Tom Shanahan has been sober since 2012.
The New York attorney credits nutrition, fitness and spirituality for his continued success. So much so, he authored a science and fact-based guide on the subject called Spiritual Adrenaline: A Lifestyle Plan to Nourish and Strengthen Your Recovery. While writing the book, he’s launched a website, blog and Facebook Page.
Today, the adventure seeker has partnered with Out Adventures to launch a series of sober adventures in the Canadian Rockies and through the Peruvian Andes. He’s also off to the Azores Islands in Portugal with Body Roots. While they’re not exclusive to the gay community, the three travel experiences will focus on adventure, sobriety, meditation, nutrition/fitness and components of the 12-Step Program.
We skyped Tom to learn about the growing Spiritual Adrenaline community, discuss substance abuse in the gay community, and get all the details on his upcoming adventures.
I know it’s on your website, but can you speak to your own story and how you started Spiritual Adrenaline?
Ya. When I was getting sober I ran into a number of people at the gym who were living healthy lifestyles while living in sobriety. It really wasn’t what I experienced at 12-step meetings and in the recovery community. And so I wanted to put all these pieces together; 12-step, exercise and nutritional programs.
I went back to school to get certified in sports nutrition. While finishing the courses, I realized there’s no way for people who were interested in integrating nutrition and fitness into their recovery to access the research. So that’s why I decided to write Spiritual Adrenaline.
And you’re still a practising lawyer?
Unfortunately, yes. Ha!
When did you decide you had the power to help others through Spiritual Adrenaline?
I knew exercise and nutrition helped me on my journey.
A lot of people said I was crazy because they call nutrition and fitness “Outside Issues”. Which didn’t make sense to me. And it was in the first year of my journey I realized there was something to this and I wanted to share it. So I began writing the book in 2012 and the website was launched in 2015.
On any given week we get 45,000 hits on the blog, Facebook page or website.
From what I’ve read online, there’s two key pillars to Spiritual Adrenaline: the spiritual, meditative side and the adrenaline, active side. Can you explain them and how they work together to help people in recovery?
Well actually there’s three: nutrition, exercise and spirituality. But our concept of spirituality isn’t worship. It’s not Catholicism or Judaism. Our concept is around self-care, how we feel and how we take care of our bodies.
What are the main objectives or initiatives of Spiritual Adrenaline?
Good question. Right now the blog and Facebook page are helping develop a community of people across the US, in Canada and around the world. The book is coming out January 1st.
We’re excited to have our first Outside Issues Conference. We’re holding the conference in Florida. It’ll include a CrossFit challenge and beach volleyball with a lot more in the works.
We’re trying to sponsor local people and organizations. For example, I’m sponsoring a Native American from the Cherokee nation named Kallup McCoy who’s attempting to run 1000 miles on the Trail of Tears. The trail is the exact route the Cherokee were forced to march during relocation. One-third of the people died during the march.
Finally, next month we’re playing a big role in the Gay & Sober Men’s Conference here in NYC. It’s going to be integrated into the gay pride parade. This is so important because statistics say in the gay community, 20-30% of people abuse substances. I happen to think it may even be higher, depending on the age bracket. In the general population, substance abuse is between 8-9%.
Why do you think substance abuse is so prevalent in our community?
It’s the stigma, discrimination and the prejudice people experience in their formative years. It’s gotten a little bit better. But it’s far from perfect.
What are some steps we could take as a community to mitigate the use of drugs and alcohol?
That’s a good question. I think admitting there’s a problem is the first step. I like that the Gay & Sober Men’s Conference is hosting a sober cruise party on the Hudson River. I really like how they’re focused on having fun. Drugs are so prevalent in gay clubs, so the message is you can be sober and still have a really good time. Fun isn’t dependent on the intake of substances.
Let’s talk about these trips you’re planning. You have three upcoming tours: Hiking the Inca Trail in Peru, trekking the Canadian Rockies and exploring the Azores Islands in Portugal. How did you decide on these destinations?
Banff made a lot of sense because it is affordable, easy to get to and spectacularly beautiful. It has all the elements: nature, the outdoors etc.
Regarding the Inca Trail, it’s a huge bucket list item for people all over the world. We restructured the usual Out Adventure to fit Spiritual Adrenaline’s needs. So the menu is reworked. Alcohol was cut out. And certain activities were moved around to incorporate 12-step meetings and healthy activities. Also, we have an awesome Shaman visit to focus on the spiritual side.
And I assume Rob just sold you on the Azores. He’s obsessed with it and never stops talking about it.
Ha! No, actually. My friend is the owner of Body Roots and she’s from the Azores. She told me all about the islands. She calls the Azores The Hidden Atlantis. Or The Unspoiled Atlantis. So we’ve partnered to offer an Azorian experience. I can’t wait!
There’s a lot of retreats and yoga experiences for the sober and recovering community. What do you think it is about adventure travel that could impact the community positively?
I believe getting people to step outside of their comfort zone is a good thing. I’ve been on gay cruises and to circuit parties. And I can only speak to my own experience but there’s a lot of drugs and promiscuous sex involved.
I don’t think that’s just your experience.
I wanted to offer something that was different. Out of that environment. Something new. Something out of their comfort zone. I also think it’s good to bring people out into nature. Out into these beautiful places. It has the potential to change their view of things. This is so key to recovery and mental health.
It can be rewarding to show those in recovery they can do difficult treks or have the adventures that maybe they couldn’t while they were using substances. With Spiritual Adrenaline you can climb a glacier in Banff. In Peru, you can spend time in the Sacred Valley. You can get out there and push yourself.
Can you talk about the points that make your trips unique?
We try and keep the majority of the trips the same as Out Adventures. The #1 difference is the lifestyle. We incorporate healthier food choices. And there’s no alcohol or drugs on tour.
Second, we incorporate elements of meditation: walking meditations, silent meditations. And we do a few 12-step meetings.
Finally, I teach basic recovery nutrition and basic recovery exercise.
If an individual wasn’t interested in a component of the tour, could they still participate?
We ask people to come with an open mind. If they don’t want to participate in a component such as a 12-step meeting, then, of course, they could pass.
What fitness level should someone be before joining your upcoming adventures?
You don’t need to be an athlete. You just need the right mindset. We’ll have a lot of support on our trips to help those doing something like this for the first time.
Last question: what destinations are on your personal bucket list?
I want to finish the Buddha Trail in Nepal. I did the first half in 2015, which included his birthplace. I want to finish it, including the place where he found enlightenment, the place where he gave his first sermon and then the place where he died.
It sounds cheesy but I watched a documentary about Buddha and it helped me quit smoking. When I visited his birthplace, I left a thank you note behind. When I go back I’m bringing a copy of Spiritual Adrenaline and I’m going to leave it under the tree he found enlightenment.
That’s very conclusive. Very special.
Yeah, it’s meaningful to me.
If you’d like to join Tom on a sober adventure tour, click here.
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