Dear friends, I am so honored to bring you a special guest post from an old friend and kindred spirit. I first met Thomas when we were freshman at DePaul University in Chicago. He was a cute queer punk, so I was instantly drawn to him. Thomas transferred shortly after, but we remained friends on social media. Recently I started noticing him posting things about his recovery from drugs and alcohol by way of his relationship to animals, veganism, and 80/10/10. I was so moved by his inspirational updates and photos on Instagram that I knew it was something I wanted to share with the Rebel Grrrl Living community. I hope you enjoy his story as much as I did!
(*TW: Drug and alcohol abuse.)
Punk rock saved my life. It was the first thing I knew as a kid expressing that I was allowed to be different than what I was always told I had to be. Getting my hands on Green Day, Nirvana, Offspring, and Rage Against the Machine cassette tapes & cds before even leaving elementary school had shaped my still-developing, insubordinate, queer brain in such a way that I now praise. This foundation set up a lifetime of rebellion against normal ways to go about pretty much everything, and embarking on indirect routes to strengthening my personal empowerment by thinking outside of the box.
Flash forward to high school, and I actually learned that what I had always listened to is called “Punk Rock.” I instantly confirmed my love and bought as many different cds, from as many bands as I could discover that identified within the genre. I started a band with a like-minded friend on my club hockey team, and began going to shows. Our group of friends also began to smoke pot together, and a few dabbled in drinking. We never took it too far, but we had a good time allowing creative juices to flow with the help of marijuana. Further into it, I became a full-blown pothead, however, I abstained from drinking and smoking cigarettes until after finishing my competitive high school hockey career. I should add that a few of my friends chose to go vegetarian in high school, some for a short period, some permanently. This inspired me on so many levels; I had recognized that the meat that I grew up eating was in fact animal flesh at around age 12, but had absolutely no clue how to begin to change my ways. I watched all of my friends do pretty well with their attempts and support each other while I continued to eat the Irish, red meat & potato, dairy ridden diet that I was raised on. There was plenty of fast food, sodas, and processed snacks to accompany mom’s home cooked meals. I mean, c’mon! I am ‘merican after all.
As I was maturing throughout my teenage years, so was how I was self-identifying: at around age 15, I came to terms with the fact that I was attracted to my best guy friend far more than any girl I had known, had my first real crush, and the icing on the cake was a “strange” fixation on Blink-182’s homoerotic antics & tendency to be nude. I then painfully, and after a long-fought battle with denial, accepted that I was gay. I did not tell a single person about this realization… I was a hockey player, bro, and the locker room was an extremely homophobic space. There was no way I was going to tell anyone, as it was too risky for anyone in my all-boys catholic high school to find out and spread the word to my teammates. I would have been ridiculed in an unsafe space, and that was a true fear back then. Once high school ended, I knew that I was connected more to my punk friends than my hockey teammates, so I decided to come out to them right before my 18th birthday. I felt nothing but support from them. This was such a liberating moment in my life!
Next step was college. I chose to attend DePaul University in Chicago for my first two years. I met so many amazing, intelligent people from all walks of life and was exposed to vegan culture for the first time. I went to a college keg party early on and got drunk for the first time in my life. I was still a pothead, but also became a social drinker to go along with it. As mentioned earlier, cigarettes became a part of my life shortly after finishing my high school, senior-year hockey season, and I quickly became a pack/day smoker.
I learned a lot from the two years that I had spent in Chicago, but I was not content with the course-work that I was studying and how much tuition cost, so I decided to transfer to an in-state college back home in Maryland. I opted for Salisbury University, simply because it was near the ocean and I wanted to surf. This next move proved detrimental to someone with an addictive personality, seeing as anyone that knows Salisbury, MD will tell you that it is a “party” town, and any drug-of-choice is easily accessible. I quickly became a regular heavy drinker, and by my 21st birthday was a full-blown alcoholic after a short-lived, mentally-abusive relationship with a “straight guy” who was dependent on me financially. To make matters worse, he was an alcoholic. I had never blacked-out before moving there, but then it became something that happened on any-given day of the week, usually multiple times each week. I drank heavily every day, smoked far too many cigarettes, and maintained my pot habit. I dabbled in other drugs, but alcohol became my substance of choice to abuse hard. There was no legitimate punk or queer community for me to relate to there, yet another reason that I numbed myself, feeling that I did not fit in anywhere.
I had attempted to go vegetarian a few times while living in Salisbury because of witnessing first-hand the atrocities of the Purdue Chicken headquarters & processing plants in my backyard (almost literally). The smell alone was enough to convince me not to participate in our carnivorous culture, let alone seeing the countless trucks full of chickens that seemed to have the souls sucked out of their eyes. I failed after a few attempts because I did not really know what to eat (doritos, pizza, fries, dunkin donuts, and oreos is not exactly a sustainable diet), but then in my final semester, I fully set my mind to it, did some research, and gave up eating meat! This was the first time that I had actually applied inner will-power to achieving something that I believed in. The band Propagandhi had a huge impact on my decision to “stop consuming animals.“
Somehow, I was able to finish college with good grades, but my alcohol abuse followed me home when I moved back in with my parents. A vegan restaurant had opened a five minute drive away from my parents’ house while I was in college, and after moving back in, I figured that it would be a great decision to work there. I spent the next three years at that restaurant (Great Sage in Clarksville,MD), learned a lot about plant-based foods, met some amazing people, but ultimately was still stuck in a lifestyle that was self-abusive. I cut dairy from my diet due to the restaurant’s influence, officially becoming a junk-food vegan. I did, however, begin to learn about healthy plant food options and how to prepare them. I appreciate the Great Sage community, and the impact that everyone had on me.
My parents knew that I was drinking heavily, but did not exactly know the full extent of abuse, and also did not know what to do to help me other than (in typical parent fashion) to tell me that I needed to change… which I already knew, but still felt stuck. To add, my family is a drinking family, so it was not unheard of for me to partake along with everyone else without a word of disapproval in most cases. I did not know how to rise up effectively, and continued numbing myself to a world that I felt I did not belong in.
After a few years, I moved out of my parents’ house because I felt that it was actually causing further depression and substance abuse. This, however, led to even more freedom to frequently blackout because I did not have to tiptoe around anyone, which then spiraled to deeper depression. Toward the end, I was waking up with slices on my arms and legs from taking razor blades and scalpels to my skin. In my darkest state, I needed to feel pain, as I was so numb to everything else around me and literally incoherent most of the time when I was not at work. I would cry, curled up in a ball on the shower floor, then pass out… which I am sure scared the shit out of my roommate who would come in and carry me to bed (sorry to put you through that, Darren!). This was my lowest point; my hell. I am so grateful that family and friends were around, because I may not have made it without that connection in the state that I was in.
At that time, I was working in an emergency veterinary clinic with my oldest sister, and a beautiful black lab mix found me through a co-worker, one of my sister’s close friends who volunteers with a rescue in Puerto Rico called Island Dog. That dog was previously adopted out, but returned by her new owners because they did not want to deal with a bloody nose issue that she was having so soon into the adoption (they should never be allowed to adopt a pet ever again in my opinion). At that time, I was thinking of adopting a dog, and was specifically looking for a Labrador retriever. I was allowed to take her for a trial-run weekend to see if it would work out. Needless to say, she stayed with me from that day on. Very quickly into my dog-fatherhood, I learned that I could not be incoherent and take care of her simultaneously… How did I care for myself in that state for 7 years?! I had finally realized that nobody was going to fix me, for me, besides myself. I could not blame anyone else for how fucked up my life had become, and quickly became responsible for myself AND my newly adopted dog-daughter, Brooks. Less than two weeks into having her in my care, I decided to quit drinking, cold-tofurkey! Since I had utilized will-power from within to go vegetarian, then again to go vegan, I instinctually applied the same inner-strength to eradicate alcohol from my life. Thank you Brooks, you taught me a huge lesson in taking responsibility for myself so I could care for us properly. I am eternally grateful for the wakeup call and the unconditional love that you have always given me.
With my new found sobriety from alcohol, I stayed in a lot instead of frequenting bars, and focused on filling my time more productively: I watched countless documentaries and was constantly reading on subjects that interested me. Through all of the “studying” that I was doing, I learned that I wanted to pursue overall healthier lifestyle choices, starting with incorporating more raw foods into my diet. The only thing that I really knew about nutrition up to that point, was that I had hoped to maintain a high-carbohydrate vegan diet, because I had a childhood hockey coach stress the importance of carbs before games for adequate energy. But how would I eat high-carb with raw plant foods? No bread?! No rice?! Vegetables are too low in calories?! Simple answer…FRUIT! This is when I stumbled upon a raw vegan lifestyle called 80/10/10.
I could go on-and-on about my experience with maintaining a high-raw, high-carbohydrate diet, but to sum it all up, it literally changed my entire lifestyle: I felt incredible amounts of energy right from the start, which in turn led to exercising again without even thinking about it; I learned what regular bowel movements and proper digestion were like (had to throw that in!); my entire outlook on my life became more fulfilled and much more spiritual (keep in mind, this does not mean religious for me); I felt more connected to the natural world, my own body, and the universe; my inner sexual thoughts are not “raunchy” anymore, seeing more natural beauty, and I desire a deep connection to others rather than just a physical connection for sexual gratification and pleasure; and ultimately, I learned more than I ever thought I could about nutrition and how simple a healthy, balanced diet can be.
One of the best parts about it all is the fact that I am no longer a slave to reading labels in grocery stores, as many vegan people are bogged down by. There are no questions with this lifestyle, no reading labels. It is literally as easy as “peel banana, eat banana.” Adopting this lifestyle helped me quit smoking cigarettes a few months into it. It gave me something else to focus on throughout my day, and with this way of eating, you can eat as much as you want. Therefore, instead of smoking cigarettes all day, I replaced it with eating fruit all day; if I felt the urge to smoke while quitting, I would just eat a banana instead (something to do with my hands and mouth!). It also just felt silly to be eating only healthy foods and exercising, just to chase it all with cigarettes. It defeated the purpose of it all. This lifestyle made it even easier to clean up my act all around. Not that long ago, ridding my life of my addictive past came full circle when I kicked my pot habit, sobering up completely for the first time in more than half of my life (15 years!).
I now continue to eat mainly raw foods (fruit, greens & lettuce, vegetables, seeds, and some nuts), incorporating a few starches and legumes for satiation, balance, and seasonal variety. I have gotten into a great fitness regimen that I absolutely love: lifting heavy weights, body weight & core exercises, sprinting & short distance running, plyometrics, and kettle bell routines. I play on a men’s hockey team. I practice reflective yoga at least once a week, meditate intermittently, and sun gazing & earthing when I need to connect with universal and earthly forces, or if I simply need an extra dose of vitamin D.
This lifestyle has also helped me discover that I would like to help others, now that I have effectively helped myself. I am currently pursuing a personal training certification and would like to run my own holistic fitness &lifestyle training business. Further down the road, I also hope to help people overcome their addictions with alternative methods to typical 12-step protocol, which I refused to follow for myself, denying that I have an “incurable disease.” Inner reflection and meditation can help anyone conquer and destroy their personal demons, which can reflect into the larger scale destruction of societal injustices once the individual is healed. Success comes with finding light while standing in the shadows of adversity… become a master of success.
Thank you so much, Thomas! <3