You can do it. Really.

Washing my face before bed seems like a completely normal thing to do. Yet, for years, even the most basic, most rudimentary aspects of functional living were gone from my life.

I went days without showering. Brushing my teeth? That was a luxury I saved for days when I did something other than go to a bar the moment one opened. Wearing clothes other than an old Michigan sweatshirt that barely stretched over my bulk was something I’d given up on along with wearing pants that fit. When my feet and ankles were so swollen that shoes barely fit, Chaco…

Coming to terms with process-oriented approaches to life

As a goal-driven, non-linear thinker, I tend to look at a goal and work backwards in order to understand how to achieve it. This means I am very good at problem-solving but not very good at tasks that require patient forward movement. Non-linear thinking means I also tend to consider all sides of a subject, dive down rabbit holes that catch my attention while I’m working towards a goal, and occasionally become distracted by collateral issues and possibilities.

This may look like undisciplined work — and even unfocused thinking — to an observer, but the reality is the opposite. I…

Exactly one year to the day.

Enacting real, lasting changes in life is possible, if you take the time to do it right.

A friend I haven’t seen each other since the beginning of my serious decline asked me recently about my biggest lesson from my recovery and reinvention journey so far. Perhaps the answer would have been simpler if I had just changed one thing about my life — gotten sober, lost 150 pounds, or become an athlete. Instead, I did all of those and a lot of soul-searching and personal evolution at the same time in less than a year. I’m still taking stock of it all, but ultimately, my answer came down to two overarching lessons.

The first lesson is…

Painting by a neighbor at the beginning of the lockdown.

It’s okay to slow down.

If there is a lesson to be taken away from the current pandemic, that is it. We spend so much of our middle-class American lives rushing around — getting kids to activities, running to stores, picking up dinner, making plans for the weekend, binge-watching Netflix shows before the next season starts, getting ready for the next race, and so much more — that it feels strange to just stop and rest for a minute. Or a day.

I feel this acutely as of late. After all, until things began closing in mid-March, I was pursuing…

Earth Day called for a trip to the mountains. This seemed particularly true since we are living in strange times with a know-nothing administration tearing apart environmental regulations even as most climate scientists warn that we are close to the tipping point of irreversible damage to the planet. Meanwhile, the Great Slowdown brought about by Covid-19 has resulted in cleaner air and water and a generally more pleasant pace of life. These strange times made it seem particularly imperative to hit the trails for some perspective.

The strange times are also why the past three weeks were the first time…

Photo by Rodrigo Sarsfield on Unsplash

Post-traumatic stress disorder combined with alcohol to tear me apart, and recovering from one required dealing with the other. As I’ve written about elsewhere, the process required doing a deep dive into the mechanics of PTSD to understand how it had changed my neurophysiology and learning strategies to change how I dealt with stress. What I could never have predicted, however, was the challenge presented by a viral pandemic.

My most important discovery early in the process was to learn what an attack felt like, as I wrote about here. Knowing what the first signs of an attack were enabled…

Photo by Jamie Matociños on Unsplash

What happens when you apply Michael Pollan’s rules (and a little bit of common sense) to snack food?

When I first started my weight loss and fitness journey, the most common question I got was what diet I was following. I consistently answered that I was following a whole food diet. What was that? Did it mean shopping exclusively at Whole Foods? Did I cut out [fill in a food group]?

None of the above, I answered.

My fundamental approach was to eat real food, with real ingredients. Michael Pollan advocates this ethos, as do Mark Bittman, Alice Waters, Samin Nosrat, and so many others. It’s really quite simple, and completely antithetical to the American way of eating…

“Life is a journey, not a destination.”
— Ralph Waldo Emerson

My original plan was to do reconnaissance for the Bear Creek 10-Miler in two weeks. Since I’m a novice trail runner and the course sounded challenging, there was no way I was going to go into it unprepared. I also had an unstructured Saturday after my daughter Anna left for the holiday and the urge to hit a trail with my dog Snickers.

Bear Creek Lake State Park is 60 miles southwest of Richmond, on the edge of the Cumberland State Forest. The area is sparsely populated and rural…

Experiencing the Second Amendment Rally in Richmond

The days leading up to the annual Lobby Day rally were tense this year. There were rumors of civil war with white supremacist groups planning to attend and ardent Second Amendment supporters declaring it the moment to stand their ground against perceived governmental overreach. News of FBI arrests of three members of The Base, a far-right group, and the appearance in town of Infowars’s Alex Jones and The Proud Boys stoked tensions further.

When day broke on that Monday, temperatures were in the low 20s, and an unsettling calm lingered in the city. At the Downtown YMCA just a few…

Confronting Alcoholism, PTSD, and Obesity — and Winning

On May 3, 2018, I stepped on the scale at my doctor’s office and weighed in at 318 pounds. A little over a week prior, my weight was at 308. My body was riddled with acute medical issues that my doctors assumed had become chronic. In short, I was depressed, drunk, fat, and sick. I was also isolated and unemployed, and most days, I didn’t even bother to shower.

It certainly hadn’t always been that way. I had joked for years that I had the metabolism of a nervous hummingbird — so fast that it was virtually impossible for me…

Paul Karns

I write about lifestyle & food for Richmond Magazine & Virginia Living. Following radical life changes, I also cover wellness, recovery, outdoor sports & PTSD.

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