Chapter ?: Emotional, physical, and mental health take more dedication than medication.

Let me begin by saying, I am Chris Gugliuzza, and I am an addict/alcoholic. Thankfully no longer fc69b44d2b62989e8d174f510a76aaaapracticing. 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 I became withdrawn, and more depressed by the day.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.

dc0a95c523d30e8406ee024c8b35f8e2This 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. 26b41c64bba5ad7dcdc393aa474a85b5Do 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.”

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Chapter One ~ (or 30 something)

Monday October 7th, 2013 10:42 PM. Now. The present. The only place I feel like I can begin my story. The Story of My Life. A phrase I have repeated so many times in my 41 years that it almost seems comical, and yet nowadays almost brings a tear to my eye at just the thought of letting the words slide from my lips. Here in Buffalo, New York we are known mostly for our unbearable winters. Although much more unbearable to those who don’t live here it seems, given the national coverage we get every time we get a foot of snow. A foot of snow to a Buffalonian is generally more a cause for celebration than any sort of tragic weather event. This, of course, provided it doesn’t happen on a Sunday night causing a Monday morning 5 AM dig out for the folks going to work. (No a foot of snow does not get us out of work) We are hard-nosed, hardworking, blue-collar folk around these parts.

Blizzard_77_Kuwik1ab     In 41 winters I can remember 5 crippling winter storms that paralyzed the city for a few days. Of course, we are known as the “City of Good Neighbors”, and we take care of each other here, less nowadays, but walk down any sparkling snow-covered street in December with a motorist stuck in the slippery stuff, and you will find someone willing to help push them out. I remember exactly one tornado, a few earthquakes, that maybe felt like a big truck hit a bump in front of the house, and zero hurricanes. All in all we don’t have it so bad. I am a bit of a winter recluse. I don’t have a penchant for winter sports such as skiing like many Buffalonians do. I generally try to hunker down, keep the driveway clear, and get some work done around the house, or work some extra overtime during the long winter days to help pay for the holiday bills.

I did, however, state that it was early October, and for a winter recluse, fall is the precursor to those long winter days. This is a time for those like me to get our fill of outdoor activities without sweating in the sun. I am not a huge fan of the fall because it generally means more yard work, raking up leaves, and watching my garden that I worked so hard on wither and die. The change of seasons does, however, bring some really amazing beauty to the landscape. The leaves begin to change colors and that adds a rainbow of color to our landscape. It becomes a more picturesque and alluring landscape almost by the minute. As I sit here typing, we are on the cusp of becoming witness to that beauty.

The one thing Buffalo does have 365 days a year is Lake Erie.  She, I will refer to it as a woman because it is much too breathtaking to be a man, has been one of the most undeniable reasons that I have stayed a Buffalonian my entire life. I would miss her dearly if I left. She is many times the cause of those winter storms, but much more often than not just a magnificent body of water to our west. On some days the water rages like the ocean, with waves crashing over the break walls and jumping high into the air. Other times it can be so calm you would think it was a piece of glass you could walk to Canada on. I have spent many a day staring out over her vastness. I have laughed with her, cried with her, spent my senior year in study hall studying nothing but those waves crashing along the miles long break wall. I have ridden her waves, swam in her, fished in her, I have walked on her in the winter when she freezes over, and spend every workday driving next to her trying to concentrate on the road rather than her beauty. The most defining moment of her beauty happens every single day as the sun seems to fall into her, Om Shanti by Maggie Rodriguezand disappear into her depths. Depending on the cloud cover, type of clouds, and where they are in the sky, we sometimes get a light show that rivals any in the world. There have been times that my entire neighborhood turns almost blood-red from the sun reflecting off the clouds. A good friend of mine took a picture with her phone of her husband, son, and nephew wading in her waters, arms stretched up to the sun as it set in a sea of color so beautiful that I initially thought it was something she had downloaded to her phone from a Hawaiian sunset. She sent it with the words “om shanti” which translates to peace. It sure looked like peace if peace had an image.

So let’s get back to today… Things in my life have been pretty tragic lately. I have been searching a great deal for some inner shanti. That search has led me away from my usual muse, my guitar, after a musician I had long been acquainted with died of a drug overdose. I have been searching for inspiration from other places, my favorite being my camera. It helps to get me out in the world, get some exercise, and it is a solid companion that doesn’t squawk at me about being tired from walking a couple of miles. It is nothing special, something a friend got at a garage sale, and sold to me because I had mentioned that I had been looking for one. It does take some really nice pictures, though I have little knowledge of photography. So today I decided to go catch the sunset over that beautiful lake. When I walked out to the car for the short ride to Gallagher Beach (better known as Ghetto Beach to Buffalonians because of the abandoned grain mills, and pea gravel in place of sand on the “beach”) I was excited that the sky was clear and the sun was still shining. I excitedly pulled out of my driveway, skipping the planned jaunt to the local coffee shop for fear I might miss the sunset. As I headed west toward the sun I was making sure my camera was at the ready, with fully charged batteries. A few minutes later I arrived at my destination, and looked out over the lake, and all I saw was a bank of clouds, just in the west, not a cloud elsewhere in the sky, sent surely just at that moment to block my view of that heavenly decent. Story of my life… I snapped a few pictures anyway, but none near what I had hoped to capture. Lesson learned, the moments we think we are anticipating are not always going to be that which we expected or hoped. However, if we look past that expectation, many times we see what we are truly there for in that moment of time. If we look hard enough there is beauty in almost anything.