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Aftermath: Rebuilding Your Life

We have all heard the saying, “Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom before you are ready to change.” This is something that I know first hand. I also know others who have gone through the same experience.  In fact, most of us will have to rebuild our lives at some point in life.

It may come from an unexpected loss, the death of a loved one, a job, or it could be our own self-destructive behavior. It does not matter the cause, because the outcome is the same. A life in shambles, the feeling of no hope, bitterness, and blame. You can feel the walls of despair closing in on you as depression sets into your life.

Life seems overwhelming and we become frozen in place, shut down.  For some, it sends them into a self-medication period or an overeating binge.  All the while we distance ourselves from friends and loved ones.

When you find yourself at rock bottom, It is time to examine your life and figure out what has brought you to this place. Make a list, because when you write it down you can easily decide what is most important. You can also devise a plan to begin the journey of rebuilding.

A good approach is to begin by controlling what you can.  We can all control what goes into our bodies. Alcohol and drugs will just bring us down, even more, the problem still exists but now our minds are clouded.

What we eat also has a huge effect on how we feel.  If we eat sugar or foods heavy with fats, we will feel it. Excess sugar will cause us to hit highs and then come crashing down feeling worse than ever.  Unhealthy food will make your whole system feel sluggish.  Cut it all out. We do not need them and once our system begins functioning better on healthy fuel, we will not miss them.  Challenge yourself by being strong and watching your food intake.

The more you start to take control of your life, the better you feel.  It is time to make commitments with some new habits. A lot of hugely successful people start the day early with some exercise. I am not suggesting that you begin with a gym membership.  We must crawl before we can walk, so start small.  Try walking around your neighborhood every day for thirty minutes in the mornings, without distractions and without stopping.  I am not talking about a treadmill! Get outdoors where the weather and terrain varies daily.  Use this alone time to think about life and plan your day.

After a series of events in my life, I found myself all alone in a place I had never been. I was depressed and fat, with no idea what I would do with my life from that point forward. The first day I shut myself inside the hotel suite and felt sorry for myself. I didn’t want to face reality. My old life was no more.  The people I knew would never and could never be a part of my new life. I had brought everything on myself because of my actions, so the only person I could blame was myself.

I decided that I should begin walking every morning for an hour. I was out the door before light that second day. I walked every day for the rest of that first week. After my walk, I would come back to the suite and watch TV.  Eventually, I ventured across the street after dark to a huge bookstore and bought some books and a notepad.  I developed a routine.  Walk, read, write about my life and eat fresh unprocessed food.  After that first week, I found a Mixed Martial Arts gym and I started walking past it every day.  Martial arts had been an important part of my early life, but it had been a few years since I had been in a martial arts gym. I checked out the class schedule and thought about joining.  It took me almost a month to finally decide to walk into the gym.  When I did, I decided on a whim to take a class.

The class gave me over an hour a day when the only thing I could think about was the class. My head was clear and focused when I trained. I developed a new schedule.  I would walk every day for an hour, come back and watch two shows, then go take a class, read a book for learning (history, science, etc), eat lunch, work on writing the story of my life, and later read another book for pleasure. This routine pulled me out of the hole I had dug for myself.

Writing about my life laid bare the fact that all of my problems had been caused by the choices I made.  I started a list of things that I had to change, and believe me it was a huge list. I started working on one of them at a time. I am still working on the list and it grows all the time.  I have found that I gain confidence every time I conquer a personal dislike.  People might feel my life is too regimented and strict, but it is actually freeing.

Find something that you can get into.  Something that allows you to forget about your problems and clear your mind for a time, even if you can see no immediate benefit.

When you develop a new routine, make a pact with yourself that you will not stop for a month.

Write about your thoughts and problems.  Keep a diary, even if it is just a short e-mail you send to yourself at the beginning of each day. This is enormously helpful and it is between you and you alone.

As I was writing this post, I counted at least five times that I have hit bottom and started to rebuild my life. The best thing to come out of those experiences is that I have tread familiar ground repeatedly. I do not know what the says about me, but at least I know what choices I no longer wish to make.

I spoke to two others about the aftermath of their destructive lives.  I asked them both what helped them come back from the brink.  One told me that when he was doing his thing it was about him.  When it all came crashing down it affected those close to him.  He let everyone down. He had support and he decided that he would take it and better himself.  The second person told me he realized he was a grown man and if he did nothing he would be wasting his life. The life he had was no longer part of the equation, so he started one step at a time and day by day it got better.

Ephesians 4:28

Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.

2 Timothy

So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.

 

Self-Made Prison

Life is either a marathon or a sprint.  Regardless of the length, we do not know when the race will be over.  Yesterday is the past. Whether it was good or bad, today is another chance to get it right.   Our attitude, beliefs, actions, and fears have brought us where we are. Many of us have built up walls in our lives. We see the world in a certain way, and we tell ourselves that they are barriers to keep out the unwanted, but in reality they are prisons.   

Some of us think of a water glass as half empty while others see the glass is half full.  Neither is wrong.  A positive outlook, regardless of what we face, will help us as we move forward.  Nothing in our lives is permanent, change will always come. Bad attitudes magnify the negative and destroy hope.

Have you ever felt, that something may work for others, but not for you?  I have on more than a few occasions.  The problem with my thinking was that I was not willing to open up to new methods or ideas.  I was stuck in the mindset that my long held beliefs and preconceived notions were always right because I had been there before.  What I really had to learn was that the old way life played out that way because of the way I went about it. It was time for me to stop passing the blame and stop the never ending cycle I was on. It is never easy, but you must retrain your mind to stop with the negative thoughts and keep working to get out of your cell.

Every morning there is a new problem.  Leaving the house brings a new set of challenges. Do we stay home? Feel sorry for ourselves and cry? Turn to a vice to ease the suffering momentarily?

Evaluate everything and start with the things that you can fix now.  Come up with a game plan.  No journey is complete without a map – a route and a destination. Accept the facts and no matter how uncomfortable it is, face them, because each of holds the key to set us free from the walls that are holding us back.

The biggest and most formidable wall in life is fear. The fear of failure always looms.  The fear that we will go too far and be left alone.  The fear that we are just not good enough.  The fear that we do not have what it takes.  The fear that we will not be accepted by our peers.  All of these seem real, but the truth is we have built them up in our minds. The more we dwell on them, the more powerful they become.

At one time, I lived in a constant state of fear.  I had a fear that a normal life was for everybody except me. The fear paralyzed me and kept me from growing or reaching for my goals.  We can either become prisoners bound by our own outlook, or we can change our thinking.  It will be hard, breaking habits by retraining your mind, building new habits and learning all take time.

Saul of Tarsus is a man I have brought up before.  He grew up Jewish and by all accounts, he was set to be one of the great ones. He had a prejudice against Christians, and believed that they were wrong about Jesus and his way of thinking was right.  He went after the early Christians with a vengeance, even sending some to their death. It was not until he was blinded by Jesus himself and later regained his sight that he was freed from his self-made prison. He went on to accomplish great things that we still benefit from today.  He wrote fourteen of the twenty-seven books that make up the New Testament of the Bible.

It’s time to let go of the preconceived notions in your life that are keeping you locked up, and move on to accomplish the great things set out for you.

Galatians 5:1

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

Galatians 5:13

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We Are What We Eat

We have all heard the phrase, “You are what you eat.” The phrase originated in an 1826 manuscript written by a French lawyer by the name of Anthelme Brillat-Savarin.  It read “Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.”

Food is a good thing.  It gives you strength and life.  As a trainer and coach, one of the most common questions I hear is, “How many calories should I eat to lose weight?” Diet companies want you to believe counting calories is the only way to a healthy body. I always get a good laugh when I go out to eat and I see the calorie content on the menu next to the meal.  In my years of experience, I’ve learned that the key to losing weight is eating high-quality nutrient rich food in moderation, combined with exercise and enough sleep.  A healthy body begins in the kitchen and is sculpted in the gym.

“You are what you eat,” also applies to all of the information we take into our minds during a twenty-four hour period.   The things we think about, watch, talk about and listen to are all food for our minds.

Make it a goal to feed your body and your mind things that build you up.  If you ingest negativity, flush it out and move on.  Make changes so that you surround yourself with positivity instead.

Eat food that contributes to your body’s strength and health. The protein, vitamins, and minerals your body needs to function at its peak can all be found in real foods and vegetables. There is no need for expensive powders, supplements or shakes.

Read books that stimulate your mind.  Surround yourself with positive people who encourage you to have strong values.  If you have free time, consider taking free online college courses.  I have had great experiences with free online courses from both Hillsdale College and Dallas Theological Seminary.  There is no need to spend thousands of dollars to learn in today’s world.

It’s also important to have a healthy spiritual life.  After all, our bodies will eventually fail, but through Christ we have eternal life.  I feed my spirit by spending time reading the Bible and time in prayer.  As I’ve increased the quality of the things I’m feeding my mind, body and spirit, my quality of life has improved at the same time.

Matthew 4:4

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.

1 Corinthians 6:19-20

Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you – whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

 

Act Two

Did your life seem to be right on track, and then it ran right off the rails?  Modern life is filled with pitfalls such as divorce, losing your job, sickness and the list goes on. It is filled with distractions that would like nothing more than to keep us from moving toward our goals.  We have to keep moving forward.

Forgiveness is something frequently discussed in terms of the people close to us, but we often forget to forgive the closest person of all: ourselves.

It’s good to look back on your life and acknowledge your past mistakes and learn from them.  It’s also important to forgive yourself for them so that you can move on with your life.

No good comes from putting your life are on pause to live in the past.  We cannot go back and change the things that have happened. What we can do is move on, refusing to repeat the same mistakes.

I can remember the night very vividly, yet it was already almost two years ago.  Fortune Gym, the gym in Hollywood where I had worked for six years, threw my wife and I a going away party.  As I looked around at all the people in attendance, it hit me hard how much I was going to miss them all and how much I was actually going to be missed.

One of the people at the party was a young man I had met at the gym about two years before.  We had chatted briefly and I had taught him a little Jiu Jitsu.  The next time I saw him he told me he had read my book.  He knew someone in the book, so we had a good laugh about it.

Over a two-year, period I trained with him often.  One day I had a talk with him about his line of “work.” He was selling large quantities of pills and marijuana.  I was worried about him because he had not yet been arrested for anything, but he was playing a dangerous game and it was bound to happen.  You commit crimes, you will get caught.

I told him that it may look good and it may seem like easy money, but in the end you will pay the price.  I could see he was unsure of what to do with his life, but I could also see that he took note of the message I was trying to get across.  A few weeks later he had an unrelated legal scare and was facing some serious problems.  The legal problems ended up going away, but I am pretty sure it helped guide him toward making better choices in life.

Although I haven’t seen him since the party, I speak to him about once a month on the phone.  Thanks to social media I can follow the things he is doing with his life. He opened a music studio, started managing talent and even started his own music label.  He got a chance to live his life differently, and he took it.

A second chance is always there if we are willing to sum up the courage it takes to change.  It is never easy giving up what is familiar no matter how wrong it is.

I left Brooklyn, New York and drove to JFK International Airport on a cold November morning.

I parked my car in long term parking and took the train into the terminal. I knew deep inside I was not coming back.  I had two suitcases and a laptop. I knew life was about to change for me, but I had no idea how much.  In that moment, I was just relieved for fresh start.

That was twelve years ago.  I still had many lessons to learn and places to live before I reached where I am today.  I had to learn to forgive myself, to forgive others and to accept God’s forgiveness and plan for my life. Leaving Brooklyn was only the beginning of my second chance.

I have been reading the Gospels this week.  It is clear to me that Jesus took those that were considered broken and gave them new purpose and everlasting life. He even forgave Peter after he denied him in public.  If we know someone who denies Christ, who are we to give up on them when Jesus did not give up?  Who are we to shun away people who may have not done the right thing in the past, if Jesus did not do that? How can we hold our past against ourselves when he does not?

America is the land of second acts, it is still the best place in the world to reinvent yourself.

I am over a decade into my second act, and I am still learning new lessons and moving forward every single day.

1 Corinthians 10:13

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

 

Pursuing Your Passion

Years ago I wrote a book and I sold the movie rights to FOX studios.  They wanted a screenplay written. I had never given much serious thought to writing a screenplay for the big screen or the small screen.  After writing a book and being approached about a screenplay, I thought, “Hey, that’s what I want to be in life – a screenwriter!”

They asked me to write it with an Academy Award winning writer.  The writer invited me to lunch at their home.  It was an informal lunch eaten around the pool with the producer of the project and myself.  I was grateful to have the opportunity to learn from successful Hollywood individuals, so I thought the best course of action was for me to keep my mouth shut and take it all in.

I learned the writer, like me, had never gone to school for writing.  I learned the producer had built up an international production company in Scandinavia and sold it for a huge profit, then moved to Hollywood and started a new company in a new country.  Instead of retiring, he started over and continued to work hard.

During my time working with both of them, I was given a crash course in writing for a studio.  It was like a private lesson in screenwriting.  Looking back now I can see that I was already losing interest in writing for Hollywood, the more I learned about the business.  What I thought I had wanted, I was realizing was not my passion.

Even though I was unsure about my next steps in life, I learned valuable lessons and kept pushing forward.   In the end, my show was not picked up by Fox, but I learned enough to write my own western screenplay and sold that to History Channel.

Through my contacts on that project, I was able to secure a writing/consulting job for a movie production company in Stockholm, Sweden.  I grew up immensely while going through this Hollywood period of my writing career. The screenwriting work was a chance for me to work with people from all walks of life.

People like to talk about overnight success.  I learned that successful writers toil away for years before they get an opportunity to shine, and even then, they may end up losing it all.

Projects will come and go, but the people you work with along the way are important, even if it doesn’t seem like it at the time.  Work hard on every project, big or small, and always go above and beyond.

We each have our own paths with unique wants and needs.  If we follow someone else’s path we may have limited success, but it is fleeting.  We are all on our own journey, and as long as you keep learning from every opportunity and developing your skills, no project is a failure.

Opportunities often come in life when we least expect it, and they often come from unexpected people or places.  Work hard, keep a positive attitude, treat everyone with respect and pursue the passions that God has put in you – and you too will fulfill your purpose in life, even if you aren’t sure what it is right now.

Philippians 2:3

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,

Ecclesiastes 3:1

   There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:

 

Clarity Of Purpose

Regardless of who you are today, you had dreams and goals in mind when you were young. Maybe you dreamed of playing professional baseball or maybe you aspired to be an astronaut.  

Life happens.  As a result, those dreams may have fallen by the wayside. Why is that?  A lot of times we settle for jobs we don’t love just for the paycheck, so we can live.  The cash starts rolling in and now you have a lifestyle that you have become accustomed to.  You cannot change and do what you really want because you have so many obligations. Does this sound familiar?

I understand this situation very well because that is how my life played out.  I was on that treadmill for almost forty years.  I did things I did not like, only because of what I could put into my pockets as a result.  Many times, I tried to convince myself that I liked what I was doing. Even though I detest gambling and alcohol, both played a role in my livelihood.

I learned how to “take action,” or bookmaking, from an older gambler named Mark. Mark had been a bookie for at least twenty-five years when I met him.  In fact, I am sure he is still taking action to this day – well into his eighties.

I had expressed interest in making money through bookmaking and loansharking (also known as shylocking) to a number of men associated with the Los Angeles cosa nostra family.  They all knew me as a kid who worked hard and brought in cash, so they put me in touch with Mark.  I began to work for him, and during that time I mastered the art of running a sportsbook.  This was in a time before either cell phones or the internet.  We used a series of payphones, hardlines and answering machines to run the business.  We got our updates on odds and point spreads from what was known as the “Island Line.”  We also had Las Vegas contacts who helped with lines and laying off some of the action.   Mark pulled in a great living from sports gambling and he also ran some after hours card games.

I took to this “job” because I liked the attention, and most importantly, I liked the cash that came with it. I used to tell myself that the money I brought in gave me the freedom to do what I really wanted to do in life.  Looking back that is funny because I can tell you this: I never did much of anything else.  I spent all of my time running the business and living it.

It’s important, to be honest with yourself about your gifts, your goals, and your dreams.  You must decide if what you are doing or will be doing is right for you.  Does it align with your values? Is it what you were created to do?

You will most likely spend years working at something to get it working well enough to put dollars in your pocket.  This where your own personal values come into play.  When I was young I had some vague, at best, personal values – and it showed in how I conducted myself.  Once you have a good personal value system in place, the decisions you make will help guide you toward lasting success.

Clarity of purpose is key to living a successful happy life. Once we find our purpose in life, it will help guide and shape our decisions.  In the end, being successful looks different for every single person.

I was lost for so many years until I came back to living a life that wasn’t about my desires but about God’s purpose for my life.  I was lost and broken, but I could never understand why I  was feeling the way I did.  When I found my faith I realized that life was not all about me, it was much bigger than that.

Matthew 6:33

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Proverbs 19:21

Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.

2 Timothy 1:9

He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace.

 

Grateful For My Life

It has been an unusually busy week for me.  Nothing like the go, go go of New York or Los Angeles, but it was more than the regular schedule I have become accustomed to in rural Illinois.

Part of my old world collided with my new world this past week.  On March 31, 2017 my friend King Mo Lawal was coming to town to fight Rampage Jackson in Bellator 175 at the Allstate Arena in Chicago. I first met Mo many years ago at Jokers Wild Fighting Academy one day during a fight class. I was told that day that I would be working with him, which was a huge step up for me. We trained a lot more over the following years.

As his trip to Chicago approached, we made plans to meet up when he arrived in town before his fight.  He had told me to bring my gear because we might train.  I arrived at the hotel and left my gear bag in my car since I wasn’t sure what our plans would be.  Right when I walked into his room he asked me if I had my stuff, so I went back out to grab it.

Soon we were inside the “blue team” training room.  It was nothing more than an empty conference room that had wrestling mats laid down wall to wall.  He had his coaches from American Top Team there, and he had Jeff Mayweather started running him through some boxing drills.  They had him do three minutes of boxing followed by three minutes of wrestling with me, back and forth.  It was a surreal moment for me.  Here I was wrestling with the headline fighter for a Bellator fight in front of coaches from one of the premier mixed martial arts gyms in the world – in Chicago of all places.

It got even stranger for me when I looked up and saw former UFC champion Matt Hughes watching us.  After we finished the training session Mo had a press interview to do and I ended up sitting next to him for the interview.  Dinner came next, where I found myself speaking with the matchmaker of the Bellator promotion as well as Royce Gracie, the man who really brought Brazilian Jiujitsu into the mainstream.

The next day I drove back up to the city again to train with Mo.  This time I brought an Illinois friend who is a casual MMA fan with me.  I was worried that he would be bored, but we ended up having a great time.  When we were hanging out with Mo I was watching to see if he was affected by the upcoming fight – less than twenty-four hours away.  Was he stressed?  He was not.

We sat around talked about old times, people we know and politics.  “King Mo” is the character the fans see in the cage, “Mo” is the guy his friends know.  Mo cares about others and is a genuine person.

Driving home later that evening I thought about my life, and all the old memories of helping other fighters prepare for big fights.  I realized I missed the time I spent hanging out with my fighting friends, but not the life that came with it.  I found myself very happy to be headed home to my new life on the farm and the nearby town of eight hundred and thirty-seven people.

I thought about all the things that fell into place in throughout my life to bring me to this place.  I have been truly blessed in life by being in the right place at the right time.  I was able to recognize that and make the most of my situations.

This past week somebody posted an old picture on facebook and I was in the background. It brought back some memories both good and bad of my past life. While I am not proud of many decisions I have made in the past, I am thankful for where they have brought me today.

The army friend I’ve often written about on this blog posted a picture this past week that was taken when he was deployed in Afghanistan, laying against a dirt berm, geared up with his M4.  He wrote, “You know, I kind of miss this. I remember vividly this moment and being so tired. It seems a lifetime away and I have almost completely disconnected myself from this old me.”  I too have disconnected from my old life. I recognize who I was then, but it no longer seems like me.  I have changed.

I was written about in the local papers this week.  This time, the spotlight was not due to my past.  The article was about what I am currently working on.  It made me realize just how grateful I am for my life.  My past has brought me here, to this place. Training with top coaches and athletes for all those years has prepared me for this important endeavor.

This time I am not fighting for money, I am not training an athlete for a big fight or an actor for a big role. Instead, I am using all those skills to train up a new team of people to fight back against Parkinson’s disease and all the degenerative effects that come with it.

I am so blessed.

Philippians 4:11

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.

1 Thessalonians 5:18

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.