a year went by, and there are many days I don’t remember before ultimately hitting rock bottom on Christmas day. I’ll never forget it. I looked at my life and I was fighting DUI charges; knew entirely too many dead people for a 20 year old, and had permanently destroyed more friendships than I made. I barely recognized the person staring back at me from the mirror. My face was emaciated, my eyes were sunk deep into their sockets and had dark bags under them, my skin looked and felt like leather, my nostrils were chafed raw and constantly on the verge of bleeding, my teeth were stained yellow from the constant smoking, and my hair was matted down and disgustingly greasy.
I’ll never forget the sinking feeling that completely overwhelmed me. I knew that if something didn’t change I’d be dead, in prison, or (best case) court ordered rehab by this time next year, but I had no idea where to start. I don’t know how or why, but somehow I remembered that at one point before all of this I enjoyed casually working out, so I figured if nothing else it’d be a place to start.
I started with a run. Well, run is a strong word. I started with 2 minutes of jogging and 2 minutes of walking. The winter air pierced my lungs and halfway through every running step became a struggle, but I toughed it out for 30 minutes. The next day my legs were sore and every step hurt, but I was back out on the trail. In a strange way I loved it. It was the sort of pain that signaled accomplishment. Before long I started feeling that first rush of endorphins you get from working out. It was the first time in over a year that I felt some form of elation that wasn’t artificial, and that was the exact moment I knew I could beat this. I knew it would be an uphill battle but I finally had hope. Amazingly I took to fitness the way I took to drugs. All in. Within a few weeks I was able to jog for 30 min straight.
Staying clean was still a daily struggle but the endorphins I gained from running acted like a nicotine patch for drugs. Sure I still craved them for a while, but it helped take the edge off, especially the more results I was seeing. For the first time in a long time I felt like I had a fighting chance.
I began lifting weights too. 20 lbs curls became 30 lbs, and then 40. I cleaned up my diet. Arby’s roast beef sandwiches became grilled chicken breasts and greasy dollar menu fries became brown rice and veggies. Most importantly though a lot of the alcohol turned into water and protein shakes. My friends began to change. I noticed I was seeing less of the people I used to get high with and more people I knew from the gym. Within three months I was able to kick my final vice, cigarettes. I was able to run a 7 minute mile (just one, and I wanted to throw up afterward, but it counts!) and do consecutive pushups and pull-ups for the first time in my life. I felt a sense of pride and ownership over my body I had never felt before. I was confident for the first time in a very long time. I began to take an interest in things I never thought I would be able to do, such as rock climbing and martial arts. Every day I looked in the mirror I was further and further away from that emaciated figure of death staring back at me on Christmas Day.
Jump forward and I’m coming up on my 7th decided to pay it forward by taking what saved my life and turning into my career. I became a personal trainer and ended up moving to Nashville about a year and a half ago where I felt welcomed with open arms. I found some amazing gyms filled with amazing people, including the best spin cycle studio in the city. Now I spend my days helping people get and stay in shape, regardless of what their struggles are. I have clients now that tell me they are able to do things they’ve never been able to do before, whether it’s play catch with their grand children, go hiking with their kids, or even just pushups, and that gives me more satisfaction than any drug ever could. It gives me a feeling that I year of being clean. A few years ago I finally have a purpose, which is a complete 180 from the feeling I felt looking in the mirror all those years ago.
I know that my story is just one out of thousands that may be like it, but I hope it at least helps someone to know that regardless of what your goals in life are, whether you’re struggling with feeling comfortable in your own skin, you want to be able to do proper pushups/pull-ups for the first time in your life, or just be able to live an active life style with your kids, it’s possible. It may be a lot of work but you’re not alone. You can do it.
You’re not alone, and if you ever need any help I’m just a phone call or an email away. Now strap on those cycle or gym shoes and let’s get to work!