The Day I Stopped Drinking

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I should preface this piece by saying that I am not an alcoholic.

I exist in that weird limbo between being a casual drinker and an alcoholic. I don’t have a physical addiction to alcohol, and I didn’t drink to the point of getting drunk every day. But ever since I was legally able to drink, I would go through spurts where I’d have a few drinks a week, sometimes more than one a night, and would spend a lot of my weekends drunk and hungover. Stressful situations would lead me to drink either at home or at a bar or at a friend’s house party, providing a faux panacea and an unhealthy alternative to coping with said stress.

In early August, I was under a decent amount of stress due to some personal changes in my life. Good changes, mind you, but the process of reaching them proved to be very intense and very stressful. And when I get stressed, I drink. And when I drink, I eat. Alcohol and comfort food are my own personal match made in hell.

I had gotten back into a trend of eating, drinking and not being merry after a semi-successful month of working out again. Despite my persistent self-reassurance that I was happy, deep down I knew that I had started throwing away every ounce of physical and mental progress gained from working out and eating (slightly) better the month before.

And then I hit my own personal bottom.

Most people think of hitting bottom, in the scope of drug and alcohol addiction, as committing an act so embarrassing or destructive that it forces them to open their eyes and changing their ways. Nothing that extreme happened to me, thankfully, but I did undergo an intense physical wake-up call known as a splitting hangover.

I’ve been hungover before. Many times. Hell, I’ve had worse hangovers than the one I’m about to discuss. But this one was different. To this day, I still can’t quite explain what it was about it that told me, “Dude, you’re better than this.”

The day before, I got pretty drunk. I was bar hopping and chasing beer and tequila with decadent bar food, plus some donuts that I scarfed down as soon as I got back to my apartment. I don’t remember falling asleep. Hell, I don’t even remember why I got drunk, other than the fact that I could.

I woke up the next morning feeling like a guy who had three tall beers, a tequila cocktail, an undercooked burger, and 4 donuts the night before. The sunlight beating down on me from my bedroom window mocked me mercilessly. My own body mocked me. My stomach felt like I had swallowed a tiny uranium bomb. My head spun; it churned a dull, poisonous sensation throughout itself chastising me for my less than stellar life choices.

That day, I decided not to drink for a while.

I had entertained the notion of quitting drinking plenty of times before. I heard stories about people who felt, thought, and lived much better after limiting their social drinking. But what always stopped me was the fear of missing out, of not being able to socialize and hang out with friends and go on dates without the aid of a stiff drink. After all, I’m only young once, right? YOLO, as my fellow millennials say. You can quit drinking when you’re older. Just enjoy life, man.

The only problem? Drinking didn’t make me enjoy life. It dulled life. It dulled me. It made me even more of a physically and emotionally imbalanced person. It didn’t decrease my anxiety, it exacerbated it. It messed up my sleep patterns. It created a vicious circle of drinking (often hard liquor), making me hungry and thirsty for crap, buying greasy, salty comfort food and soda, finishing with some kind of dessert, passing out, and doing the same thing later that week. It sapped my daily energy. It made me unmotivated to go to work, to write, and to work out and eat right. Because if my diet isn’t good, then why bother working out, right?

Cut back to the morning of my brain and gut taking turns kicking my ass. I looked in the bathroom mirror and realized I had only two choices: (1) Do nothing, and continue to make half-assed attempts at eating better and limit my drinking, only to inevitably relapse, or (2) Commit to clean eating for a firm period of time, including NO drinking at all.

I don’t know what was different this time around. I had given myself that same ultimatum God knows how many times before, and always chose the first option out of complacency and a fear of self-improvement. Maybe it was fate or the stars aligning or just a spontaneous coordination with God and whatever forces at work internally and externally, but as of writing this, I have gone 31 days without a single drop of alcohol and a substantially improved diet and it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

In just over a month, I’ve noticed my skin is glowing, I think more sharply, I want to write more (hence the slightly more consistent blogging),I have a lot more energy and desire to work out, and therefore my body fat has significantly diminished. I’m still not at my goal body type yet, but I am in FAR better shape than I was a month ago. As for my weight, I couldn’t tell you because I don’t weigh myself much anymore. I may hop on at the end of the week just out of curiosity. In short, I feel pretty damn great.

Speaking of working out, in addition to the whole “no drinking” thing, I knew I had to get back on the ball with my diet and exercise, which suffered by proxy. I severely curbed my intake of processed food and sugar, replacing fast food with home-prepared meals and more green stuff, zero-nutrient sugary crap with dark chocolate almonds/berries and dried fruit, and soda (a lifelong addiction) with unsweetened green tea, the occasional tart cherry juice, and *GASP* … water!

I started working out one week later. I revisited Hip Hop Abs through Beachbody OnDemand, and decided to do the month 2 workouts to jumpstart my metabolism again. I eventually toyed with my schedule and added different workouts into the mix, but my calendar was a fantastic starting point just to get me moving again. I remembered that if my workouts were fun, I would be even more committed to leading a healthy lifestyle, and I was right. I’m following this modified four weeks of a Hip Hop Abs calendar with a CIZE/Les Mills OnDemand hybrid, and I cannot wait. Curbing my drinking for a while has given me so much energy and enthusiasm that I actually WANT to work out again. For real. I haven’t actively wanted to work out in so long that I forgot what it felt like.

To anyone reading this struggling with your diet or drinking, it’s important to realize that you are WORTH the change. Every bit of it. It is never too late to turn your life around and make a game plan. There are so many easy, healthy recipes out there (which I’ll also blog about), affordable and free workouts you can do at home, and of course, support groups for drug and alcohol addiction. My drinking dependence never got to the point where I needed those groups, but there is absolutely NO shame in reaching out to them if you need them. It’s one of the most beautiful and amazing things you could ever do for yourself.

No matter who you are, or how far gone you think you may be, you are worth living your life to its absolute fullest potential. When you honor your body and give it what it needs, you are honoring yourself. You are showing yourself the love and respect that you deserve. You are cultivating an incredible existence, and by overcoming those demons of food and drink, you aren’t just strengthening yourself, you’re inspiring those around you to potentially do the same thing.

Now let’s go out and kick some ass.

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Feeling Awesome

nacGreetings, Nonathletes!

I just wanted to check in despite the madness that is my life to report that I have gone two weeks without having a drink and one week without any excess sugar. I know my last post made it sound like I was in a pretty bad place, and I was, don’t get me wrong. But as I’m typing this, it’s 7 AM and I just made a bowl of oatmeal (oats, cinnamon, and a banana) and a cup of lemon jasmine green tea, watching the sunrise from my apartment window. The worst of the sugar cravings have subsided (though last night I did nosh a bit on some sweet potato chips and dark chocolate almonds), and I don’t even want to drink.

I just feel so…energized. I’m a different person when I’m not sedentary, when I’m not drinking or eating badly. I feel happy to be alive, and lucky to be able to celebrate the wonders of the human body through exercise. I feel lucky to have proper dietary tools at my disposal. And the best part? I’m lucky to have a platform to help share my thoughts, ideas, and health+fitness knowledge (limited as it may be) with all of you.

In addition to my dietary cleanup, what’s been keeping me energized lately is that I have been super consistent with my workouts! I’ve only missed one in the past two weeks, and that was due to some pretty bad exhaustion and being unable to do it as soon as I got home from work. I’ve been doing Month 2 of Shaun T’s Hip-Hop Abs, which was the first Beachbody home workout I ever attempted (in 2007). I only had the month one DVD at the time, and thanks to BOD, I can now stream the month two workouts and the bonus workouts as well (yesterday’s “Last Minute Buns” really came in handy as I was rushing to prepare for work).

And yesterday, I finally tried a Cize workout (“Crazy 8s”). Cize is like Hip-Hop Abs, except instead of it being just an aerobics routine set to hip-hop beats, it’s an applied dance aerobics workout. And unlike Hip-Hop Abs and other Beachbody workouts, Cize isn’t just a weight loss routine (though the calorie burn I experienced was off the chain): It’s also a dance tutorial. You learn actual moves, actual choreography, and you repeat those moves and piece them all together at the end set to (a cover of) a top 40 song. I love that. It’s teaching me an applied, disciplined skill in addition to getting a kickass workout.

Thanks for reading, and whatever journey you’re on, remember this: you’re not facing it alone.

Past + Present (Rant + Oath)

When I was 10 years old and approaching puberty, I began gaining weight.

It was a gradual process and one that I didn’t really notice. I was already socially awkward and just kind of in my own world, so my appearance wasn’t something I was concerned with. But when I turned 12 and experienced the Machiavellian hellhole that is junior high, where your “rep” and your “image” begin to truly matter, I quickly and painfully realized that I was truly “fat”.

Throughout 7th grade, I was ridiculed on an almost-daily basis for my weight. Sure, everyone gave everyone shit for something, so it’s not like I was the only one being made fun of. But my weight was my target for jokes and slander to be thrown in my direction. It was the first time that a group of people verbally called me fat and ugly, and those are descriptors I still carry with me to this day.

Fatso. Tubby. Piggy.

More often than not, I hate my body. I see it as a sloppy, bloated, disgusting mess that should be guarded by clothing as often as humanly possible. I’ve lost weight, sure, but I’ve also gained some back. This is a continuous process. Therefore, I never see my body as being good enough. Lean enough. Strong enough. Sexy enough. And even when I do get back down to my lowest adult weight of 194 lb., I’m still going to look in the mirror and think:

Fatso. Tubby. Piggy.

No amount of running is going to make me forget crying myself to sleep Sunday nights, knowing I’d be verbally tormented at school the next morning. No amount of squats will take away the sense of imprisonment I felt inside my chamber of obesity as I was superficially judged by people who didn’t know the real me. No amount of healthy eating will make me forget the heroin-like comfort that processed sugar and fried foods gave me when I was dealing with bullying or my hardcore obsessive compulsive disorder I developed that summer.

Even as I type this, I feel a sense of shame. My weight is somewhere in the high 220s/low 230s due to inconsistency with my workouts and my diet. I keep thinking to myself, “It’s been four years since your fitness rebirth. You should be in the 180s by now. Maybe even the 170s. If your friends and all these people in the Beachbody infomercials can maintain their weight losses, you should too.” This sickness, this body dysmorphia, is my demon. It’s what wakes me up at night and tells me that I’m not good enough, that I’m still the same fat, ugly mess of a child I used to be.

I’m writing this one week into my alcohol cleanse, and one day into my soda/sweets cleanse, so as you can imagine, I’m a little on edge. However, I’m trying hard to remind myself that life isn’t as simple as the “Before and After” pics from the infomercials make it seem. Success isn’t a straight line, it’s all over the place and almost always involves taking big steps back. What’s keeping me strong, however, is my clear, concentrated effort to remove the crutches of sugar and empty calorie dependence from my life, and the truth that I am limited only by myself.

I started this fitness journey in 2012 after years of ignorance and complacency, and while I’ve failed at it more times than I can even count, those failures gave me so many learning opportunities. I’ve determined through trial and error that I simply can’t trust myself around soda and processed sugar and limiting myself to just one beer. Until I can prove that I can go a long time without it, I can’t indulge with even a little bit. And yes, that sucks, but it’s my battle and I’ll be damned if I’m going to let the demons on the other side (and in my own head) defeat me.

I’ve struggled too hard and sacrificed too much to just give up. I have the tools at my disposal to take my fitness to the next level. I have the ability to push toward my goal of 200 lb. and beyond. I am not limiting myself to excuses or the past, because neither of those things define me. I WILL soldier on. I WILL push forward in the face of adversity. I WILL learn and grow with each passing day.

I WILL succeed.

TurboFire Initial Impression

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This week, I decided to finally test out Chalene Johnson’s cardio conditioning program TurboFire through Beachbody On Demand (BOD).

 

And after trying the intro workout Fire Starter and the faster-tempo Fire 45 EZ, I have to say that this it’s proving to be a challenge. Not only is this a nonstop cardio assault along the lines of LES MILLS COMBAT (R.I.P.), but the choreography is also much more complex. It takes numerous tries to perfect the jab/cross/kick/etc. combos Chalene throws at me, and even once I did the moves in the right order, I did them so many times that my form began to fail. I couldn’t even finish Fire 45 EZ (which I blame on not enough breakfast), but I did enough to get a solid sweat and I made up for it with a 3-mile walk during my lunch break.

I also really like Chalene’s energy and enthusiasm. I can tell why Beachbody has produced so many workouts with her – she’s inspirational without being overly peppy, she’s motivating without being a drill sergeant, and she knows how to make my uncoordinated ass feel normal as I dance and kick like I’m off my meds. Seriously, those speedbag hip-gyrating moves and those impromptu borderline-twerk sessions are a bit awkward for a 26 year-old man to be doing in his apartment gym, but life’s too short for a sense of shame.

I’m really looking forward to sampling the other workouts and combining them with some of the others on BOD (and Les Mills OnDemand), maybe throwing in some weightlifting again. We’ll see!

Review: Repulsion (1965)

Originally posted on ForcedViewing.com

To me, Roman Polanski will always be famous for 3 things: (1) Making awesome and unsettling movies set in close, uncomfortable quarters. (2) Doing that one really, really awful thing. Like seriously, holy shit… (3) Influencing Nicki Minaj’s pseudonym of Roman Zolanski. While I could (and should) gush about the horror aspects of her verse on Kanye West’s “Monster” (and the whole song, really), that’s a discussion for another time. Instead, allow me to take the time to adequately talk about one of Polanski’s less-discussed masterpieces, Repulsion.

This film, similar to the other two films in Polanski’s “Apartment Trilogy” (with Rosemary’s Baby and The Tenant), is the story of a young woman driven to insanity within her own small living quarters. This insanity is caused by two main factors: Her sense of claustrophobia, and her warped idea of sexuality. The latter is partially caused by her sister Helen, who makes passionate love to her lover Michael night after night in the next room, loud enough for Carole to hear every moan, every orgasm. Polanski would use sound (or lack thereof) to the film’s benefit many times throughout the movie, one scene in particular I’ll discuss below.

This not only exacerbates Carole’s claustrophobia by placing her in an environment in which she cannot escape, but it also subconsciously fuels her distaste of men, and therefore disallows her to have a meaningful relationship with the opposite gender. Once Helen and Michael leave for a holiday, one would imagine that her claustrophobia would settle. However, it only worsens, for when a woman with Carole’s warped mentality is left to her own devices, only the worst could happen. *Insert evil laugh here*

Much like Rosemary’s Baby, the first 30 minutes of Repulsion are not particularly frightening, and that is purposeful. Polanski knew how to create the perfect horrific atmosphere: by making the audience relatively comfortable, only to violently shake them out of that comfort zone. However, unlike Rosemary’s Baby, this film possesses a few more jump scares, which would go on to become a major tenet of modern horror films. This is first seen when Carole begins having intense hallucinations, beginning with the random cracks in the wall, symbolic of Carole’s fragile mentality: at any moment, her once-sturdy walls could crack apart with enough provocation. Man, I’m getting deep today.

Carole’s provocation comes with the even more intense hallucination of the hands and the rape dreams (Yeahhh, awkward, Polanski…). The hands themselves were creepy enough, protruding from the wall attempting to fondle Carole and fueled by her hatred of males. The rape dreams were also intensely frightening, albeit in a much different way. An overweight, sloppy man gets into bed and rapes her, and there is no audio of the event happening at all. This goes beyond Carole’s own distrust of males, for this is a scene that reflected the act of rape itself: an immobilizing and silencing experience.

Carole’s hallucinations do not stay in her mind, however, for two males enter her apartment on different occasions: her ex-boyfriend and her landlord. This is symbolic as well, for by entering her apartment, her walls crumbled down even more, showing what can be seen as an “invasion” of sorts, at least from the point of view of our protagonist. Her ex Colin enters the apartment because he loves her and he wants to know why she’s upset, whereas the landlord is presented as a predator, sensing isolation and loneliness in his prey. Once he enters the apartment, we see him as a stereotypical asshole landlord, but once he sees how beautiful Carole is and that she’s alone, he attempts to make moves on her by softening his voice and getting to know her. He then states that she can forget about paying the rent if she “spends some time” with him. Let’s just say things don’t end too well for either of these guys.

I would say Repulsion is actually one of my favorite horror movies. I prefer entries in the genre with more subtle scares and mindfucking elements as opposed to pure slasher flicks (though the subgenre of slasher is objectively wonderful), and this film is a true example of “apartment” and psychological horror. While not as terrifying as, say, Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, it’s still a very creepy, unnerving delve into the mind of a mentally unhinging isolated individual and absolutely must be seen.

P90 Week 6

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This is my final week of mainly P90 workouts since next week (technically THIS week, since I’m writing this during Week 7), I’ll be doing a 4-2 Hard Corps/P90 hybrid.

Honestly, I don’t really have a lot of thoughts about my progress this week, aside from the fact that I still feel like I’m getting stronger, so I’ll catch up more with my thoughts on Hard Corps next week. See ya!

P90 Week 5

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Looking at my 30 day progress pictures, I saw some definite improvements, especially in my back and upper midsection. Something that I didn’t directly notice in the pictures yet saw in my daily life was that my biceps and triceps are more hard and defined, and my legs are a lot harder and sturdier. Plus, as is the case with consistent exercise, my face appears less puffy as well.

Sculpt B has proven itself to still be one of my favorite workouts of all time, because it’s both classic and progressive, incorporating old school routines like classic curls and 7/7/7 curls from Tony’s original Power 90, while also invoking P90X3-esque routines like balance curls and push-up+side arm balances (aka “The Crab Special”, a name that made me more hungry than anything else. Yes, I know it’s treif.). What I also like about it is that the entire routine can be done with dumbbells so, unless you prefer it, you can do rocket rows with dumbbells.

Sweat B is a definite improvement over its Month A predecessor, making its moves slightly more complex by adding on extra twists (i.e. downward strikes + sprawls instead of just sprawls). Plus, seeing Maddy strike and kick her way through this routine not only motivates me to keep up with her, but she also reminds me of Alice (aka “Pain in the Alice”) from P90X3, who proved herself to be nothing short of a bonafide badass in routines like The Challenge and MMX. The major downside of this lies not in the moves themselves, but within Tony’s incessant need to copy the modifying performer’s English accent. Ugh. As for Ab Ripper B, I’ll be honest…I didn’t do it. I don’t really have the time to add ab routines on top of 35+ min routines (though I should), but it’s basically Ab Ripper A with some added moves.

I also sampled the 22 Minute Hard Corps Cardio 1 workout, which absolutely kicked my ass but it was over in practically no time. It’s basically repeated sets of moves like step-back lunges, side-to-side lunges, and (holy &%$!)…burpees. Lots of burpees. I can tell this is going to be fuuuuunnnnn.

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P90 Week 4 / “Month A” Review

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And so ends Month A. How I hardly knew thee.

I’ll miss you all…Jim, with your ripping 61-year-old biceps putting my 26 year-old twigs to shame, Stella (STELLAAAAA!!!) with your awesome Lara Croft braid and your horrible, horrible form (though mine isn’t much better), Christy with your refusal to do anything Tony says, and of course, Dakota. No matter if I’m going north, south, east, or west…you’ll always be in my heart. Because your “advanced” level shenanigans inspired me to crank up my heart rate.

So yeah, I got through it. I did very little Sweat A + Ab Ripper A, but that’s ok because I did most of my Sculpt A workouts and substituted cardio with yoga sessions, which made me sweat like Chris Christie on stage with Donald Trump. Here are my thoughts on the workouts:

Sculpt A

Like I had mentioned in a previous post, I have never been a weightlifting guy. I think that stems from the fact that I was always overweight growing up and a lot of what helped me (temporarily) lose weight was running and other forms of cardio. That, and I always assumed the sole purpose of lifting weights was to get you big. It’s not. It’s prolonged calorie burn, and like Tony says during lunges (in a voice so flamboyant it makes Richard Simmons sound like Arnold): “BURNING SENSATION! Which means calories are burning, which means you’re gonna lose weight and look good.”

Sculpt A is an awesome and accessible introduction for people who have never so much as lifted a dumbbell yet will still provide one hell of a challenge. It’s a total body workout that includes both isolating moves (standard curls, swimmer’s presses, pulldowns) and moves incorporating the multiple areas (rocket launcher kickbacks, weighted kayak lunges, Sawyer chin pulls). You do 16 reps per move, take a break midway, then do slightly harder versions of those same moves. For instance, you’d start with half pushups in the first round, then start with walking half pushups in the second round. Overall, it’s a quick yet effective calorie burner that novices and pros alike will get a lot out of.

Sweat A

As I’ve said, Tony isn’t a big cardio guy. Shaun T just straight up annihilates him when it comes to cardio workouts, while Tony offers more in terms of resistance (two sides of the same ridiculously shredded coin). So, while it has its moments that I got a lot out of (particularly its MMA moves), this workout really didn’t do it for me. Not because it was too easy, because it did make me work up a sweat, but because it just kind of bored me. It’s one of those “have to” workouts that I ultimately ended up substituting yoga in its place. I prefer cardio set to a rhythm, which is why Les Mills COMBAT is and will most likely remain one of my favorite home workout programs of all time. It’s rhythmic, fun, energetic cardio that keeps you moving because it’s set to a musical tempo. Here, the background music serves just as that: background noise. Not terrible by any means, but not particularly motivating either. I say try it out a few times, and if you like it, great. If not, do something that makes you giddy as a [something giddy] to work out.

Ab Ripper A

This is actually where Sweat A improves a bit, with its immediate followup of Ab Ripper A. This 8 minute core routine, if done correctly, will make your midsection sore and make you feel like you put in genuine work. All of it is floor work, though, so if you’re a standing abs kind of person, then you’re out of luck. Thankfully it’s relatively quickly, and as someone who HATES working his abs, I’ve been through more torturous routines.

Saturday Special

This is a P90X3 workout.

Okay, it’s not, but since this weekend workout has a time length of 30 minutes and the fact that it will make you sweat a ton (and whine a little) by its end puts it in the same category as Accelerator or anyother X3 cardio routines. It’s fast-paced cardio and abs (standing and floor) that puts you to work for half an hour but makes you work. It’s one of those “hate it but I love it” workouts that is a challenge no matter what month you’re on, because you can always go faster or intensify your moves. Definitely an improvement over Sweat A for sure.

So yeah, this was a good month and I’m already noticing myself slimming down and fitting into jeans that were too tight a month ago. Up next is Month B…

BUT.

The peer pressure of Facebook has proven itself too much for me, as I have been invited to participate in a #SummerStrong fitness challenge group. This means that beginning April 4th, I will be committing 60 days to Tony Horton’s brand new military-inspired fitness program 22 Minute Hard Corps in lieu of the second half of Month B, all of Month C, and the first half of P90X3 Month 1. My reasoning is simple: I get to satiate my desire to try this (really cool-looking) program out and get a free t-shirt at the end. What I may do to appease my OCD desire to finish P90 is to create some weird hybrid of the two, but we’ll see.

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P90 Week 3

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Greetings, nonathletes!

So, despite my initial determination to complete as full and unadulterated a P90 calendar as possible, I’ve realized how much I actively dislike Sweat A + Ab Ripper A and have instead opted to switch in yoga workouts instead, making this a strength training + yoga hybrid for the time being.

This past week, I did the following workouts:

Mon: P90X3 Yoga + P90 Sculpt A

Tues: P90X3 Yoga

Wed: Rested

Thurs: P90X3 Dynamix – A dynamic stretch routine co-developed by Olympic athlete Malachi Davis.

Fri: Moving heavy boxes (yep, counting it as a workout)

Sat: Yoga Booty Ballet Pure and Simple Yoga – Hey, don’t knock it till you try it. As silly as its name is, it’s an ass-kicker.

Sun: PiYo Sweat – To make up for Wednesday (and a Saturday of St. Patrick’s Day festivities), I tried the BOD sample workout of Chalene Johnson’s PiYo program.

This week, I’m reincorporating more of Sculpt A to not only reintroduce my body to resistance training, but also to adequately prepare myself for next month’s Sculpt B workouts. I’m particularly excited about this since I feel Sculpt B is one of the best resistance workouts I’ve ever done. On the remaining days, I’ll alternate between various BOD yoga routines and make sure one of them has cardio, so ideally, PiYo Sweat or Jericho McMatthews’ Half & Half cardio + yoga BOD workout.

I’m really excited about pushing my body further with the relaxing yet challenging and sweat-inducing power of yoga and the adrenaline rush of lifting iron and cranking out pushups and pulldowns.

Whatever it is you’re doing (or thinking about doing), “do your best and forget the rest.”

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Review: Silver Linings Playbook (2013)

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*originally posted 5.10.2013 on my old WP blog*

The latest purchase I made from the big red machine known as Redbox was Silver Linings Playbook, and yes, I know I am late to this one. And I’m not sure why, given I’ve really enjoyed The Fighter and I♥ Huckabees, two of director David O. Russell’s previous films (or maybe it’s just the inclusion of Mark “Everything I Say is a Question” Wahlberg). But instead of Marky Mark, we have the equally talented Bradley Cooper (The Hangover, Limitless) taking the lead with Jennifer Lawrence (The Hunger Games) starring opposite.

Since The Hangover, I’ve always appreciated Bradley Cooper, but he’s had the misfortune of playing the typical bravado-laced pretty boy throughout most of his career. His role as Pat Solitano, Jr., however, allowed him to show us he can be vulnerable, unhinged, volatile, and stubbornly determined despite any form of reason telling him to stop. He has goals to legitimately improve his life after being released from a mental hospital, and will stop at nothing to achieve them. What really rings home about Pat’s struggle is that we’ve all been there: We may have all not been in mental facilities (yet), but our lives have all taken turns for the worse at some point. But it’s those who create their own silver linings playbooks and get right back up that find true success and happiness. In this way, one could argue Pat Solitano, Jr. is the embodiment of the American dream (it’s no coincidence this story takes place in Philadelphia with eagle symbolism scattered throughout). Does he always do the right thing? Of course not. It wouldn’t be an interesting story if he did, and it wouldn’t be accurate either.

Pat eventually meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), his friend/coworker Ronnie’s sister-in-law, at the most awkward dinner party in recent memory (but thanks to their conversation, I now know which depression meds to take and to pitch). She’s edgy, visibly broken, and obviously still attached to her spouse, an obvious perfect fit for Pat. What makes Tiffany so interesting is that she is Pat’s first real challenge outside of his own little bubble, and he hers. In addition to their commonality (his wife Nikki has a restraining order against him, her cop husband was killed an accident), their friendship provides the material for the both of them to grow.

This is seen primarily in the second-half plot device in which Tiffany agrees to give Nikki Pat’s love letter if Pat enters a dance competition with her. Is it typical of the romantic comedy subgenre? Of course, but that doesn’t make it any less necessary and in its own way unique. Pat thinks Tiffany is simply a necessary step toward reconnecting with his wife, and Tiffany thinks Pat, at first anyway, is just one of the many sex-hungry guys she’s encountered since her husband’s death. Thanks to easily the best performance of Lawrence’s career so far, these two feel like one of the most “believable” couples put on screen in a long while, and one we can actually root for and not just  gloss over the way many are handled in most mass-marketed romcoms.

What really made me fall in love (joke unintended) with the film as a whole were pretty much all of the supporting characters. Jacki Weaver plays Dolores, a mother who is unconditionally supportive of her son but not afraid to tell it like it is, even when that means butting heads with Pat, Sr. Robert De Niro has been on an odd streak of supporting roles for the past decade, and honestly this might be my favorite of them. I can’t help but admire his character’s continual tough guy Italian bookie act, even though he’s 65 and feeling the brunt of the recession. That and his OCD-esque fixation with the Philadelphia Eagles, particularly his belief that Pat, Jr. is some kind of good luck charm to help them win, actually serves to bring them closer together, leading to a sincere and touching couple of moments between the two.

Outside of the family, Pat has Ronnie (John Ortiz) and Danny (Chris Tucker), a fellow patient from the mental hospital. These two don’t particularly provide anything thematically deep, rather just fun, hilarious performances and constant reminders that Pat is not alone. This is Tucker’s first on-screen appearance in years, and he doesn’t go absolutely Rush Hour on us, nor does he just phone it in. He gives a genuinely awesome portrayal of a man, like Pat, who needed help, got it, and is picking himself back up.

Perhaps his most important non-familial relationship, however, comes from his psychistrist Dr. Patel (Anupam Kher), who might honestly be both the coolest and the worst psychiatrist I’ve ever seen since Michael Fassbender played Carl Jung. He seems to consistently give Pat good advice but maintains a strong presence in his life outside of the doctor’s office, even going so far as to being involved with bet on Pat winning the dance competition during the film’s third act. This, of course, is forgivable given the ridiculous face paint we see him wearing at the Eagles game. Seriously, Dr. Patel is awesome.

Through this fantastic entry in his filmography, David O. Russell has proven yet again to be one of the most important writer-directors working today. He put his own personal spin on such a tired subgenre much like he did with his Micky Ecklund boxing biopic The Fighter (which yes, I will get around to discussing as well), providing a story and characters that no one can forget. Silver Linings Playbook is seriously one of my favorite new movies, and one I could honestly watch dozens upon dozens of times without getting tired of it. This gets a solid recommendation from me, and will soon be the silver lining of my Blu-ray collection…See what I did there?

Score: 9/10

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