I wish I had known about cold showers sooner. My teenage years were plagued by fear, negative self-talk, self-doubt, addiction and extreme social anxiety. I had a story I would constantly tell myself that people didn’t like me, that they laughed behind my back and didn’t respect me. I had an incredible fear of the opinions of others, and I rarely felt like a part of any group. I often engaged in addictive behaviors such as pornography and online gaming to deal with my emotions, fear and anxiety.
I started freshman year of high school with enthusiasm, but midway through the year, I again felt disconnected and alone. By senior year, I was late to school so many times the headmaster set up an intervention, and I nearly missed graduating with my diploma. I felt that it took too much effort to show up for life. During those years, I would often spend four hours each night getting lost in a fantasy world on my computer. With the strong nudging of my mother, I got accepted into a small college in New Hampshire. For a short time, there was momentum and hope, but eventually, I started partying more than I was studying. Selling my books for pizza and weed didn’t help either. I didn’t last more than two semesters before I flunked out of college.
Even though I felt like a failure, I was determined to not let my life spiral out of control. I eventually got a job at Staples and took classes toward my real estate license. My dream was to sell properties along the seacoast and achieve financial freedom. I had read the book Rich Dad Poor Dad and I was determined to escape the “rat race.” I attended every real estate class and took copious notes. The last step would have been to take the real estate exam. But a few weeks before my exam, my father passed away from liver disease—a direct result of years of heavy drinking. Even though he lived in West Virginia and I had no relationship with him, his passing marked the beginning of a major downward spiral. The night my father died, I was introduced to cocaine. Thus began my serious addiction to heroin, cocaine, alcohol and pain pills.
This spiraling went on for the next three years until ending abruptly. It was 2005, and I was facing time in federal prison due to my addictions. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my fear of these consequences propelled me into discovering positive habits that would change my life.
Our darkest moments so often turn out to be blessings in disguise.
While awaiting trial I began journaling, reading and praying every day. I started exercising regularly and reciting daily affirmations. I joined a men’s group that met at 6:30 in the morning every Wednesday. I also attended 12-step groups consistently. Focusing on my recovery became my number one priority.
Taking intense action and making a commitment every day to “do the next right thing” paid off. The judge could see that I had turned my life around and I never had to spend a day in prison. I knew I had a second chance to change my life and show others what was possible.
Although my life improved dramatically over the next 10 years of my recovery, I still struggled with self-confidence, addictions, procrastination, social anxiety and low energy. I tried to incorporate more exercise into my daily routine by weight training five to six days each week. I began reading more self-help books, but I couldn’t seem to apply any new principles for more than a month at a time. I was frustrated.
On a cold December night, my friend suggested I take a cold shower every day for 30 days. I thought to myself, “There’s no way I can do this. I love my warm showers too much.” Besides, it was wintertime in New Hampshire. If I was going to have to admit to being addicted to steamy showers, I was okay with it. But my roommate must have sensed what would inspire me. Heading my protestation off, he strode upstairs to take his first cold shower. I was shocked by his decisiveness.
He padded back down the stairs and I saw that he had survived the stunt. I decided to try it, too. I turned the knob all the way to cold and turned on some music. I got myself pumped up and jumped in. The water was so cold it took my breath away, and I was in shock for the first 30 to 60 seconds. I stayed in that cold shower for a full five minutes.
I emerged, and would never be the same again. For the next three hours, I felt incredible energy and excitement—a level of energy I had never experienced before. I celebrated Christmas morning with a cold shower, which was my one-week mark. By day 13, it was snowing six inches outside and I still jumped in the cold water. When I hit the 30-day mark, the end of my commitment, I decided to keep going. It was a no-brainer. That month provided me with unwavering confidence. Finally, I was taking consistent action and doing something good for myself. Somehow, this small consistent act had returned on my investment in spades.
My ability to take on new challenges that had previously scared me began to mount. I started getting serious about overcoming social anxiety by using cold showers, EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) and affirmations. My increased efforts in a new position at work helped me win a prestigious award that afforded me an all-expenses-paid trip to St. Moritz, Switzerland. Even in Switzerland, I did not miss a day of cold showers.
When I reached the one-year mark, I just kept going. Cold showers have become my uncommon recovery ritual as well as a lifestyle habit. I have spent many years of my life chasing highs from substances or fantasies. Now I chase natural highs like cold showers. I take them every morning and often take a second one in the afternoon if needed. It could be 90°F outside and sunny or 16°F and snowing. Either way, I take my cold shower.
The intense interest from people I’ve told about my cold shower journey inspired me to write this book. My hope is that you will also begin to smash your comfort zone on a daily basis using the power of cold showers.
From Smash Your Comfort Zone with Cold Showers: How to Boost Your Energy, Defeat Your Anxiety, and Overcome Unwanted Habits by Jesse Harless. Reprinted with permission