Fitness Expert Shares Sobriety Journey and Opens Gym Focused on Recovery Community

09/14/2016 05:46 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Marv is 30 years old and lives in Southern California. A believer in exercise, he owns and manages a gym focused exclusively on people in recovery. Recently, after working for nearly a year on it, Marv launched a blog that links together all aspects of fitness into the challenges faced by those in recovery.

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Marv has a loving girlfriend and a beautiful home in a safe neighborhood.

Up until three years ago, Marv was slowly killing himself with alcohol, drugs, and performance enhancers.

Identity issues, major surgeries, battles with Body Dysmorphia and depression triggered Marv's drug seeking behavior and led him down the very isolated and dangerous path far too many find themselves. Before even graduating high school, Marv was using hard drugs and drinking regularly.

"I remember my first drunk, it was a life changing moment," recalled Marv. "All of a sudden my feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt vanished. I became smarter, sexier, more confident, able to talk to girls easily, you name it. I found drugs shortly after and within a year things progressed to out of control proportions."

Using drugs and alcohol as escape mechanisms quickly took control of his life and resulted in failing out of college his freshman year and enrolling in a place he never saw himself: an outpatient treatment program.

"I was nowhere near ready to honestly admit I was an alcoholic and addict at just 19-years-old," confessed Marv.

In the few years following the program, he did manage to get off hard drugs and began only drinking on weekends, before he found himself using and drinking all day, every day again.

After enrolling in college again, Marv was introduced to exercise, weight lifting in particular, and developed severe Body Dysmorphia.

"I was still massively insecure in my early twenties, and was trying to fill a void inside myself. I decided I wanted the 'perfect body,'" said Marv. "Within two years of lifting my first weight I made the uninformed and uneducated decision to hop on athletic drugs as I had grown too impatient with my results."

During this time, Marv was studying earn a Bachelor's Degree in Kinesiology. Every day, while he was destroying his own body with substances and alcohol, he was learning how to repair and improve the human body.

The irony of this was not lost on Marv.

"I remember days I literally had my loaded steroid syringe, bong, glass of whiskey, and bottle of pills all out in front of me to put in my body before riding my bike to class to perform exercise physiology experiments in a lab," said Marv.

Even though Marv partied and poisoned himself daily, he managed to graduate college with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Exercise Science.

His body and mind began to react dangerously to all the toxins, and in 2011, his body began to shut down. He lost nearly 70 pounds in nine months and found himself admitted to unit of a psych ward and then his first inpatient treatment center.

"The psych ward should have been enough for me. The treatment program should have been enough to convince me I was a drug addict and alcoholic in desperate need of some sort of a recovery program," reflected Marv. "Literally dragging myself down the hallway to my parents' room at three in the morning, withdrawing and in the midst of a panic attack should have been my bottom, but I wasn't yet ready to put down the shovel."

So, Marv kept digging himself deeper and deeper, becoming a master manipulator and liar to those who cared most about him. He was once again portraying himself outwardly as someone he was not: someone who had hit bottom and was willing to go to any lengths to attain sobriety.

"I actually did very little to make my recovery a reality," admitted Marv. "Unfortunately there is not a way to translate the pain and hurt families feel into making the user want to get clean and sober. Unless someone wants recovery, it is going to be an uphill struggle. Recovery is not for everyone who needs it, it is for those who want it."

Marv did not work 12-steps, did not get a sponsor, and did not really work on himself after treatment. Before long, he was relapsing in secret, celebrating his sobriety with friends, family, and in meetings, but still using. Marv began experiencing suicidal thoughts and staged a public relapse as a cry for help.

And even still, shame and denial held Marv back, once again, from recovery.

"I bounced in and out of the rooms for the next year or so. During this time, I did things that are of ill-approach, things that put black spots onto my soul to say the least," said Marv. "Finally on June 22, 2013 I hit my bottom, I hit my point of surrender."

Truly ready to heal and recover, Marv quit his job as an insurance agent, moved out of his house, put all of his possessions in storage, and checked into a very intensive four-month behavior modification program.

"It took me about a month of being in that facility before I was able to truly get honest, to let down the charade I was still stupidly portraying, and to truly start working on myself," said Marv. "I am very grateful for that facility and all it provided me. I learned more about myself in those four short months than the 27 years combined previously. I go back at least twice a month carrying H&I panels to this day in an effort to give back."

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Marv, all smiles.

After transitioning out of that facility, Marv began serious work of the 12-steps and moved into a sober living house, where he remained for over two years, and found work again. Marv worked all 12-steps within his first year of sobriety and has changed his relationship with exercise. Today, exercise has become a spiritual endeavor for Marv and he is proud to announce he has restored a healthy balance to his life that allows him to work on improving his physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well being.

"Those black spots on my soul slowly started to lessen and vanish," expressed Marv. "Something resembling self-esteem and self-worth started to surface."

This past year has been a true test of his recovery. His mother died suddenly and his girlfriend was diagnosed with breast cancer. Thankfully, his girlfriend is now in remission after receiving treatment for 17 months.

During heartbreaking moments in life, relapse is very possible, as many view using as their only way to cope. Marv did not return to old behaviors.

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In the last year, Marv discovered his own way to give back to the rooms that gave him back his life, by opening his gym and blogging about how exercise and health can and should be beneficial and something that does not control, but improves, your life.

"I cannot begin to describe what it means to be able to look myself in the eyes in a mirror and recognize the man looking back," said Marv. "Getting clean and sober has the potential to be the single greatest thing I have ever done. I say 'potential' because at any given minute, I can choose to give it away. If this ever happens I could not be mad at the disease of addiction, I could not be mad at whatever event or person I would falsely use to blame for my relapse. I could only be mad at myself because I know exactly what I need to do every single day to protect and improve my recovery."

Marv knows that even as people read this story about how he turned his life around, there are people out there who are entering recovery programs, or sadly, using and dying.

"If you are battling an addiction, you are not an evil person who needs to get righteous, you are a sick person who needs to get better," stressed Marv. "That is a huge distinction. No matter what your head is telling you, you deserve to live a great life."