How Cold Water Immersion (CWI) has helped me remember the shittiest times in my life, and why that IS a good thing.
· 5 min read
Note of May 2nd, 2020: I took a trip down memory lane today and revisited this article I originally posted to Medium a little less than two years ago. I was just a few months into my regular cold immersion routine then and was just starting to tinker with refrigeration mechanics on what would eventually become my path to inventing the Morozko Cold Forge. There was no company yet, no entity named "Morozko Forge," there was only a problem I was trying to solve; how do I get more cold more often? How do I keep forging myself? This article really resonates, and I enjoyed revisiting the early drive to create what I've created. I hope you enjoy it. -Jason
I started doing CWI about six or seven months ago. How and why I ended up sitting in a painful tub of ice water on a regular basis is complex and probably best revealed slowly throughout several articles. In summary, I have been seeking out my own antifragility the past few years, the uncomfortable experiences that lead me to growth, which organically lead me to the practice of regular cold therapy.
The benefits I’ve experienced with the practice are likewise hard to explain in any short way. First and foremost, I like to overcome challenges. This was a challenge, I overcame it, therefore I got pleasure from the accomplishment. I also noticed pretty quickly my tolerance for the cold was increasing as a result. My swimming pool became a year-round feature to my home in Phoenix, Arizona. That’s a pretty nice benefit.
There’s also a lot of emerging science to support the physiological benefit of CWI. Cardiovascular and nervous system health, immune system strengthening and cognitive health are being increasingly studied in the context of CWI and the results seem to be extremely supportive of the therapy. But those outcomes are harder to feel than the affective and dare I say spiritual health that I’ve experienced since adopting the practice.
The cold continues to challenge me and I continue to overcome those challenges. What was once a freezing panic upon entering the ice, has become a quiet and stoic place of meditation for me. I have begun to feel physically stronger and can at least take my increased tolerance to the cold bath as a sign my vascular and nervous system is gaining the strength to silence the massive pain signals they would send me during my first few weeks with the therapy. All in all, I can confidently say I feel the therapy has been wonderful for me.
It was this thought that naturally lead me to momentarily wish that I’d found this sooner in my life. I found myself actually wishing that my earlier life had been filled with more discomfort so I could have started realizing these benefits sooner. I found myself, if only for a moment, being regretful of the comfort in my earlier life. That thought didn’t last long.
It was a replaced by more honest thoughts, ones that reminded me that my life has, in fact, been filled with an exorbitant amount of volatility. I was in the army, basic-trained in the swampy Oklahoma summer, exercised through the Mohave Desert, stationed in Germany through freezing winters, deployed to Iraq through heat and sandstorms that make the Arizona Haboobs look like dusty sneezes. I hadn’t forgotten all of these experiences, I just wasn’t remembering them right.
What I was consciously remembering was all of the good and comfortable times associated with those experiences.
My mind was actively dulling the memory of 15km marches with a 50lb rucksack in heat and humidity while being eaten alive by mosquitoes in Fort Sill. It was choosing to shine light on the memory of getting a weekend pass later in basic training and going to see Star Wars:Episode 1 in a nice air-conditioned theater then later getting blackout staggering drunk in a comfortable motel room.
My mind was pushing down the memory of the daytime heat and the nighttime cold in Fort Irwin, California I experienced during war game exercises. What I was actively remembering was the one night after the two weeks in the field were I got to take a hot shower and hang out in the post bowling alley.
My mind was turning down the volume of being stuck in the back of an open-air truck, huddled with 20 other soldiers in the pre-dawn German cold in Grafenwoehr headed out to some damned rifle qualification range. My fingers frozen inside my gloves and my feet numb to the point of feeling like I was walking on stilts when I finally jumped out of the truck. My mind, in all its drive for self-preservation, was focusing on being back in the barracks, warm, playing video games with my buddies before taking a taxi to a downtown GI bar.
My time in Iraq, the heat, the sand, digging trash ditches through bedrock, burning barrel-bottoms of human feces, fighting with flies over the food in my own mouth…all of that was getting pushed down from active memory. I’m not sure what the pleasurable thoughts were that were taking the spotlight from the unpleasurable ones. Maybe nighttime guard shifts when the desert was quiet and we figured out that mini mag-lights look like light sabers if you wear your night vision and there’s a little sand in the air. I also remember the peace it brought me on some mornings to find intricate patterns the insects would create in the sandbanks after an overnight sandstorm, trails of sacred geometry outlined by six-legged determination …whatever my mind was choosing to focus on other than the harshness, it was still definitely making choices to focus on the positive and forget the negative.
Cold therapy brought all this back to me. I don’t know if what I was experiencing counts as repressed memory. I didn’t forget that I was in the army, I was just selecting which parts to actively remember. Maybe that counts as selective memory? Regardless, my irrational thoughts of regret for not forging myself with harshness sooner in my life came to a quick end when the memories of all the ways I have been forged by harshness came crashing back to me.
Accessing repressed or un-selected memories is a strange sensation. I’ve tried to describe it many times and the best I can come up with is that it’s like an electric gong going off in your head. There’s a reverberation that can be painful at times, but usually the gong is only hit once and the most intense part of the sensation is the initial one. It tends to taper off from there as the electricity in your brain returns to normal concentration and focus. Despite the discomfort the experience can come with, I’ve never devalued when it happens. I don’t want to only focus on the pleasant memories of my life. I value those earlier experiences the same way I value the discomfort of an ice bath or any other painful growth experience I’ve ever had or will ever have.
So I’m glad I figured out my brain was sweeping the shittiest parts of my life under the cognitive rug. I’m glad I figured this out and figured out a way to stop it. The dirt under the rug is still in the room. We can never sweep our past away, I wouldn’t want to if I could. If the early experiences of my life were hard, let me remember they were hard. Let me value them as the process that lead to my formation.
Remembering the good times is a good thing, so long as we’re not pushing the struggles into a down-and-out place in our minds as a product. There is value in discomfort. Cold Water Immersion continues to bring that value to me, and helps me to not lose that value from my past.