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Sean is a Life Coach, Counsellor and Personal Trainer, who after battling and overcoming his own addictions and depression, now helps others build good habits that positively impact upon their physical… Continue Reading…

Men’s Health Week – Q&A with Sean Gay

Sean is a Life Coach, Counsellor and Personal Trainer, who after battling and overcoming his own addictions and depression, now helps others build good habits that positively impact upon their physical and mental wellbeing.

What encouraged you to make a change in your life and focus on your physical and mental wellbeing? (Was there an event that triggered this change, or just a build-up of different factors that led to the decision)

I reached a point at the age of 31 where I was in a full-time job as a Financial Advisor but I was also looking at being homeless because I had lost everything I had to drug, gambling and alcohol addiction. I sat on my bed on 2nd January 2018, after another heavy New Year’s Eve session, thinking I wanted to take my own life because that was the easiest thing to do after years of neglecting my own physical and mental health. In my mind, I had let everyone down and I was the worst human in the world.

I remember saying to myself that I had one last chance to give life a proper go, and if I could put half the energy into my recovery as I did into my addictions then I would lead a very good life. I had neglected my physical and mental health for about four years leading up to that moment, and it was an accumulation of years of neglect that left me in that state.

Is a different mindset or motivation required to break bad habits compared with starting (and maintaining) good ones? (Whether they are habits within fitness, or beyond)

They would say in the Alcoholics/Cocaine Anonymous meetings that I attended in my early recovery, that people got sober because they were ‘sick and tired of being sick and tired’. This phrase was the number one reason why I decided to change my habits for the better, and hired a personal trainer and started to see an Addiction Therapist after my time in rehab. The motivation was really intrinsic for me as I never wanted to go back to that place again where I was emotionally, physically, spiritually, and mentally broke.

Giving up alcohol, drugs and gambling was an easy choice for me to make at this stage as I had so many negative associations with all of them. Getting into the good habits of regular exercise, learning about nutrition, and increasing my level of self-awareness through therapy were incredibly powerful habits for me to turn my life around.

Drinking culture is a large part of socialising for many people in society, but alcohol is also a depressant and can induce anxiety. As someone that is teetotal, what tips do you have for anyone thinking of changing or revising their drinking habits?

I had 17 years of previous drinking, drugging, and gambling history to look back on and it was very clear to me, once I finally got sober, that my pattern of behaviour never changed from when I picked up my first drink at the age of 14. So, most of us will already have a similar pattern of behaviour when we go out drinking. If those behaviours are impacting how you feel, maybe its hangxiety, the fear of not knowing what you did last night or you are just a bit of an angry drunk, then maybe it’s time to change. For me, alcohol led to drugs, drugs led to very late nights and no sleep. I would then turn up to work like a zombie until about Wednesday, when the cycle then repeated itself! I was stuck in the same cycle of hangovers, going out, and regretting my decisions for 10 years.
The best things I have done to live a sober life are as follows:
1) You are the average of the people you hang around with – It’s no shock to anyone, that if your mates get wasted all the time with you, then that’s what you’re going to do as well. Get some new friends that have some depth outside of getting drunk. Join sports clubs, gym groups, cross fit groups, art groups etc, where alcohol is not the primary purpose of meeting up. Start your own group. I started Sober Golfers Society to connect like-minded individuals who wanted to play golf but without the need to drink alcohol.
2) If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you – Breaking habits is difficult. Avoid the pub for a few months and get over your ‘Fear of Missing Out’ (FOMO). You never actually miss out on anything other than another epic hangover.
3) Invest in yourself – Take up a hobby that gives you time and space away from alcohol. Golf for me was huge as it gave me more time to enjoy the sport I gave up when I was drinking and drugging. When I got sober, it gave me so much more time to enjoy everything I wanted to enjoy. I suddenly got back a whole day at weekends as I wasn’t hangover (or still out) on Sundays.
4) Have goals – I spent my twenties just existing and that made me lazy. Having life goals, fitness goals and golf goals all allow me to have a sense of purpose which gives me leverage away from turning back to alcohol. If you give yourself enough positive reasons not to drink, then it becomes much harder to let alcohol dictate your life.
5) Alcohol Free alternatives – If you still want to be out and about in all the same places but don’t want the hangover, then go alcohol free. Personally, I don’t like alcohol-free drinks as I never really liked the taste of alcohol anyway. The alcohol-free market has exploded in recent years, so you are spoilt for choice.
6) Get a therapist/counsellor – The most powerful coaching services you can get to help you through and hold you accountable for any difficult changes in your life. I wouldn’t be where I am today if I didn’t have weekly check in’s around my sobriety in my first year. I found that when I got sober, I had a whole load of new emotions to deal with as I was using alcohol to deal with all of them throughout my twenties so it’s a learning curve. I am grateful I had that support through my therapist.

Often, committing to making changes can be one of the hardest barriers to overcome, do you have any advice for people wanting to make the change in their lifestyle?

Leverage. If you don’t have reasons to change, then it’s unlikely you will change. Give yourself a reason to get up in the morning and use that as your catalyst for staying sober. I embarked on a fitness journey in my early sobriety which was huge as I had goals attached to that which kept me motivated. Accountability to a coach, whether that’s a therapist, personal trainer or another coach, can help keep you on track to making positive changes in your life.

How does binge drinking affect your physical and mental health in the short and long term?

Binge drinking impacted on my mood massively the next day. The initial high of the evening was quickly followed by a pounding headache, regret, shame, guilt, and a very expensive night. Physically I was having an initial 10,000 calories when I was drinking alcohol as my favourite drink at the time, cider, was very calorific, as well as all the calorie-dense food I had eaten as a result of it. I repeated that same cycle mentally and physically for 10 years which accumulated into being depressed from the age of 28 and ending up suicidally depressed by 31.

In light of men’s health week, often men can find it difficult to admit that they may be struggling or ask for help, what advice can you give to someone who is reluctant to ask for help?

Men really do struggle to admit when things are going wrong. I only asked for help after I had lost everything and had nowhere else to turn. The one thing I learnt from the whole process was that ‘A problem shared is a problem halved’. I had to let go of my ego and just ask for help because I really needed it and was willing to listen to the experts to help me through. My advice would be to get a counsellor/therapist who has been through similar issues that you are experiencing. Also, speak to two or three counsellors before making a decision, because you have to trust your counsellor to make the relationship work effectively. The best decision I ever made was getting help from an addiction therapist who had been through addiction themselves.

How do we get men talking to each other about mental health?

The more men who speak openly about mental health, the more it becomes acceptable. Lad culture puts up barriers to asking for help in the fear that you will get ridiculed for talking about the problems you are facing. Therefore, having more frank and honest conversations about what is going on for male mental health, will make those conversations in ‘lad culture’ more acceptable.

Why is it so important that we talk more about mental wellbeing and trying to break any negative stereotypes around both mental health and masculinity/societal expectations of men?

Because until we break those stereotypes and societal expectations, men will always have an internal level of pressure that they believe they need to adhere to. The reason I never admitted I had problems until I lost everything, was simply down to the fact that I felt like I could sort the situation out without having to ask for help. Male ego and pride were two huge factors in that. Without these internal pressures, we wouldn’t have the high rate of suicides that we do as men would be more inclined to ask for help sooner.

A positive which we have seen come out of these uncertain times is that more people seem to be wanting to speak and learn more about mental health. What piece of advice can you give us that we can do daily to make a difference in a positive way, to people suffering from mental health?

Gratitude – Being grateful in my life enables me to remain positive even when things aren’t going to plan. Before I got sober, I would moan and groan about everything and it was the most destructive behaviour I had for my mental health, as ultimately I was never happy with anything. I now wake up and use a journal to note down three things that I am grateful for each day, and that helps ground the mind in positive thought. I believe gratitude is an attitude worth having if you want better mental health.

How has changing and re-evaluating your mental and physical wellbeing impacted you?

I’ve gone from being suicidally depressed to running my own counselling and personal training business (Addicted2Life). So, it has had such a positive impact, that I want to spend my time helping others build good habits that help with both physical and mental health. If I hadn’t of changed my outlook on my own mental and physical health, I wouldn’t be here talking to you.

My full story of how I overcame addiction to set up Addicted2Life is available here.

 

Interview conducted by Ellie Giardina

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8/10 Hallam Street,
London,
W1W 6NS