How Fitness Turned This Trainer's Life Around After Years Of Addiction & Jail Time
For most people, May 5, 2008, was just an ordinary, unmemorable day. But for me, that otherwise ordinary day changed the course of my entire life. I was 20 years old, driving to make a drug deal, with a half-pound of pot in my trunk and $2,000 in my glove box.
As I was driving down the road, I noticed a police officer running radar. Because of the busted headlight I'd been meaning to fix for months, I was pulled over. My racing heart felt like it had dropped to the pit of my stomach. When the officer spotted an open container in the back seat, he subsequently searched the vehicle with my permission.
Looking back, I think part of me wanted to be caught. I had developed an addiction to opiates that was costing me upward of $300 a day and dealing weed to support the habit.
After the cop found the drugs and cash in my glove box, he put me in handcuffs. At this point, it felt like my life was over. Questions like, How did I get here, Will I get through this, and What is everyone going to think of me, were racing through my mind.
I was charged with a felony: possession of marijuana with the intent to distribute, and was sentenced to five years in jail, five years of probation, 200 hours of community service, and plenty of fines. The judge showed me grace, saying if I completed everything without messing up, he would strike the felony conviction from my record. At the time, I didn't think I was going to live past 25, so I was grateful for his mercy.
How I turned my life around, starting with my health.
On October 21, 2008, I went to jail. I was fearful and angry, and then suddenly overcome with brutal withdrawal symptoms from my opiate addiction. I was also 50 pounds overweight and smoking a pack and half of cigarettes a day.
My cellmate, who had also struggled with drug addiction, encouraged me to begin exercising in order to replace the bad habits with the good. I was out of shape at that point in my life and had never consistently exercised, so of course, I was hesitant to take his advice.
I tried to do a pushup and couldn't even do one from my knees. I was mortified, but my cellmate helped me turn that shame into motivation. We would meet each morning to work on my fitness goal (which, at the time, was to complete one pushup from my knees). It took time, but I eventually progressed from one to a few to 10 pushups from my knees. Once I developed confidence in myself, I decided to try pushups from my feet.
Each new challenge felt like I was starting from scratch, but I approached it the same way: starting with one, working my way up to a few. Every time I wanted to quit, I would think about the people who doubted me throughout my life, including myself. I was finally able to channel those negative feelings into something that would benefit and motivate me. Eventually, after a few weeks, I was able to do a set of five pushups.
Fitness can be the catalyst for change.
I began running during my time in jail, too. There was a common area (think cafeteria setup) where I could run around. I would hold a deck of cards in one hand and each time I would run a lap, I would pass a card from my left to my right hand to keep track. I did this every day, and slowly but surely, I was able to run a few laps without huffing and puffing.
By the time my 90-day sentence was over, I was able to do a set of 10 pushups and run a mile. I was also clean for the first time in as long as I could remember. I knew at that moment I was ready to transform my life. My cellmate gave me a workout plan that I still have framed in my place so I never forget where I came from.
How I maintained my new fitness routine.
After I got out of jail, it was definitely a challenge not having my cellmate to hold me accountable. But I knew if I didn't keep going, a relapse would soon follow.
I did the bodyweight calisthenics program he had given me upon my release, which consisted mainly of pushups, jumping jacks, and core exercises. Since it was cold outside where I lived, running became more uncomfortable than I was used to. When I wrote my cellmate to tell him this, he wrote back "buy some sweatpants and suck it up." Another, maybe more profound, piece of advice was "don't give up on yourself, Doug."
What I initially thought of as my greatest setback ended up becoming my biggest blessing.
When my original workout plan became too easy, I knew it was time to add on new challenges. Doing this alone was difficult, so I began educating myself on basic weightlifting programs. Initially, I would lift weights two to three days per week, and over the course of several months progressed to lifting five days per week (similar to a traditional bodybuilding regimen).
I later added in cardio, running more frequently for 30 to 40 minutes, depending on my energy levels. Running was a source of moving meditation for me. It helped me manage my thoughts and emotions in a constructive way. The summer after my release, I ran my first 5k in just over 23 minutes.
How this experience changed my life for the better.
Fitness can be the catalyst for change. It helps you improve your self-confidence, develop discipline, and create a routine. It allows you to take small steps to set and achieve goals. I felt better mentally, emotionally, and physically when I began taking control of my health.
This inspired me to take action in other areas of my life. I evaluated my friendships and decided to align myself with those who had shared goals, not shared pasts. I got back into therapy, but for the first time in my life, it was for me. I went back to school, finished my two-year degree, and graduated magna cum laude. What I initially thought of as my greatest setback ended up becoming my biggest blessing.
Change is hard, but staying in a dark and stagnant place is hard, too. Instead of being a victim of your current circumstances, start taking small steps to develop the life you deserve. Always keep in mind how far you've come, not how much further you have to go.