Two Turns from Zero: Pushing to Higher Fitness Goals--Converting Them to Life Strength

by Stacey Griffith

Clock Icon 70 minute read

INTRODUCTION
FIND YOUR ULTIMATE CENTER

Imagine you have the control and motivation to change the direction of your life . . . today, now, in this moment.

Imagine that today you cross over into a new level of creative thinking that sends you marching toward outrageous personal success.

Imagine you’ll finally live the dream you always wished could come true. Imagine yourself finally embracing a physical method, combined with some amazing visualization techniques, that increases your self-motivation and provides you with a greater sense of inner calm, spirit, joy, and love.

Would you be willing to take a look?

That’s what you will find in Two Turns from Zero. This is not only what I tell my students at SoulCycle—to crank up that resistance knob to a place where they can push past their personal best. It’s also what you turn when you go from zero—a blank page full of possibilities—into a whole new world of physical and creative self-discovery.

The first turn is to deal with the stuff going on in your head (the what, why, and when you want to change your life—we’ll get to that later in the book).

The second turn gets at how you’re going to take the good ideas you have about yourself and your future and turn them into the kind of action that will always get the results you want and need.

And the whole thing together—Two Turns from Zero— is my life mantra:

You can’t get what you want by always taking the easiest path. So turn it up Two from Zero, and let’s go . . . Are you ready? Come on!

I am a Senior Master Instructor at SoulCycle in New York City, and I’ve taught to sold-out classes all over the country. My students have joked that it was easier getting into Studio 54 in its heyday than it is to get into my classes. These classes have become so popular because my students know they’re going to get my unique mix of a hard-core workout for their bodies and my even harder workout for their hearts, minds, and spirit. I don’t mess around, and not a minute is wasted. And they know it.

I’ve been at this for more than two decades, so I’ve mastered my coaching style. I’m flattered when people say I’m the Tony Robbins of exercise: a combination of the mindful focus of Deepak Chopra, the exuberant high energy of Kelly Ripa, and the cool sexiness of Pink. When I teach from the floor, I become a combination of comedienne, spiritual guide, motivator, and “entertrainer” (a phrase I coined when asked to describe myself!).

Those comparisons make me blush! But I do know I know how to motivate my students. It all comes together through my highly charged blend of music, positive mantras, and intense exercise sequences. I expect their butts to be up off those bike seats. That’s what gets their abs taut, their triceps firm, and their hearts pumping—and it’s what triggers that deliriously wonderful explosion of endorphins.

Most of all, I know my students are there to give it their all—and they want the same from me. They expect results. They demand results. So do I.

I wish I could say I was born knowing this, but I learned what works the hard way. The very hard way. Looking at me now, it’s hard to believe I was once a drug addict, an alcoholic, a smoker, a liar, and a very sad and messed-up person. But I was.

What saved me? Exercise. It made me accountable to myself by teaching me how to feel strong. But I don’t mean just on the outside. It got to me in a deeper way by showing me how to have a healthy relationship with myself. The strength of my muscles empowered the strength of my feelings, thoughts, hopes, and expectations. And exercise also became a time when I nourished myself by being with other people who had the same goals.

It’s hard to define exactly what happens when a group of people get together and move, but there’s a shared momentum and motivation that drive everyone forward, and everyone feels bonded in the process. I found it invigorating, and it helped me run toward the life I craved and to stop making excuses.

I will say more about this later, but over time, exercise helped me turn my life around. And believe me . . . you can, too.

In my life today, I lead a posse of students who are dripping with sweat and filled with adrenaline after each class. And as a result, they are happier, more relaxed human beings than they ever have been before. Yes, they are physically stronger because I push them to get results they never thought they would achieve. But while they were on that journey to getting there, I helped them see an emotional strength in themselves that they didn’t know was possible. What they discover is a side of themselves they never knew.

By getting in the best shape of their lives, they merge the joy of physical movement with personal goals and fulfillment. They discover that they possess a potent power to speeding up their journey toward their goals and dreams.

Two Turns from Zero is here to teach you how to harness that power, at home, in your own time. This book is your private coach, and with it in your hands, you will embark on your own personal journey of transformation. You can do this on your own. No bike necessary! No gym needed! Or you can do what I did and find your squad while you pull it together at home!

To help you on your way to mastery, I have an approach I call LET. It stands for Love, Eat, Train. And just like the shampoo instructions, I add in the word Repeat because you’ve got to do it over and over again if you want it to work. If you follow LET—with lots of repeats—you find what I call your Ultimate Center. We all strive to live inside this centered place—where we are strong and laser-focused. In this Ultimate Center, we achieve the balance of core emotional strength we all need to face whatever crap life throws our way. Being there keeps us stable, sturdy, happy, healthy, and fulfilled, even in the face of unexpected heartache or problems.

A lot of exercise teachers and coaches tell their students that the way to feel better about themselves is to change their outside appearance. I don’t buy that approach. It’s never worked for me, so I don’t see how it can work for others. I believe exactly the opposite—true change comes from the inside out. Sure, we all feel better about ourselves if we’re happy with the way we look. But people don’t really change the way they look until they feel different deep inside.

Only then can you achieve lasting results that will take you to that Ultimate Center. And now we’re back to taking two turns from zero. As you’ll see in this book, it takes more than just a resistance knob you turn on an indoor cycling bike to make you push harder.

Two Turns from Zero is about discovering that working out isn’t just the key to athleticism or stronger muscles. It’s about having a new relationship with yourself. The kind of relationship you enjoy being in.

I’m also going to introduce you to one of my favorite sayings. It’s something I call AOA—Adult-Onset Athleticism. I love it because it means you can become an athlete at any age, and being an athlete doesn’t mean you have to be involved in team sports. (More on this when I get into training later in the book.)

I’ve written this book because so many people are filled with a desire for change, but they can’t stick to the action plan that will bring them long-lasting results. I have been starting my classes with “Two turns from zero” since I began teaching indoor cycling in 1996. It stuck, and it resonates. It’s a metaphor for my life. I want you to use it to help you discover what you need. I want you to figure out what movement turns you on so you’ll stick to it. When you find it, it will keep you motivated for life.

By the time you finish reading this book, you’ll be using my coaching strategies to figure out who’s really calling the shots in your life. I’ll ruin the suspense: It will be you! (Don’t worry—you won’t be alone. We’ll get to your all-important squad!)

Following the steps I’ve laid out in this book will give you the confidence to say, proudly, that you’re the one to get your life flowing. You are the one who gets you through every challenge you face. It’s about believing in all your talents and abilities. It’s about becoming emotionally strong and resilient—that is what allows you to get into the best shape of your life.

All you need is the right coach. I’m here jumping off the pages with my fist in the air, cheering you on—with fresh ideas and methods that work. Let me entertrain you!

I’ve taught thousands of students since I started my coaching career, which began in earnest when I fell in love with the indoor cycling bike and became an instructor in 1996. Then, in 2006, I met Julie Rice and Elizabeth Cutler, and they told me they wanted to create a yoga-based spiritual journey on the bike—what became SoulCycle—and we just clicked. They saw how I taught—a unique method based on my instincts, my previous teaching experience as a fitness instructor, and my cardio-party attitude. We gave riders the freedom to dance on the bike. Our movement, passion, and formula had never been used before, and SoulCycle quickly expanded from one ground-floor-lobby studio that had a rickshaw in the front so people could find it to the most popular indoor cycling chain in the world, with thirty studios in New York City, almost twenty in Los Angeles, and many more to come.

When the SoulCycle craze hit, everyone tried to understand its secret sauce. Why were hardworking New Yorkers hovering over their computers every Monday at noon, vying to secure a bike in a class with their favorite instructor? It was due to the entire experience they had in our classes. It wasn’t just a hard-core workout for their muscles. Riders left feeling uplifted and transformed in every possible way.

They may have come to class wanting a firmer butt—and they got it!—but they soon learned that firmer resolutions needed to change as well. Students come to class with all the challenges and stresses of their lives. Some are in mourning, or they are coming from a chemo treatment. Others are in the ecstasies of love! I also have students who come to me determined to finally lose those pounds they’ve struggled with all their lives. Or some just want to shed the baby weight or look buff for a special event. I see my students pedaling hard and feeling the joy that comes from exerting their bodies and pushing themselves further. But most important, they tell me how they are able to translate this feeling into making real changes in dealing with their lives.

I push them because they come in wanting to be pushed. They make me so proud, because they prove that easy doesn’t change you. You change through determination and hard work.

If you take the time to think about the difficult decisions you’ve made in your life, you will realize how much stronger you were after making them. Now you can look back at what you endured and tell yourself, “Wow, I can’t believe I got through that. Look where I am now!”

I also learned that to be the most effective teacher possible I had to get off the podium bike. I walk around the room now, keeping my eye on everyone. This way, I feel the vibe. I can correct someone who may be having an off day, or I can help someone reach higher. With this laser focus on teaching and coaching, I can be the “Entertrainer.” All my teaching comes from love, empowerment, and laughter, helping my students learn how to enjoy the power of movement while keeping mental negativity from getting in the way.

I want my students to come right up against themselves, to pedal hard to the top of the mountain . . . past fears, insecurities, bad habits, procrastination, self-criticism, and indecision . . . to come down the other side into the clear stretch of accomplished joy. “Two turns from zero” is a metaphor for beating the challenges we are trying to push past. It’s facing and overcoming the issues in our tissues—the deep-seated memories and learned behavior we get hung up on.

We all have those awful nagging voices in our heads that say we’re no good or we can’t do it or we’ll never make it. I’m here to help you with those nagging voices, and we’ll discuss that throughout this book. It’s a really important issue, because no matter what, you can never give up. We will set goals, and we will hit them. That’s the moment we turn into the goal, and we hit that. We never stop scoring goals for the rest of our lives together. As coach and athlete, let’s kick ass together. Cool?

That’s why this book is about change—which happens when you build mental and physical muscles. It’s also about finding the magic connection between intention and action. About training your emotions and your purpose. About clearing out the mental negativity and getting out of your own way. I have called on my own painful journey of personal transformation to create a unique method for personal empowerment, combining newfound physical strength, mental resolve, and joyful intention.

This method will teach you how to channel your inner athlete as I’ve learned to channel mine. I want you to embrace and love the body you were born into as I have learned to love mine, even though I abused it with my addictions. I want to help you find your purpose, then embrace it so you can follow your self-proclaimed path in the most inspirational and joyful manner possible. I want you to have all the love you deserve and to give back the love you feel in return.

This book contains the tools for finding your true, authentic power, for keeping your body and mind in motion, for always moving forward, and for taking on life as you have never taken it on before.

One of my favorite sayings is “You are stronger than you were yesterday, but no way are you as strong as you’ll be tomorrow.” Another one is “Now, let’s crush it.” So, let’s crush it!

HOW TO USE THIS BOOK

I always say Motivation = Intention + Action. This book shows you how to get motivation by finding your purpose, and then set your intentions for change before committing to my action plan.

The first chapter in part I tells you about the ups and downs of my life, so you’ll see what I did wrong and how I learned to make it right—turning my flaws, addictions, and shame into strength and balance. Along the way, I was able to train my heart to open up to the love I knew I deserved. I also found my true purpose in life, which gave me the motivation to change. I will discuss why everyone needs a purpose in life, and how, when you live with purpose, you can commit to making healthy changes.

Whatever it is that is holding you back, once you read my story I hope you will be inspired and know you can do it, too. In part II, I will show you how to set your intentions, as well as the basics of defining goals, which everyone must master before tackling the journey to finding their Ultimate Center. I’ll also introduce you to Moving Meditation and show you how it works. Next I will describe creative visualizations to help you focus and move forward. Read the Moving Meditations and creative visualizations all the way through before doing them. From there I will help you clear the physical and mental clutter so you can make a fresh start.

In part III, I will show you my LET program: Love, Eat, Train. Living from your Ultimate Center can only happen when you learn to love yourself and realize you deserve to be loved. There’s a really important chapter next. It’s called Eat, and it’s important because we all do it. I use this chapter to tell you about my unique approach to food. You are going to replace your old eating habits with good new ones, and when you do, you’re going to reach that goal weight. I will address nutrition basics with menu lists and some of my favorite recipes, all with a Stacey G twist.

I know you’ve been waiting for this next chapter. It’s called Train, and it’s one of my favorite topics. I’m going to lay out what you need to know about the benefits of exercise (and good sleep) and then show you how to train your body the Stacey G way. Think you might know it already? Well, there’s always more to learn.

Finally, there is Repeat, and some people think this is the hardest of all. But I will show you how to stay motivated—for life.

Two Turns from Zero is an ongoing empowerment system. It works for everyone, whether you’re sixteen, thirty-six, or seventy-six. Even if you’re at the happiest place you’ve ever been, you can wake up tomorrow with the rainy-day blues. Or something unexpected at work can totally throw you off. Life is always full of surprises. It changes every day. Your body changes every day. Your goals change, your life circumstances change, and Two Turns from Zero is your reference guide, because today is another day to do it all over again—but this time, do it better. I will give you the tools to keep your body and your mind in motion, in unison, taking on life like you’ve never taken it on before.

Picture your most favorite place to be and imagine what it feels like to be there. I can help you make that vibration of power and contentment a major part of who you are. I say we start today.

It’s only two turns from zero.

COME ON!

 
 
 

“No one remembers normal.”


 
 
 

ONE

FINDING MY TRUTH

I’m lucky.

I had a rough childhood filled with loss, and years of self-doubt, self-medication, and addiction followed—but when I look back on those years, the first thing I tell myself is that, yes, I was really lucky. Because I am lucky. Every experience, tough or tender, ultimately helped me find my purpose.

People who look at me now can hardly believe that I inhaled meth on and off, sometimes every week, for years; that I drank way too much; and that I hid all this from the students I exhorted to “Be the best you can be every day.” Did I listen to my own advice? Not for a long, long time.

So no, I wasn’t lucky being an addict, but I was finally fortunate that I met someone who became my wingman and got me, unknowingly at first, through to my sobriety. There’s no way I could have done it on my own. That’s the good part of the story, but first, let’s go back nearly five decades, to where my life started.

A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THE REAL SG STORY . . .

When I was born, in 1968, I came out of the womb practically swinging a tennis racquet. A natural-born athlete, I was a happy little girl who just wanted to play, play, play, and who never stopped moving until I fell into bed at night (in, not surprisingly, child’s pose on my knees). I’ve always been toned and fit and never had any problems with my weight.

Unlike my beautiful mom. My parents divorced when I was only three, and the split was incredibly difficult for her. She worked full-time while also taking care of me. She struggled with a lot; one issue in particular was her weight. She jumped from one diet to another because nothing ever worked.

This made me aware from an early age how excruciating these weight problems were for her, and for many of her friends, and how difficult it was to find the motivation to keep trying to lose weight. I was also aware that people were constantly making fun of her—sometimes directly and other times behind her back—which caused my mom and me both to be filled with shame and hurt.

My mom was so self-conscious about her weight that the only time she would go swimming—which she loved—was at night, when there were only a few people in the pool in our apartment complex. I vividly remember watching her enter the water, surrounded by the inky darkness and the blue-lit silence of the empty pool, and seeing a smile light up her face as she let the water caress her sore legs. My heart ached for her.

The only benefit of experiencing her pain, however, is the knowledge it gave me for helping my students who are also struggling with weight loss. I have such deep compassion for plus-size people, because I was raised by one. I will always call my mom my hero for never letting her weight affect who she was toward me. She was a very sweet and compassionate mother, full of unconditional love for her “unique” daughter, and for that, I also feel lucky. She taught me the art of the mush—how to be a softy!

When I was eight years old, my mom nearly died in a car crash in San Jose, California, where we were living at the time, and she ended up in the same hospital where, as it happens, my grandfather was being treated for lung cancer. My father, who was by then happily remarried and busy raising his new family, only saw me every other weekend, which was what their divorce settlement decreed, so I moved in for a short time with the Harveys, my best friend’s family.

They were a close-knit and devout Mormon family of eight, and some of the most amazing people I can remember from my childhood. They knew I had already been baptized into their faith the year before. That had taken place thanks to one of my friends, Dion, the son of my grandmother’s neighbors up in the mountains of Calaveras County in Northern California.

I would ride my dirt bike over to Dion’s house, dodging the rattlesnakes on the trails, and hang out there all day. His family was devoutly Mormon, and one Saturday when I rode over there, they told me they wanted to take me to be baptized at Lake Mont Pines. I had no idea what a baptism was, so I asked Dion what it meant, and he said you had to open your heart to God. And I thought, Okay, my heart is open.

“Don’t be scared,” he added, “because they make you walk into the lake waist deep, but with your clothes still on.” I didn’t understand why he was telling me not to be scared, because getting dunked sounded like a whole lot of fun! On baptism day, we walked in a line, waist deep into the lake as Dion said we would; the water was warm from the summer heat. While we stood there, we heard a short sermon from the Mormon church member who was officiating, and then he asked me to give my life to Jesus. He laid me back and I got dunked in the water, and that was it. I was baptized. The entire experience was pleasant and peaceful. The only hope I had was that, when I was dunked under the water, I could come up and be a different girl. I was different, in fact—I became a lot calmer. I felt like the Mormons had my back—that someone was going to save me if I died, and it was one less thing to have to think about!

Anyway, the Harveys took me in after my mother’s accident, and prayed with me in the center of a circle every morning and every night, and I truly believe that their faith saved my mom, whose prognosis had been dire. I didn’t really consider myself a true Mormon because my parents weren’t and I wasn’t that interested in churchgoing, but I was grateful for the Harveys’ love and concern. My mom remained in intensive care for twenty-nine days. She was lucky to be alive, and she would live her new life as a slightly handicapped person, unable to do certain things, but she was still alive, and she was still my mom. And this was one of the first times in my life when I felt I was lucky.

After six weeks with the Harveys, I went to stay with my maternal grandparents, but my grandfather died about a month later. It was brutal to come home one evening from my dad’s to have a lot of people over. I asked, “Where’s Grandpa?” only to have my mom bring me to my room to tell me he was in heaven. I don’t recall anything else from that night—just how much my throat started hurting in the middle, and how my mom’s mascara ran down her cheeks from crying. I stayed with my grandmother for four more years—my mom joined us once she got out of the hospital—and then, when I was twelve, my grandmother, mom, and I moved to a different apartment complex; my grandmother got her own small apartment and my mom and I got one of our own. I still spent time with my dad, every other weekend, and every summer I went to stay with my paternal grandma, Stella.

Grandma Stella was a real go-getter. She never let having only a sixth-grade education stop her—she became a self-made millionaire. She’s my main hero in life. She taught me that if you put your mind and soul into whatever you want, you can accomplish it, no matter what your origins are.

She wanted me to succeed more than anyone, and she also had the financial means to help me do whatever schooling I wanted. She always reminded me that when it came to school, she would pay for anything. I guess I’m glad she didn’t know how much I actually hated school in those days. I think that would have broken her heart, because she loved telling me how smart she knew I was.

Grandma Stella was born in 1919 and had to drop out of school to take care of her sisters and her mom, who had tuberculosis. The family owned a restaurant, so Grandma not only had to look after her siblings and a sick mom, but she had to help run the restaurant, too. When she moved to the mountains of Calaveras County, she went to beauty school and became a hairdresser.

 

SG TRUTH I learned from Stella that sometimes you achieve things in life by taking a path that’s different from the one you were originally going down. She never imagined she would sell real estate, and it ended up being a success story during her most tragic time after losing her best friend. Silver linings for sure, and that was how Stella lived her life.


 

Her best friend, Liz, and Liz’s husband were in real estate, and when they decided to open an office, Liz told Stella that they’d bought a two-room cabin—one room for the real estate office and one room for Stella’s beauty parlor. The week before they were supposed to open, Liz was killed in a logging truck accident. Bereft and despairing, Liz’s husband told Stella to get her real estate license, because that was the only way to keep the business going and stay in the house. So that’s what Stella did. She sold real estate for fifty years, and at her peak, she owned ten houses herself.

Grandma Stella treated me like I was an adult from the time I was a baby. She emphasized that I needed to be successful all on my own. She said I needed to have a career and to use my smarts, and to have a strong work ethic. She taught me how to drive when I was only ten.

I have to admit that Grandma Stella did drink too much—you could say it’s the family curse. When she’d had too much, I was able to convince her to let me drive us home in our orange Subaru with a stick shift. But I was twelve years old at the time!

Still, even with two parents who loved me, and with Grandma Stella taking care of me in the summers, for the next four years, I felt so much imbalance in my life at home. My mom was working such incredibly long hours that by the time she got home, she was so exhausted from her day she couldn’t really help me with the schoolwork I struggled with. Some nights, I would end up staying the night at a babysitter’s house, or a best friend’s house, which seemed fine at the time, but looking back, wasn’t so great for my learning process—or getting me past my dislike of schoolwork, period. The only positive thing to come out of this imbalance was that, over the years, it helped me become a highly adaptable person who can fit into new and different environments with ease.

I’m literally happy staying anywhere, with anyone who is nice. I realize now that these childhood experiences have actually helped me embrace all kinds of people and help them feel at ease with me—which is crucial when I’m asking them to trust me in changing their lives. I know people who, as children, never had to leave their comfort zones—and that of course can be wonderful—but I can tell they have a very hard time adapting to circumstances that seem strange to them, and they have trouble sleeping in places that are unfamiliar to them. I know this seems like a quirky silver lining from my childhood—but nothing rattles me when it comes to sleep. I can literally sleep under a table and wake up refreshed and raring to go.

It was also during this unsettling period of my childhood that I discovered something that never left me: my own body. As I grew older, I began to feel strong and confident physically, and I became even more connected to my own physicality. What started as a survival technique eventually became my true calling as I learned how to connect the body to the mind.

“I discovered something that never left me: my own body.”

This is one of the many reasons I know anyone can become an “athlete.” It’s an attitude as well as a physical characteristic. As soon as you start thinking about your body as your constant, faithful companion, there for you no matter what, it will give you pleasure and reassurance if you treat it right. Athletes compete . . . and this can be your attitude if you want it to be. . . .

As I hit puberty, I knew I wasn’t like the other girls, and for the first time, I became uncomfortable in my own skin. It was one thing to be a tomboy, and quite another at age twelve to begin to realize that I liked other girls. I was also a teenager in the 1980s, when homophobia was still rampant, especially in my community, and the AIDS epidemic was just starting to take hold. There were signals all over the place that let me know I should keep my sexuality to myself. As early as the fourth grade, I’d been teased unmercifully by boys in my class who called me a dyke. I wasn’t even sure what that meant, so I asked the playground lady, and she told me that a dyke was a girl who loved girls.

That was confusing to me, and I naively told her, “But I do like girls. And I want to kiss them!”

“Well,” she replied with a frown, “you are not supposed to like or kiss girls.”

I looked at her and willed the tears not to fall, and then ran away.

But what she said stayed with me: It wasn’t right to like girls. So I tried to pretend my feelings away. I would play the role of a “girl,” except I could be a tomboy girl—because being really good at sports was much more acceptable than being gay. Of course, this didn’t get me very far, because I was never not gay. And as I got older, I knew I was a girl who wanted to kiss other girls.

While I was trying to work that out in my head, I plunged myself into sports, which was my form of exercise when I was a teenager. This gave me a way to be strong in my body, and that was how I created the emotional strength I needed so badly back then. Becoming stronger through sports became a way for me to handle the emotional pain I was experiencing, and team sports kept me going through middle school.

All eighth graders had electives, but that’s where things got doubly complicated for me. When it was time to do the choosing, the boys got to pick “Boys Sports,” which meant running, basketball, and volleyball. Sounds good, right? But when it came time for the girls to choose, here’s the choice we had: Home Economics. So much for choices, right?

I guess I was bolder in those days than I wanted to give myself credit for, because I asked to be put with the boys. I could see they were actually being given choices—and I wanted to do those sports. The school said no, but I kept pushing, and when I got my parents to sign off on it, they finally gave in.

Well, once I was in, nine other girls followed me—no big surprise!—and that was the end of the “Boys Sports” class. Thanks to me, the name “Boys Sports” turned into just “Sports”—which is what it should have been in the first place.

In high school, sports ruled my life. I had become a superstar athlete. My coaches loved me—so did my teachers, even though they were still frustrated by my endless doodling and daydreaming and chatty ways. I have to admit it: I was a classic flake girl who never turned in homework on time and never studied for any tests. The only thing that got me in the school door every day was team sports, because I just didn’t go for the books and studying part.

It’s true that sometimes I got benched for a few games during the season because my grades were so bad, but I still refused to do the work. During my sophomore year, my mother and I moved to a different neighborhood, and that meant a different school. The new administration hadn’t yet figured out how lazy I was academically, but they were thrilled to have me playing on their sports teams.

The big eye-opener for me at that school was that I met a lot of other gay kids, and that helped me to finally come out. These friends supported me, and I fell in love with one of them. Finally, I felt real love.

That was a really great thing to be introduced to, but along with that came introductions to some very best new friends: alcohol and marijuana.

It seemed that whenever I’d be hanging out with my friends, we’d drink beer, wine, and those berry-colored wine coolers. I’d already started smoking pot at my old school, but I smoked more frequently at this new school. And getting high every day helped me deal with how much I hated my schoolwork.

I remember being high when I went to tryouts for junior varsity basketball. Even the possibility that I might jeopardize my placement on the team wasn’t enough to make me stop lighting up in those days. I’ll never forget the day they released the team roster. I scanned up and down the list. No matter how hard I looked, I couldn’t find my name. I practically panicked. What had I done? Had my habit botched the tryout? People around me started laughing at my reaction. The reason I couldn’t find my name on the junior varsity list was that I was already so advanced as a player that I’d been placed on the varsity team. That was unheard of for a freshman!

That was a real ego boost for a fourteen-year-old, and it felt great, but the other thing it did was make me feel indestructible. So what was a little pot smoking every day? It didn’t stop me from making the varsity basketball team. I was a star. I was invincible. I was also taking my first steps on a very tough road that nearly led me to ruin. Oh, how I wish I could go back to that fourteen-year-old and tell her what I know today!

Things got even crazier when I went back to my old high school for my senior year. I wanted to switch because their basketball team was better, and I also had a new girlfriend and wanted to be closer to where she lived. The season was going great, and I was the highest scorer in the league, until suddenly I got a devastating knee injury. I had to have surgery, and I was completely out of commission.

Around this time, my mom—who was so devoted to our basketball team that she was voted “Mom of the Year”—was going through some really tough times financially, which, understandably, had left her preoccupied and stressed and not able to focus as much on what was going on with me. So with no diploma and no job, I dropped out of high school and followed my girlfriend, who had a volleyball college scholarship at California Polytechnic, San Luis Obispo.

Now what was I going do? I got a job at a summer camp at the local YMCA in San Luis Obispo. Somehow I thought it was easier to just bail on my life and escape into adulthood than it was to finish high school as an eighteen-year-old gay person. All I wanted at that time was peace and employment. The YMCA was a sanctuary that offered love and acceptance—and most of all, a job! I led camps and after-school programs, worked in the actual gym, and taught racquetball. I started playing so much racquetball that I became the 1986 novice champion for central California.

And then one day, fate intervened: One of the fitness instructors wasn’t able to make it to teach her abs class, and one of the students—who knew I was an athlete and figured I was capable of training everyone at the gym—asked if I would teach the class. I said yes, and it was as if I discovered by accident exactly what I was always supposed to be doing. Teaching other people how to exercise correctly felt as natural as breathing, and I was instantly hooked. For the first time, I discovered how great it felt to make other people feel good about their bodies. And even better, that experience gave me as much back as I got from the killer workouts I did for my own body.

That’s how my career as a fitness coach and trainer began.

When my girlfriend graduated, she wanted to move back to the San Jose area, and I didn’t. At this time, I was having problems getting along with my parents, and she had not told her parents that she was a lesbian. Her parents were devoutly Catholic, and we had told them we were just roommates. We even went to church with them three times a week.

After I struggled a bit over the what, where, when, and how to manage my life, I knew I could count on Grandma Stella to come to the rescue. She actually made me move in with her, go back to school, and get my high school diploma. She even wanted me to practice real estate with her, which I just couldn’t do, but I did decide she was right about school, and I was proud to have that high school diploma.

I was still living with Grandma Stella and wondering what was next when a dear friend, who I have to keep nameless here, got “saved” at a megachurch in Torrance, California, and decided she was straight after telling me she’d thought she was gay. She wanted a family and thought it would never happen if she were ever to be living with a woman—this was in 1990, mind you, when it was very, very rare for a gay couple to have children. Another friend took her to the church, not because he thought it would convince her to be straight, but because he wanted her to have some religion in her life, and knew she was struggling with issues of spirituality.

She found the experience so amazing that she asked me to go to church with her. I happily agreed. Despite my Mormon baptism, I considered myself a Christian but not affiliated with any denomination. I was simply open to every religion and didn’t have any judgment about any of them—I thought of myself as a spiritual person who liked to pray occasionally, but religion was not at the top of my priority list.

So we went to the Cottonwood Christian Center, and I got saved again, this time by Pastor Bayless Conley. And it was on television. I got up in front of two thousand people and professed my love to God. And the weirdest thing was that I literally got lifted out of that freaking seat by God. I’m not kidding! I don’t even know how to describe the sensation—I just know that I must have been meant to experience it. I really feel as though I was blessed by this congregation for life.

Afterward, we were taken off the stage so that they could explain what had just taken place, and one elderly woman pulled me aside. She was so sweet, and I had no idea who she was.

“My child,” she said, “you’re such a beautiful girl. Jesus loves you, or you would not have been chosen.” She smiled beatifically. “I want to tell you something very special. I am not usually here on days with our new members of the church, but today, I felt that I had to come. You see, Pastor Bayless is my son. The man who gave the sermon and who saved you. Looking at you, my dear, makes me realize why I am here now, today, and it is so I can tell you that you are one of God’s chosen ones. You really are a chosen child. This is a very, very amazing day in the eyes of the Lord.”

Well, I mean, come on. To say I was astonished is a rather large understatement. I had no idea what to say or do after hearing that.

“God wants you to speak,” she went on, more emphatically. “He wants you to speak. He wants you to save lives; he has chosen you to save lives.”

You have to remember, this was before I had any real teaching experience, except for some fill-ins at the YMCA.

She wasn’t finished yet: “He has blessed you with a specific tongue, and I want to see if you’re feeling what Jesus has planned for you in this moment. Have you ever heard of speaking in tongues?”

“Yes,” I told her. I was too shy to explain that I knew about this phenomenon because I’d had a devoutly religious friend in high school, and when I spent time with her family, they often spoke about it.

“Do you think you could speak right now?” the woman asked.

I nodded, and she grabbed my hand, and I started speaking some weird language. I had no idea what I was saying. She started crying as she patted my hand. “You are chosen,” she said between sobs. “I want you to know how special you are. This will be one of the most memorable days of your life because the Lord has saved you. And you are to speak about Jesus.”

When I told my gay-friend-who-didn’t-want-to-be-gay-anymore about this conversation, I was torn. Clearly, something profound had happened, and I had been chosen, but I didn’t want to do what Pastor Bayless’s mom wanted me to do—to give up the life I was living and devote it to Jesus. I still liked to drink. I still liked to smoke pot. I still liked to party.

She nodded. “I knew it,” she told me. “I knew you were the one, because I wasn’t chosen like that. I can’t speak that language. I’ve tried, but it’s not my gift. That’s why I wanted you to go to church with me. I just knew.”

So I started going to this church for about six months, and moved in with a platonic guy friend who I’ll call Stan. He had a large apartment in Irvine, with a huge living room in the front with a church-like ceiling. I would put on a Christian radio station and stand in the middle of the living room and worship, speaking in tongues and singing the songs and the hymns. I would open my heart to God and ask for his strength and his power, and I asked Him to please guide me. I didn’t know what the fuck I was going to do with my life. I didn’t know where I was going.

Surprisingly, all the time I spent praying helped me stop drinking and partying without the effort I thought it would take. Still, I honestly did not know what was next because I’d been heartbroken by another failed relationship, and it dawned on me that Stan, who was as straight as a man could be, was dropping hints that he liked me. Liked me a little too much, even though he knew I was gay.

Complicating our friendship was that he liked to come home and tell me what he was doing at work—he was starting a porn website, and this was when Internet porn was barely a thing. (Trust me—you can’t make things like this up!) His sexual interest in me and his job that I couldn’t respect made my living arrangement increasingly fraught.

“I’ll help you,” he would say to me. “I know you’re on this new path. God wants you to be with a man. I’m your man.”

But he wasn’t, and I knew he never would be. So I threw myself even more fervently into trying to save people who didn’t believe or weren’t worshiping. Because after all, that woman at the church had said this was my gift, right? She’d said this was my purpose.

So I went around to as many of my other friends as I could, and I tried to convince them to go to church with me, but most of them looked at me as if I had two heads and said, “Stacey, you’ve lost your mind. . . .”

Maybe I was a bit loopy with the whole trying-to-convert-other-people thing, but I will admit that something magical happened to me during this enlightenment. It changed me forever. It gave me that feeling that someone truly believed in me. Pastor Bayless’s mom told me that God believed in me . . . and I believed her, and I believed Him. That meant I was worth something. Someone finally believed in me, believed I was meant to heal people.

Then one night, something amazing happened. I was lying in my bed. I had prayed most of the day, and I was praying again, and suddenly I felt like I was levitating off the bed. Oh my God, what is happening to me? It was as if my chest opened up, and I swear I saw this imaginary hand come down—it was God’s hand, I knew it—and it came down and pushed hard on my chest because I had so much anxiety about what I was going to do . . . and He just put His hand on my heart and told me that everything was going to be fine, and the pressure of His hand was so comforting I fell asleep.

 

SG TRUTH For several years, I was out of communication with my family. I didn’t visit anyone, or even check in to see how they were. From the time I was eighteen, I would say I was “on the run” until I went to Grandma Stella’s. After that, I still was not so great at being a great daughter; it wasn’t until I got sober years later that I was able to be present and helpful to my entire family.


 

When I woke up the next morning, I knew it was time to go. Time to make a big change in what I was going to do with the rest of my life. Time to say good-bye to that apartment and my friends. Way past time to get away from Stan. Amazingly enough, a few hours later, I got a call from my friend Barry. “Hey, Nosh,” she said—she called me Nosh because I loved to nosh on bagels—“what are you up to? I’m moving to LA to start a PR company. Do you wanna come work with me? I’ll pay you. You need to get out of there.”

That was the clincher. I moved up to Los Angeles in 1991. My own Sin City. I ditched church, and I started doing stand-up comedy. I took classes at the Improv and did so well at my showcase that I got an agent who was really interested in developing me as a comedic actress—this was the same time Ellen DeGeneres was big on the circuit. The problem became me choosing the night life over the professional “comic” life. I made the choice to get in with the wrong crowd, and started partying and doing drugs again.

The good news in the bad news was that these party people were also, paradoxically, very healthy. They were totally into eating right and fitness. And speaking of fitness, this is when I first heard about this thing they called Spinning—they were obsessed with it. They literally did not stop talking about it. I remember being impressed that they didn’t seem to care if they had to spend more than an hour in traffic on the 405 Freeway if it meant they would end up at their favorite Spinning class.

Finally, after I’d been hearing so much about it, I had to try it right away. I loved it! I was hooked. After the first class, I wanted to be the one picking the music; after the third class, I knew what I really wanted was to lead the entire thing, and I was determined to become an instructor.

Okay, here’s where I have to admit something. I had to tell a lie to get my first real Spin-instructor job. The job was at the Workout Warehouse, which at the time was the hottest, celebrity-heavy studio in West Hollywood, and the only one that had Spin classes. It was run by Doug and Cheo, two big muscle-heads and beautiful gay guys who welcomed everyone to all their classes.

I told myself that claiming to have taught my own classes wasn’t that bad of a lie because I had such good intentions and was so desperate for the job. (Um, sorry, it was still a lie!) I asked a friend who ran a much-smaller fitness studio where I had started taking classes if he would cover for me and say I taught there even though I didn’t. He knew that once I’d taken over an aerobics class when one of the instructors hadn’t shown, and a lot of people told me I’d held down a pretty good I’ve-done-this-before kind of attitude as I led that one class. He shrugged and said no problem.

So I lied on my application about my experience teaching Spin classes, and was very lucky that Doug and Cheo didn’t thoroughly vet my résumé, or I would have been busted. I got the job. I was a really awful instructor at first, thanks in part to the antiquainted microphone technology at the time. This was before cordless microphones were invented, so I had to hold the mike in my hand and talk and spin and do my thing. I was good at the doing-my-thing part of teaching from day one, but it took me a while to get used riding the bike and holding the mike so I could talk and teach and check on my students’ form at the same time.

I owe a lot to Doug and Cheo. They taught me how to teach the method that I teach now. I learned how to put musicality and physicality together on the bike, and to do a lot of pushups, a lot of turning and burning, and a lot of weight training on the bike. In fact, I owe my career to their kindness and their smarts.

It wasn’t long before I became very successful as an instructor. I thought I was doing awesomely well. My classes were written up in magazines and featured on The Rosie O’Donnell Show. My career seemed to be really taking off. I was working at one of LA’s most famous fitness studios, and I was regularly having eighty people take each of my Spin classes. A lot of people in my classes were well-known celebrities, and some of them became my friends. And outside of my classes, I was partying more and more. Did my fitness clients know that I was also a partier? Some did, some didn’t. Did they care? Not a bit. My coworkers didn’t care, either—because they were partiers, too.

This was the 1990s, in Los Angeles, and nearly everybody (well, not everybody, but most) in the fitness industry was on either cocaine, meth, ketamine, or Ecstasy. And sometimes all of the above. We were living the Hollywood life, baby.

Everyone in my circle was doing drugs all the time, and that’s all I needed to know for me to think it was all okay for me to do it, too. I loved being high. It was how I made myself feel less anxious and how I shielded myself from the pain in the world that I was unable to face.

I knew going in to all this that alcoholism ran in my family, and it was something I would have to battle with myself. But even as much as I knew this, I plunged feetfirst into this decade. I wasn’t just an occasional drug user and pot smoker and someone who liked to drink. I was someone who had to use. Looking back at this time of my life is where I realize that I crossed the line and became an addict. A functioning one . . . one who could show up to work high, lie about it, and know that people literally had no clue. I occasionally run into people now who knew me during this decade, and they still can’t believe it when I tell them what was going on back then. That’s how good I was at hiding the truth from nearly everyone—especially myself.

I am not being glib when I say I was very much a “functioning addict,” because I was still an athlete, and still fit and healthy, which meant I could party until late at night, and still show up for work the next morning, ready to lead a kick-ass Spin class, as if I’d gone to bed at nine P.M. and slept like a baby through the night. Although I must admit that sometimes I did sleep through classes, and got fired many times. But I was so good at teaching that I always got hired back!

I don’t want to give the impression that while I leading this partying lifestyle I was unhappy. A lot of the time, it was amazing. I had an unbelievably good time. And that’s one of the reasons I stayed addicted so long. I was having such a great time, so why stop the party? So what if it’s three A.M., and I have a one-on-one training session at six A.M., and I’m teaching a class at seven thirty A.M.? No problem. I can do it. Do it all and bring it on, 100 percent. Oy.

It’s amazing that I didn’t even sober up when a terrible tragedy took place in 1999. Seann, my half brother from my dad’s second marriage, was living in Hawaii at the time. He was twenty-three years old, and his girlfriend had lost a baby who was stillborn. Not long after that, he and five of his friends were driving in a car when they hit a patch of water and hydroplaned on the freeway. The car flipped, everyone got ejected, and they all lived. Everyone except Seann. My little brother was the only one who died, and he was the only one wearing his seat belt.

It hit me very hard, but I pretended it didn’t. About a month after his death, I got a strange feeling that I should go out clubbing on a night I usually wouldn’t go out. I didn’t want to, but this feeling was so overwhelming that I finally gave in. I decided to go to a private underground bar I’d been invited to before but hadn’t yet been. A few minutes after I arrived, a group of young straight kids came up to me and said, “Are you Seann Griffith’s sister?” I said I was, and one of the girls said, “I was with him just before he died.”

I stared at her for a moment, stunned. I’d never met those kids before, and I still don’t know how they got in there. And then it hit me. My brother sent them. “He was so happy,” this girl went on. “We can’t believe he’s gone. He was the love of our community.”

We all sat down in one of those weird Kumbaya moments, with our arms around one another as we all started to cry in the middle of the club. It was like a sign—of something special, because I never got a chance to say good-bye to my brother. He was such a happy guy, and he made a lot of other people happy with his spirit.

I remember that he used call me on the phone, and he would say, “Dude, I met someone who knows you. Can you believe it?” He was fascinated that people he met would actually know his big sister.

A few days after that night at the bar, I went to a party with some friends. All of us were either fitness trainers or actors, and we all were making it in our careers at the same time. I had started doing a TV show that was on the Travel Channel called Intersection. (Please do not google that one, as it’s embarrassingly bad!) My classes were doing great. Two of my students from this circle had been on Beverly Hills 90210, which had recently gone off the air. Christian Kane had his band, Kane, and was shooting Life or Something Like It with Angelina Jolie. Vin Diesel had shot The Fast and the Furious during this time, and I remember standing in the kitchen with my friend Lee, who introduced me to Vin, who said, pointing to Vin with a wide smile, “See him, Stacey? This guy’s about to blow up. Everyone in this house has blown up. It’s a good-luck house.”

A psychic had been hired for the party that night. I sat down with her, and she said, “What do you want me to read you for?” and I said, “My brother, Seann.”

She closed her eyes and said, “Wow, I just got a really big flash of a rainbow. Seann’s with us, and he’s standing at the foot of the rainbow holding a wiener dog.”

My jaw dropped. “That’s our family dog that died, Heidi.”

The psychic nodded. “Seann is surrounded by water. Does that make sense?”

I nodded. “Yes. He just died in Hawaii.”

“He’s there with the dog, and wants you to know he’s okay, and he’s super happy where he is.”

That was a comfort.

Around this time, I’d decided to clean up my act. I cut down on the drugging and drinking. A few months later, I was actually sober and not missing the partying at all. My girlfriend of two years and I had decided that a big change was needed—in large part to help me stick to my sobriety. We had decided together that we had a major problem with using and drinking—that was an understatement!—and we finally needed to take control of our lives.

We managed to quit cold turkey (I have never been to rehab); we did this together successfully and started to think of ways to get out of LA. I was offered an amazing job in Atlanta, to be the group fitness director for a gym chain. We discussed having kids. We ended the lease on our LA apartment and bought a small house in Atlanta. I put every single piece of my life on a moving truck. Then, the night before we were going to leave, my girlfriend did something so unexpected and so devastating to me (I can’t share the details) that we split up. I’m sure in hindsight we were both equally responsible for the behavior that led up to this moment, but needless to say, we ended a potentially great future at the time.

Shattered, I asked a very close friend of mine, whom I will call Michael, if I could temporarily move into one of his spare bedrooms. He said sure. (Remember, I have no problem being bounced around, moving, or being in a new environment.)

Michael was one of my students in the front row in my Spinning classes at the Workout Warehouse. If I played any song recorded before 1980, he would get up and leave. I’d be like, “Hey, Michael, I’m playing Hall and Oates now, bye!” and everyone else would say, “Bye, Michael!” as he got off his bike in a huff and stomped out. He just hated vintage music—it reminded him of each of the three wives he had married and then divorced. He’d always known he was gay, but he hadn’t wanted to admit it. He didn’t want his ex-wives to know. He didn’t want hardly anyone to know, in fact, and he trusted me to keep his secret private.

Michael and I became incredibly close. We nurtured each other, and we adored each other. There was only one problem: He was much further entrenched in the world of drugs than I had ever been, and he introduced me to meth. He’d made enough money in his career to finance his habit, and he was totally into it. A lot of gay men in Hollywood in the 1990s were into it. I remember being scared to death of it at first, because Michael smoked it, and I knew that inhaling the drug was so, so bad and a guarantee of a much quicker, full-blown addiction. I also knew enough about addicts to understand how smoking drugs versus smoking cigarettes was not in the same stratosphere . . . let’s just be clear! I stopped being scared once I started putting it up my nose. I’d snort it, he’d smoke it, and finally it got to the point where, as a joke, he would blow it in my face, and then in my mouth. I was just fooling myself.

I knew if I touched that pipe, my meth addiction would become a huge problem. But because the drug was so addictive, I was soon smoking meth even after swearing I never would. Lying to yourself is something addicts do. I’d become living proof of that cliché “slippery slope” everyone talks about—but at that point, it wasn’t just talk, it was my life. I remember it being like your first taste of sugar as a kid . . . just as bad, and all you think about is wanting more.

Ironically, one of the reasons I’d been using drugs all along was as self-medication. They helped me avoid my problems and frustrations, and took me out of my challenging life situations. But meth was something completely different. My meth high paradoxically made me feel normal. Focused. I am not hedging when I say that I got so much done when I was on meth. (I learned years later that meth and Adderall both affect the same neurotransmitters in your brain, and as I have ADHD, meth functioned in much the same way as the prescription med. Which is scary!)

As I had earlier in my LA years, I thought of myself as a fully functioning addict who was fully in control. Crazy, yes, but that’s how addicts defend their addiction. I tried not to miss a class I was teaching. I worked incredibly hard. I became totally obsessed with my cleanliness. I had enough beauty products in my bathroom to rival Sephora. I took vitamins. I ate well. I trained every day. I was sleeping more. What’s so insane is that this became my new normal.

Michael was a functioning addict, too. All this time, he was able to work as hard as I did and was successful at his business. No one outside of our circle would ever have had a clue that meth was a part of our lives. I was so focused during this time that I went to sound engineering school and was able to research music for hours in between the Spin classes I taught. I was also able to keep up with my personal training clients as well as my own workouts. Soon, I even had a second career as a DJ.

This crazy lifestyle went on for three years.

Then, I fell in love again, and that made me want to stop doing meth. This girlfriend did not like the idea of the drugs at all, so I had to make a choice. It had really gotten to the point where drugs had taken control of my life . . . so I managed to kick my addiction cold turkey again and moved out of Michael’s (but I kept my room there just in case). Michael wasn’t so lucky—he continued on that same dark path, all by himself. At least when we were living together, I seemed to have had a moderating effect on him. I was guilt-ridden leaving him alone in that apartment, but I knew I had to try to change my life.

It also didn’t help that his boyfriend, whom he was passionately in love with, broke up with him and moved away. Plus, Michael had a painful genetic neuropathic condition that made it hard for him to get out of bed in the morning, and his drug abuse only made it worse. He often talked almost sarcastically about committing suicide—it was very hard to tell with him, given his sharp and dark sense of humor—and he had made a few halfhearted attempts that his friends and I thought were more a cry for help than any real determination to do it. This had happened enough that we never took him as seriously as we should have.

I knew Michael was in a bad way, but I was shocked when one day he told me that he had gotten a euthanasia kit from some sketchy online site. I panicked and called all of our friends and told them that Michael was serious this time. I said they needed to get right over to his house, but they didn’t believe me and thought he was just trying to get attention, even as I begged and pleaded and told them there was a real euthanasia kit in his room. Only one of my friends came over, and he talked to Michael for a long time, and on the way out told me there was no way he was serious.

I went into his room, and Michael was lying on his bed. I sat down next to him and told him I was calling the police. It wasn’t the first time I’d made that threat.

“Why would you do that?” he said. “If you do, I’ll ruin your career. I’ll call the gym where you love your job and tell them you’re a drug addict. I’ll ruin you. For real. You cannot get in my way. If you love me, let me go. I just want to go. Remember when you used to go with me to the convalescent home to see my father? Do you remember how awful that was for me, how my father suffered? I don’t want to end up like that. I don’t want you or anyone else to have to do that for me. I just want to go now. Let me go, okay?”

It wasn’t okay, of course. I pleaded with him. I begged. I sobbed. I threatened to call the police again, my job be damned. “What can I do to make you stay here?” I asked. “Do you want me to move back? Do you want to go to rehab?”

“Well,” he said, “you can have sex with me.”

That actually made me laugh. “Shut up!” I said.

“No, I’m serious. I’ll stay alive if you have sex with me.”

I looked at him. “I’m not doing that, Michael,” I told him. “I don’t sleep with people just to get what I want. You know that. It’s not the type of person I am. Don’t do this to me.”

Michael smiled. He knew how much I loved him as a friend, and he also knew I could not have sex with him. He would have taken care of me forever, would have given me anything I wanted; but he knew I wouldn’t do it. And I knew he was proud of me, in that moment, for staying true to myself.

So then I tried to turn the tables on him. “Let me see if it works,” I said, grabbing the euthanasia kit. “Let’s try it on me first.”

No way would I have done it, but I wanted to scare some sense into Michael.

“Don’t touch that thing,” he said. “What, are you crazy?”

“No, but how do you think I feel, listening to you talk like this?”

Michael leaned back and sighed. “Look, Stacey, you have a whole life to live, an entire career, and so much to look forward to. But please promise me a few things. I promise you from the other side”—that’s what we called it—“I promise that when I get to the other side, I will watch over you, I will guide you. I will take care of everything. However I can guide you, I will.”

Tears were sliding down my cheeks.

“But you’ve got to stop,” he went on. “I mean it. You’ve got to stop doing drugs, you have to stop smoking, and you have to stop drinking.”

“Oh, gee, that sounds fun,” I said, trying to be flip.

Michael ignored me. “When you do that, all those things, I promise I’ll totally take care of you,” he said again.

We stayed up late talking. In the morning, I left because his sister and brother-in-law came over to see how he was doing and keep him company. As I was walking out the door, I said good-bye to him. For the last time.

His last words to me were: “See you on the other side. . . .”

I’m not sure what words were exchanged between Michael and his family. They obviously weren’t strong enough to make the impact he needed to change his mind. At this point in his life I don’t think anyone could have changed his mind. He was on a mission to leave. . . .

After he was gone, I went off the deep end. No matter how much I told myself that Michael had truly wanted to die, I was tortured by guilt and self-recriminations, and my only way of dealing with that was to do drugs even more often. I felt that I was lost without him. We had spent an enormous amount of time together. He had been like a surrogate dad, a brother, a boyfriend (without the sex). He was like my main squeeze.

Our plan was to be in each other’s lives forever. But so many other things were happening for Michael. He was beginning to feel his age, and in West Hollywood, where there are so many hot young men running around and you’re the old guy who feels like a dinosaur, it got to his ego. Michael was also having a lot of financial problems. His life wasn’t going the way he expected, and I think he just couldn’t cope anymore. I honestly think he died of a broken heart. He just gave up.

I felt like part of me nearly did, too.

The next year was pure hell. I missed Michael desperately. I felt him near me, every day (and still do). I talked to him a lot. I had his initials inked on my right calf. Having these conversations was like a soul-soothing meditation, but it wasn’t enough. Michael had committed suicide in one desperate moment, but I was doing it slowly, by degrees, every time I took another hit. On the outside, I was the glowing California girl, brimming with health and vitality, a superstar Spin instructor with famous friends and a fabulous lifestyle. On the inside, I was going down.

I knew I had to find a way to quit, and it wasn’t going to be easy. It took quite some time of me dealing with some hard truths about myself, of spending the time I needed to try to understand myself better, and many weeks of couch-surfing and staying in friends’ guesthouses (there were two; very LA!) when I knew I had to pull it together, some way, somehow. I’m not an Alcoholics Anonymous type, and I’m not the rehab-going kind of gal, so I just kept reading spiritual books, praying to Michael to help me from wherever he was, praying to my grandparents, praying to all the friends I had lost over the years . . . to help me.

“I am living proof that you can recover and detoxify and cleanse and clear.”

How did I do it, finally? I fell in love with an incredible woman, a normal family person with children, and I knew that you cannot be on drugs or have drugs in your life if you want to be a good partner.

She was the most amazing mother, and it was clear early on that if I wanted to be with her, I had to clean up my act. My therapist says that at first you quit for someone else, and then eventually your training wheels fall off, and you’re riding the sober bike all for yourself. And that’s exactly what happened.

I do have to admit that for the first six years of our relationship, I lied about how bad my addiction had really been. I just didn’t want her to know what I’d done. I was full of shame and guilt, and was really embarrassed to tell her how bad it was. And I kept drinking for the first two years we were together. I got really drunk at a fortieth birthday party, and we got in a fight, and she told me that if I ever had one more drink, she would not be with me anymore. Period. My behavior that night was reprehensible.

So I stopped. And with her help, I conquered my drug addiction and my alcoholism. This wasn’t easy, because as I said earlier, almost everyone in my family is an alcoholic. Even Grandma Stella, who’s ninety-seven years old, still loves her martinis. Who am I to tell her that alcohol is bad for your health? It wasn’t bad for hers. She’s beautiful, and healthy, and looks amazing!

At first, I missed the friends I’d had and the clubbing lifestyle that went with my addictions. But I don’t miss it now. I love my sober life. I love who I am as a person more than I loved that person who partied. Sobriety has become such a big part of who I am that I identify more as a sober person than I did as a functioning addict.

I went from calling it partying, which sounds like so much fun, to admitting I was an addict, which is really no fun at all and negatively affects those around you, not to mention yourself. Now I can say out loud that I lied to myself about being an addict and that I had been lying to myself for a long time. But I had to own it. When I finally did that, it was my first real step into my recovery.

All my years of addiction, and all my experiences in life, are a huge part of why I am as successful as I am as a teacher. I didn’t just magically end up where I am today. The climb and the struggle were fucking brutal. It was more than twenty years of climbing and never giving up. Having experienced that myself is why I can help people go from the bottom to the top. I know what it’s like because I’ve really been there and I’ve really done that.

I am living proof that you can recover and detoxify and cleanse and clear and become a totally different person. I am not proud of a lot of the choices I made. Many of them were horrendous. But I am here to say that you can rise from the depths of it. One second at a time.

And find your purpose, as I found mine.

 

“Figuring out your purposes is a process.”


 
 
 

TWO

THE POWER OF PURPOSE

When you are working within your purpose, it is much easier to live in your Ultimate Center. Purpose is what allows you to stay strong emotionally and physically in the face of adversity, and provides intrinsic motivation to all that you do.

Figuring out your life purpose is one of the most important discoveries you’ll ever have. Some people know what it is when they’re children; they declare that they’re going to be a doctor or a teacher or an astronaut or a carpenter or an artist, and don’t waver in their path. Others are not so sure, and graduate from high school or college and still don’t know. It takes years of doing different jobs to find out what they’re best at. Others realize that their life purpose is being a good parent or a good friend, or giving back to their community.

I overcame enormous obstacles on my journey toward figuring myself out and fine-tuning my purpose. Michael’s death was the tipping point. I knew he was right. I knew I had to shape up or die. I had to turn that knob way, way away from zero to get control over myself and move on to better things.

How can you do the same?

Figuring out your purpose is a process. Many people find it incredibly difficult to actually sit down with themselves and say what it is they really, truly want to be, especially if they have made life choices they didn’t want to make to please other people (such as going into a particular field to please their parents or to make a lot of money).

DON’T BE AFRAID TO ASK FOR HELP

Asking for help can be easy. You have the flu, so you ask your doctor to help you get better. You don’t understand how to do math equations, so you ask your teacher for help. You don’t know why your computer keeps glitching, so you ask someone smart at the computer store. Those problems aren’t easy ones, but they don’t involve emotions, so we aren’t embarrassed to ask for help with them.

But dealing with emotional problems involves digging deep enough into what’s truly going on, and many people have trouble doing that. It’s too painful, or it’s too daunting. To me, people who live like that are just existing, just getting by in life, without scratching beneath the surface. I find that terribly sad, because they’re losing out on life without really trying.

I can say that because I felt like that, too. I wasn’t able to admit to myself that I was stuck and flailing. I knew I needed help—something to give me that jolt to haul me out of my rut. It wasn’t until I went to a Tony Robbins seminar that I was able to clarify just how much help I needed. He didn’t pussyfoot around when he said, “If you do what you always do, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.” That one particular statement got to me, in my gut, and I was so inspired that it made me ready to turn that knob two turns from zero before I’d even left the auditorium.

Part of Tony’s rare gift, I realized later—one Oprah has as well—was his ability to connect to more than three thousand people that weekend. We all left feeling as if he’d personally sat us down, one on one, in a tiny room, and asked us how he could help us. Everyone was able to filter his coaching into their own personal needs at the time. That is the mark of a true healer.

Tony also made me realize that I needed much more specific help with the issues that had made me an addict. I started therapy over a decade ago, and my therapist and my partner are still who I go to now for help. I firmly believe that every human being needs therapy; it’s a sign of strength to say “I need help” and have a trained and competent third party give you guidance. When you need help getting your body in shape, you go to a trainer. When you need help with your emotions, you go to a therapist. If you need help getting motivated, you buy this book. One of the reasons people love coming to my class is because I speak using the language I’ve learned over the years in therapy.

One of the concepts I’ve often discussed in therapy is the notion of being present for whatever it is you’re doing. This kind of mindfulness is important when you’re working out. You need to be present for yourself and not, for example, distracted by what you’re reading in a magazine as you slowly pedal on a recumbent bicycle. I do my utmost to be fully present for my students. I always show up 100 percent alert—well, okay, let’s say 90 percent of the time, because, as you know, some days are just a little harder to gear up, for no reason other than it’s just one of those days! Long gone are those days when I taught with a hangover or poisons in my body. I come shaman ready.

My years in therapy also taught me that it’s the perfect place to talk about your demons and whatever is plaguing you. A good therapist will help you recognize the patterns that you click into in order to stay in your comfort zone. Only by recognizing and identifying these patterns are you able to break free of them. Just talking about things that happened to me decades ago—things that were so painful they’re still stuck in my memory—is incredibly cathartic for me. I think everybody can benefit from some kind of therapy. It’s not just for serious problems when times are really tough, or to treat mental illness. It’s the best way that healthy people can stay that way. Going to therapy when life is good can make life even better.

I think a good therapist is the best kind of life coach, wanting everyone on the team to find the sweet spot and thrive under pressure. A brilliant coach gives you ideas, and then watches as a neutral third party, with kindness and empathy, but without judgment, as you implement them.

Only you know what kind of help is the right fit for you. I also have my rituals that keep me grounded. You might feel more comfortable in a house of worship; or confiding in friends whose wisdom you value, going to a mentor, reading books like this one, or doing the kind of Moving Meditation you’ll read about in this book, the kind you can get in a class like mine. Whatever you choose, you have to respect and click with the person who delivers the advice you need to hear.

You can also go on YouTube and type in “How to Find My Purpose.” There are more than four million results—talks, seminars, classes, and other videos. With help, you should be able to set up some sort of spiritual practice that refreshes your spirit and gives you the confidence to mentally process what’s going on in your life and focus on your goals, dreams, and purpose.

There are lines in a spoken-word song by Baz Luhrmann called “Everybody’s Free (to Wear Sunscreen)” (which was adapted from a column written by Mary Schmich in the Chicago Tribune in 1997): “Advice is a form of nostalgia.” That really struck a chord with me, as I realized that, when working on finding your purpose, you don’t want to totally wipe away the past, but to take inventory of it, to learn from it, to acknowledge the mistakes and successes, and to then move forward. If you look at yourself as constantly evolving, it’s easier to unstick yourself from those habitual patterns that might be comfortable, but that are holding you back from your true purpose.

MAP IT OUT

One of the best ways to begin to figure out your true purpose and what may be holding you back from reaching it is to create a MAP. MAP stands for Make a Plan. MAP it out. But where do you start on your MAP? At the beginning, of course. (You knew I was going to say that!)

Get a piece of paper or a notebook, and make a list of all the important areas of your life: work, relationships, friendships, financial health, physical health, spiritual life, home life/physical environment, relationship with family/children, volunteer work. When you’re ready and you’re sitting there with the pencil, trying to decide where to put the X on your MAP, the first thing you need to do is ask yourself some important questions.

Start with what gives you a sense of fulfillment and joy versus what you feel is draining you. Look at each area of your life and figure out what is working for you and what isn’t. What are you happy about and what are you unhappy about? Don’t try to make a list on how to change things just yet—we will save that for later when we discuss goals—for now, just go with your gut instincts, your feelings in each of these areas.

Ask yourself this: Am I happy with my job? Am I happy in my life? Am I happy being single? Am I happy in my relationship? Am I happy with my dog? Am I happy with my children? Have I found my purpose? If the answer is no, then you have to ask yourself the even tougher question: Why not?

There can be many reasons why we aren’t fulfilling our purpose or haven’t figured it out yet. Sometimes it is because we are too practical and trying to do what we think we “should” be doing rather than what we want to be doing. Sometimes it is because we are afraid of pursuing our true purpose because we think we might fail. And sometimes we just need a little push in the form of emotional support. Acknowledge that you can’t do it all on your own.

This is where the help comes in, because if you are not happy in your love relationship, you have to be able to ask your partner to give you some joy, or you have to ask them why they aren’t acting happy to themselves and to you. (Which is probably why you’re not happy, because we react to each other, right? It’s all too easy for someone who’s in a bad way to make you feel that way, too.)

 

PLAYLIST

FOR FINDING YOUR PURPOSE

These songs are full of meaning about doing what you’re meant to do.

Alesso ft. Tove Lo

“Heroes”

Clean Bandit ft. Jess Glynn

“Rather Be”

Coldplay

“Fix You”

Justin Bieber

“Purpose”

Janet Jackson

“Special”

Parachute

“Something to Believe In”

Pharrell Williams

“Happy”

Rihanna

“We Found Love”

Snow Patrol

“Just Say Yes”


 

Getting the help you need is the catalyst to you living a richer and fuller life. Inventory your spiritual practice today. What do you do to feel centered and grounded in the world around you? To me, that is at the root of what spirituality can be—nothing more complicated than your awareness and connection to the world around you and what’s happening in it!

LET FEAR FUEL YOU

The word fear is designed to put you on edge the minute you hear it, right? Well, being on edge can have its minuses, but it also has its pluses because it can spur you to action. So why not try embracing your fear instead of letting it hold you back? You can use it as a push.

Remember when you were at the swimming pool as a little kid, and your parents stood behind you and told you to jump? You were scared shitless, but they gave you a little nudge, knowing that you were going to be okay. While I got gently pushed, you may have been pulled, or maybe your parents let you stand there and cry and didn’t make you go in if you didn’t want to. However this kind of experience happened to you, we all had our first brush with fear, and this is where it all began. That gap between standing on the edge and landing in the water is pure fear. But now as an adult, you know you can jump right through it.

At least that’s how I’ve learned to manage it. The way I’ve done so has been by talking about it. It took me decades to learn that avoiding discussing things, not sharing them, only makes the fear that much worse. You need to pick your go-to person and honestly discuss your situation with them, whatever it may be, and use them as a sounding board to strategize things. Talk about pros and cons, discuss potential outcomes, and share what you are afraid might or might not happen.

Usually, people get so into their own heads that they forget to share. Be vulnerable to people you trust. This totally helped me conquer my own fear. Maybe I see the fear a bit differently than you do. Once you jump through the fear, you’re so happy, so empowered, so proud. Of course you can do it!

I learned all about pushing through fear thanks to Tony Robbins. He’s got millions of fans for a good reason—he’s a brilliant life coach. I met Tony through one of my Spinning students, Matthew, who was Tony’s hairstylist. Mathew was a very chill rider, a very sanguine Brit, and as I watched him progress, his entire demeanor changed, along with his body. He went from barely being able to pedal to crushing the beat in true testimony. The class was definitely changing him.

After a ride one day, Matthew went to work with his adrenaline racing along with the endorphins, and he just happened to be cutting Tony’s hair that afternoon. Tony, who is one of the most perceptive people on this planet, looked at him and said, “Whoa—what’s going on?”

“Oh, nothing,” Matthew replied.

“Really?” Tony went on “Who’s the girl?”

Matthew laughed. “There’s no girl. I promise you.”

Something’s going on, because you’ve changed,” Tony added. “Usually, people get really excited like you are right now because they’re dating someone new.”

“Well, maybe I’m in a sort of relationship with my Spinning instructor,” Matthew said. “She reminds me a lot of you because she’s so motivating and positive.”

So Tony then kindly told Matthew to invite me to one of his fire walks at his upcoming course. There was one coming up soon in Long Beach, California, for four days. With three thousand other people!

When Matthew told me this, I was thrilled. I started listening to Tony Robbins’s color-coded cassette tapes in the 1990s. Like me, he’d come from nothing; he lived in a tiny apartment and did the dishes in his bathtub back in the days when he’d hand out fliers for his seminars. At first, he rented a little conference room and tried to get twenty people to show up and pay twenty bucks each to hear him speak. He started out with eight people and used the same approach I did. Start out with eight people, give them a guest pass, they come back and bring a friend next time for free. Then for Tony it went to forty bucks for forty people, then one hundred people, and then thousands. That’s how he did it, and that’s how I do it. Because “overnight success” is based on thirty years of hard work.

Tony’s not hokey; he’s cool and doesn’t coddle you. He pumps your ass up. His course was like nothing I’d ever seen before. Tony was like a rock star; you’d have thought these people were going to see a Prince concert. The doors opened at the Long Beach Civic Auditorium, and because it was open seating, there were people literally sprinting to the front and climbing over seats to get close to the stage. Luckily, I was sitting in the VIP section in the front row with Matthew’s sister (he’d already done the course) and Tony’s family. It was one of the most energizing and motivating weekends of my life.

On day three, I think, came the fire walk across twelve feet of glowing-hot coals. If you stop, you burn; and if you push past the fear and just do it, you’re fine. The trick is to chill your feet first so that your skin temperature drops, giving you an extra cushion of time before you might get burned. Once you take that first step, you keep moving. If you stop and look at the hot coals and freak out, you’ll get burned.

It’s amazing what your mind is capable of compelling your body to do. It’s like watching little kids in a Tae Kwon Do class where four-year-olds can break a board with their tiny hands. You can do it when you know where to aim and how to follow through.

You can do it when you push past the fear.

After Tony’s seminar and my fire walk, I realized I had to stop lying. I’d parked my tent in the liar’s camp, as I called it back then, and I wanted to pack it up and go home to a healthier place. Like I said, when you are an addict, you do a lot of lying, starting with lying to yourself. So I went back to my apartment and told my then girlfriend that we had to fix things. I didn’t want to do drugs anymore. I didn’t want to drink anymore. And we did it. For nine months—until, like I told you, things went to shit the night before we left for Atlanta.

But I still know that if it weren’t for Tony Robbins, I would not have been able to clear my emotional clutter. I would not be at SoulCycle. I would not be a sober, healthy person in a loving, giving relationship. I would not have a healthy body. I went to that seminar at the exact moment in my life when I needed someone to guide me so that I could push past the fears that were keeping me an addict.

LEAVE YOUR COMFORT ZONE

Comfort is the killer of opportunity. The only way to get out of your comfort zone is by taking a risk.

Risk is one of those words, like fear, that makes most people click onto the negative, but I don’t see it that way.

Risk-taking is throwing away the training wheels in your life while still taking a well-thought-out chance on yourself. Whatever it is you decide to do, you will see that visualizing yourself succeeding is one of the most empowering things you can do—I’ll show you how in the next part of this book. Careful planning, complete execution, and follow-through on every level, as well as financial safety nets in place, trustworthy partners, and an intuition that this is the right decision, will be ingredients you will need to MAP it out. With those elements in place, you will be controlling as much of the risk as you can—and that makes the risk a lot less “risky.”

“Stronger than you were yesterday, never as strong as tomorrow.”

IDENTIFY YOUR LUCK

Even when I was at my lowest point as an addict, I still felt lucky. Why? Maybe being on drugs does that to you, but for me, I knew it was a gateway for me to discover my true self. For me at least, part of what held me in the addiction was that I found my addicted squad. In my Los Angeles group, as you know already, we were all functioning addicts. Because everyone in our squad was doing the same thing, it was sanctioned; we all thought, and tried to convince ourselves, that it was okay. At the time. Looking back . . . maybe not so much.

It was only when I became a sober person that I realized my luck could have run out at any point during those years. Some of my friends died due to their drug habits. But here’s the thing—even when you’re enduring the very worst that can happen in life (loved ones dying, losing your job, needing to move, your children having problems, your partner wanting out, ill health), you can still feel lucky. You can still say to yourself, “I’m a good person, I’m going to make it, I’m going to figure myself out, I’m going to find my purpose.” Realizing this can be incredibly empowering.

So I want you to think of the notion of luck not as an external notion, as in “Oh, he’s so lucky because he was born rich” or “She’s so lucky because she can eat whatever she wants and not gain any weight,” but as an internal notion. A lot of people use the idea that they’re not one of the lucky ones as an excuse to not push past fears or take risks. I don’t agree with that. You make your own luck inside. You can choose to feel lucky.

Only you can identify your luck. The question you should ask yourself is, What do I feel lucky for? If you were standing at the gates of heaven, and had to tell Saint Peter what makes you lucky enough to pass through to paradise, what would your answer be?

Answering this question will also help you find your purpose, because you will be asking yourself what your most positive quality or talent is. Everyone has something special. You are lucky to have this. It’s what makes you unique.

Even in my depths of despair after Michael’s death, and my worsening addiction, yes, I was lucky. I was still alive. I’m not painting this picture like I was knocking on death’s door by doing drugs—the thing people forget is that all it takes is one mishap, one drive home where you’re not coherent, one wrong pill with the wrong pill with the wrong anything, and you’re a goner. I wasn’t in the despairing place Michael had been in, so deep and dark that he didn’t want to live anymore. I feel lucky today to have had the strength to keep searching for the will to get me out of old patterns, even though it took me many attempts to do so. With the help of someone who really loved me, I did it.

Obviously, there will be bumps on your journey, but you’re going to be like an Olympic gold medalist in freestyle skiing, navigating the moguls with finesse. I remember watching in awe the first time I ever saw that kind of skiing. How do they do it without falling and breaking their legs? I wondered. Then I realized it all had to do with purpose. Those skiers loved what they were doing. They trained their bodies to have the strength they needed. And most of all, they taught themselves how to read the snow so they could find their way forward. They all had the perfect combination of desire, physical strength, and mental clarity. And you can, too.

 

SG TRUTH I use athletic metaphors in just about every single aspect of my life. I feel like it is one of the most relatable ways of turning negatives into positives. You don’t have to be an athlete to do this, either!


MEDITATION FOR FINDING YOUR PURPOSE

This is a wonderful meditation when you feel the need for guidance.

1. Sit in a comfortable room, in a cozy position, and take a few deep breaths. Close your eyes and raise your hands up toward the sky gently, with palms and heart open.

2. Ask the universe for some guidance here while your hands are up, and if you do this right now, I know—and the universe knows—you’re serious about it. Open up to opportunity. Stay open to change; stay open to trust.

3. Concentrate on what you’re asking for. You may have a very precise idea in your mind of what you want, or you may feel conflicted. It’s important that you state to yourself what it is you want to happen. You can whisper it out loud. Keep your breathing steady.

4. Know deep in your heart that you’ll get there. You’ll get there because you’re not going to stop until you do. There’s no giving up anymore. Not only do you have a can’t stop, won’t stop attitude, you are not going to stop making and scoring goals for the rest of your life.

5. This is what ultimate vulnerability is . . . . Thinking like this is ultimate openness. This is you trusting whatever is out there that we don’t understand. You cannot possibly comprehend all of it; there’s too much. You have to rely on that possibility that the space between what is and what isn’t may have just what you need to get you where you need to go. Have the faith that there is something bigger than you that is going to help you through and give you the help you need. Believe that there is something bigger than you that will protect you to make sure that you get through it. Trust me. It’s there for you. For some it’s God, Buddha, Jesus, Ganesh, Hanuman, or simply light. Whatever you do . . . believe in something.

6. Bring your arms back down and hold your hands together in your lap. Take a few more deep breaths.

7. Close the meditation out by seeing what you initially began with coming to fruition. See the entire scenario. See the smiles on the faces of everyone involved. The more you focus on this, the closer it will come to being your reality, especially if this is meant to be. Obviously, time, circumstances, and fate play a role here, but the key factor in these meditations is being honest about what you want the outcome to be. Let the universe take care of the rest. I truly believe that, because this meditation has worked for me on many occasions.

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