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A Pro Snowboarder Shares Her Success, Trauma, Addiction And Chronic Pain with Jenn Reno
What do you want to talk about now, Sean?
Your cooking because I’m hungry and you’re a phenomenal cook.
I came off of cooking for a three-day yoga retreat up in Topanga Canyon. It was the ninth retreat that my friend, Evan, and I have done up in Topanga. It’s me cooking for about 25 people, three meals a day for three-day. It’s a solo show. I usually wake up around 6:00 AM and start making breakfast and then I’m cooking all day long through to 9:00 PM. It’s this crazy fifteen-hour day but I spend the extra time because I want to create these amazing meals for people. One example is we did a buckwheat crepes, which is this gluten-free crepe and put in it butternut squash, wild mushrooms and toasted pecans. I made a sauce from cashews and Herbes de Provence. The Herbes de Provence would be this mix of French herbs. It has lavender, thyme, marjoram, oregano and sauced this crepe with this sauce made from cashews because you can’t use dairy, you can’t use butter. It forces you into this creative box of how you can create a vegetarian meal that also tastes good.
That sounds delicious.
That was one of the ten meals. I usually take people on a journey-like cuisine. I’ll cook Indian food one night. I’ll cook Japanese food one night. I’ll cook Mediterranean food or Mexican food. I throw in a whole bunch of variety in there.
Is it all vegan?
It’s not vegan, vegetarian. I’ll use some eggs and some cheese and some butter but very little. For the most part, it could be considered vegan.
What do you make for breakfast then?
I made that crepe one morning. The other breakfast I made was an oatmeal bowl. You take oat bran, hemp seeds, flax seeds and Chia seeds and mix them with hot water. It’s easy breakfast but then I’ll top it with honey. I’ll blend cashew milk with cinnamon and heat it up and then some almond butter and some fresh berries and make this delicious and nutritious. It’s finding this balance between nutrition and I design the menu a lot around things that are going to support the gut. For these people who probably don’t eat super healthy food all the time and they’re coming for a retreat, sneaking in all these foods that are going to help to support the gut healing itself.
Through that process, not only are they coming to practice yoga and meditate for three days but they’re also getting this well-thought-out menu that’s full of spices and herbs and these things that are going to help to create this healthy microbiome. One girl came up to me at the end and she’s like, “I need to learn what you’re doing because I haven’t had any stomach issues in the last three days. I’m always having indigestion.” I was like, “I am definitely happy to have a conversation with you and integrate that.” Because to me, we can’t heal if our gut isn’t healthy and happy. If our gut isn’t healthy and happy, it’s causing inflammation in the body and in a state of inflammation, our body is trying to manage that state.
That’s part of what I help promote in terms of creating a foundation for health is to feed yourself whole organic foods as close to nature as you can with no pesticides. No nothing to help allow your gut to heal. If you’re looking for that and ten other tips on how to help create this foundation of health in your life, drop over to our website, AdventuresInHealth.tv. I’m giving away an eleven-video series on how to create a foundation of health and from that, the world is yours.
It’s worth it. It’s free too. Give your email and you’re going to get him showing up in your inbox for eleven days straight.
If you take action on those for the future, it will create dramatic shifts in the way you feel and the way you’re interacting in the world. It’s my gift to everyone. Effectively, it’s years of experimentation put down into eleven videos.
Are we putting all your photos on the website too? Are we adding all that into your page? The photos of you taking pictures and you taking the videos of your cooking?
It’s not on there yet.
People want to see your recipes, see the videos and see what you’re presenting. I’ve been following you on Instagram and Facebook but I think we should bring all that over to our website and let people see.
All of that will be coming, so stay tuned. Let’s jump into what we’re talking about now. We’re talking with Jenn Reno, who is our guest. She ultimately talks about meditation as her way to deal with chronic pain and all of the crazy injuries she’d been through her career as a professional snowboarder, through drug addiction and rehab. She’s been through the ringer and she found her way back from it.The human will is set on fire. Click To Tweet
She is incredible. She is extraordinary. She is the apex of health now and her body has been injured and been through so much. She showed up here. She is a cherry-eyed and gorgeous girl. Meditation and yoga saved her life.
It was great to get to sit with her and hear her story. This is the longest episode we’ve done. I didn’t want to stop her story because all of it was valuable and all of it was relating to overcoming injury, overcoming addiction and overcoming emotional trauma and abuse. Across the board, she’s gone through it all and she’s still this bright, shiny and happy person.
Let me repeat this too. She’s gorgeous within her soul. She’s beautiful internally as well as externally and that’s what we have to look at. These people who come on the show, what are they giving back? What are they doing and then how are they recovering? It’s beautiful for me to express who she is to me. It’s the divinity of love.
Let’s go hang out with Jenn and experience her divinity and her love and who she’s become as a result of her life experiences.
Welcome to the show, Jenn. How are you?
I am well. I’m so happy to be here. Thanks for having me.
You’re very welcome. How are you doing, Seany?
I’m good. She’s a good-looking girl who’s been through everything. I had to say that because we got a chance to talk before the show started. I thought I had it rough. Jenn, you inspire me.
How about you let people in your own words know who you are?
My name is Jenn Reno and I grew up in Jackson Hole, Wyoming for the most part and on a mostly self-sustaining farm in Montana where we lived off the Earth as much as possible. We lived off the garden and we were hunters and fishermen. Our freezers were stocked with meat from the local game and fish we caught on the rivers. I had a great and beautiful childhood being in nature and connecting but with it, I also had a lot of trauma at a young age. It was this dichotomy of being in this beautiful place and having amazing experiences. I was living in places that people travel all over the world to visit but also experiencing trauma at home and a lot of violence and scary things. That shaped who I am now and where I went with it.
In the early days, what are you specifically talking about?
My parents divorced at a young age. My father got sober when I was two and my mother decided to leave him. She was not sober and didn’t want to get sober. She was an alcoholic and a drug addict. I split my time between the two, with my parents. My mother along with being an active alcoholic, it’s undiagnosed but it was almost like multiple personalities. There was a lot of violence. Cops were at my house all the time. I have a brother who’s older than me and when he realized what was happening and got older and took this defiance stance, big fights would break out and then I’d get caught in the middle. A lot of times I spent talking with cops as a little girl, a lot of car accidents with my mother while she was drinking.
Sexual abuse from her boyfriend at one point and it was a lot. I wrote about this in an interview, life on a ranch or on a farm is hard work for a little kid. It’s beautiful. Now, I appreciate it and I wish I had that garden. As a little kid, we always had chores or we’re chopping wood and I was skinning. I didn’t hunt the deer or the antelope or the ducks but I was the one skinning the hides and salting them and helping cut it up and freeze it. We had our own cattle that we raised. The realities of life and death are in your face a lot.
My mother was not somebody that cuddled me if I didn’t feel well or I came to her with something. As a little kid, we have our worries. We have our pains, our aches, our fears and that was a burden for her. I learned at a young age to bottle that up and do everything I could not to be a burden. I also started taking care of her. I remember coming in and finding her face down in our living room. I thought she was dead. I didn’t know what being drunk and passed out was. I took care of her a lot. I grew up very fast. That is true for a ranch and farm life in general but then there was this other aspect too. As a young kid, I would go to school and I only had one friend who knew what I was dealing with at home. I couldn’t focus in school because I would think about all the scary things that had happened the night before.
There was a moment once where my mom had a gun out on me. I remember running and waiting to feel a bullet pierce in my back. I don’t know if she would have ever done that but the experience in itself was enough. I could never focus at school and I would cry to the counselors but I was ashamed. I didn’t get to have friends over because we never knew which version of my mother would be present. My brother and I had this long driveway. When you live out in the country, every house is a field or two away. Your driveways are forever. We’d be walking down our dirt driveway and the anxiety was palpable between us. We didn’t know what we would be coming home to. Usually by the afternoon, my mother would be on the dark side and it was going to be hell until she passed out that night.
There’s a lot going on there. It’s a wild ride as a young person to not only you’re growing up in the wilderness, essentially. It reminds me of my childhood. I grew up on 100 acres in Colorado and we were always chopping wood. We were always doing something and my parents made it fun though but it sounds a lot going on to be young and trying to figure out and integrate your own life. Also having to come home to your mom and being out in the woods and everything.
It was scary a lot of the times. I look back on that or I see little kids who are the age that I was when I was experiencing that and it blows me away that I was able to make it through. I don’t know what it was that carried me through so much. I had a stepfather who was great. He wasn’t around a whole lot. He traveled for work. My father had moved to Wyoming at that point but he was there on the phone at all times when needed or he would call the cops and get them out there. I don’t know how I made it through some of it.
Chronic Pain: I was learning what fame was. I wanted to be in the Olympics. I came home and started smothering my walls with Olympic rings.
Then you are snowboarding. You took what happened to you and you found your pro career.
My mom was a ski instructor. My stepdad was a ski patrolman and a fishing guide and my dad was a big skier as well. Much of our family activities were on the ski hill and in the mountains and camping. I moved away from my mom when I was ten years old in the middle of the night once my dad came and got me. He didn’t say a word to my mom. He just waited for her to pass out. My dad comes and gets me and I moved to Jackson Hole permanently. My life there was quite different. I had a father who was sober, who had done the work on himself. He was emotionally present for me and I was able to do the things I wanted to do. With my mom, it was too much of a burden to be in sports or activities because you didn’t know if she’s going to be able to pick you up. There are too many chores to do on the farm. Living in Jackson Hole, I had this opportunity. First, I was in gymnastics and I loved it. I’ve got to go train with Béla Károlyi when I was six.
Is that an organization or a person?
Béla Károlyi is a very famous gymnastics coach. He coached Mary Lou Retton and Nadia Comăneci. He’s produced some of the best gymnasts in the world.
In the history of gymnastics, yes. I went and trained with him when I was six. I had taken a little break from my mom and lived with my dad. I was recruited to go train with him and I didn’t realize what this opportunity was. Every morning, I was training there. I’m a little girl and we’re training six or eight hours a day but Mary Lou Retton or Brandy Johnson would do a performance for us and everybody would run over and look over the banisters. These girls were famous and I was learning what fame was and that there were famous athletes and gymnasts. I was like, “I want to be in the Olympics.” I came home and started smothering my walls with Olympic rings. I would do projects at school around the history of the Olympics. I became enthralled with this. I saw how they stood out.
Probably as little girls look at actresses or models and think their lives are all perfect and together, I was like, “If I can get that, then things are going to be okay.” I kept up with gymnastics for a while but I kept getting hurt all the time and it was killing my dad to see me in arm cast all the time. At ten years old, I’m taking eight to twelve Advil a day to get by. He forced me to quit and I was so livid. He told me I was going to be on the snowboard team. I was like, “If I have to be on a team for snowboarding, it’s going to take all the fun out of it.” I get on the team on the first year of competing and I make it to nationals. I was the youngest female at that point to ever make it to nationals and compete in nationals.
I’m getting interviewed by ESPN Sports and I have a helmet that’s borrowed. I’m the only one who’s not wearing one of those spandex downhill suits and I’m racing on a freestyle board. I’m not even a hundred pounds. I’m tiny and all the girls who are winning have the gear and the race boards and the fancy helmets and the sponsors. They probably weigh like 150 and I have ESPN come up to me and say, “What are you doing here?” My answer was, “I figured if I could make it here with this gear, then I could make it through it.” Immediately in my first year of competing, I was getting that outside validation. It felt great.
Were you racing?
Yes, Slalom and GS and then I did some Half-pipe. I was terrible on the Half-pipe. Somehow my gymnastic skills did not carry over into the aerial aspect of snowboarding and I did some boardercross as well.
What is Slalom and GS versus Boardercross?
Slalom is for snowboard racing. It’s when the gates are closer together. You’ll see that in skiing as well. Typically, the athlete is slapping the gates as they go down.
In skiing, you wear shin guards.
You wear shin guards and wrist guards. It’s quick feet. With Giant slalom, the gates are farther apart and with that, you carry more speed.
Those are the ones where you see Bode Miller going all out or that’s Super GS?
That’s Super GS or downhill. The downhill is where they let it run. Then border cross is a combination of not so much slalom but GS and slopestyle. There are jumps in between the race course and there are banks that you have to go around and they let anywhere from four to six people out at the gate at once. It’s like a free-for-all down the mountain, over the jumps and through the gates.
It’s fun to watch. Do they still do it at the X Games?It's strange that a stuff that's so self-destructive helps you find comfort in your skin. Click To Tweet
It’s fun because they let out many people out of the gate at once battling it out through the course at the same time. Which one was your favorite?
Slalom. I was a more technical athlete for sure.
That’s probably why the board and everything were irrelevant because in those, you’re not getting up that much speed or anything.
Right after I competed in that first nationals and I didn’t do amazing, I think I was placed in the top twenty overall and the top in my age group or the only one in my age and immediately after that, I got letters for companies who wanted to sponsor me. Then I started getting all the gear, which felt cool. That’s some ego started coming in there. Big boards are being delivered to my house for each event, new ones.
Is it like Burton or Oakley?
Smith was my main goggles sponsor and then my first snowboard sponsorship was with Killer Loop. Then actually our goggles were part of it. It was called the Benetton Sports System. I was thrilled because one of my idols is in Jackson Hole. That was another amazing thing of growing up in Jackson Hole is you are surrounded by inspiring athletes. There are so many amazing people and a woman that I looked up to. She was the three-time queen of the hill, this badass snowboarder. She was also sponsored by Killer Loops. I was like, “I’m in.”
How old were you?
I was probably fourteen, turning fifteen. I started going to Mount Hood in the summer. I was making sure I was on snow for most of the year. My whole life revolved around snowboarding. My dream went from being a famous gymnast, which I was so far from to being a famous snowboarder which it felt like that was within reach and I would go to the gym before school and go lift weights. I had early release from school to get on the hill and train early. I would train until the lights came on with the snowboard team and then sometimes go back to the gym afterwards. I come home. I barely do my homework. I definitely slacked in that area and then wake up and do it all again. I was obsessive-compulsive. It was all I could think about.
Did you love it?
I love goal-setting. There’s something that is so exciting and at that point, I was so driven and I was getting fit and in tune with my body and my coaches would say, “Jump,” and I’d say, “How high?” I could do it and it felt great. I don’t want to say unstoppable but I felt I was going places and moving forward towards this goal. I was traveling around to snowboard events all over the US, flying with the team or loading up in a van. We all became best friends. My coaches where my confidants. I had a tutor, a nutritionist and everything to make this happen.
You had the peeps next to you to help you to perfect your skills?
You were given that next chance.
Some of the coaches were some famous snowboarders themselves at some point or still had a career going. It was great to have that there too with their own experiences.
How many years did you end up competing for?
I think about five or six, not many.
Chronic Pain: All these years, I had put everything I’ve known into this identity as an athlete. I didn’t know what to do with myself if I wasn’t going to be physically setting goals.
What were the highlights of your competitive career?
I don’t know what the highlights were so much. It’s moments of feeling and finishing at the top and knowing that the hard work that I had put in for that race specifically had paid off. Traveling to different mountains and this bond with my people, my snowboard team, my fellow riders was so great. I’m still close with a lot of them. I can’t think of one great moment. Of course, there were moments where I got to do some interviews or photo shoots and stuff. That was exciting but I think it was when you would get through the event that you had been training for. You knew what you were doing was for a reason and all was coming together and its purpose resonated within every cell of my being. It’s a good feeling. Then there are the times when you didn’t finish where you wanted to and felt defeated but it was back to, “I know what to do from here and I need to train harder. I need to do this. I need more time on the hill. It was constantly getting back to the drawing board.
For five or six years, your life revolved around snowboarding and being competitive.
It was all I could think about. I had dreams about it. I would dream about waking up and I would go up to a mountain. It would be fresh corduroy. Nobody would be there yet in the morning and the snow would lightly be falling and I would get my face down level with the corduroy I and see that nobody had touched it yet because there’s that feeling about fresh groomers and there are sharp edges and you’re connecting with it. I would dream about that and the smell when it snows, how it’s so clean. I loved it.
I’ve never heard that description before. I grew up in Telluride skiing at a very high level as well. I’ve never heard it called corduroy before. Corduroy, for anyone who’s not familiar with ski slopes is when it’s freshly groomed and it has this rippled corduroy look to it.
Like fresh corduroy pants but I haven’t worn one yet.
Why did you stop competing?
In those five years, I had a lot of surgeries. I experienced a lot of injuries. I first blew my knee out training at Mount Hood when I was fifteen and then that carried through needing a few more surgeries. Then I blew my shoulder out training in a halfpipe run. I dislocated it. I didn’t know what had happened. I was in the middle of the Half-pipe trying to stand up but my shoulder wouldn’t come and I had vomited in the Half-pipe. People are all around me and some people put it back in for me and I managed to compete for the rest of the season with it coming out. It took five surgeries for them to stop my shoulder from completely dislocating. I had torn my bicep tendon at one point. They had missed it in surgery and then finally they took a bone out of my hip and put a bone block into my shoulder to stop it from popping out. I have this big chunk missing out of my hip.
That’s in your arm?
They put your hip in your shoulder. That sounds like me. My skull is in my abdomen.
It’s amazing. That’s not as cool as yours.
No but it’s all cool. It’s all strange to me.
Before the surgeon did it, I said, “How do you get the hip bone out?” He said, “You know how you would chip away at ice?” I was like, “Let’s just put me under and do this.”
This sounds like a horrific thing to visualize before going in, “We’re going to knock it away like we’re chipping ice.”
I looked like I had been hit by a bus. I had a shoulder sling on and a cane and my pant line came up right to where that bone graft was and I had bloody gauze out of my jeans for a few weeks. I was a mess.
What did you ultimately discover about yourself?It's our personal responsibility as an individual to learn how to find balance in our lives. Click To Tweet
Eventually, a renowned knee surgeon in Vail told me that if I continued on the route I was, in the path of training the way I was, that I wouldn’t be able to snowboard or walk by the age of 30. I needed to stop competing and training. I did and that turned my life upside down because all these years I had put everything I known into this identity as an athlete. I didn’t believe I was intelligent. I didn’t think I was a student. I didn’t know what to do with myself if I wasn’t going to be physically setting these goals and training for them and missing my tribe and being on the mountain with them. That sent me off on another trajectory with some self-destruction.
In essence, you lost your entire identity and who you were for five or six years. You wanted to become an Olympic athlete and that was so ingrained in your mind that you have to stop.
You lost your confidence too, I would think because like myself, I thought I had to do things accordingly to please everybody else and to please my mom. It wasn’t real and then you go through it all, you get to a certain point, then all of a sudden, “What am I doing all this for?”
The one thing is that I and my mother relationship was so sordid. I was trying to find these ways to connect and one thing that I did notice was, the one thing she could express in a motherly way was how happy she was for me and my snowboarding career. She had the magazines I was being published in or local newspaper articles. She would have them hung up around the house. That was the only way that I felt that she was proud of me.
That’s beautiful and you get now that she loved you?
I do. She was mentally incapacitated. She’s mentally ill and had her own demons. My dad has always said she’s no longer with us but at that point, she’s doing the best that she can for where she is. It gets to a point where I can’t blame her for a lot of it. It’s more what do I do with this from here? How do I move on from this? It’s the same with ending a snowboarding career. I wanted to be mad at the world but I wish at that point I could have said, “What do I do from here that’s going to benefit me?”
What did you do from there?
I did go to college but at that point, I started getting into cocaine. I had tried it once before when I was eighteen at the Running of the Bulls. I had experimented with drugs starting at a young age. I started using drugs, smoking pot when I was twelve. I did acid in eighth grade and getting drunk in seventh grade. I always kept it controlled or well-hidden because I had to walk on eggshells around my mother so much and it was so easy to set her off. I never wanted to disappoint my father. I created this facade that everything was okay. I was perfect. I was this good girl. I was in gymnastics or I was in snowboarding. I did okay in school. I had my friends but when I stopped snowboarding and I was no longer getting random drug testing for the snowboard circuit, I started falling into this addiction and this vicious pattern.
I also liked coke because I had a warped body image from a very young age. I was a late bloomer. I was skinny but I still saw myself as this chubby girl and it’s so worth to think because I would try to borrow my friend’s clothes who I thought were skinny and their pants would fall right off me but somehow I was still fat. It’s a serious condition in how warped we can get in her body image. I loved cocaine because I didn’t eat and I started to lose weight. On the snowboard circuit, I was pretty strong. I was never overweight. I was muscular but if I wasn’t going to be muscular and training for something, I might as well be skinny and feel comfortable in my skin or so I thought. I started doing cocaine four days a week.
While you’re going to school?
While I was going to school, I would be up all night and I would go to class. Sometimes I’d bring it to school and I liked it because I’d go into the bathroom and do lines and come back. I feel that I was taking part in the conversation and whatever we were discussing. I did well in college. I did a lot better than I did in high school but I was so uncomfortable in my skin. It’s strange that this stuff that’s self-destructive helps you find comfort in your skin.
I think with any drug or substance that you find yourself with, you’re trying to escape what you’re experiencing in your life at that moment. It doesn’t even have to be something you’re ingesting. It can be an activity or a habit that you get into because you’re trying to distract yourself. When I was in college and I was working full-time at the same time, I used to play video games. I would get home and play video games for hours because I didn’t want to think or worry about everything that was going on. I think with anything, you’re looking for something to distract you from what is happening in your life.
I did that with snowboarding as well. That was a healthier avenue but I put all of these feelings of what I had experienced with my mother and all the fear and all this sadness and I would try to go back and mend things with her on holidays or whatever custody. I would go see her for spring break or for a few weeks in summer vacation and immediately it would fall apart and there would be violence yet again and I’d be running away. There was so much that I didn’t understand and I put it all into training. I put it all into showing up for everybody else in the world. I started to then put it all into drugs and drinking but still having that facade of everything’s okay. Not everybody knew I was doing drugs all the time. I was getting the best grades I’ve ever gotten in school. I was on the National Honor Society. I always needed to be standing out in some part of my life. I was like, “If I’m not going to be sports modeling or competing on the snowboard circuit, it’s going to be in school now. It’s going to be somewhere where you didn’t expect it.”
You’re a competitor.
She was looking to be seen and to stand out means you want to be outstanding and that’s cool. The choices we make as a child from our parents’ upbringing or the kids upbringing caused you to take all your heightened anger or rage or excitement to where you wanted to be.
When I first moved away from my mom’s when I was ten, I would bite my fingernails down to where they’d be bleeding and I’d wake my dad up in the middle of the night crying because my fingers would be infected. We’d have to put them in boiling water to help with the infection. My dad wanted me to go to a therapist but I was scared. There’s also this thing I need to protect my mom and not tell people how bad it was. I felt guilty to share the things that had happened because I didn’t want this horrible picture painted of her. Her name was Althea.
When it was Althea, she was a vibrant and beautiful human who wanted to be skiing and wanted to be outside and loved me so much. I was torn between those two personalities and I wanted people to know that good part. I remember one day in the living room, he said, “I want you to yell. I want you to cuss. I want you to scream.” I was like, “Dad, I can’t cuss in front of you. I’m perfect. I can’t do this,” but he knew. My father grew up with quite a bit of trauma himself and was an addict himself and he knew that if I didn’t purge these things that I was holding onto it was going to manifest into something deeper and it did in a lot of different ways. That nearly killed me.
Chronic Pain: Addiction is not a fun place to be. Recovery is hard, especially the first year.
You’re in school and what were you going to school for?
I was studying conservation biology and environmental sociology. I was passionate about the Earth growing up in Jackson Hole and in the Grand Teton and Yellowstone. From a very young age, I have known that we need to preserve our Earth and do good by it.
You graduate and how is everything?
I didn’t graduate.
You didn’t graduate?
No, I went to Colorado Mountain College which I’m sure you know of.
I’ve heard of it. I don’t know where it is.
I went to the one in Steamboat. I went abroad and studied in Kenya and did a three-month survival course where we also studied biology and high mountain altitude first aid. I studied the languages, religion and all the things that are all around Kenya. Then I moved to Santa Cruz to go to school there and finish up with Conservation Biology. When I got there, I was still doing drugs but my eating disorder had started to come to the front. I always had that worked body image but I had never restricted my eating or taken physical action with it. It was more a mental thing but here I was physically acting out an eating disorder. I was anorexic and I was working out two times a day running ten miles a day, eating 300 calories a day going to school and I had two jobs. I was running myself to the ground to the point where I was put in the Stanford Cardiology Department for fear of heart failure. My pulse was down to 26.
That’s one beat every two point something seconds.
I have a low pulse, in general. My pulse is usually low 40s. I went straight from there and was put into a rehab facility for the eating disorder.
Would you say, based on your experience with your dad, that he was trying to get you to express yourself and purge this trauma that what started happening was this manifestation of these old wounds that had never been healed?
Yes, a million percent and it makes me so sad to think of myself, that young girl that was hurting so bad and didn’t feel safe to express that or know how to, having the support to do it with a father who was there to listen but still not know what to do with it.
I think it’s tough and maybe you can speak to this but I don’t think it’s an aspect of our lives that’s taught to us in any capacity. If you’re not aware of what’s happened to you because you’re young or how to deal with it, what are you supposed to do?
There was a part of me that was like, “I get to do all these things. I get to travel around. I have the support to do these sports and to go to college and my dad provided me with a great life.” I almost felt like, “That happened but let’s move on.” I felt guilty to complain about anything that had happened in my life because I had a very charmed life on this other aspect. One of my therapists used to call me tragically charmed. There was so much tragedy and trauma but also all these amazing things that happened to me or have been given to me or I’ve made happen myself.
I felt guilty to complain too. I don’t know and also those moments where you have that lump in your throat or somebody tells you to breathe but if you take a deep breath you’re going to fall apart and you’re going to crumble. I was scared to go there. I knew that if I went to these places that my dad or these therapists wanted me to go, I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to get out of it. Here I was surviving, I was getting by and I’m not going there and it was a scary place to go.
Did you start to address these things when you were first admitted into this rehab for the eating disorder?
We started to get into what I had experienced as a child and the pain of having to walk away from snowboarding and not having a relationship with my mother and feeling less than. I didn’t feel worthy and I didn’t know how to feel comfortable. I was in there for three months. They put twenty pounds on me but by the time I was ready to leave and it’s a lot of money to go to rehab. It’s a hard thing. Some insurance covers it and some don’t. My dad put everything he had into helping me and I couldn’t stay longer. It wasn’t financially possible and they had started to peel the onion of what had happened with my mother and me breaking down and talk. It took me two and a half months to open up there and then I was out. I was freshly opened with twenty pounds on me and I went right back to drugs.Just because you get sober and quit doing drugs doesn't mean bad things stop happening. Click To Tweet
Were you back to doing cocaine?
I’m back to cocaine. I was always pretty open to trying things. I moved back to Jackson Hole after rehab. I had to quit college and the town I lived in, there wasn’t heroin around or meth. It is around but not so much. It was mostly cocaine, some acid, ecstasy, mushrooms and drinking. I got into it but I also started a career. I had a personal trainer that I worked out with who trained me a lot and had helped me rehab from quite a few of my surgeries. I didn’t know what I was going to do with my life professionally and he was like, “You should be a personal trainer. You know what it’s like to set goals and to work hard for them. You know what it’s like to get injured. You’ve injured every part of your body and you know what it’s like to come back from that. You know what it’s like to have this discomfort in your own skin and self-destructive behaviors. You can relate to everybody who walks in this room at some level. I became a personal trainer.”
Here I was doing all the drugs and being a party girl but I was also still keeping it unless you were in the room doing drugs with me. It wasn’t like I was walking around town. I didn’t look like a drug addict. I looked healthy. I looked vibrant for the most part. My weight would be fluctuating quite a bit. I would lose a lot of weight at some points but I was personally training people. I was showing up at 4:30 AM sometimes, I still hadn’t gone to bed. I smoked a lot of cigarettes when I did drugs and here I am training people. It was exhausting but somehow I could do it. When I did go to rehab, my clients were like, “I had no idea. You’re always here first thing in the morning. You were never late. You’re always in at 5:00 AM.” I’m like, “That’s because I was still awake.”
No one had any idea?
No, not really. I was able to keep this facade of, “I’m okay. I’ve got this. I’ve got you and I can take care of everybody and do my job. I will work hard so I can afford the drugs,” which I did. This secret life was all of this pain I was carrying around and treating my body. I still exercised all the time and ate healthily but aside from that, I’m putting the worst things possible into my body and not sleeping and running myself into the ground.
It sounds exhausting. It’s almost like you’re living a double life.
I was living a double life truly. Here I was supposed to be this person of good health and inspire you to live like me and here I was behind the curtains, smoking cigarettes.
You’re fighting addiction, which is so hard. It’s a disease. People don’t understand. They say, “You can quit anytime. You can stop.” It takes a village. It takes a lot of time and a lot of work to quit the disease.
It’s so hard. My heart goes out to anybody who’s struggling with addiction. It’s not a fun place to be. Recovery is hard, the first year especially. It’s funny though. I had my one-year sobriety birthday come up at some point and somebody was like, “That was the hardest for me, one year,” and then it was two years and people are, “Two years is the hardest.” It’s like, “Let’s say it’s life. Life is hard.”
That’s what they are saying, it’s one day at a time.
It was like no matter how far along you were, people are like, “I struggled at that point.”
Every year is the hardest year.
That’s how it started to be. It was like, “I’m in.”
How many years are you in now?
It will be nine years.
Is the ninth year the hardest year?
I’ll let you know. I was working and working then I got into a relationship with somebody who was a drink-to-die alcoholic. I got into a relationship with somebody who was like my mother, who I had to take care of. He was amazing when he was sober and he loved me and I couldn’t have a better partner at that time to the sheer terror of taking him to the hospital all the time, having to have a bottle of vodka by his bedside because he would have seizures if it wasn’t there. It was horrifying but also here I was protecting his image and protecting my relationship. I’m going to work, doing all these things while at the same time wondering what I was going to come home to. Missing fifteen calls from somebody who’s drunk and crying and saying they need me and I have to be there. Then it started to get violent. I ended up having to have him arrested for battery charges but I was so deep in this co-dependent relationship. He had locked me in a room and slammed my hand in a door and broke my ring finger. Then a week later, he proposed to me on that broken finger and I said yes. I didn’t know. I was too scared to say no.
Chronic Pain: It’s amazing what people can come back from and how they can turn their lives around from being an addict.
It’s like a dark poem. Your ring finger gets broken and a week later someone proposes. Your body was like, “No.”
I knew that it wouldn’t happen. There was a deep part of me that knew that it wouldn’t happen but I think there was also this part of me that maybe it will happen. Maybe it can happen because that’s the thing with addiction or with mental illness or what it is. We get these glimpses of people at their best and we know what they’re capable of and the person they’re capable of being and you bathe in that experience. Then bad things start to happen and you hold on because you’re hoping for that other version to appear and you hope that it’s going to stay. It’s clinging on to hope, I guess.
You see the best in someone and you know what they’re capable of. It’s hard when you see what someone’s capable of and then you watched them destroy themselves.
With that, I started using more out of spite towards him too. After I had him arrested, he had to go breathalyze every morning and he was out of my control at that point.
He’s being watched.
He was in the State of Wyoming’s control at that point and I at that point threw my arms up and said F-it. I went off the deep end and I started doing more drugs and staying out later. It got to this point where I was doing coke five to seven days a week. I called my dad and I said, “I need to go to rehab. I can’t do this.” At that point, I had been waking up suicidal and I had never been that person. I had been through so many hellish experiences and lost so much and I was always the person who was the optimistic one. All of a sudden every morning, the first thing I would think is I have to kill myself and how am I going to do it?
I would talk about it with friends. I’d be like, “I feel suicidal but don’t worry, I would never do it.” I don’t think I was sure but I couldn’t get it off of my mind and I was going through, “How would you do it if you’re going to do it?” At the same time, I was reassuring people that I would never do that. I tell my dad I want to go to rehab that I can’t stop doing coke. That was my drug of choice and he was supportive and we started looking into what we could afford and what my health insurance would cover. Like I had done so many other times in the past, I didn’t ask for help until it was too far gone. Before I even had a chance to be put into rehab, I overdosed and slit my wrists. The only way I could see out was to get out.
Did you overdose on cocaine?
No, from the relationship at one point he had pushed me against the table so hard and injured a disc in my back and I’d gotten painkillers. Painkillers were not my drugs of choice. They make me very ill. It’s a blessing and a curse. I had been going and getting more refills even though I wasn’t taking them. I had this stockpile of drugs. I had been out drinking one night and I got in a bar fight, which is not like me at all. I’m not throwing fists but a girl walked by me who I was upset with and I did a shot of Tequila and I grabbed her and I was like, “You,” and I had some things I had wanted to talk about with her but that wasn’t me. Here come the rage and I get in this fight. She’s screaming at me. We’re pushing each other a little bit. At this time, I was also taking some Klonopin because of the anxiety I had about going home to my fiancé and of feeling anything. That with alcohol is never a good idea.
It changes the chemistry of the whole brain, alcohol and Klonopin.
The benzodiazepines, yeah. I got home and I knew what I was going to do. I did it.
You’ve told me this story once before and I want to make you add on. Will you tell me about Bear?
The slitting of the wrist and the overdosing happened twice. The first time my fiancé came home and did CPR until the EMTs got there and did CPR. I woke up in the hospital, the padded room situation on a 5150 hold until I was sent to rehab. The rehab sent me out on more drugs than I was on when I got there. I don’t even remember leaving rehab, getting on a plane or flying home or the following weeks afterwards. They had given me more benzodiazepines and muscle relaxers. They didn’t address any addiction there. They addressed the PTSD, the trauma, the anxiety and things I was experiencing.
I get home and I’m like, “No, I can drink. I am allowed to do whatever I want. That’s not the problem.” The pill said to take as needed. If I got a feeling, I took a milligram of Klonopin but then I was out drinking and doing coke and doing drugs on them. I had about a two-week blackout and that time I expanded my business. I got my personal training clients. I don’t know who they are to this day. I was training people out of my mind. Some of my friends, their stories, at one point they said I looked like Tom Petty because I got thin and my hair was all blonde and disheveled. I was a mess. Then I got to that point again of, “I can’t live. I obviously can’t make it through this.”
I had been up for a day and a half. The night before I had done mushrooms, benzos, drank and there was ecstasy in there. My friends leave who I was partying with and the next day I’m by myself all day. I’m pacing around my neighborhood and smoking cigarettes with my dog. I have this beloved dog, Bear. He is my angel and I wanted to do it. I wanted to end my life but I kept looking at him and I kept breaking into tears. I’m looking at his face because I rescued him. He rescued me. By evening, I had done more drugs and had enough alcohol in me that I was ready to do it. I called one of my best friends and I said, “I need you to do something for me in about three hours I need you to come and get Bear but don’t ask any questions.”
He had been around me in the recent weeks and saw where I was headed and what was happening. I wanted to make sure my dog was taken care of when I left this world. He called the cops and the next thing I know, I’m in the shower. I’ve already slit my wrist. I had taken all the pills and they broke down my door. There I was again getting lifted into an ambulance and getting my stomach pumped and getting everything. I was getting stitched up and it was all my love for this dog and everything he had done for me. There are nights where we’d be running away from my fiancé because of the violence that would be happening. We’d sleep in my car. I didn’t have any blankets. It would be in the middle of the winter in Jackson Hole. This is January. A lot of times it’s twenty below and it would be us with a yoga mat sleeping in my car, because I’d be too ashamed to go to friends’ houses to tell them what was happening and this little dog, he stuck by me through all of it. If it weren’t for that love, I probably wouldn’t be sitting here making sure that he was taken care of.
I’ve met Bear. He’s adorable.You might find yourself having anxiety or crying here or there; that's just your body's way of processing the trauma it went through. Click To Tweet
What kind of dog is Bear?
He’s a Lab mix.
He is great. I eventually ended up in Malibu, in a rehab.
I was with Malibu Beach Recovery Center. I don’t know if it exists anymore. It was very small. There were only about six people there. We had yoga three times a day, low-glycemic diet, no sugar, no caffeine. There are rehabs that are swanky out there and going to rehab can have a bad rap but it’s more like a spa. If you go and you do it right, it’s the worst. It is not comfortable. You are sitting with your feelings.
You’re accountable and you’re always talking about what’s going on with you. There’s no space to do anything. They want you busy.
My dad came out of retirement to get me clean. This was my chance. A lot of people have a lot of money, they can go to rehab a lot. It’s not like this was my chance and I was on about twelve milligrams of Klonopin a day when I got there, which is crazy. I was in there for three months. It took them a long time to taper me. It was quite an experience, but once I finally got off of everything and had this moment of clarity of sitting. I wasn’t allowed to know where my dog was. I wasn’t allowed to contact clients. My business, everything was washing away from me. I had to let go of everything and have no control. I remember sitting there and being like, “This is my life. This is where it’s gotten.” It was humbling and awful and a moment I’m now grateful for. I’ve said getting clean is a painful experience physically too. Not just emotional but physically, what your body has to go through to rebuild after all that damage and getting your nervous system back on track. It’s getting all those receptors back in line after you’ve been feeding it so much.
You’ve been numbing the pain. Let me add something too to our audience. You can get addicted to pain. You get addicted to sadness. You get addicted to saying, “Why me?” I got addicted for a while to my stroke. I’m never going to accept myself for who I am. I’m paralyzed and I hated myself for a while and it’s not easy to come through it. I’m looking at it acknowledging you because it’s outstanding, the work you’re doing in high achievers like yourself. You got through it and it sucks. Let’s call a spade a spade. It is not easy. It is the worst.
Taylor has seen me in some dark times and people look at me now and they go, “Sean, you’re doing so well. You’re doing so great.” I had panic attacks. I had some dark days. I wanted to walk outside and end things but I have two daughters and Taylor and my dad and family next to me. I lost a lot. I lost people my life because I didn’t want to be here. I’m eight years post my stroke but the PTSD or the healing, it’s not easy. Anyone out there who are going through any struggles, check this out because Jenn, what you’re talking about, it’s what shows the people it’s possible.
You’re showing people that in essence, no matter what you’ve been through, whether it’s physical, mental or emotional, you can figure it out.
You can heal your heart because I was feeding my physical pain with being so sad. My pain would escalate to an eight, nine or ten because I was so depressed and so angry with my body. What I realized is people never knew me before my stroke and they love me for who I am now. It took some a-ha moments and a lot of time and patience with Taylor and some other great people near me that I look at this and it’s like, “I came close too,” but I didn’t and we didn’t. What do those people think about especially veterans who are going through some major crap out there? It’s so hard.
I think about veterans or driving through LA when I see the homeless. I live in Venice so there’s a good amount there as well. First of all, I am so lucky. I’m so taken care of with the support and the people I’ve had in my life. I have friends who lived on skid row before they got sober. It’s amazing what people can come back from and how they can turn their lives around but aside from being an addict, my mental health was pretty good and I was healthy. I don’t have schizophrenia or any of those other things that the veterans or the homeless population are living with. With those things, they can’t get themselves to places to get help or follow through with it. They don’t have the support.
Through it all, I know that I am one of the lucky ones and if I don’t help people or share my story, it makes everything I went through a bunch of shitty things that happened. If I get to help others or somebody, teaching meditation and getting hugs or somebody saying, “I have physical pain too and thank you so much or I needed that.” It makes it all worthwhile or it makes me understand why everything has happened. The journey, is it all laid out for us from the beginning of time? I don’t know what I believe but I like to believe that it is all for something. If we can turn it into something positive, then we get it. If not, then I’m on that pity pot and this is awful.
The victimhood is worse than anything else I’ve ever been through, so I get that.
How did your post-rehab start to navigate your way back to health?
I decided to stay in Los Angeles after rehab because there’s so much young sobriety here. That wasn’t something I was finding in Wyoming and there were a lot of different avenues to approach sobriety. There are Buddhist meetings and meditation meetings, a lot broader span of ways to explore this new way of living. I stayed and for the first year, I went to three meetings a day and I went to my therapist three times a week. I started speaking on a panel and I was working for a while. I haven’t done it and years but I had sponsees to do the work with. That was important to being of service. It’s amazing how much from the program I take that into my life being of service. Even with chronic pain and speaking with chronic pain patients and being of service and sharing what was it like? What happened and what is it like now?
Much of what I learned in the process of getting clean, I carry that into my life almost on a daily basis of asking these certain questions and opening myself up to other people. Life has to carry on and you can’t be in rehab forever or in recovery. I got back into personal training but then my body started to go out on me physically. I hadn’t had any surgeries or injuries for a long time. I started getting bad pain in my neck. I would have this pop happen in my neck and it would be like a light switch was going off in my brain and I’d get vertigo and I’d see stars and the left side of my body would move slower. I went to a neurosurgeon and found out that my neck was actually dislocating, which I didn’t know was possible.
Chronic Pain: Ayurveda is known as the science of life. It’s the oldest medicine known on Earth.
Is it one of the vertebrae in your neck?
I was dislocating at C5 and C6. The doctor says you have eleven degrees of instability and I go, “Is that a lot?” He said, “That’s astronomical.”
What was causing the dislocation?
We’ll get into that. Some people can have that from years of trauma maybe but I never remembered hurting my neck snowboard racing. They thought maybe some old crashes or something but I had never had neck pain before. I have my first neck surgery and they fused C5-C6. In that surgery I got a cerebrospinal brain leak, which was very serious. I was in a very drug-induced sleep coma state. I’m still breathing on my own but I was unconscious for quite a while, while they figure out how to go in and repair this brain leak that I had and then the repair itself.
Is that the fluid around your brain that’s leaking out?
Our brains float in cerebrospinal fluid and it goes throughout our whole spinal column and it acts as a protective barrier for your brain. When you’re leaking your cerebral spinal fluid, it’s pulling gravity down on your brain and it truly is the worst pain I’ve ever experienced. It’s uncontrollable vomiting, horrible headache. It’s pure misery. They fixed that leak and then there I was and the doctors told me, “Although you don’t remember all the trauma you went through because you had been on so many drugs, your body does. It knows. You might find yourself having some anxiety here or there or you might find yourself crying here or there. That’s your body’s way of processing the trauma it went through. For you, because you weren’t conscious, you’re going to wonder where it’s coming from.”
Here I was in a neck brace. I’m pretty used to them but it’s very suffocating. It was the first surgery I had ever been sober through. Because painkillers made me so sick, all my other surgeries, I was drinking or doing mushrooms, doing cocaine or whatever to numb the pain. Here I am, my first surgery sober in a neck brace and I was losing my mind. I have panic attacks. I’m calling my neurosurgeon crying. He was having me listen to binaural beats and suggested I start painting and tap into the creative part of my brain and then not long after that, my hip started dislocating.
My hip had been dislocating for years but it got worse. It was doing it on a daily basis which is creating a whole bunch of pain throughout my entire leg and in my back. I had to have a full hip reconstruction and then not long after that, my neck started to dislocate again all within a year. They had to fuse it from the back. I had three major operations but because my medical bills were so big, I was going to work and training clients in my neck brace or on my crutches and working full days and not giving my body time to heal and repair. In that became this huge inflammatory response in my entire body. It was bad. I lived in Malibu and I worked in Brentwood and I would get home at the end of the day, driving all the way back to Malibu and I would call my roommate and he would come to lift me because my whole back would be seized up and I couldn’t get out of my car.
You have spasms.
He would carry me down to my bedroom. I couldn’t get from my car to my room. I stopped personal training and wanted to figure out what was happening inside of my body. I had asked a few of my doctors if they thought this was strange, that my neck was dislocating. I had the two fusions and the doctor who did my hip said, “You’ll never be able to sit butterfly again.” My hip is as tight as hips can get. I was like, “As long as it’s not popping out, it’s good with me.” Then I had the neck surgery again. I’m in my neck brace. I’m walking my dog and my hip dislocates in a park about six months post-op.
Something started to trigger in me of like I’m walking and my hip popped out and I’m in a neck brace and I’m stuck in a park. Something is happening in my body and nobody’s catching on to it. I would ask doctors all the time, “Do you think something’s wrong?” They would look me up and down, “No. Look at you. You’re fit, you’re strong and you’re healthy. What could be wrong?” I’ve had pain since I was twelve years old and they used to tell me it was growing pains. I used to wake my dad up in the middle of the night, my bones hurt. The doctors told me, “You’re going to be tall.” I’m not even 5’5”, by the way.
For years, doctors were telling me that my pain wasn’t real or it was something else or that there’s no way that something could be wrong with me. I started doing the research on my own and started Googling chronic dislocations, C5-C6 dislocations and connective tissue disorders popped up. I’m researching and I love to research. I got into it and I found this one called Ehlers–Danlos syndrome type III. I send it to my dad and he goes, “If this isn’t what you have, then you have something related to it.” Everything from being misunderstood by doctors and that causing a lot of turbulence inside to false cases about child abuse. My dad used to be like, “People are going to think I’m beating you. You’re always in crutches or casts or when I drop you off at school to dislocating without any force.” I started to look into this more and more. It wasn’t that I wanted something to be wrong with me but there was clearly something wrong. It wasn’t me saying, “I have pain.” Joints are actually popping out of place and ligaments are tearing. There’s something happening.
For anyone who doesn’t know, what is it doing to the body?
EDS is a connective tissue disorder where I don’t produce enough collagen and collagen strengthens our connective tissues. I have type III which is the safest. With type I, if people moved too fast, they can tear their hearts. They can have a pretty short lifespan. As far as EDS goes, I’m one of the lucky ones as well. I think one in every 5,000 people have some mixed connective tissue disorder. When I was little, I’ve always been flexible and hypermobile and as a gymnast it was great. As an athlete, it was great. As I got older and as it moved into my spine, it changed everything. Going from blowing knees and shoulders and hips out, that was a cakewalk compared to what I was about to experience with my spine.
Was it at least comforting in some sense to have like, “I know that there’s something going on and I’m not going crazy. There’s not some inexplicable thing happening to me.”
I got diagnosed at 32, after twenty years of going to doctors and asking. I also was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis which is an inflammatory spine disease which is what they were saying was growing pains. It’s like rheumatoid arthritis, it’s that there’s a lot of inflammation in my blood. There was this part of justification in myself of like, “See?” I knew something was wrong, something bigger but it’s because I wanted to take action. What do I do to get better and to feel better? I was at this place where I was army crawling to the bathroom sometimes. I couldn’t walk my dog. I didn’t want to be around people. I couldn’t show up for life. At this point, I was almost four years sober and I was feeling suicidal again. I was completely sober and suicidal and that broke my heart.
That’s such a sad thing. I saw a therapist, I did all these things but somehow my spine hurts so badly and it wouldn’t stop and I couldn’t take the pain killers to help it. That was a scary point. I wasn’t where I was before when I was using and because I wasn’t using, I did have more strength to work through it. I never wanted to go back to where I was. That was a big eye-opener to be like, “I’m completely free and clear of all drugs and this pain is so much that I don’t know what to do but to get out.”As humans, we all have some sort of discomfort or disease. It's family, it's work, it's ourselves. Click To Tweet
From there, how did you start to work through it?
I stopped personal training to give my body a break and this was when I started seeing pressed juices everywhere. I started doing my research yet again on what a juice could do for me. Because I had so many surgeries in that one year and when I could take painkillers, it was a combination of things for me to be able to take a painkiller. I knew I had stuff built up in my system and anesthesia which was probably the cause of my lack of energy and in turn slow healing. I started drinking pressed juice. I had zero appetite. I couldn’t eat but I could drink pressed juice and I would feel enlivened by it and energetic. I could feel my system detoxing and getting clean.
With that, I started my own juice company. Right around that same time, my mother died and I was in this fog. Here I was again, I couldn’t perform physically the way I wanted to. I had walked away from personal training. I was sad to lose my clients. I didn’t know what I was going to be because I didn’t have a college degree. I knew these things I was passionate about and then my mother dying and my mother had stopped talking to me on my one-year sobriety birthday. There had been years of not speaking with her and all this stuff but my friends were asking me to make them pressed juices because they had this ailment or felt like this or they were trying to get pregnant. I was making juice for people. It was getting me out of self which is important, especially also when you’re getting clean too. It’s getting out of self and showing up for other people.
I’m making juice for people and going to the grocery store and running errands and things that felt tedious to do if it were for me and people started asking me, why aren’t you selling this? This is so good. I haven’t had juices that taste this good and you have all the research behind it in your own neurotic research mode of what does what. I started a juice company Thicker Than Water and it saved my life at that point. It gave me some purpose and I love helping people. That’s always been important to me. I was expanding my knowledge in the world of health and wellness by researching to help people. I’ve always had what I thought was common sense but I’ve learned to understand it as intuitive of what people need or what is wrong with them. Friends will call me and say, “I have this pain or I feel this or this or it’s in here, what do you think it is?” I’d be like, “What’s this? Go to the doctor.” I’m not a doctor but I would know intuitively or because I had experienced it myself.
You have a wealth of experience.
What’s interesting too, Jenn, is you’re tapping into the divine. In the divine, you can create anything. You want to find anything and anything can be built from the divine.
This juice company was great but at the same time, I was still grieving my mother is so hard. I needed more support. I needed more help than starting a company. I started working with an Ayurvedic therapist. I love her. She helped me so much and she’s the one who taught me or encouraged me to start putting the love and energy I put into preparing food for other people into my own meals and to myself. I started my practice of oil massage and putting ghee into things. I had thought about how to beat down my body was. I was 30 pounds less than I am right now. I was exhausted. She would tell me eating the short-chain fatty acids and that our cell walls are made out of short chains.
I started imagining myself like little puppies almost. I felt so sad for these little things that are working so hard for me and loved me so much and I wanted to do everything I could to help them and support them and in turn get my life back. I started diving into Ayurvedic medicine and then eventually brought Thicker Than Water back to LA. I moved back to Wyoming for a couple of years thereafter my mom died to get connected with the mountains again and grounded and have family close but LA called again. I came back and started studying Ayurvedic medicine.
What is Ayurvedic medicine for people who aren’t aware?
Ayurveda is known as the science of life. It’s the oldest medicine known on Earth. It started in India. The beautiful thing about Ayurvedic medicine is we could have the same let’s say digestive issues or something. We have a really bad heartburn. We both go to the doctor. We’re both probably going to be prescribed the same thing and told to not eat the same things. Ayurveda looks at each person’s body as its own ecosystem. What you need is different than what I need depending on what your Ayurvedic constitution is.
There are tests you take of what your body type is, your personality even things down to your looks or your build. It helps you as an individual heal yourself. I’m Pitta. I am fire. Ginger is a healthy thing but for me, that creates more inflammation and heat inside and I need cooling foods. With that comes Ayurvedic shuffling and there are a lot of herbs and oils and practice. When I started working with this Ayurvedic therapist, I started a bit of meditation practice with her. That’s where I’ve found a little bit of relief that I could get from meditation but didn’t fully dive into it.
It sounds that through this Ayurveda, you started this deeper practice of self-appreciation and self-compassion and self-love.
All the love I had been putting out into the world for my entire life in avoidance of having to look inward at my own stuff, I was now learning at this point. I guess I was 31 to take care of myself in a less aggressive way, not exercising and eating clean. I am having more compassion for myself.
One of the things I learned being a personal trainer at a high level is lots of people don’t need more exercise. Lots of people need to sit on the couch and have some Thicker Than Water juice.
That’s something I’m learning. I was talking with my neurosurgeon and I was like, “I’m doing 60 to 90 minutes of cardio a day and 30 to 45 of weight training afterwards,” and he looks at me and he goes. “You know you’re not a professional athlete anymore, right?” He’s like, “What are you doing?” That’s insane. He’s like, “Go for 30 minutes of cardio and some weights. You’re not training for an IRONMAN. We’re training to keep your neck from dislocating.” It was a little blow to the ego because it’s so easy to be back in that, “Train, train, train,” but my body’s like, “Love on me. Sit your ass on the couch for a minute.”
Taylor always says to me, less is more. That’s what we get to learn, Jenn. It’s hard to hear.
It’s less is more and just breathe.
Chronic Pain: Even though our body may not be performing at a level that we want it to, it is doing the best that it can for what it has and for what we feed it.
Less is more and just breathe but also everyone is so different. You’ve touched on this on your whole Ayurvedic approach to medicine but it’s our personal responsibility as an individual to learn how to find balance in our lives. That doesn’t mean that everyone should exercise this much and do this and this. No, maybe you do need more exercise than the average person or maybe you need to sit on the couch but in my opinion it’s up to you to cultivate enough self-awareness of what’s happening in your life to be able to make that decision of, “Now, I need to go squat 300 pounds. Tomorrow I need to sit and hang out.” Instead of going, “I need to squat 200 pounds now, tomorrow I need to bench 200 pounds and the next day I need to do both at the same time.” If you start to tune into what you actually need, it’s a hard process. I tell people about this in my yoga practice. I used to teach yoga and when I first got into yoga, I had this mindset of I must do everything 100% the entire class relentlessly and I did that for a long time.
You’re winning yoga.
I was like, “I’m going to do this move and this move and this move.” I’m crushing it and I got to the end of a class one day and my back was killing me. I went and I sat with the instructor afterwards. I sat with him and I looked at him. I was like, “I’m suffering from this low back pain and I don’t know what to do. Do you have a move or something that I can try to help with this?” He looks at me and he goes, “Have you tried not trying so hard?” That moment was all I needed. It’s continued to evolve my whole approach towards the practice and towards my life. It didn’t happen overnight. I’m the guy who shows up to yoga class and I’ll be laying on the floor and I’ll stay there. Everyone else is going and doing their thing. I’ll lay there if I need to. I’m like, “I’m good.” What he said, learning less is more but also coming to terms with yourself enough to realize what you actually need and it’s such a personalized experience. I can’t tell someone what they need. I can give them some clues and that’s what this show is about. Here are some clues and hints but it’s up to you to go on the adventure for yourself.
It’s almost embarrassing of how much it’s taken for me to get through to realize, “Jenn, you’ve been through so much physically and emotionally. Give your body a break.” I have to constantly remind myself. In the past few years, I ruptured another disc in my neck and another level was dislocating. A few years ago, I had another surgery. They put in a replacement disc and a bone graft above and below the current fusion I have. The surgery went well but right before that I had made a New Year’s resolution that I would start meditating. I was more of a crisis meditator or would do it when I thought about it. It wasn’t a practice and that exact day I was walking in Venice and there’s a big building that says, “Meditate,” at the top of it that was brand new that same afternoon. I was like, “What is that?” I joined a meditation group and then I ruptured the discs in my neck. I knew that I needed to go into this surgery in a different place than I had my last. Because the last ones, I had so much anxiety. My recoveries were so much harder. I started working with this man, Peter Oppermann. He’s amazing if you’re ever in Venice.
I started working with him privately before my surgery and immediately after my surgery. I don’t even remember some of the ones after my surgery because I went soon after I got out of the hospital and was still on the painkillers or the drugs. I knew that he could calm me down and help me get into this practice. I’m so grateful for that divine intervention. I say, “I’m going to join a meditation group,” and then that day, I find a meditation studio. A kitty-corner basically from where I was living and then find this person who helps me arrive in meditation for the first time ever. I had never arrived in a meditation where I was being guided.
I had tears streaming down my face and then I also started to discover Reiki right after my neck surgery and did my Reiki training and realized so much of why I was using it was because I was such a feely person. I’m so sensitive to other energies around me and I’m empathic. I pick up on other people’s injuries. I carry people’s pain. I started doing Reiki and meditating and it couldn’t be better timing that I found both Reiki and meditation because two months post-op, I got whiplash. I knocked all the metal loose in my neck that was still infusing.
I’m cringing. I’m looking at you going, “I don’t see anything. You look great to me.”
I have my neurosurgeon look at the image. I got the imaging done. He looks at it, this is a Friday, he says, “Everything is a little bit loose. I’m 100% sure you don’t need surgery but you’re back in your neck brace for three months.” The next day I’m in Manhattan Beach. I’m sitting, looking at the ocean, sitting on a buck rail fence and the fence snaps. I hit the next level of where it snaps and I fall straight to my butt and I’m in my neck brace. I woke up the next morning and I couldn’t move. I fell three feet to my butt with metal that was still healing. I went into another surgery that ended up even bigger than what the images showed needed and they had to fuse me, C4-T1, anterior and posterior. Then there’s a whole cage along the front and then I got another brain leak. They wanted me to lay flat in the hospital hoping the brain leak would seal itself up and I had found Insight Timer. I had found this man named David Ji. It’s a great meditation app. I highly recommend it.
It shows you who’s meditating on the app around the world?
How many people are meditating at the same time as you are. You can type in anything you’re working through and it can bring up meditations or Dharma talks surrounding those topics. It’s the night before my second surgery of the week before they’re going to repair my brain leak. I find this meditation on Insight and it’s David Ji and he is talking about the body’s ability to heal and repair itself. He is repeating this mantra, “Ananda Maya Moksha.” I kept saying it to myself over and over and over the night before the brain leak repair and then the next morning, I listened to it before they wheeled me into the hospital room. After the four-hour repair for this leak, as soon as I was cognizant enough to find my phone and put my headphones in, I started listening to that meditation again. When I got home, two or three times a day I was listening to him. Somebody said he’ the Barry White of meditation. His voice is incredible. He drops me in like nobody else.
This surgery with so much titanium my neck, I was under anesthesia for eleven hours in one week. My cognitive health was scary. I couldn’t remember my best friend’s names. I would try to speak sentences. I could see the words but I couldn’t complete the sentences. I would lay in bed and cry because I hurt. I had never experienced neck surgery. There’s a lot of titanium healing in there and you think about your spine and how delicate it is and the nervous system attached to it. I didn’t think I could do it. It was so hard, but I kept going back to the practice. I kept going back to the mantra and believing in the body’s ability to heal and repair.
Months later, I was scrolling through Instagram as we do and I had been following Unplugged Meditation here in Los Angeles. I saw that they were doing a teacher training under David Ji. In this time also between my surgeries, I have not been able to run my juice company. I can’t press juice because my right arm isn’t as strong because of the levels that were ruptured and it’s a lot of work on the neck and the upper body. I’m not working. I’m still healing from the surgery. I’m still in bed for the good part of every day. Sitting up is the hardest part. I see this teacher training and it’s 200 hours. I had gotten my Reiki certifications but I always have this, “Who am I to be a healer?”
My other teachers, they’ve been in India, they did a year of silence or worked under Deepak Chopra or whoever and have been meditating for 30 years and then there’s me. I’m like, “I just found meditation not long ago. Who am I to teach? Who am I to heal you?” I decided to apply for this teacher training program under David Ji. I was like, “This could be perfect. I’m still healing. I’m not ready to go back to work. I can cultivate a stronger practice myself and learn much more about meditation, the history of it and all of all the things. I was accepted and I did this teacher training. In it, they had us meditating two to three times a day and we’re listening to different meditations on the Unplug app because they want you to learn all different approaches and types of meditation.
If anyone doesn’t know, that word meditation in Buddhist is actually a representation of a broad spectrum of practices.
Yoga is one of them. Four days into this practice of meditating two to three times a day, I realized I hadn’t taken a painkiller in three days. I hadn’t even thought about it. I carry around Tramadol and I have to take a nausea pill with them. I hadn’t even thought about it. I was still healing from this last surgery and it was because I was connecting to my breath in a way I never had in my entire life. Now, I believe in breathing and going into moments of stillness and silence. When I realized I hadn’t taken a painkiller in three days, I had to take inventory of what was happening. “Do I hurt? My neck hurts. Why haven’t I taken anything?” I always thought pain had its grips on me. I had my grips on pain and I was holding on tight. Since I’ve had my meditation practice deeply cultivated, I’ve been able to let go and it also corresponds with a lot of things in my life. Life happens. Like they say, “Just because you get sober or quit doing drugs doesn’t mean bad things stop happening.” Life still happens. It’s your response to the world around you or your capacity to handle it all. Since then, my life is completely different. I feel like a different human being.
That’s amazing to hear and you’ve run with that since. You become a meditation teacher. How has it continued to shift your life?
I’m now teaching meditation and I have a meditation that I created I turned to myself first for my pain and a lot of that has to deal with us. Sean, you spoke about being angry about our bodies not performing the way that we want them to or the way they used to and in that we lose gratitude and respect for our bodies. It’s important to what we say to ourselves and about ourselves. I created a meditation to reflect on the things that we’ve been able to do that we loved and the places they brought us. How they made us feel and to go into gratitude that we were able to experience all of those things and that even though our body may not be performing at a level that we want it to, it is doing the best that it can for what it has and for what we feed it. We have to keep going with that and sit in gratitude for it because it’s easy.
Sometimes I’ll reach for remote control and my shoulder will try to dislocate and I’ll say out loud, “I hate my body.” I did it not long ago and I started crying. I felt so sad that I said those words out loud. My focus in being a meditation teacher and a Reiki healer is to help people find comfort in their body. As humans, we all have some sort of discomfort or disease. It’s family, it’s work, it’s ourselves and it’s whatever it is. You don’t have to have had twenty surgeries and be like, “I can’t compare to you.” We all have something and it’s all relevant but what’s more important is how we work through it. I believe in our breath and the healing abilities of it. “The human will set on fire.” We can make it through things.
That’s a great quote.
It’s an incredible thing. There’s nothing more magical than the human will set on fire if you want it and the things that you put your mind towards and achieving it.
Coming from you, everything that you’re saying has so much power because people get this full breadth of every experience that you’ve gone through in your life and where it’s led you. I always like to emphasize, you say, “The power of the breath.” It sounds so silly and simple but it has so much power because of what you’ve been through and if you’re saying that it makes me pause and want to think, “There’s something going on there.”
There’s breath work which I also love and I know you guys do. For me, I’m not a breath work teacher but when I think about breathing, maybe it’s sixteen seconds. We’re sitting in that silence and giving our body fresh red blood cells. I like to imagine a body as a river bed and your breath is the waters that flow in and nourish all of it. That comes from my fly-fishing background. The healthiest areas you find fish are the ones that are most aerated. That’s where green things grow. That’s where it is. I always bring that into my breathing of a river bed filling and nourishing all your cells and your tissues as it makes its way. We don’t have to do it for 40 minutes. If it’s sixteen seconds or if it’s three minutes or whatever it is.
We’re coming up on the end of our time, unfortunately. You have so much to share and so much amazingness. If you’re in LA, please go see your meditation. I’ve got one more question. What’s your inspiration?
Life is my inspiration. Seeing people’s stories and what people can overcome, that’s my inspiration. Even overcoming things myself, that inspires me to do more. It used to be lots of dark with little glimpses of light and for the most part my life is mostly light with little glimpses of dark which are reminders that I’m human and to keep doing positive things to stay in the light.
Let people know how they can connect with you. In terms of social media or the web or if they’re in LA, how can they come to hang out with you and do meditation with you.
I would love for you to come to meditate with me. You can find me at Ceremony Meditation in Venice. You can also look on their website or the Ceremony Meditation app. On Instagram, it is my name, Jenn Reno and my website is JennReno.com.
Thank you so much for sharing, Jenn, and for being open to giving people a glimpse into who you are and how you got here.
Thanks for having me.
I’m in awe with everything you’ve done and then who you are. You’re such a strong point for everybody out there. You’re a rock. Thank you for showing up.
Thank you. It’s an honor to be here.
- Jenn Reno
- Thicker Than Water
- Insight Timer
- Unplugged Meditation
- Unplug app
- Ceremony Meditation
- Jenn Reno – Instagram Account
About Jenn Reno
Raised between a self-sustaining farm in Montana and the inspiring beauty of the Grand Tetons in Jackson Hole Wyoming, Jenn’s connection with the natural world and Mother Divine was developed at a young age.
On her journey of self-discovery from overcoming child and adulthood trauma, addiction and living with severe chronic pain for over twenty years she has turned to alternative medicine and has experienced life-changing outcomes. Meditation, Reiki, essential oils and intuitive eating have all been apart of Jenn finding the light within and she hopes to share her experiences, strengths, and results of greater peace within with others in search of good health.
Pain has been her greatest teacher and where she has found her place and purpose in the world of healing. Jenn is the Owner of Thicker Than Water Pressed Juice, a Certified Reiki Healer, Cooper Institute Certified Personal Trainer, Optimal Performance Trainer, and an Unplug & davidji Certified Meditation Teacher.