Athletes, Addiction and Self-Worth Beyond Your Body with Joe Putignano- EP056

 In Podcast

‘The energy of passion and obsession, they live on the same plane. It depends how we choose to use it.’




Subscribe on YouTube

The obsession and dedication that drives a competitive athlete can easily turn that very same person into an addict by offering a similar feeling of freedom. And if your self-worth is tied solely to your body and its physical capabilities, drugs and alcohol offer an escape from the feelings of worthlessness that arise when you learn that your Olympic dream is just that—a dream.

Joe Putignano is the best-selling author of Acrobaddict, a memoir exploring the relationship between athletics and drug addiction. He has performed with Cirque du Soleil, on Broadway and at the Metropolitan Opera, and appeared on film and television as an actor, dancer and acrobat. Joe is an NASM Certified Personal Trainer, and he served as the strength and conditioning coach for Cirque du Soleil’s Totem. Joe has also modeled for a number of publications, appearing on the cover of Instinct Magazine, Driven Magazine and Apollo, among others.

Today, Joe shares his story, from his inspiration to pursue gymnastics at the age of seven to the dark period when his Olympic dreams ended to his career with Cirque de Soleil. He discusses his struggle with addiction, explaining how he was captivated by drugs and alcohol and what finally moved him to get clean. Listen in for Joe’s insight around approaching loved ones who are using, learning to embrace self-care, and finding self-worth beyond your body.

Topics Covered

[0:44] Joe’s inspiration to become a gymnast

  • 1984 Olympics (seven years old)
[1:55] Joe’s training schedule

  • Gym from 3-8:30pm
  • Competition on weekends
[3:26] The training atmosphere of gymnastics

  • Serious competition with other athletes
  • No specific nutrition plan for men’s team
[5:05] The end of Joe’s Olympic dream

  • Training center at 11 and 13
  • Realized wasn’t among best at 16
[5:51] When Joe realized performance was an option

  • Disney auditions for gymnasts (stunt shows)
[6:54] Joe’s dark period from ages 16-20

  • Started drinking to quiet voice in head
  • Part of ‘90’s rave scene, felt free
  • College gymnastics team, kicked out
  • Ended up in homeless shelter in NYC
  • Working as waiter, discovered heroine
[15:12] How Joe finally got clean at 27

  • Job at New York Times style department
  • Rehab through employee assistance program
  • Counselor suggested gymnastics for fun
  • Started taking class with Jonathan Nosan
[19:01] Joe’s take on addiction as the most powerful energy

  • Beyond human control
  • Includes overtraining
[20:55] How Joe came to embrace self-care

  • 12-step program and spiritual lifestyle
  • Learn to accept, bend with ups and downs
[22:33] The heart of Joe’s spirituality

  • Search for powerful energy
  • Meditation to quiet negative self-talk
[25:44] How Joe found his spirituality

  • Hit rock bottom several times
  • Had to put down weapons and listen
  • Learn from others at 12-step meetings
[30:38] Joe’s advice for friends, family of addicts

  • Choice ultimately has to be theirs
  • Intervene with love (not shame)
  • Get involved, life at stake
[30:22] Joe’s new career in nursing

  • Loves helping other people
  • Own problems seem less significant
[32:34] Joe’s Cirque de Soleil career

  • Got clean in 2007, started Cirque in 2009
  • Performers must be alert, high energy
  • Tore both rotator cuffs in 2013
  • Sanjay Gupta helped recover
  • Used alternative ways to deal with pain
[35:31] Joe’s insight on Cirque performers

  • Level of wonder, madness
  • Strong, dedicated people
  • Grueling schedule (10-12 shows/week)
[36:46] The overall health of Cirque performers

  • Had own kitchen, staff nutritionist
  • Strong self-care
[37:39] Joe’s continuing struggle around self-worth

  • Self-worth connected to body
  • Nursing shifts understanding
  • Caring for people more important than appearance
  • Will continue to exercise for own self-care

Learn More About Joe

Joe’s Website

Joe on Twitter

Joe on Instagram

Joe on YouTube

Joe on LinkedIn


Acrobaddict by Joe Putignano

Jonathan Nosan

‘The Spotlight at the End of the Tunnel’ in the New York Times




Recommended Posts
  • Jon Markle

    Thanks for this very personal, upfront and inspiring interview with a great guy who continues to be beautiful in body, mind & spirit.

Leave a Comment