Krissy Mae Cagney is saving lives.
She is the founder of the Reps for Recovery program, which sounds at first like something you do when you pull a hamstring or throw out your shoulder.
But the program isn’t about exercises to recover from physical injuries – it’s about recovery the way we talk about it on this site: recovery from addiction, recovery from the issues that brought us to addiction, and recovery of our lives. Because, you see, Reps for Recovery is a program designed for recovering addicts.
Today, I want to tell you Krissy Mae Cagney’s story, pointing out some lessons for recovering addicts, and what she’s been doing for addicts. Then, we’ll take a look at how this impacts you, specifically, in the practices of making amends and reaching out to other addicts.
The Krissy Mae Cagney Story
Krissy was a teenager in the early 2000s. If you remember much about being a teenager, you probably remember it as a weird combination of joy and terror.
A lot of us picked up our addictions in our teen years. Maybe that’s when we were exposed to it or we inherited it from a parent. Maybe we wanted the approval of a friend. Maybe we were just trying to cope with a lot of anxiety or all the crazy things that were going on in our lives, brains, and bodies.
Krissy wasn’t any different. Like a lot of teenagers, she started drinking to fit in. She also felt a lot of pressure to stay skinny, so she picked up cocaine for that. Both substances ended up setting their hooks in deep. I don’t know what your experiences were in your teens and early 20s, but hers included jail, stints in rehab, and a lot of destructive decisions.
If you’re a recovering addict reading this, you recognize this without even trying, right? Maybe you went to jail, maybe you didn’t, but you start racking up a lot of damage – a lot of negative consequences. But none of it stops you. As I’ve said many times before, this is one reason why people can’t tackle the problem of addiction as an issue of reason and willpower – or shame, for that matter. We will jump in the car of our addiction and ride it all the way off a cliff, even though we see the cliff coming miles away. This is the difference between a compulsion and a bad habit.
Krissy had to do something, and she found something she could turn to. Unfortunately, it would only end up biting her.
Too Busy for Addiction?
Krissy had grown up with health and fitness being a big part of her life, even as a little girl. She found that, in a weight room, she felt centered and herself. Maybe this could become her path to beating her addiction?
There is a lot to commend this way of thinking. If you throw yourself into a different activity, you have less time to crave or indulge your addiction. Replacing your addictive behaviors with other pursuits is key to recovery. Plus, we all know those cravings tend to strike us in our weak moments, when we’re alone or bored or have nothing to occupy our time or thoughts.
Also, physical health and activity is a powerful tool in recovery. We don’t talk about it much. There’s no Step 13 – Get You Some Exercise or anything like that, but research is proving that there is a strong connection between physical activity and emotional resilience. And when your resilience is high, your pain is low, and when your pain is low, you need your “drug” less and less.
Recovery is about the whole person, and exercise or even just taking up hobbies where you do projects with your hands (typing doesn’t count, unfortunately) can make a powerful impact to your success.
And it did help Krissy, somewhat.
But her desire to stay skinny caused her to develop an eating disorder, which is often a food addiction (or anti-food addiction), and she suffered serious injuries from a motorcycle accident, which brought her substance abuse back into her life with a vengeance.
At the ripe old age of 24, Krissy found herself in the hospital experiencing the physical breakdown of a middle-aged alcoholic. She was told in no uncertain terms that, if she couldn’t stop her behaviors, she would die. Her body would just give out.
Some of us have experienced something very much like Krissy’s ultimatum at a young age; some haven’t. For me, it was later in life when the consequences of my addiction started to really catch up to me. When I was in my mid-twenties, I felt immortal. Imagine being told at that time in life that you are about to die.
For Krissy, this was her rock bottom experience. It was either kick this addiction or die.
Reps for Recovery
The sobering experience in the hospital turned out to be literally sobering for Krissy, and she threw herself into building a fitness career to avoid ever taking another drink. She didn’t just make it an 8-5 job. Not only did she get a job in fitness, she also became a seminar speaker and interned as a dietitian.
Only months after her hospital stay, she recognized her environment was feeding some underlying issues of her addiction, and she packed up and moved across the country to work with and train with inspirational people. She became a power lifter, wrote some books, and started a line of apparel.
I love this part of the story, because it shows that there are different paths a person can take to recover from their addictions, but it also shows the common elements that are part of all our journeys. There’s the leaving the environment. There’s the work on repairing the soul. There’s the filling of life with new, healthy pursuits that address areas that used to be struggles (health, financial, purpose).
Now, Krissy obviously took the whole “filling life with healthy activities” seriously and literally. In all the things I have done for my recovery, I have never started an apparel company. This is probably a good decision for me, as I doubt “Whatever’s Up Front in my Closet Apparel” would appeal to many people.
But even though the specifics are different between her life and mine and yours, the principles are all the same.
You might consider what that means for your life. Maybe it does mean starting a new career or a new business. Maybe it means moving or at least changing your environment (which may include the people in it). Maybe it means taking some time to figure out how you could be using your gifts.
In any case, all this worked for Krissy, keeping her alcohol and drug free since that night in the hospital.
In 2015, she moved back to Reno, Nevada, and opened the Black Iron Gym.
Besides being a great gym, she started the Reps for Recovery program. The program is for recovering addicts, and it gives them free gym membership as long as they stay sober.
Through this program under Krissy’s oversight, over 100 recovering addicts have gotten sober and stayed sober just within the past couple of years.
See what I mean? She’s saving lives.
Freedom Isn’t Free
Some of you reading this who are more mathematically inclined might be seeing an issue, here.
Giving away free memberships is great, but it’s only sustainable if you have enough paid memberships that can sustain both themselves and everyone else, keeping the gym expenses paid, instructors and trainers employed, etc.
I’ve never run a gym, before, but I imagine it’s not a high margin operation. And when part of your mission is to be a safe place for recovering addicts to get sober and get back on their feet, that’s going to cut into those margins even more.
The Black Iron Gym faced a grim reality – they couldn’t keep allowing recovering addicts to use the gym for free and keep the doors open.
Krissy turned to crowdfunding, allowing the public to sponsor these free memberships, and she discovered that people were willing to give, meeting her goals for 2017 in a very short amount of time.
But now she has a goal to fund 140-180 people’s free memberships for six months, and she’s set up a GoFundMe so that people can participate in the saving of these people’s lives.
What’s This Got to Do with Making Amends?
One of the guys I sponsor is about to start Step 8, which is awesome.
It’s awesome not just because of how far he’s come, but Step 8 is where we start to turn from a strong focus on ourselves to begin thinking about how we can make others’ lives better.
Specifically, in Step 8, we start thinking about how we might start to repair the damage we’ve done while we were in the depths of our addiction behaviors. So, it’s not just about serving our fellow man; it’s about how we might start to make things right.
Closely related to this is Step 12, where we reach beyond people that we’ve harmed and into the lives of other addicts, bringing them a message of hope and helping them find freedom and recovery as well.
I don’t know Krissy Mae Cagney personally, but I do know that she is doing both of these things. When we help other addicts, we change the world. We repair damage. We recognize that we have created a lot of damage, and we set out to overturn that.
Personally, I believe in a God who wants broken lives put back together and a world of love, justice, compassion, and restoration. But even if you don’t, I hope we can agree that pulling our fellow man out of suffering and deprivation into wholeness is a sacred task – one that any human being can get behind.
Well, sometimes as recovering addicts, it can be hard to see how to do this. We may be willing to make amends to everyone we’ve harmed, and we really need to be courageous and stretch ourselves when it comes to doing this.
But in many cases, actually making direct amends to someone may be harmful or even impossible depending on circumstances. What then?
I’m definitely not suggesting we should beat ourselves up over amends we can’t make. We are responsible for all our actions, but we also did them in the power of an addiction. If for some reason we can’t repair that damage, it is because we are caring about someone’s current welfare or circumstances beyond our control prevent us.
However, we can and should also be the first to jump off the line when an opportunity presents itself to intervene in someone’s life to repair it.
I may not be able to make direct amends to everyone I’ve hurt, but there are almost countless ways I can make indirect amends. One of those ways is to prevent more damage being done in the world by helping an addict turn the car around.
Consider Giving As a Way to Make Amends or Reach Out to Other Addicts
If you’re early on in your recovery, you might be on pretty unstable financial grounds. It might not be a good idea for you to spend money on anything besides survival, your basic obligations, debts, and getting things back on track.
But if you’ve got your life in a stable place, consider giving to Reps for Recovery as a way to make amends and reach out to other addicts.
The cool thing about crowdfunding is that you don’t have to give lots to make a difference. It can be the cost of a fast food run or a fancy coffee drink that has too many consonants in it.
It’s not only about helping another person and repairing or preventing damage. It’s also about the kind of person you’re becoming when you exercise those “being useful to another person” muscles, even just a little.
One of the hidden genius notions of 12 Step programs is the idea that we cannot fully recover without making a transition from being totally focused on ourselves to thinking about how we can be useful to our fellow humans – thinking about what we can contribute and how we can change things for the better.
The more you turn toward helping a brother or sister, the freer and healthier you become.
It doesn’t have to be this thing, but this thing is currently in front of you. The opportunity to take a step in this area is right here, only a click away.
What do you think about this program? Did you give? Is there another effort or program that has meant a lot to you? Tell me about it in the Comments.