The Deadlift

When I was 18 years old and I knew everything about life

I went to a doctor and asked to be examined because my heart felt like it was going to burst into a million pieces.

This was 1988 and I had just graduated from boot camp and was waiting on orders that would have taken me to a U.S. Navy ship that was in transit, heading for the Persian Gulf. I was terrified of what that meant and depressed from being away from home for the first time in my life.

July 1988 - Sailor in the United States Navy - San Diego, California

July 1988 - Sailor in the United States Navy - San Diego, California

The doctor diagnosed me with a heart murmur and said, “Take it easy. It’ll take care of itself. Don’t worry so much” When I told him what was going on he said the best way to deal was to exercise.

“Take a morning run. Burn all that gunk out of your system,” he said. “It’ll start your day right.”

I guess the expression on my face gave away the thought I had, that it was all bullshit because the doctor shrugged, said, “Whatever,” and gave me bed rest for the rest of the day. Instead of going back to the barracks I stopped off at the base pizzeria and felt better after two slices and a can of coke. Chest pain went away after that.

After leaving the military I became a technology consultant and experienced a different kind of stress that came from working long hours and constantly traveling. However, knowing I was good at my job and the pleasure I drew from visiting interesting places across the United States and Europe kept a PTSD diagnosis earned during my deployment in the First Gulf War in check. I was active. I was busy. I was happy!

October 1999 - technology consultant - New York, New York

October 1999 - technology consultant - New York, New York

9/11 changed that. In the aftermath. I developed a chronic anxiety disorder and was difficult to be around. I was depressed and angry all the time. Friends and loved ones didn’t want to catch the kind of infection of misery that comes with being around that vibe. In order for them to survive they tuned me out. I felt a terrible loneliness that made my heart feel as if it were breaking into a million pieces.

Instead of exercising, like I had been advised when 18 years old, my laziness pushed me to find comfort in food, again.

I found comfort in internet gaming and would play day and night. In the virtual world I was powerful and strong; in the real world I was on anti-depressants and tranquilizers. It augmented my comfort food.

I gained weight and became fat. So as long as I was fat, no one would ask me why I seemed a little off. They would instead talk about how fat I was. Morbid obesity became my security blanket; as long as I was fat I didn’t need to explain 9/11 and why a part of me died that day.

At my worst I was 270 pounds.

Instead of fixing myself, I deluded myself into thinking I was okay and that, at my size, I was healthy. I was only fat because of my medications and bad metabolism. I couldn’t help it, I’m a victim. I allowed myself to be sucked into a social media echo chamber that reinforced this and told me I was healthy and that at my size I was still fucking awesome.

My delusion made it impossible for me to see nothing was awesome and that I was not doing anything to warrant my belief that I was doing awesome things. I was making myself sick. My poor choices led to diabetes and a stroke.

January 2012 My father took this photo. He wanted me to have a reminder of the day my poor habits landed me in an emergency room.

January 2012

My father took this photo. He wanted me to have a reminder of the day my poor habits landed me in an emergency room.

A possible cancer diagnosis had me facing death and the real pain that comes with coping with the regret of not having lived a more vigorous existence.

I prayed that if given a second chance I would change. I would do a better job of appreciating a gift the dead could only wish to have; life.

I dodged the cancer diagnosis. When my body was ready for the rigor and my mind was in the right place I began my journey.

In October 2014 I installed MyFitnessPal on my phone and restricted myself to 1800 calories a day.

When I started, I was 260 pounds.

October 2014 - Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York - 260 pounds.

October 2014 - Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York - 260 pounds.

I kept track of everything I ate. I began noticing when I ate out of hunger as opposed to out of boredom or depression. Once I was able to see this pattern it became hard for me to un-see. I ate only when hungry.

By May 2015 I was 207 pounds.

May 2015 - Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York - 207 pounds.

May 2015 - Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York - 207 pounds.

I became insufferable; obsessively counting calories and measuring food in social settings with friends and family. They had to remind me to stop obsessing. Either with calorie counting or a number on the scale. I had made great progress and yet I was not satisfied. They would comment that that type of behavior often leads to eating disorders.

It was not until it was pointed out that my face was thinning, leaving me with a hollow gaunt look that I looked at my body in the mirror and noticed the same.

I wasn’t healthy at all.

I didn’t feel healthy; dieting didn’t make my issues disappear; I still had PTSD fueled nightmares and a depression stemming from my making a transition away from New York and establishing a new life in Texas, away from my kids who are now adults with lives of their own. 

I was anxious about my future; in seeking new relationships I needed to make sure I was doing everything possible not to make the same mistakes of the past.

The one thing I learned from all my mistakes is that I’m responsible for my own salvation and had to help myself. I could no longer see myself as a victim of something that no longer existed outside of my memories.

Also, how long would it be after hitting my weight loss goal that I would gain the weight back? If I didn't address the roots of my issues I was sure to gain it all back and be as unhealthy as ever.

At the time I came to this conclusion I was reading Yukio Mishima’s Sun and Steel.

This quote stood out:

It is true enough that when I lifted a certain weight of steel, I was able to believe in my own strength. I sweated and panted, struggling to obtain certain proof of my strength. At such times, strength was mine, and equally it was the steel’s. My sense of existence was feeding on itself.
- Yukio Mishima

I wanted to obtain certain proof of my strength, especially with my body which was still feeling the effects of a stroke. I always felt weak and feeble. My existence contained a past that could feed any effort to build strength. I took power lifting and went to the gym three days a week. I focused on compound lifts and enjoyed deadlifting the most. Mark Rippetoe, a former powerlifter and respected coach in the lifting community said the deadlift “serves as a way to train the mind to do things that are hard.”

I made deadlifting my signature lift because it’s the only lift that I feel absolute proof of my strength. It took my existence, past and present, with the pain and frustration and depression and anxiety and, in lifting the heavy weight dead off the floor, it burned it all away.

The deadlift cleanses my soul.

When my move to Texas was made permanent in October 2015 I was 190 pounds, on a 1295 calorie per day diet, and wanting to move away from the strength plateau I was hitting.

Developing more strength would make my recovery from the stroke complete and I would be healthy again.

I began to eat and the intensity of my work made it that I was gaining weight but losing fat.

October 2016 - Houston, Texas - Deadlifting 380 pounds

October 2016 - Houston, Texas - Deadlifting 380 pounds

Today I’m at 225 pounds and feeling better than I did at 190 pounds. I’m no longer diabetic nor am I feeling the effects of the stroke that occurred so many years ago. I continue to address the issues that were at the root of my bad habits. I'm continually in a state of Zen calm. I continually validate myself and this self-validation has spilled over in my work.

More on that in future posts.

I wouldn’t be here without the help of people who love me now; friends and family calling me out was a turning point. Dieting wasn’t the overall answer to a problem I created for myself, just part of it. That I also needed to exercise, much like what the doctor had suggested when I was 18 years old and knew it all. I wish I could go back into time and call out that 18-year-old boy. I would tell him to follow the doctors’ orders and add deadlifting to his exercise regime.

Had I known then what I know now I would've spared myself a lot of years of pain and frustration. I wouldn’t have developed diabetes and experienced a stroke. I wouldn’t have placed myself at risk for cancer. Most of all, I would've been a better person to be around, for my family, for my friends.

Lesson learned.

July 2016 - Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York - 225 pounds.

July 2016 Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York - 225 pounds.