By Tony Capobianco
Special to the Daily Press

Dustin Conrad is the Santa Monica-based fitness instructor behind the exercise method of using elastic stretch bands for flexibility and free-flowing resistance training known as “Bands and Body Fitness.” Much of his clientele is made up of recovering drug addicts looking to rebuild their bodies and repair their outlook on life.

He came into this career endeavor with a new heart after having emergency open-heart surgery caused by a drug addiction.

“Exercise and fitness in general became a necessity for me because I was on the other side of the spectrum with my health and lifestyle,” Conrad said. “[The surgery] was really the reopening of my heart at that point in my own personal and emotional life.”

Conrad’s crystal meth addiction began when he met his coworker at Starbucks after getting his high school diploma. She introduced him to crystal meth and, like all the rides of drug addiction, it started off as the best thing ever.

“We were up at five in the morning and she was chipper and happy,” Conrad said, “and I was like, ‘What do you have? I want that!’

“It felt like … if you’ve seen the movie ‘Limitless’,” he added, “it gave me this extraordinary concentration and ability to figure things out. I could take a radio apart, figure out the inner workings and repair it, play guitar for hours and hours on end, draw for hours and hours with no water, no breaks, no nothing until my fingers bleed. It was bizarre.”

Conrad’s crystal meth abuse sent him into a dark place of solitude that had him isolated from everyone he knew, including family and loved ones. He wasn’t maintaining function but simply existing with an unhealthy plan to continue the lost existence that seemed typical of a meth addict.

Conrad got his meth fix by “whoring” himself out to drug research studies that provided compensation, room, board and, most importantly, meth to volunteering test subjects for study purposes.

Yet even with all that, the fix wasn’t early enough for him. He arranged his drug dealer to deliver him more so that he could perform his own kind of study.

“Unfortunately, it didn’t work out very well,” Conrad said. “I went into convulsions the first time I did it. I don’t know if I did too much or if the mixture of water was incorrect. I just remembered at that point just hating myself so much … not having a meaningful life.”

He tried again the next morning and his immune system shut down as a result.

Conrad’s girlfriend left him and his parents saved him from abandonment. After a sobering intervention, they sent him to the hospital. The doctors asked if he used drugs and his immediate instinct was to deny everything.

“Little did I know, [telling the truth] could’ve saved my life,” Conrad said, “and lying could’ve ended it.”

After a series of medical tests, the doctors performed open-heart surgery to repair the mitral and tricuspid valve of his heart, which had ruptured from his constant meth abuse. But before what seemed like an opportunity for redemption and a fresh look at life, Conrad first had to free himself from a trapped state of depressing apathy.

“I remember laying in the hospital the night before the surgery,” Conrad said, “and there was just a placidness. I just didn’t care. It just didn’t faze me that this was happening the next day, whether I would make it or not. It was a real weird feeling [having] no appreciation, no respect for life.”

After the life-saving surgery, there was a connection between Conrad and his heart that was absent for a long time. The recovery process from the surgery and his crystal meth addiction was one and the same – painful and emotional.

Through the rehab process, Conrad reconnected with his parents, who were there with him every step of the way. It was actually through the journey to rehabilitation that Conrad found his path to health and fitness.

“That was really the venture of my health and fitness,” Conrad said, “because I began to go on hikes. That was the only thing I could do. Then as I got better and progressed, I began to bring weights on the hikes. Then I would do weighted arm movements, bicep curls, shoulder raises and things like that while I was walking.”

That led to the idea of a weight-walking program. It turned out not to work because people only either wanted to lift weights or walk, not both. At least the idea woke him up to an entrepreneurial endeavor tied to health and fitness.

With his heart, health, family, fitness and business all intact, Conrad sees the sun rise and set by the Santa Monica shores with clarity and grace rather than dark dependence and depression. Yet even though he is out of the woods, he does not regret embarking on the journey in and out of drug addiction.

“In a way, I don’t regret it,” Conrad said. “I feel like being open to that kind of existing potential within me has led me to this search for a bigger and better and cleaner version of that.”

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