High-School Days: The 90s Revisited

I was grumpy last night after work — grouchy in fact. It had been a good while since those feelings came knocking, and I was left wishing I wasn’t home to answer their unwelcomed call. I felt exhausted, barely able to stay awake, irritated at anything and everything. I was just plain miserable and powerless to shake the slump, despite having taken a nap.

What I discovered by this morning as I reflected on my previous night’s episode, was that I was a creature of habit. It was something I assumed for years, but had always suppressed for some mysterious reason.

The past month had been a whirlwind of activity that included moving apartments, last-minute wedding planning, visiting and hosting friends and family from out of town, and of course the wedding itself (which was an outstandingly special day). We were surrounded by friends and family, well-wishes, laughter and smiles, hugs and stories. It couldn’t have been a better stage to start life’s next chapter. But those 31 days had taken their toll on me. I now realize just how much those combined disruptions to my day-to-day life affected my inner harmony now that the dust has settled somewhat.

You see, I’ve spent the majority of 2014 really focusing on my health and overall happiness. Physically, I was watching my diet, exercising regularly, had quit smoking (of recent, drinking as well), and taken to extra curricular sports activities to get outdoors more. Mentally, I was reading much more than usual. I studied diet and exercise, minimalism, well-being topics like thinking optimistically, and keys to adopting a more simplified life. I also sought to devote my time online towards personal growth instead of entertainment consumption.

The problem was that I had built it all around a strict personal routine. Without even realizing it, I had my daily schedule dialled-in so tight that it simply couldn’t handle the increased workload that August presented. Begrudgingly, I began swapping workouts in favour of lunch-hour errands. Dinners were often prepared by high-school kids and were presented in brown paper bags through my car window. Restless sleeps left me too tired to attempt getting up early to squeeze in the omitted exercises. Lastly, I began smoking again after 9 months of being smoke-free. I told myself it was due to wedding stress, but I now know it wasn’t. It was stress for sure, but not from the anxiousness of my wedding day, it was from feeling as though my life had been flipped over like a breakfast egg. It’s not that the month had been bad or negetive, it was quite the opposite but I was still amazed at how a few distractions really threw me off my game. I need to get better at balancing my life on the fly and learn from this experience so I am properly prepared next time.

The “life off balance” realization I experienced felt great when it came because I now know how to fix it. I’ve admitted that I need and thrive on structure and routine. Whenever such words are uttered, I consistently associate them with authority, conformity, and boredom (probably due to my dislike of the school system). I will admit however, that the configuration really does suit me best. I guess I did learn something from my years there.

Wading Through Water

It was 34 days ago that I waded into the unknown waters of sobriety. I didn’t realize how quickly I’d meet its depths.

When one makes such a drastic life change, there will inevitably be challenges to overcome. Some of the tests repeatedly echo like soft rippling currents, while others seem to crash and explode like a massive tidal wave. Their force, frequency, and impact may vary — yet all must be taken in stride and carefully measured.

Today is my Day 34 and I have experienced both outcomes.

The gentle challenges become demanding over frequent exposure. Their protests slowly build, displaying their defiance to what you are trying to achieve. If they only come knocking a few times a week it’s not too bad, but after three or four days straight — they become a real threat. That is definitely one aspect I never accounted for, their relentlessness.

Then there’s the tidal waves. I knew they’d be bad. I knew they’d require focus, determination, and inner strength to persevere. What I didn’t realize however, was that I wouldn’t see the tidal waves coming before they crashed. For when they strike, the impact is that much more devastating.

When those brimming tidal waves hit, and you’re knocked off balance, disoriented — it’s easy to want to give in and let the force of the wave sweep you out to sea. Even though you know you’ll drown, sometimes the fantasy of drowning can feel so freeing. The euphoric rush, light-headed surge, and buoyancy. All of the memories of those feelings flood your brain and tell you to just let go and have the undertow carry you off. Feel the release. Feel your stress melt away as the haze envelopes your brain. The fantasy is romantic. How I miss it’s warm embrace.

It’s only when you come back to reality and reflect on your true experience that you admit that it isn’t worth it.

Remember the powerful grasp? The suffocating grip?

Gulping for air. Kicking your legs. Flailing your arms. Thrusting your head through the water’s surface and screaming for help as it encircles you like feeble prey. The undertow pulling you into the depths, the immense pressure on your chest as your lungs burn filling with salt water…

That’s how I recall the hold alcohol routinely had on me, and why I’m opting to stay on shore from now on. It’s a shame because I enjoyed swimming, but at least I can still appreciate the beach.

(We Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.

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Really? We can’t find satisfaction, just settlement?

This week I came across a thought-provoking quote on Tumblr.

Now typically, I use my Tumblr account to follow subjects I am passionate about such as motorcycles, tattoos, sneaker culture, more tattoos, graphic design, even more tattoos, etc. Recently however, I’ve begun following a few inspirational and motivational accounts to help gain some traction for my new outlook.

The post in particular that caught my attention was a quote:

“The happiest people don’t have the best of everything, they just make the best of everything.” ~ Sam Cowthorn

At first glance, I liked it. It seemed all flowery and inspirational blah, blah, blah. I thought to myself, who needs a Mercedes when a Dodge will do? Who needs $300 headphones when a pair already came with my phone? Why pay $4 for a coffee when you can pay $1.75? You know, the whole “make due with what you have” mantra. Which is some solid advice in a great many cases, but once I started reflecting on the quote as a whole, I began to see something else.

Now I’m not embarking on some anti-consumerism rant. In fact, I have no issue with material possessions. I like possessions that add value to one’s life. For example, items like my exercise bike, hockey equipment, Jeep, and Nexus 5 all add value to my life.

I just began to think what if consumer culture didn’t have a class system? We then wouldn’t have to “make the best” out of any possession because, to us, that item IS the best. Each of the afore mentioned items all fall into different levels on the class scale, yet each brings me equal satisfaction and happiness.

I don’t feel as though I am “making the best” of any of them, they all carry them same title as the best product(s) to suit my current needs. A Ferrari is not the best car for me at all based on my needs, therefore I don’t feel as if my Jeep is inferior in anyway. My hockey skates are the price point model, not the top of the line, yet they are great for one night per week men’s league games.

I know it seems convoluted, but the point I am trying to get across is that we needn’t make the best of anything if we’d just be open to the satisfaction we likely already receive in our current situations.

The Psychology of Clutter

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Everyone has clutter in their life to some extent. Physical clutter, digital clutter, mental and emotional clutter.

This morning I came across a great little article from the Wall Street Journal’s Melinda Beck that discusses the psychology of clutter.

I found it interesting as I am currently going through the process of letting things go.

Does it remind anyone of Brad Pitt’s infamous Fight Club quote: “The things you own end up owning you.”?

Join me on Twitter, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Self-Reflection: My Aha Moment

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I never knew it was time for a change, until it was time for a change — my aha moment.

My friends and family know what I’ve been through in my personal life over the past 5 years. To quickly bring you up to speed: a divorce, a move across the country, job changes, meeting my soul mate, coming to terms with anxiety/depression/anger issues, and finally admitting to my alcohol abuse. It’s been a roller-coaster ride to say the least. One thing my Pops always says about my life, is that there’s never a dull moment.

I am going through a process of self-reflection and ultimately self-improvement. This blog is a sort of therapy for me. An outlet for me to reflect and collect my thoughts, get them down on “paper” and digest them. Why did I decide to make them public? I don’t know really, it just happened. But now that it is, I am receiving fantastic feedback, support, and well wishes that are serving as motivation to keep going and hopefully inspire others.

What I’ve realized from my recent lifestyle transformation is how truly beneficial it can be to shift your thinking.

Just last night Kate admitted to me that this moment is the best moment in our relationship, and I agree. I feel a genuine closer connection to her. I am beginning to find peace, confidence, and self-assurance in my sobriety.

I’ve always told myself that I am who I am, and that I cannot change that. But the truth is you can, you just have to want it bad enough. Maybe it’s because I was pushed to the brink, at risk of losing what little I had left. Maybe I was willing, taunting history to repeat itself to prove some self-fulfilling prophecy. Maybe I felt I didn’t deserve better. Whatever it was, I felt lost. I felt unhappy and in search of “something”. That “something” wasn’t at the bottom of a bottle I can tell you that, God knows I looked.

I very nearly hit rock bottom a few times both professionally and personally, and I’ve finally been scared straight. I’ve had a realization. I’ve come to know the feeling to truly value the opinion and respect of others. I am conscious of how my behaviours, words, and actions affect those close to me.

I am committed to growing stronger as a person and finding new sources of inspiration and happiness. I’ve learned that I want experiences over possessions. I’ve learned that it’s nice to actually remember the Saturday night you spent with friends. I’ve learned to not care if I suck at writing, that I am going to do it because I want to. I’ve learned that I want to be seen as more than a designer, that I have more to offer. Lastly, I look in the mirror and feel pride in who I am and who I’m challenging myself to become.

I’ve had an epiphany I suppose. For the first time in a long while, I feel like I am on the other side of the window. I’m outside and free. It may sound corny and strange but that’s what I feel in my heart. I really like this new Bryan.

Why the tricycle image at the beginning of the post? I’m pressing the reset button on my thinking, my habits, and my behaviours that I have developed thus far. I am returning to the fresh, unblemished state of mind that was childhood, so that I may start growing again, to become the man I want to be.

I’d love to hear your feedback. Hit me up on Twitter.

Debt is the Worst 4-Letter Word I Know

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What is the worst 4-letter word you know? I know my fair share of pretty harsh terminology, but my most recent ill-favoured term lately is “Debt”.

My recent campaign to adopt a more minimalist lifestyle is for a variety of reasons. One of the largest is to free myself from the debt I’ve accumulated throughout my twenties and early thirties. And when I speak of freeing, it’s not really about “getting rid debt” (although if I can sell an item for cash, I will) as much as it is about relinquishing the useless, often ignored, or completely forgotten possessions that lead me here.

I understand that this could appear as an “out of sight, out of mind” type of practice but let me assure you, I am not forgetting about my debt – not by any means. What I hope this exercise achieves is that with every item I trash, donate, or sell that I reflect on just how much I could have done without it in my life. Why did I incur $50 worth of debt to have a figurine sit on my office shelf for the past 6 years that added zero value or meaning to my life? Did it make me a better designer, partner, or human being? No. It DID make me feel great to buy it and rush home from the store to proudly display it, but then what has it done? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

One of the greatest traits I love about Katherine is that she values experiences more than material possessions. She has said that from the first day I met her. It’s a great philosophy to live by. At nearly a decade my junior, I know that she has lived a more enriching, fulfilling life than myself. I greatly admire that. We joke about what she has “brought to the relationship” as being a nightstand and a stool (which is pretty close to accurate) but the truth is she has brought real value through her experiences.

Friends hosted a wedding shower for us yesterday and we played the classic game of “Who does “X” in the relationship?”. Seated back to back, we had to vote on whom played the larger role. It’s a test to see how well you know one another. The question “Who is more frugal?” was asked, I immediately replied Kate because she is great at questioning purchase decisions, is very rational, and a logical thinker. I, on the other hand, I’m known to be more spontaneous and emotionally driven. The crowd around us suddenly began to laugh, and as I turned around to see Kate’s answer, she had replied, me. Looks like I must be doing something right on my escape from debt.

My path to unhappiness was paved with plastic, but with Kate at my side and an altered way of thinking, I’m forging a new path now.

The Minimalism Game

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The countdown is on as we prepare to move apartments in less than a month.

As some of you perhaps know from a prior Facebook post, this month I have challenged Katherine to “The Minimalism Game” (founded by Joshua and Ryan at the theminimalists.com), and she has begrudgingly accepted the challenge! Maybe this could be the start of our journey to become minimalists?

In brief, The Minimalism Game challenges both parties to trash, sell, or donate items they no longer deem useful in their lives. The quantity of items removed correlates to the day of month. For example, on July 1st we each selected one item to leave our humble abode. Kate chose a candleholder, while I chose a novelty stencil set. July 2nd saw two items each leave (I already forget what they were, so they couldn’t have been that important!), July 3rd saw three, and today (July 4th) will see four. We will see how long we can keep eradicating useless material possessions, but by the end of next week we will be removing a dozen items each. It’s a challenge that I am looking forward to.

I use to be what some would term a pack rat, collector, or hoarder – whatever name you want to give it. I’ve become better over the years, but I still find myself clutching on to my possessions with all my might (and excuses), justifying to myself why I needed “item X” in my life and why I couldn’t possibly part with it. The USB Nintendo controller for my iMac that I use for 5 minutes once a year, old gadgets that are obsolete or broken, DVDs I never watch, clothes I never wear, knick-knacks that just collect dust, old sports equipment. The list goes on. I’ve carted these items across Canada and back again. Why? Such a waste of time, money, and space. I already feel good knowing that a) I’ll be donating a lot of items to those in need, and b) I’ll have much less to move in a few weeks.

Look around the room you’re sitting in right now. Do you see half a dozen items you know you could live without? Good. You just completed the first three days of the challenge. Welcome to Day 4.

Ten Traits to Live Bry

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Rules to live by.

Often we find ourselves taking our own inventory. We like to compare ourselves to others and see how we stack up as individuals. I’m not talking about material items and the Keeping up with the Jones’ mentality, I’m talking about as people, our character.

Over the last few months, I found myself to be quite self-centred and selfish in my thoughts and actions. I was neglecting the needs, desires, and feelings of those around me — those who love and care about me. I was focusing on what I wanted, what I needed. Now while there is nothing wrong with a little self maintenance from time to time, a balance must always be achieved. I decided it was time for a change, to challenge myself to be the person I know I have been before, and will be again. Here are the new guidelines I am aiming to live by moving forward.

  1. Always put family first and be a good provider.
  2. Be strong and confident both mentally and physically.
  3. Take responsibility for your actions.
  4. Take pride in yourself and always keep your word.
  5. Know one skill very well and continually evolve others.
  6. Practice discipline and patience.
  7. Do what is necessary, people depend on me.
  8. Always take initiative and see things through to the end.
  9. Have true and close friendships.
  10. Have a sense of humour and laugh at yourself.

This is it. This is My Day 9.

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It’s the ninth day in my alcohol recovery process. The day before Canada celebrates becoming 147 years old. As we often do on birthdays, I am led to reflect on my own life to date. At 36 years old I find myself in a very strange place in my personal life.

With my quitting smoking 7 months ago, and my newfound struggle with sobriety, I realize that I have ended up acquiring a pretty straightedge lifestyle. Who would have thought? Definitely not me.

I LOVED smoking and drinking. One, the other, both at the same time was sheer perfection. The more I drank, the more I smoked, and the more I smoked, the more I drank. It was a perfect cycle. Through the brainwashing of advertising, and I suppose insecurities in myself, at 36, I STILL think smoking is cool. Is that right? And don’t get me started on the awesome numbness that washes over you with that first ice-cold beer…

That was my old way of thinking.

I am working at moving past those old habits and building new ones. The past 15 years have been spent abusing my body. Not just with various toxins, but with poor eating habits, sedentary lifestyle, and a generally pessimistic and negative outlook on the future and life in general.

This summer, I am getting married to the most wonderful girl to ever cross the Atlantic. And to me, that’s something to truly celebrate and be grateful for. It’s for her, that I am making these life changes. I’d say I’m doing it for myself too, but who’s kidding who. I didn’t make these changes in the 15 years before I knew her. I want more out of life because of what she has shown me. I need her by my side to help me down this new path. But she deserves a better Bryan, and that’s where this thinking comes in.

I am in the process of re-evaluating what’s important in my life and here are the first two objectives on my list:

1. Focus on my health
2. Develop meaningful relationships with people

Now some of you might read those and think they are common sense, regular objectives that one should already be doing in a fulfilling life. You’d be right.

As stated earlier, I have been quite neglectful of my health through 22 years of smoking and close to two decades of binge drinking. Throw on lots of sugary foods, pub fare, and binge eating (at times) just one meal per day and boom, I propped my 5′ 10″ frame to 199 lbs. So a new healthy me is what I am aiming for.

As for number two, my drinking taught me how shallow of a person I could be. Over the years I had countless people in my life come and go because of alcohol. I am sorry for all of those false relationships. Some people I called friends were only granted that title because they were a heavy drinker that I could party with. When the drinks were done, so was I. Others were true friendships that morphed into drinking relationships. Those ones are hard to come to terms with.

Have you or someone you know gone through a similar life transformation? I don’t know where this new path will take me, but I’m betting it’s to a better place.