To Hell and Back
Beware of the wolf scratching at your door. – Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson
Despite what the world would like you to believe; good and evil are real; right and wrong are real; and personal choices do matter. Good choices lead to health, wealth and happiness. While poor choices destroy and leave you with nothing. Now, when I say good and evil I’m not talking about angels and demons battling for control of middle earth, though I personally believe in those types of things. What I’m talking about here are our personal weaknesses, or the “wolves” that chase each of us every day of our lives. If not watched like a farmer with a rifle, these wolves will ambush us and devour us, leaving nothing but a pile of bones and some worthless scraps.
Unfortunately for me, I didn’t recognize the pack of wolves feeding on me until there was next to nothing left of who I was. My lowest point came in the summer of 2006. I had just graduated from college; recently broke up with my high school sweet heart who I thought I’d marry, and was heavily addicted to alcohol, weed, pain killers, Copenhagen and bad choices. To make it all worse, I was starring down the barrel at $60k in student loan debt. At the time I was probably 20lbs overweight, had cholesterol of over 350, and a dangerous mix of high blood sugar and high blood pressure. My doctor told me that I was in the 99th Percentile for heart attack and stroke, and that if I didn’t change my lifestyle, one of those events would likely occur before age 50. I can remember calling my mom from a gas station that day and breaking down over the news. Not only was I still heartbroken and addicted to the party lifestyle, I had no plan for dealing with my debt, and my body was now falling apart. I was only 22 years old.
A rational person would have stopped there, changed their habits and got healthy. Not me, I kept partying and eating like crap to mask my depression. At the suggestion of a friend, I took up Muay Thai as a way to vent my aggression and thought it might also help to solve my health issues. It worked at first, but that is when I truly hit rock bottom. I had been practicing Muay Thai for about three weeks and when I arrived one evening, the coaches told us that we would be sparring for the whole hour. As the newest fighter in the gym I was terrified. For some reason I could not handle this and completely cracked. My heart began to pound and the room began to spin. My hands went cold so I ran from the ring to the bathroom in the back of the gym and locked myself in the stall.
Once in the stall I began to vomit. Over and over I heaved. Each convulsion brought a new, more intense feeling of panic and terror over me like waves smashing a surfer against the bottom of the ocean. I gripped the rim of the toilet so hard I could have torn it from the wall. Soaked in sweat I sat against the wall, thoughts racing through my head. “What is happening to me?” “Am I losing my mind?” I had played football my whole life, grew up with brothers and had been in a dozen or so fights growing up. Never once had I been nervous or felt a sense of panic. At that moment I knew something was really wrong. My coach at the time came into the bathroom, helped me back to reality and then sent me home. He told the other fighters that I was sick, even though I knew no one bought that excuse. They knew I had a meltdown just as much as I did. They could see it on my face.
I went home from the gym and acted like nothing had happened. In our house, deep conversation was not something that we engaged in, so I felt it best to hide the incident from everyone. Better that, then listen to the peanut gallery call me a pussy for having melted under the pressure. That night I lied in bed, restless about what had happened at the gym. Feelings of nausea returned just thinking about it. That night I asked God to show me a way out of my misery. I prayed that I’d finally rid myself of the demons chasing me over my failed relationship. I also prayed for the strength to address my health and alcohol problems. What had happened was a warning and I would have been a fool to ignore it.
Ashamed, I let my membership expire and found a new gym to train at. I still had mild feelings of anxiety when sparring, but I never gave up. I told my new coach about my previous experience and we worked through it together. In fact, I credit him and Muay Thai for curing my panic issues. You see, when you’re in the ring you have to stay calm. If not, you’ll gas out and wind up blowing snot bubbles on the canvas. This is probably the hardest skill to learn in any combat sport, and having a coach that can teach this Zen skill set makes all the difference. Kicking and punching are easy, but staying calm like a surgeon when someone is trying to rip your head off is incredibly difficult, but I digress. That is a subject for a totally different post.
Anyways, following my bathroom episode I could have ignored the wolves circling to finish me. A lot of people choose that path and wind up with multiple medical conditions, more debt than they can handle, divorced, or even worse, dead. However, with the support of my wonderful family, coaches and future wife, I was able to recognize my addictions and financial issues so that I could recover and fulfill the life I was meant to live. My wolves still follow me, but I now know what I must do to out-smart them so that they can’t sneak up on me again.
Where am I today? I’m married with two beautiful sons, have a successful career, and have developed a personal mission to help others. I don’t share my story so that others will praise me for sticking with it or for changing the direction of my life. In fact, most of my family and friends have never heard this story or know anything about the pain that I hid from everyone for so long. Rather, I share my story because I truly believe that all of us have wolves that are chasing us. These wolves vary from person to person, but the struggle is always the same. They never truly go away and even when they do, another one will usually pop up and takes its place.
To conclude, I've summarized a couple of the things that I learned from all of this. I challenge you to reflect on them and ask yourself, “what wolves are chasing me?” Life can be easy, but it is full of tough choices and wolves looking to steal everything from you.
Things I learned from my personal wolves:
1) Choices do matter. I made the mistake of thinking that binge drinking, smoking weed and piling up student loans were the path to happiness…they’re were not. As they say in economics, “there is no such thing as a free lunch.” Partying for me was fun, but it came with a steep physical and mental price. I lost my girlfriend, my health, my sanity and my money. Don’t get me wrong, I still drink, and on occasion, very heavily. The difference now is that it doesn’t rule my life. I’ve learned to treat it like an enemy; engaging with her, but keeping a wary eye on her at all times.
2) Individuals are in control of their health, NOT their Doctors. Doctors are trained to diagnose problems and prescribe “solutions” to resolve them. They can’t force you to eat salad, workout for you, or manage your stress. This is similar to a mechanic, who can fix the leak in your radiator, but can’t force you to get regular fluid changes. My Doctor told me he could prescribe me crazy pills for the meltdowns and statins for my cholesterol, but that was only going to mask my symptoms. If I wanted to truly get healthy, I had to change my habits and put in the hard work. Since 2006 I’ve dedicated everyday to living with purpose. I work my ass off in the gym, eat extremely clean, and focus on my family. I put partying in the rear-view mirror and only look back when a wedding rolls into town, or when the moon is full. My wife prefers the wedding scenario… because she hates when I drink and howl.
Anyways, there have been a lot of other lessons along the way, but these always seem to stand out to me. I doubt this story will change your life, but I hope in some small way, that it will inspire you to reflect on the habits, or “wolves” keeping you from realizing optimal health, financial success, or mental peace. Our culture celebrates mediocrity, immorality and self-abuse; so I dare you to live differently, and to lead a life Hold Fast to solid principles.
Focus…Work Hard…Hold Fast!
Michael Di Croce is a graduate of Colorado State University and Co-Founder of Hold Fast the Iron.