When Barry Jay gave up drinking and doing drugs, he needed something to transfer his addiction to that was healthy. When he took a desk job at a popular fitness studio in West Hollywood, California, he found his calling. “Fitness saved my life,” says Jay co-founder of Barry’s Bootcamp, a popular high-intensity workout with a huge celebrity following and 20-plus locations nationwide. Now, with 11 years sober and a revolutionary exercise program known as “The Best Workout in the World,” Jay is addicted to staying sober and helping others achieve sobriety.
Barry’s Bootcamp is hosting a pro bono community class with BIGVISION from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at Barry’s Bootcamp Tribeca at 1 York St. in New York. Developed by Eve Goldberg who lost her son to an accidental drug overdose, BIGVISION is an organization that provides a sober environment for young adults in recovery from drug abuse to connect and have fun.
Jay will lead a 60-minute workout (the signature Barry’s Bootcamp workout regimen combines equal length intervals of cardio on the treadmill and floor work, such as weight training and resistance exercises) and hold a Q-and-A about his life and the obstacles he faced during his personal recovery from drug abuse. The class is exclusively for the members of BIGVISION to help them find activities that can assist in their recovery, so we sat down with Jay for a preview.
Renew: What does your road to recovery look like?
Barry Jay: I got sober—for the first time—in 1988. I did it on my own. No program. I was in West Hollywood, so I joined a gym. I was very serious about working out. I was getting a lot of nice compliments (vanity further fueled my love for fitness). But I wasn’t in a program for recovery.
I never wanted to go back to 1983 to 1988—when I was on every drug under the sun, many times at the same time—but I saw all of my friends enjoy a glass of wine after a hard day. Wine wasn’t my preference, but pot I loved. Instead of a glass of wine after a long week, I thought I could have a few puffs of a joint. I had myself believing that to could be the truth. I didn’t think I was lying to myself. But I'm an addict. I didn’t know that at the time. I thought I was just in my 20s. I didn’t connect that I was powerless. But that weekend pot smoker became a daily pot smoker right away.
But I was still teaching 40 workout classes a week at Barry’s Bootcamp. I was showing up early, and I was staying late.
Then what happened was I met a guy. (It’s always a guy.) He wanted to go dancing, and I hate dancing. He said, “Have you ever tried ecstasy?” I said no, which was a miracle. (Only later on did I remember that I had tried it once.) “Oh, well, that’s why you don’t like dancing,” he said. So I tried it. I still hated dancing, but I loved the ecstasy.
When you’re out at a gay club dancing, there are a lot of people falling out on the drugs and having a bad reaction. People started calling me Florence Nightingale because I wanted to go outside and see who needed help. I would talk to the people and bring them water.
But I was on the verge of dying.
On Nov. 6, 2004, I reached my own personal, spiritual bottom. I felt hopeless. I went to Disneyland because I was poor, but I had a season pass. I was there alone. It was awful. It was the most miserable place on earth. It wasn't working. I’ll never forget that day.
One of my friends from boot camp brought me to a meeting the next day. I’ll always remember he said, “Sobriety doesn’t mean your life is always going to be good. It means good or bad, you’re always going to be present.” I couldn’t remember being present in my adult life. It seemed like it was time. I had no other options. The first ray of hope, the first good laugh I had, was my first meeting Nov. 7, 2004.
Renew: How is exercise and Barry’s Bootcamp a part of your recovery?
Barry Jay: It’s such a glorious part of my recovery. When I got to recovery, they said, “You can’t keep it unless you give it away. Your main purpose is to stay sober and help the other alcoholics achieve sobriety.”
Exercise is not the key to staying sober. But it’s a gift of being sober. Exercise is part of recovery. We’re not just recovering from alcohol and drugs. We’re recovering from the damage the drugs did to our bodies and minds. Feeling good about working out is a great tool for positivity. It helps us mentally. It helps us with stress. There are a lot of emotions that run crazy in the first year of recovery. We can’t afford resentment and anger.
When you get to class and you get through it, you feel like a million bucks after. For the best recovery, to enjoy recovery, I don’t want to be sober and out of shape and smoking. I want to be sober and healthy, sober and caring for myself.
Renew: What is going to be your message during the BIGVISION class?
Barry Jay: Addiction is such an isolating disease. To feel comfortable in your own skin, to be out in public when everyone is drinking and making it look fun, and you’re like, “How am I going to relax?” We have to have places where we can go and enjoy life sober. You can come to class, you can feel great and you can do it with friends. This is one thing you can do transitioning back to life.
Don’t go home and do jigsaw puzzles. It doesn’t work. It’s not a way of life. You can’t binge watch TV for the rest of your life. You’ll be bored. BIGVISION bridges an important gap. I am grateful for a place like BIGVISION that makes it their mission to show you how to go back to life and enjoy it sober.