The brain-body balance
by Ryan B. Jackson, Ed.D
January 1, 2022, marks nine years sober for me. In previous years, I’ve detailed the journey leading to this life-changing (saving) decision, and every year I make it a point to recognize the anniversary—behind the birth of my son, it’s one of my proudest accomplishments. Admittedly, year nine of sobriety feels underwhelming due to its proximity to 10 years of sobriety (assuming/praying/working that becomes a reality). Although double-digit years of sobriety is a highly anticipated milestone for me, I’d be remiss if I didn’t reflect on and outright address some of the challenges and systems I have put into place to keep myself on pace to hit this mark, all while battling an addiction that did its best to ruin my life.
I titled this piece the brain-body balance because as a LIBRA, I’ve bought into the astrology that my relationship to the universe demands that the “scale” be balanced. Also, and more rooted in neurochemistry, the overall impact of our central nervous system on every facet of our being is undeniable and speaks to the imperative relationship between both mind and body. From a Fit Leaders’ perspective, we simply cannot train one without training the other. Thus, we must commit to and engage with all the uncomfortable truths about ourselves to fully-grasp our accurate, current condition and begin planning and building our healthy lifestyle blueprint from there. It’s challenging work. In fact, it’s painful work—both physically, mentally, and emotionally. This, however, is a pain we must embrace. As Dr. Abraham Twerski masterfully details in his Parable of the Lobster, “discomfort is the stimulus for growth.”
Ultimately this approach, repairing and sharpening the body through enhanced focus on cognitive therapy, will force us to confront some of the darkest recesses and truths buried within. I touch this point specifically as I have recently confronted an underlying heartache that was stunting my personal and physiological growth. It centers around forgiveness and setting aside ego to utilize empathy in a way I had not exercised before. And so, to model both vulnerability and my attempt to embrace the process of mindfulness and intentionally connecting brain and body, I share with you:
I have written about the death of my father and his alcoholism and drug abuse in years past. I have come to terms with his impact on my life. What I have not done (or written about) is how the suicide of my uncle, my father’s older brother, impacted my father’s life, leaving a gaping hole that he tried to repair through his various lifestyle choices. It’s heavy stuff. I have confronted it. Using the few memories I have of my father vaguely detailing my uncle’s death, I have put myself in his shoes as he gets into a drunken brawl with his brother (my uncle had stopped drinking at this point in his life) only to leave the house that night in a fit of rage. When he returned later that night/early morning, he descends into my grandfather’s basement and is the first one to find my uncle. My father never truly recovered.
This anecdote and bit of psychotherapy is beyond significant for me. Confronting it in such a way, shedding my own ego and experiences, in order to better frame my father’s behavior has helped clear a healthy path for me to move forward. This combination of maturity and a willingness to confront the past to better prepare for the future has created a mind and body ripe for healing. I have certainly made plenty of mistakes in my life—most of which have absolutely nothing to do with my father—but better understanding my own pain and source points has allowed me to crash through emotional plateaus, which, undeniably, have helped me align my fitness and career goals. As a species, we are one big neuro/biochemistry system and the sooner we learn to appreciate how it’s all connected, the sooner we begin to make unprecedented strides in both our personal and professional lives.
To be clear, the work you do to repair past trauma, overcome personal demons, or setting and chasing highly personal goal doesn’t have to be shared with the world. Just know that the Fit Leaders movement was birthed out of this work and serves as a safe refuge for any and every one seeking a better way. If chasing a bench press personal record helps you divert and channel pain in a positive way, go for it! If running what many may consider an unfathomable amount of miles a month creates better mental space for you to find and clear a path forward, go for it! If you have ever felt or thought that leaders, of all varieties, don’t get the social-emotional support they so desperately need, we are here to fix that.
Here’s to confronting our truths in 2022…LIVE BETTER. LEAD BETTER.