“One of my favorite sayings to keep me being a decent person is ‘be the superhero your dog thinks you are. I think it encapsulates everything simple and good in life. If everyone acted as good as their dog thinks they are, we could avoid most of the messes in life. If you haven’t lived your life that way so far, don’t sweat it, there’s still time.
Rock bottom is a term that gets thrown around pretty casually by people who have it rough. It varies a lot from person to person. But sitting alone in an apartment with a full bottle of whiskey, my dog, an eviction notice on the door and the power being shut off, meets most standard definitions of rock bottom. I bought liquor and dog food with my last paycheck. I was about 310 pounds for the second time in my life, freshly laid off, and lacking in a lot of the things I used to use to define myself. Confident. Athletic. Happy.
My name’s Erik, and I’m an alcoholic.
I got sober 5 years and 110 pounds ago. There’s an interesting point that you hit when you really make it down to the bottom, where even the people who monetarily profit from your addiction, question your habits. I went to meetings, hung out with other sober people, drank a lot of black coffee. I was mentally starting to be the person I had insisted I was, even while my life was falling apart. I was fortunate to be surrounded by a family who cared, despite my poor decisions, and insisted I was capable of something better. I spent about 6 months in those rooms with Alcoholics Anonymous before pursuing my own path to sobriety. I still hadn’t picked up a weight, or put down the fork yet, but going forward with my life without alcohol for the first time, I finally felt a hope I hadn’t had in years.
I’ve been surrounded by fit people in my life everywhere. My dad is a tennis coach, of my two brothers, one is a marathon runner/BMX bike rider, the other a rock climber. I had played football and tennis through high school, spent my early 20’s in the army, and had always considered myself athletic despite the fact I now fell into the morbidly obese category. And now at 32, newly sober, and in a new relationship, I wasn’t feeling any sort of comfortable in my own skin.
The young woman I was dating at the time coaxed me to join her in a spin class (which I knew nothing about) and I reluctantly agreed. This was one of the many times in my life I was humbled by women much fitter, smarter, and more capable than me. I got my butt kicked by a group of middle aged and college women, maybe even a grandma or two. I may be a little bit competitive, I refused to ‘lose’ to a bunch of retirees and college girls. So in addition to attending two or three spin classes a week, I started biking on my own so I wouldn’t embarrass myself. I was emboldened by my success as the weight started to come off. 310 pounds quickly became 280 pounds on the scales and after a few months of learning how to use a crockpot, the weight continued to come off. I even tried new things, (yoga) and got back into some old things I had missed (hiking and lifting).
After a year of weight loss I set a goal of running a Spartan Race for myself. Nine miles and all the obstacles you can think of. At that point I still was new to fitness in general, but had started running as an extra way to try to shed some more of that weight and spend more time with my dog. The miles started to add up and I was even starting to look like the athlete I had always remembered being. My initial goal weight had been 240 pounds, and when I hit that weight on the scale I thought I’d be happy. But as anyone who’s struggled and overcome their weight issues knows, the number on the scale isn’t the final destination. I was 240 and still dropping, in the best shape of my life, but still not happy. So I kept at it, 230, 220, 210, 200, and all the way down to 196 pounds. All while running 5+ miles a day, still attending spin and yoga two to three times per week. I was improving my fitness beyond what I thought I was capable of, but I still wasn’t where I wanted to be. I succeeded in my goal of finishing the Spartan Race and was riding high on completing this giant goal I had set for myself.
I was happy.
But now I needed to find a way to stay happy. I was single again, and chasing the high of the Spartan Race. Fitness for fitness sake is fun, but I found myself constantly searching for the big goal to set for myself, so I had something meaningful to chase.
Matt was by all accounts a scary dude. Broad shoulders, thick arms, shaved clean head of a guy who’s been in the gym all his life and doesn’t have time for things like hair. I showed up for a free trial week of CrossFit and quickly found myself hooked. In a way that perfectly recreated the sense of adventure missing from my everyday workouts. The unknown and the unknowable, forging elite fitness, I dove in completely. Matt was not the scary dude he looked upon walking in the door. Matt was the owner of the local CrossFit box that welcomed me in and made me feel like one of their own from day one. CrossFit is not just big scary dudes flipping tires. CrossFit is a lot of mothers sneaking workouts in, a lot of guys on their lunch breaks, and a lot of people you know, and only occasionally flipping tires. I built muscle, and stopped checking the scale so religiously. I put on weight for the first time in my life, and was happy about it. Nowadays, I’m 35, I weigh around 215 pounds and work out 6 days a week, not because I’m afraid of getting out of shape again, but because I genuinely love it.
I do still consider myself an alcoholic. I feel like some things don’t stay dead, things that are just a part of the fabric of who we are. I may not have a drink ever again in my life, but I think that being an alcoholic is woven into the tapestry of who I am. I’ve been told a few times by people close to me that I’m a little ADD, and a little addictive in my personality. My addictions have ranged from pills to booze to video games and you could probably even consider fitness one of them. But for me the defining part of it is passion. Even with all the negative things, I dove into them with a passion. And now I try to take that aspect of who I am, and redirect it through positive channels.
I still have a lot of that former fat boy in me, the negative voice in the back of my head telling me I’m not worth it. Whether it’s eating poorly, or on days when I take it easy, but the working out and doing positive things with my free time and my life quell those voices, and give me the positive reinforcement I need.
I wish you well on your journey, and I hope you’re every bit the superhero your dog thinks you are.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Erik Coyne, 35, of Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania. Subscribe to our free email newsletter, Living Better—your ultimate guide for actionable insights, evidence backed advice, and captivating personal stories, propelling you forward to living a more fulfilling life.
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