“Good habits are hard to form and easy to live with. Bad habits are easy to form and hard to live with. Pay attention. Be aware. If we don't consciously form good ones, we will unconsciously form bad ones.” ~Mark Matteson
I am an extreme person. I have always done things at 100 percent. I worked my hardest in high school in order to attend the best college so that I could attend the best graduate program so that I could get the best job earning the most money. I not only went to these institutions, I did very well at them.
I was also very into powerlifting and bodybuilding—two sports that take extreme amounts of dedication, determination, discipline, and desire.
This fiend-like mentality was fueled by my desire to please my parents. I lived for my parents, always pushing myself to meet or exceed their expectations. I was a people pleaser.
My negative cycle started when I was quite young. I remember being in middle school and beginning to be concerned about my weight and body image. This was probably spurred by prior memories of being picked on as early as grade school.
In middle school, the perfect storm for pain began to emerge. I realized that I could do something about my weight, so I started to lift weights and run—a lot. What I also did a lot of was eating compulsively. This was exacerbated by a rough divorce between my parents, not to mention that late middle to early high school is a time of trial and tribulation for anyone.
Through high school, I would work out like a soldier, restrict my calories, and then binge. Sometimes I would eat until I could not move. This often happened at night, so I could not sleep either. Then I wouldn’t eat for a day or two to overcompensate.
Heading off to college marked another morphing of this cycle. I was getting serious about competitive powerlifting and bodybuilding. I became meticulous about what I ate. I would weigh every single piece of food on a scale and then track the macronutrients (amount of fats, carbs, and proteins in grams) in an excel spreadsheet. I even became the president of the weightlifting club.
I remember not having more than a sampler of beer on my twenty-first birthday because I didn’t want to go over my macros. It went on like this all through college.
During my early months at college, I was so dedicated to weightlifting that I would go to parties and not drink. I can remember people getting uncomfortable around me because of this. At this point in my life, I did not understand that this was their insecurity to deal with. So I let it make me feel awkward and eventually began drinking more and more often.
At first, I had it under control. I wouldn't drink during the week, or for two weeks before any major exams. But when I drank, I drank a lot.
My pattern continued through most of graduate school. There were a few times when I didn’t drink for a month or two, but usually, it was an every weekend thing. The binge eating and binge exercising continued through this time as well. I would either go for a very long bike ride and then eat everything in sight, or do the opposite.
I consider a time early in graduate school as the beginning of my “spiritual awakening.” I had times of intense consciousness and presence. There were also very harsh periods of loneliness and depression. The cycle of getting anxious, getting depressed, and uncorking continued until graduation.
After a short hiatus, I took a job at a startup company near where I attended graduate school. At first, the old pattern returned similarly. Once things got stressful, my cycle morphed.
There started to be times of excessive drinking during the week. After a long day of twelve to fourteen hours with a team consisting of my boss and myself, how else was I to escape?
I would also binge eat and then fast afterward since I didn’t have the time to do extended bike rides. This was just another way to eat everything in sight and then compensate to prevent weight gain.
During this time in my life, my mindfulness practice was nearly non-existent. There were long periods of anger and frustration. This all continued until I realized that this job was a dead end, got fed up, and quit.
While unemployed, I drank heavily on the weekends, which often led me to sleep most of every Monday away. I continued drinking my weekends away after I found a new job and then added a couple weeknights of drinking. Eventually, I was drinking almost every day and was still binge drinking on the weekends. Something had to give.
Reasons for the Cycle
My mind has always been fertile, with lots of thoughts, ideas, and emotions, which can be very overwhelming at times.
Additionally, I had never dealt with personal issues or traumas that I had experienced, such as my lack of self-love, low self-esteem, or the anger and resentment that I had toward others who had what I thought that I did not When those emotions came up, I would spend long periods of time not truly in the present moment.
By overusing caffeine, I limited my creativity and capacity to think. I was often out of the moment and caught up in a chaotic mental chatter. I would get a boost of productivity with the first cup or two of coffee, and then it was a downward slide after that. I would often end up at the point of paralyzing myself with anxiety about deadlines and things that I could not control.
Alcohol came in to dull this stress that had built up all week. This also suppressed any emotions that I had been feeling, including social anxiety.
Drinking created countless problems. I often slipped into a sporadic, impulsive, and undisciplined lifestyle. I noticed my short-term memory was fading. I tended toward binge eating, especially while drinking or hungover. I stayed up late, throwing off my schedule. Massive schedule swings left me tired, unproductive, and uncreative. Alcohol also limits real human connection, leaving new relationships superficial.
I genuinely feared approaching women in a social setting since I’d been rejected many times before. I feared embarrassment or the awkward moments. So instead of showing them the deep, rich, and intellectual me, they had to experience the alcohol-induced, animal side of my brain and all things that go with that. I am embarrassed to write this, but that is what alcohol does when consumed in excess.
I also justified my behavior by only drinking on the weekends. I recognized some time ago that binging every weekend was taking me until Wednesday to feel normal again and that something might be wrong with that. But it was not until recently that I became driven to do something about it.
This cycle that I speak of comes in an infinite number of varieties. My cycle revolves around alcohol and food. The root is a lack of self-love and general discontent with my mental construct of reality. A cycle can show up as any addiction.
For me, going through such a perpetual cycle came from many things. I had to surface those and realize them with extreme presence and awareness. Mindfulness is a healthy way to deal with the stress and anxiety; alcohol is not.
Ending the Cycle
I got to a point where I thought enough was enough. I had big goals, and this type of lifestyle was not supporting those goals. So I decided to stop, cold turkey, or so I thought.
I ended up quitting for about a month. I reduced my caffeine intake and didn’t drink at all. My energy went up, and I was feeling very balanced and grounded. This new pattern did not last long.
I ended up slipping back into the cycle. This made me realize that this would be tougher than it may have seemed. This setback reinforced how poorly I feel and how much money I waste when I am in that cycle. It was a stark reminder how easy it is to create embarrassing situations while intoxicated.
I now focus on the fact that we must have infinite patience with ourselves. There is no need for negative, self-defeating self-talk.
I have recently been blessed with an opportunity to rebuild my life in a different place with a new career path. I have taken that opportunity and am currently designing my life to include people who are dedicated to living a healthy lifestyle and have an objective of helping others.
I have again stopped drinking with the dedicated intention of not drinking for this month and not binging for the indefinite future. By writing this, I am now held responsible for my actions.
I know it will be an arduous journey to reform my life and habits, but it is less about never drinking or binging again and more about trending toward a life of more balance and less binge.
Reasons for Quitting
The intriguing part is that I am not stopping this substance abuse for me. I am ending it because I found a purpose that is larger than me. I have devoted myself to this, and I need to have a fully functional, focused, dedicated, and creative mind to carry out these things.
I have knowledge and wisdom inside of me that is very useful to others. I can translate it into a modern cultural and societal context in such a way that will be able to get through to and help many people. The rough draft of my first book is complete with many more to come!
I know that my thoughts become negative a couple of days after a binge drinking session. I know that I am not fully present and conscious during the drinking or when I'm hungover. When I am intoxicated, I act in ways and do things that my sober self would never do.
After a week or two of not drinking, I have noticeably more energy and a clearer mind. I realized that I must take charge of my own life and not let others influence me. To get to this point, I had to get fed up with poisoning my body and my mind.
Alcohol is also a complacency tool. It has been given to the masses as a legal substance to numb their thoughts and emotions. It is a destructive way for humans to be able to cope with things that they falsely believe they cannot control.
I must also always keep at the forefront of my mind that I have an alcoholic father and a mother who struggles.
I now focus on mindfulness and gratitude. I have since realized that we are all are extraordinary and unique beings who possess a gift that we must give. Because of specific experiences that we have had, we all have more or less of certain qualities. To be angry or resentful when we do not have these characteristics is unrealistic.
I want to be healthy, and this requires a holistic approach. We can have fit bodies and weak minds, or vice versa. To be truly healthy and happy, we must approach health from the perspective of mind, body, and soul.
All of these components need nourishment. If we fail to nourish one part, then like a plant, it will wither. Knowing how to be healthy is one thing; doing something about it is entirely different.
- It is a personal choice to take positive action.
- I realized that when people get awkward that you don't drink, it is their stuff, not yours.
- Allowing such an unhealthy, addictive cycle shows little to no self-love.
- Health is a holistic thing (physical, mental, and spiritual).
- We must keep company who support us in our goals. Choose your company wisely.
- Alcohol is a complacency tool. It kills consciousness and creativity.
- This cycle I speak of comes in an infinite number of varieties.
- We are not alone. Many other people are trying to escape their reality as well.
- To cease such a cycle, we must devote ourselves to a larger purpose.
In the end, we are all human. This means that we are fundamentally flawed. We are also creatures of habit. It is easy for us to do something over and over if we feel we’ve gained some type of reward for doing it. This means that it is not uncommon for these habits to be negative, self-defeating, or unhealthy.
One thing that we as humans can do is to shine the light of consciousness upon these cycles that may not benefit us. The shadows of darkness cannot live in the presence of this light. I am not suggesting that shining and holding this awareness is easy. I personally still struggle with this. It is difficult. Life is difficult. With practice, like with weight training, we can become strong, and we can change these patterns.
We can identify our damaging cycles. We can share them with friends and family with no embarrassment or shame. We can choose to focus on what our higher purpose in life is, as we all have one. This will allow us to replace these negative, downward cycles with positive, upward ones that will benefit us and all of the people around us.