Wake up with a nauseating headache and the taste of whiskey in your mouth. Stare up at the ceiling through bloodshot eyes and begin to worry about money, your job and your wife. Then remember, there’s beer in the fridge. Its 11 a.m. on a Saturday in January on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and it’s snowing outside. Get out of bed, aching from the week’s 60 hours of construction. Go into the kitchen and find a bottle of painkillers next to a half-drank beer. Put four pills in your mouth and taste the beer, flat and sour. Finish it anyway. Open the fridge. Take out another beer and drink it at the window, watching the snow come down, and wonder if you’ll get a chicken or steak burrito today. Grab a shovel and head outside. Bend down, back stiff, breath heavy and begin to shovel snow away from the tires of your truck, cursing. On the way to the burrito shop, someone cuts you off, so you pull up 2 feet behind them, rev your engine and flip them off. Catch yourself in the rear-view and think, “I’m so worthless.”
Decide on a steak burrito and a beer. Drink the beer while you wait for the burrito to be ready. Order another beer and start to feel the pills kick in. Feeling a little lighter, less angry, you get excited about going home, turning off all the lights and finding a movie to watch while nestled into the coach, hidden under the dark winter clouds. You get anxious about the idea of having to leave the house again, so on the way home, you go to the liquor store and buy a 12-pack of beer, three frozen pizzas and just a fifth of whiskey. You don’t want to be too hung over tomorrow. Get home, find the painkillers and take two more as you stick the first pizza in the oven. Open another beer, take a shot, find a movie and settle in to enjoy the best day of your week.
This was my life in January 2012.
Today, I wake with a smile and lift my arms over my head for a long stretch. I stare up through the skylight and get excited thinking about my friends, my clients and the mangos in my fridge. Its 7 a.m. on a Saturday in September 2014. I’m in Santa Barbara, California, and the sun is shining. When I look back at my life a few years before, I remember the sadness, the shame, the self-destruction, and I remember running from it all and hiding in a handful of pills and a bottle of booze. Now I stand tall, look at myself in the mirror and feel genuine love for the person I see. My journey began with raw foods. But going from sadness to self-love was a lot harder than going from burritos to bananas. Here’s how it happened.
In April 2012, I found myself looking out at the world from a deep chasm. I was alone after the termination of a 12-year relationship. I was depressed, anxious and frightened. I was heavily addicted to alcohol, nicotine and oxycontin. In the early hours, when I was sober, and in the late hours of belligerence, I had a whirlwind of the same questions:
How did I get here? Why am I doing this? What am I doing? Where should I go? Who am I?
It took me months to even understand what I was asking, and it took me a couple of years to find the answers. At the time, I didn’t have a clue, but from somewhere in this chasm, I understood I had two choices: crawl in deeper or be brave and, by any means necessary, find a way out.
In a drunken stupor, I would lie in bed and fantasize about quitting alcohol, working out, eating healthy and smiling. I didn’t have any idea how to make that fantasy a reality and had many parts of myself that never believed I could. I shared my desire to change with a friend one night over a 12-pack. He told me I should look into a raw, fruit-based diet. After getting a little buzzed from the beers, I thought, “That’s just crazy enough to work.” He told me to “Check out Durianrider.” “What’s a durian rider?” I asked.
That night I laid in bed, glassy-eyed, watching YouTube videos of a skinny, fit, vibrant Australian named Harley [Johnstone], a.k.a. “Durianrider,” devouring whole watermelons on camera and telling me I, too, could change. Throughout the following week, I researched The 80/10/10 Diet and watched lectures of Dr. Doug Graham. I found videos of Fully Raw Kristina, Megan Elizabeth and Chris Kendall, all smiling, making raw food and talking about fruit. I learned about Mike Arnstein and The Woodstock Fruit Festival. I got on 30BananasADay.com and started reading posts. With every new discovery, I noticed something growing from the center of my chest. Something I hadn’t felt in years. Something I had missed and longed for. Something that every human needs in order to love this life we are in. Something called hope.
I had to give this thing a shot, so I drove to the local co-op and bought a box of bananas. That night, I eyeballed the box as I drank a few beers, thinking to myself, “Man, that’s a lot of bananas.”
The next morning, I woke up and was ready. I ate 25 bananas that day and a huge salad at night. I felt like I had truly lost it but I also felt that surge of hope growing and pulsing through me as I laughed at the pile of peels in the compost bucket. Little did I know, this was just the beginning. That first day I quit coffee, meat, dairy, oil, salt and cooked food of any kind. I continued to drink until Day 3 and continued to smoke until Day 7, after which these things just didn’t make sense anymore.
One day after the next, I kept it going and kept feeling better and better. I felt high, excited and childlike. I felt like I had found the answer to the question of life! Was it too good to be true?
Here are the facts: In the first 30 days, I lost 15 pounds of what I now call “beer fat” from my body. The dandruff I wrestled with since pubescence disappeared. My back acne and oily face cleared up. My red, tired and puffy eyes whitened, relaxed and began to shine brightly. More importantly, my eyesight improved, becoming clear and crisp. My mind became alert and focused, and my motivation for life was off the charts!
Was this all because of fruit? Several other factors played a role, and the most obvious can’t be ignored. The absence of opiates, alcohol, caffeine and nicotine was a huge relief for my system as a whole. I think drinking copious amounts of water helped flush these toxins from my body. I also started sleeping longer hours, which aided in my recovery and made me feel refreshed each morning. Finally, with this newfound energy, I started running and biking, usually for multiple hours a day. All these factors benefited my body and mind and helped bring a positive outlook to my life. That being said, fruit was hands down the most instrumental and powerful force in turning around my health and the key to making all these other changes possible.
Over the coming months, my body continued to heal and my focus continued to sharpen, but no matter how hard I exercised, those questions that had haunted me before began to creep in again. Despite feeling physically better than I ever had in my life, at times I would again feel sad and lost. It was as if my body had made it out of the dark chasm but had forgotten a part of me.
I became frustrated that I couldn’t outrun these feelings, so I tried to hide again. I began to fluctuate on my diet and binge on cooked, high-fat vegan foods. I would also have nights of incessant insomnia followed by sleeping into the afternoon. I brought alcohol back into my life on several occasions and even smoked a couple of cigarettes all in attempt to keep these feelings buried. There had to be a better way.
I started doing research on therapy and began to understand that emotional health cannot be achieved through physical means. Just like exercise is required for physical fitness, a practice of self-love and self-acceptance is needed for emotional wellness. This process of therapy has been the most fulfilling practice in my life and has helped me answer that whirlwind of questions I referred to earlier. I now consider the ability to love my Self unconditionally to be my greatest asset. I have since become a certified therapist. I believe once someone has tasted physical health, it is very natural to search for its mental counterpart. This is how it was for me. And so, I enjoy nothing more than helping my friends from the raw food world do the same.
What fruit did for my physical body, self-love has done for my emotional body. It is my mission to bridge these two worlds of health, which have been disconnected for far too long. I have two channels on YouTube to help me do this. HandyManBananas is dedicated to physical health through mainly raw foods and exercise. Conor McMillen focuses on mental health and the emotional body.
I also started the Fruit Winter Festival in Chiang Mai, Thailand, to advocate and spread this full spectrum of health. This annual event runs for 10 days every January and is a 100 percent free event with daily meetups.
I love connecting, sharing, inspiring and being inspired. Besides YouTube, there are several other ways to connect with me. If you are on Instagram, you can follow me @HandyManBananas to see everything I eat everyday. On Facebook you can like my HandyManBananas page. You can also connect with me on my personal page. If you are inspired to reach out to me and share your story, please do so. My mission is to help others begin and stick to a path of full-spectrum health. If I can help you in any way, I am here for you!
Watch a Video on the HandyManBananas Channel
Watch a Video on the Conor McMillen Channel
Discover Conor’s Top 5 Tips for beginning your full-spectrum health journey!
Hungry for more? Check out Conor’s Messy Raw Mexican Corn Salad recipe!