Let me begin by saying, I am Chris Gugliuzza, and I am an addict/alcoholic. Thankfully no longer practicing. I am still, always, these things. I have been treated for chronic suicidal depression and anxiety since I was in my teens. I have abused myself, and been abused. I started smoking cigarettes at the age of 8, and followed that with smoking pot, and drinking at the age of 12. Coincidentally, or not, the age of 12 is when I began having suicidal thoughts. I can remember the moment like it was yesterday. I became withdrawn, and more depressed by the day. I never asked for help, and was very good at faking things. I finally, at the age of 19, decided I had had enough and made my first attempt at suicide with a bottle of pills and failed. These thoughts are still as much of a struggle as staying sober, but I have a much better support system and tools available to me now than I did back then. I understand that we all have pain and different levels of anxiety, and sadness, and have all had different paths and experiences. I also know that no matter who you are, that there is someone who has it infinitely worse and still finds healing, joy, and faith in life.
I am 43 years old. I have, since I was young, had ear infections, I was almost continuously on some sort of antibiotic. In my 20’s I took medications for everything. My doctor never let me leave her office without a bag full of the drug companies latest offerings to try. Nose sprays, anxiety meds, anti-psychotics, acid reflux meds, ulcer meds, the list goes on. I always believed in my doctor. She was an older chinese woman who was always very nice to me. I hurt my back for the first time when I was 19, I was given Loritab for pain and muscle relaxers, and sent for physical therapy. It took about 2 months of this before I felt good enough to return to work. When I returned to work I started having problems with my stomach; pain, terrible heart burn, and nausea at no particular time. After months of testing, I was diagnosed with ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome, and hiatal hernia. I couldn’t have imagined life without a bottle of the pink stuff in my car. For my stomach I was given many different meds, none that ever made a dent in the things that were wrong. I also began to have regular migraines, and allergies that seemed to follow the seasons of the year, that I had never had before. I had a terribly poor diet that consisted of probably 75% fast food. I worked so much that I never really had the time to cook for myself, or at least that was the excuse that I used. I am small in stature with a high metabolism that rarely allows me to gain weight, or lose it. Even with the terrible diet, I rarely lost or gained 5 lbs. I hurt my shoulder playing softball in my mid 20’s and started the cycle of pain meds, and P.T. prescribed by my doctor yet again. My shoulder pain seemed to get better, but only until I used it funny, or tweaked it. Then I was back to square one with the pain. Finally I went to see a specialist that gave me a shot of cortizone. This did the trick within minutes, but I was told to keep P.T.-ing it because the cortizone would wear off in a couple of months. This at least got me away from the pain pills, and muscle relaxers, that by that point I could tell had, at the very least, something to do with my stomach problems. Back problems, stomach problems, shoulder problems, stomach problems, Back problems, stomach problems, shoulder problems, stomach problems. This cycle never seemed to end no matter what I did, or took.
Finally in 2001 I went to work one day with an aching feeling in my stomach. It felt very tight, and it hurt, but not terribly. I went to work, and this pain just magnified. By 10 am I knew something was wrong because I was sweating, and the pain was incredibly intense. I went to the boss and told him I was going home. By the time I made the 8 minute drive home I could no longer stand erect. I asked my girlfriend to take me to the hospital. 2 hours later I was knocked out, and having my appendix removed. I spent 3 days being given pain pills that seemed to give me a fever and nausea every time I got them. They would not let me leave the hospital until I could hold something down. The third morning I took the pain pill, but didn’t swallow it. I spit it out after the nurse left. By noon I was home, with a prescription for 30 days worth of the same pain medication. I threw it out, took nothing, and in 3 weeks was back at work.
This was when I decided to try a different way to be healthy. Against my doctors wishes I stopped all my meds. I probably should have listened when she said I needed to ween off the anxiety medication. That was quite the journey. I could only imagine what a drug like heroine is like to rehab from. I had all those same symptoms for almost 2 months. It was a horrible experience. I did however succeed. I began a diet I had read about in the paper called the B.R.A.T. diet. Bananas, Rice, Applesauce, and Toast, I quit coffee and began drinking tea. I did this religiously for one month, and felt almost instantly better. As the months went on I began to add other things like fish, and pasta, then chicken, pork, etc. After about 6 months I had zero, not a few, not heartburn here and there, zero symptoms. None. Not only did those problems stop, mysteriously so did my allergies, ear infections, and most of my pain. My depression and anxiety kept on, but was much easier to deal with, it seemed, without the meds, stomach discomfort, and pain.
I still smoked, drank (way too much), and smoked pot which I’m sure caused much of my anxiety, but they sure weren’t having an effect on my stomach anymore as my doctor always told me they would. I have not had any medication since the antibiotic ran out after my appendectomy. I do take OTC pain medication for headaches or the occasional migraine that I do still get, and things to combat symptoms when I feel under the weather, but nothing else. In July it will be 15 years since I took an antibiotic or any other form of medication. I’m sure I’ve had a couple of ear infections since then. My immune system must have taken care of them for me. Last year I went to the hospital at my friends urging for a pain I was having in my chest, it turned out to be a strained muscle, and I walked home from the hospital, and threw the prescriptions out along the way. My stomach has never given me a problem again except maybe with sweet red sauce, for some reason my body does not like that. I do however, regularly eat hot stuff. I love peppers, and onions, and szechaun, and chili powder, and pizza, and nuts. These never bother me, in my 20’s I would have been down for the count having one jalapeno on my pizza. It took 6 months of dedication to get my body, and immune system working for me again. It was not easy, but in the end very worth it.
Sadly diet did not help my depression or anxiety. These were still worthy opponents to my emotional and mental health. I did however learn that with dedication I could change my body, and realized I could probably do the same for my mind.
At the age of 39 I fell in love with the woman I thought I would marry. It was almost instantaneous that I felt this. Within 3 months we had made plans, and revamped my house to fit her, and her 2 children. She had begun packing, and prepared her children. 2 weeks before moving day she fell ill with lupus. She spent the next 9 months so ill that many days she couldn’t function. Our relationship fell apart, and I fell into a depression like none I had ever known. I spent about a year truly believing it would go back to the way it was. If it weren’t for this belief I would have never survived. I finally realized I had to do something to heal my mind. I started reading books about meditation, and mantras, and yoga from authors like Eckhart Tolle, Pema Chodron, Jiddu Krishnamurti, and Dr. Joe Dispenza. I began meditating with instructions from these books. I was doing ok, probably sitting for 20 minutes a day, and feeling better. One day while browsing the internet I saw a class at a local yoga studio called ‘Mindful Meditation for Beginner’s’. (I wrote a more in depth story about this here) I went, I was nervous and anxious, but I went. It was exactly what I needed to turn the corner and teach me routine. I had a friend who had been telling me I should try yoga with her, and the week after my meditation class, I garnered up the courage to try yoga. She didn’t even show up for that first class, but again, anxious and scared I went. I look back at my life and wonder what I did without these things. I have since quit drinking, I will have a beer with a nice red meat dinner every now and again, but that is the extent of my drinking now. I still have anxiety and depression, but am now armed with the tools to fight it. 2015 has been one of the most emotionally challenging years in my life. I have probably shed more tears, and felt more heartbreak this year than in all of the past 42 combined, but I am still alive and thriving, and free of my addictions. I am creating more than ever, I am seeing beauty even in the heartbreak and tears, I am following my life’s true path more closely than ever, and I am more grateful everyday, for every single moment I get to spend with you all. I am learning more about myself with every word I write, every stroke I paint, and every song I compose.
I am not telling you that there is no need for doctor’s or even medication, but I would bet if you asked your doctor, even he would tell you the benefits of yoga, meditation, and a healthy diet. Do you have the dedication to heal yourself that it takes? Is 6 months of rewiring your brain, and getting into a routine whose only side effects are health and happiness worth it? Is being healthy for yourself, your children, your families, and everyone that loves you worth it? Are you ready to face your fears and your demons? I am proud that I made the decision to not keep doing what everyone else does, what I have always done, the things that only added to my problems, and I am being rewarded for it. This is what I hope and want for you too, no one can change it, but you. As one of the most inspiring people in my world says. “Wake up. Be brave. Heal your shit. Do what you love”
Everyone has heard of the 12 Steps to Recovery. Have you ever read them?
#12 “Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we try to carry this message to others, and to practice these principals in all our affairs.”