Here’s the thing…
You might not admit it, but I guarantee there’s something in your life that you’re powerless over…
…And it’s become unmanageable.
That’s an addiction, and denial is one of the characteristics!
If you’ve read my blogs before, you’ll know I’m no stranger to drawing inspiration and expertise from diverse fields. And another such opportunity cropped up recently – and there’s some gold for you Thai boxers here that you’ll see in just a second.
Now, I live in a quiet, unassuming part of the world in sleepy Suffolk in the UK. But as if by magic, I seem to end up rubbing shoulders with truly world-class teachers/coaches/educators/professionals.
…And it’s just happened again!
My inspirational massage therapist and Yoga teacher, Jacqui Sinclair (left in the photo) invited me to a Q&A session with her teacher from the United States, Nikki Myers (right in the photo), founder of Y12SR – Yoga of 12-Step Recovery. This is a relapse prevention programme, which incorporates the art & science of yoga with the practical tools of 12-step programmes.
I instantly felt a connection with Nikki’s approach. After all, I’m passionate about blending the art of Muay Thai with practical, applied sports science.
I’m lucky enough to not have addiction problems (so I thought – more on that later), but I popped along with an open-mind to simply take the opportunity to listen to a renowned teacher share some of her valuable knowledge.
And Jacqui said I HAD to meet her…
I mean… people travel around the world to learn from Nikki, and here she was on my doorstep at the Boiler House in Bury St Edmunds!
Jacqui has hosted Nikki and her leadership programme at the Boiler House now for 4-years, and was the first studio to hold Y12SR classes in Europe… which are now extensive internationally. Once again it seems I’m lucky to be in the right place at the right time.
And then something else…
I didn’t just have the chance to listen to Nikki share her experience; I was invited to ask questions (Christmas coming in August?). It’s like getting a private audience with Bramarjarn Yodthong Senanan!
Now, addiction is a heavy subject, and to be honest I initially felt a bit out of place, especially when Nikki opened by honestly sharing her personal struggles with addiction.
But, this intelligent, charismatic lady has found ways to combat this. Laughing, she warns,
“The monkey may be off your back, but the circus is still in town.”
…Nikki has relapsed in the past, but now she’s developed a set of tools that both allow her to recognise if she’s strayed from the “middle path” (even a little), and that have also brought her back to safety again. Both of which are easier said then done, as you’ll see.
My own life suddenly seemed to be very privileged by comparison; no alcohol, drug or sexual abuse, no prison… But as always, it’s a matter of scale and understanding principles, rather than getting bogged down in specifics.
So here’s the crux of it…
We ALL have experienced trauma that affects our behavior. That’s not usually world event trauma, but rather developmental or relationship trauma.
And you won’t necessarily know it.
But that doesn’t matter, you only need to learn how to recognise when this trauma steers you in a negative or destructive (addictive) direction, and know how to bring yourself back to stasis again.
Here’s the bomb… this isn’t something you need to “know”. Intellect can’t do it.
Addictive behaviour is when you know better… but you do it anyway!
Ok, now you should recognise that! You know better, but you do it anyway… Another piece of chocolate perhaps? Or some take away food?
You might be like me, lucky enough not to depend on alcohol or drugs to satisfy your brain’s urges to restore some sort of homeostasis or balance. But I’m certain you use other “tools” to achieve the same effect.
“We’re all addicted, or affected by the addictive behaviour of others.”
Nikki then shared the tools she’s found have saved her – methods that were tried and tested in the battlefield of hardcore addiction. Tools that will P!$$ all over lesser addictive tendencies!
Some coping methods are unsustainable; they’ll consume you and take you down with them, while others are more sustainable and can serve you well (if you manage to maintain the middle path).
- Illegal & prescription drugs
- Power & control
As a fighter, I bet you could agree at least two of these addictive coping strategies are probably pretty prevalent in your life.
But are they operating at an addictive level? Are they out of control… honestly? Do you recognise this, or are you in denial and blind to the extent of your dependence?
High-performing sports people have a history of “hitting the skids” when they can no longer perform at the top level, swapping a training and competing addiction for something unsustainable.
Historically in Thailand, as Thai boxers age, they lose the structure of their daily life they’ve had since children and face never being the focus of attention again…
Lynne Miller, owner of Sumalee Gym in Phuket has written of how fighters in the past have lost themselves to gambling, drinking, or drug addiction. Thankfully, opportunities for retired fighters in Thailand are growing, and this kind of addictive slip appears to be diminishing.
British boxer Ricky Hatton also springs to mind. I’m sure you’re all familiar with the Hatton’s war within: overcoming alcohol, drugs and suicide attempts.
That’s as bad as it can get I suppose, but don’t just shrug it off thinking you’re any different.
At some stage, we’re all tested at our own relative level, and you’ll either be lucky enough to have autonomous mental pathways that lead to sustainable coping methods in that very moment, OR you’ll slip into unsustainable ones.
You see, Nikki explains,
“The reptilian brain (the part of the brain that controls the body’s vital functions such as heart rate, breathing, body temperature and balance) doesn’t understand time, it just wants to rebalance the nervous system.”
It will claw at anything that will instantly flood brain’s reward centre with dopamine (a neurotransmitter that signifies pleasure).
All those addictions I listed earlier, from illegal drugs to sex or exercise, will release dopamine. Your brain will especially crave this pleasure in times of trauma, in an attempt to rebalance the nervous system. And it quite frankly doesn’t care about the long-term affects, just that immediate moment.
So what’s the trauma then? Why the extreme reaction? Like I said, it doesn’t matter. Just appreciate that it happens.
The trick is to notice it before it gains too much momentum and rein it back in to the middle ground.
“You don’t need to know what the problem is, the tools address whatever is there.”
Enter the Yogi…
Now before all you fighters tune out, thinking this doesn’t ring true for me, and Don’s obviously gone all “soft” – please don’t be a Muppet and read on!
The problem with fighters is we crave 100-miles-per-hour, anything less is worthless, useless… is for losers. YOU ARE WRONG!
When you were last out running at maximum intensity, did you notice that lost mobile phone just off to the left as you sprinted past?
Do you think you’d have been more likely to spot it if you were walking slowly instead?
How about if you were walking slowly and scanning the floor, looking for anything out of the ordinary?
I train a lot of different clients in the gym, some are fighters, some are athletes, and some are “general population” regular folks. But those that also practice Yoga are hands down the most “somatically” (body) aware that I coach.
They can “feel” straight away if something in their body is off. They effectively run regular system checks, and know instantly if something is different. And this is the genius of Nikki Myers’ approach.
She quotes from a version of the Serenity prayer, “The Wisdom is knowing the difference”, referring to feeling your way along the middle path – not too much or too little. This prayer is big in the recovery community, but is relevant to all of us.
Nikki knows that Yoga is a tool for developing a level of “feeling” and building reference points of stability and ease. When you hit this reference and your dashboard flashes up warnings, you know there’s an issue before it becomes a catastrophic failure!
The problem is 90% of people (and probably 99% of fighters) are so desensitised to these warnings that they explode on the launch pad before even noticing a warning light was flashing at all.
But here’s the biggest secret of all…
“The issues live in the tissues.”
…Now I don’t expect you to believe me here, you’ll need to experience it for yourself… but ALL trauma, problems, worries and stresses etc. show up PHYSICALLY in your body’s tissues.
If you notice something is out of whack (somatically) in your body, you better believe there’s not just a physical issue tied to it, but some sort of unresolved, undigested “trauma”.
And just like undigested food will sit in your gut giving you physical pain, undigested, unresolved trauma will show up physically too.
Ever had a tension headache as a result from the knotted muscles in your shoulders and neck, just because you’re emotionally stressed about something?
This is the thin end of the wedge, trust me it goes a whole lot further than that.
But suffice to say, there’s some powerful tools to master in approaching addiction from not just a cognitive level, but also a somatic one too.
You can’t cognitively think your way out of it, that doesn’t work. Nikki can attest to that. This lady has smarts. Among other things, she’s studied and got a first class master’s degree in business administration (MBA). But despite obvious intelligence, she’s STILL relapsed in the past.
It sounds cheesy, but it truly is mind AND body, the two cannot be separated… in fact, including the cognitive mind, there are five “bodies” that need to be addressed to truly align yourself.
“Codependence is looking outside of yourself for something that can only come from inside yourself.”
That’s far too much to go into now, but in this post I just wanted to share with you some insight courtesy of the awesome Nikki Myers, and perhaps open your eyes to something you may have completely missed. And that’s not your fault… you were probably going too fast and looking elsewhere…
Just realise that we ALL suffer from degrees of addiction, from full-on drug abuse to food, shopping or even sex!
…And exercise is on that scale too. If it’s out of your control, you’re addicted.
Oh, YOU are in control?
- Can you back off and ease up if needed?
- Do you know when to push on and when to allow for recovery in your training?
- Despite KNOWING BETTER, do you PUSH ON ANYWAY?
It’s not hardcore, it’s not serving you, and it’s Muppetry. You’ve got issues, ACCEPT IT (I have).
Accepting it is step 1 of the 12-step recovery process… ;)
More to come… Jacqui Sinclair is studying for a MSc in Applied Sports Psychology, and she’s particularly interested in fighters because of our mindset and the effects that has on us habitually and what drew us to fighting in the first place… So there will be more posts to come on this in the future with studies concerning aspects of addictive behavior in athletes, especially fighters.
Ocean Recovery provides a support group network for people suffering with addiction to drugs and alcohol in the North West of England. Ocean Recovery offers free and confidential services over the phone. The website also contains free guides and resources for people suffering from addiction and for their families and carers.
Helpline: 0125 353 0553, every day, 24 hours a day
A Guide to UK-based Free Addiction Helplines by Paul at Cassiobury Court.
Don Heatrick, owner of Heatrick Strength & Conditioning, is a renowned Level 4 Strength and Conditioning coach, Muay Thai coach and former pro Thai boxer from the UK.
HERE TO…Help ambitious fighters & coaches take their game to the next level by bridging the gap between Strength & Conditioning, Performance Science, and Muay Thai