Hello, and welcome back to the Breaking Open the Heart series I’ve been sharing about my own personal story.
If you’re unfamiliar, would like to start from the beginning, or are curious why I’d even do such a thing… you can click here to get the background and begin from Part 1.
When we last left off – I’d moved to Florida, moved back, completed grad school, and started my own personal training & health coaching business in the suburbs of Chicago. I had just attended a professional training in Carlsbad, California (north county San Diego) and fell in love with the area. That was my newest dream/goal/escape from Illinois – I wanted to move to San Diego.
Considering the much higher cost of living, and the fact that I was barely scraping by each month (actually racking up significant credit card debt and hating myself for it) – I had no idea how this was going to happen.
That’s where we are entering this Part 5.
It was 2013, I was 33 years-old, training a handful of personal training clients, teaching occasional workshops and classes, and working with some clients utilizing the principles, lab testing, and strategies I’d picked up in my CHEK Institute and FDN certification programs.
I was barely making enough money to get by, struggling to make real shifts in my own habits and lifestyle, and still dealing with (what I now know to be) significant depression, anxiety, and an over-arching feeling of dread.
Like I was just hanging on the edge of a cliff, trying to claw my way up, but always slipping back… and that eventually I would fall.
I’d improved the quality of food I was buying and cooking to mostly organic, grass-fed, pastured, wild, etc… and I’d cut my party habits in half (or more). I was still smoking occasionally, still eating out fairly often, still using cannabis (in some form) most days, still facing stiff resistance in making further progress.
I’d started boxing training, which I enjoyed – and had aspirations of actually training to fight, but didn’t have nearly the dedication for it. I attended yoga classes a couple times/week and generally enjoyed that – much more-so than I liked lifting weights. Boxing and yoga… I guess I’m into polarities!
It had been approximately 7 years since I’d decided to get my first personal training certification and change my life/career… a long, uphill, 7-year battle against myself and my surroundings.
Let me interject here and say that I love all my friends from back home. Some of them, I’ve now had in my life for almost 35 years. Others since high school, college, and more recent acquaintances. In no way do I want to judge them, project my stuff on them, or change them in any way.
That said – it’s especially difficult to change one’s lifestyle when everyone around them remains in the same way of living. I’ve since learned why social connection, approval, being “popular”, fitting in, etc… was literally a matter of survival to me (so it felt) – and why that made it especially difficult to live my life in a different way while surrounded by people partaking in things I didn’t want to do anymore.
To those who have been able to remain in the same social circles but quit drinking, smoking, etc… you are the champion! It’s not something I was capable of doing long-term. I’d go a few weeks, or even a month – but then I’d fall back into old habits.
I hated hanging out with people who were drinking when I wasn’t. It was torture to hang out at a bar and not eat or drink anything anyone else was eating and drinking. It also spiked my anxiety and depression to socially isolate myself and abstain from those social situations. I didn’t have any friends who didn’t drink, smoke, party, eat foods I no longer wanted to eat (but had deep emotional connections to) – and I didn’t want new friends.
In regards to my health coaching practice, I found myself teaching the same things over and over and over again to everyone I was working with. Things like organic food, stress management, toxic burden, and the importance of sleep. (Advice I wasn’t always taking myself, but that didn’t mean I didn’t know what I was supposed to be doing…) Considering my hourly rate was pretty significant at that time and I was always looking to make things more efficient – I decided to use my teaching skills and create a digital program that covered (literally) everything I’d ever want to teach anyone.
It was a monster. And it took me about 6 months to create it over the spring and summer of 2013. It consumed my life and pretty much all my time. Sure, I was still struggling with my own issues and partaking in actions I didn’t want to be… but it definitely kept me busy enough to reduce some of those things.
By that time, online health summits and other similar events were making their way onto the scene – lead mostly by Sean Croxton of Underground Wellness. Inspired by what he was often putting together, I decided to put together a dozen or so audio interviews to go with this course, which I was sure thousands of people would buy – purely because it was awesome!
Little did I know… you have to actually be able to market something and get it in front of an audience in order for anyone to even know it exists, much less buy it…
So I recorded the interviews – I even got Sean to do one… which I was super nervous recording! I put it all together. It was about 12 hours of digital content and over 150 pages of PDFs, guides, checklists, and other goodies that I was going to require clients to do “homework” and study from before we ever met to discuss their history, labs, etc…
I figured this would make it so that we could just focus on them, and not on teaching them generalities.
I was planning on using the massive residual income I was about to earn to either move to San Diego or out of the country – likely Costa Rica or Belize. I’d wanted to leave the country for some time, but never really viewed it as realistic.
Instead, I think I sold about 9 of the program after maxing out my credit card on an expensive web designer/developer to build a fancy website around it.
My ambition far outweighed my marketing knowledge/skills, and now I was super far in debt and made about 10 cents per hour that I worked on creating the course. It was devastating. I felt hopeless, trapped, and like a complete failure. Having debt made me feel shame, and even more worthless.
In the late fall of 2013, I went to go stay with my folks for a few months. My debt was getting out of control – which I wanted to pay off, maybe even save some money, and I wanted to be helpful around their lives in regard to their health. (My dad has been an insulin-dependent T2 diabetic since 1998)
A long-term relationship ended that January, and something else happened… which would change my life completely.
I often remain friendly with people after I work with them, occasionally chatting on messenger or emails, checking in, things like that. This time, I found myself chatting pretty frequently with one of my former clients who lived in Arizona on the Navajo reservation. She was a nurse, and her name was Mira.
Without getting into too many personal details, let’s just say things advanced pretty quickly… she came out to Chicago (bravely, in February) and we spent a long weekend together exploring the city and getting to know each other.
The plan was for me to visit the Rez in April (2014) to see if it was somewhere I’d be open to living, and if we were going to take that kind of leap. Instead, we made the impulsive decision that I’d just move instead, without visiting, and us having only spent about 72 hours together, ever.
To say my friends and family were shocked would be a bit of an understatement… and that last month in Illinois was a bit of a whirlwind of selling/donating half my stuff, making moving arrangements, saying goodbyes, and planning for the migration with Marley.
We left on a blustery day in March, stopped halfway for the night, had lunch in Denver with an old friend the next day, and then arrived in Ft. Defiance, Arizona late at night. It was the middle of nowhere. The next morning, when I woke up and went outside, it felt like I’d moved to Mars.
The red rock mountains were beautiful, the air smelled different than anything I’d ever smelled before, and it was the first time I’d ever seen a desert. A couple weeks later, I met my first giant rattlesnake on a walk with Marley on the mesa near our home.
It was a 40-minute drive to the grocery co-op and the gym, the only two places we really ever went – outside of a couple local hiking spots. The nearest restaurant we’d actually eat at was 3 hours away in either direction (Albuquerque or Flagstaff).
Mira didn’t drink, didn’t smoke, didn’t eat unhealthy food, didn’t stay up late at night, didn’t use cannabis in any way, and so… neither did I. I quit all of it, cold turkey, and started going to bed earlier than I ever had in my life.
My anxiety went through the roof, and I had no idea I was even anxious. I was still completely unconscious to most of my body sensations, feelings, and emotions. I knew I was stressed – because I lost all my training clients and was relying entirely on Mira for financial survival (while continuing to rack up more debt). My online program was a failure. I had some distance health clients, but not really enough… so I was scrambling to do what I could to get more clients, sell my program, or something else.
I had taken away all of my coping, soothing, numbing, blocking, etc… methods, substances, techniques, habits, etc… and I was suffering. I even developed some strange physical symptoms, including a nasty skin rash and some other unexplained things that I now believe were linked to my quitting of every protection I had, cold turkey.
I also lost my social network and almost all human contact (outside of Mira), and was living with an underlying sense of panic pretty much the entire time we lived there, although I didn’t really understand what I was experiencing.
I’d lash out about having to drive so far to everything or the fact it took most of a full day to go grocery shopping and to workout, that there weren’t any good restaurants around… things that she had been enjoying until I arrived.
I started to look at Naturopathic Medicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine programs in California. I had to do something – and what I was doing, wasn’t enough. It wasn’t working. I was going further into debt – and no matter how much I learned, I wasn’t able to reach people…. so it didn’t matter what I knew.
As a side note, the southwest is gorgeous. We went to the Grand Canyon, Chaco Canyon, Sedona, and a number of other spots in Arizona and New Mexico. The beauty and energy in the southwest is breathtaking and awe-inspiring. The state of life on the reservation was shameful and heart-breaking… but the natural beauty was incredible.
Back to panicville… it was around this time in late summer of 2014 that one of my FDN colleagues, Joe Rignola, asked me to do an interview with him on the subject of stomach acid and digestion. I didn’t really understand why he’d want to interview me, or what he’d even be doing with the interview… but I dug the name of his business (Wellness Punks), and thought it might be good exposure, so I said yes.
On the phone call we had to discuss this interview, he shared with me that he was putting together a series of interviews for his “audience” (a new term for me) on the subject of digestion to get them ready for Sean Croxton’s next big online summit – which he would be promoting to his “list” (another new term), and earning commissions on sales from those who purchased Sean’s “Digestion Sessions”.
My jaw pretty much hit the floor – as I had no idea what online marketing was, what an email list really was, or anything about any of it. I got off the phone and started rambling to Mira about everything that Joe did, and how cool it was, and how I wish I could do it. She said, “why don’t you call him back and tell him about your program you created and see if he can market it?”.
So I did.
He said he’d take a look at it and let me know what he thought.
The next day or so, I got a message along the lines of “Wow! Did you create all of that?! It’s amazing!” and we hopped on another call. We didn’t know it that day, but this was the birth of Rebel Health Tribe! We decided we’d upgrade the program, rebrand the whole thing, do a series of live webinars, and put together our own big online summit to go along with the course.
We started working on this immediately, and once again I had some glimmer of hope in my future. Joe was confident the program would sell, and we’d do really well with a big launch event around it.
Mira and I decided we’d be moving to California, so I went to San Diego to set up a bank account and get a driver’s license so I could get in-state tuition for some prerequisite college courses I’d have to take for the Naturopathic Medicine program at Bastyr University – which I’d pretty much decided I was going to do.
I fell in love with the Ocean Beach/Pacific Beach area, which I’d not visited before. It was paradise. Warm breezes, palm trees, beaches, sun, flip flops… it was everything I ever wanted, and we were actually gonna’ live there! Mira just needed to find a job, and (of course) all it took was one interview for that to happen.
We moved to San Diego in late September, 2014 – to Ocean Beach, 3 blocks from the water, and to a huge dog beach, which Marley absolutely loved! We visited Bastyr, loved it, and I started getting ready to attend medical school there. (Their ND program is actually more comprehensive than most conventional medicine programs)
Joe and I were busy creating the Primal90 program (which is still on our site today – check the shop!) and recording 30 interviews with leaders in the functional medicine community on various topics across the entire spectrum of health.
A couple weeks after we moved in, I did the most terrifying thing ever… I proposed to Mira on the beach near the pier in Ocean Beach.
She said yes.
I was engaged, heading to medical school, launching a new business, living on the beach, away from winter forever.
And I was absolutely…. not happy like I thought I would/should be. Mira really didn’t like it in San Diego. She loved living on the Rez and missed the quiet, slow, easy pace of life. I couldn’t understand – so I was not being a very good partner about it.
The new business hadn’t launched yet, however, and I didn’t have time to work with very many clients while we were building it – so my debt continued to rack up. (Living on the Rez is cheap… San Diego, not so much…)
I was stressed about money, stressed about Mira not liking San Diego when we first moved there, stressed about the massive debt I’d be taking on to attend Bastyr, and I still hadn’t even begun to work on any of my underlying deeper pain, fear, trauma, patterns, etc…
My anxiety was through the roof as we approached the Primal90/Rebel Health Tribe launch – and I brought that stress into our lives in just about every way. I was having a frustrating amount of trouble in paradise….