One of the strongest things that you can do in your long term recovery is to get into shape physically.
I never would have believed this to be the case when I was struggling through early sobriety, trying to find my spiritual path in life, and trying to figure out how to live a clean and sober life. It did not make sense to me at that time how physical fitness could have anything to do with not drinking alcohol or taking drugs. I did not see a connection with fitness and sobriety.
Later on in my recovery I gained some perspective on this. At a few moments throughout my early recovery I had a therapist and a sponsor both try to convince me to get into shape physically, to work out, to do some cardio or some weight training or both. And in these cases I basically made a feeble attempt at getting into better shape and I essentially failed.
I think this is an important concept in itself–that throughout my recovery journey there have been many instances in which I attempted to make a grab for some sort of personal growth, only to fall short or lose interest at the time. But then later I often get to a different place in my life and I might circle back to the concept. I am currently doing that in my own life when it comes to seated meditation–I tried to get into it early in my recovery, and it just never really clicked for me, so I moved on to other things at the time. But now, for whatever reason, I am circling back to the idea of seated meditation and I find myself practicing it for new and unexpected reasons. And the point is that–this time around–it might just “click” with me.
And I think that is an important approach to personal growth in recovery, to be able to realize that you are not always going to grasp a certain lesson in personal growth at the first moment that you encounter that lesson, but in fact you may have to circle back to it later on in your journey.
I have found this to be true in my experience, that sometimes I am just not ready to embrace a certain concept of personal growth, but I know that at some point I am going to have to revisit it. This was definitely true for me with things like quitting smoking, getting into shape, and now it seems, seated meditation.
So after I had about a year or two in recovery, I finally got into distance jogging, and I never looked back. I have been doing some form of exercise on a fairly consistent basis since then, and the reason for this is because exercise finally “clicked” for me.
What do I mean by that?
In the past, jogging was always torture for me. I hated it, and it felt awful. There was no joy in running for me because I was out of shape and unhealthy.
Somehow I made the transition into wanting to be in better shape. So I started out by jogging only 2 or 3 miles at a time, and I eventually worked my way up to longer distances.
And at first, it did not really get much easier as I was training on those short runs. But at some point I turned a corner with my fitness, and suddenly I was in decent shape. I was running 6 miles every single day, and I noticed that it no longer felt like work to do so. It was suddenly light and easy and relaxing to go jogging.
This was a miracle. I couldn’t believe it. And the benefits that came along with this level of fitness were really impressive to me.
One, I felt more energized on a day to day basis. I felt like I had more confidence because I was not afraid to run.
Two, I was sleeping much, much more consistently. I found that when I ran every day it made it much easier to fall and stay asleep each night.
Three, being a runner made it very easy to avoid nicotine addiction, which I had struggled to quit for quite some time. I feel like I get a huge endorphin kick from jogging that completely replaces the craving for nicotine.
Four, because I work out on a regular basis, I tend to naturally choose healthier foods, because they are fuel for exercise. I don’t have to do that consciously–it just sort of happens.
And last but perhaps most importantly, I get a massive emotional “cleanse” when I go out and run 6 miles. It is an amazing transformation, something similar to seated meditation, to go out and run on the earth and get those endorphins kicking and get into a mental zone. This is huge for me, and if I am every having a bad day or I am upset about something in my life, going for an intense jog always seems to help with my emotional state.
I would say that exercise, for me, is an emotional dampener. It reduces the intensity of my negative emotions, and gives me an uplifting boost in mood. Furthermore, when I get injured temporarily and cannot exercise for a brief period of time, I really start to notice the lack of exercise benefits in my life. It is when I am injured that I see just how much I really get out of regular exercise and fitness.
So what starts out as a chore when we are out of shape eventually turns into a blessing or a reward. Once you are back in good physical shape you will actually look forward to a workout and enjoy the time that your brain can rest. Honestly I think that the emotional benefits and the mental clarity that you get from an intense workout is worth more to me than the obvious physical benefits that you get, but of course your own experience may vary a bit from this.
Take it as an interesting piece of evidence in support of this–that once a person gets into fitness and gets into great shape, they would never dream of going without their regular workout. It becomes that vital to them because they get so many benefits from it, many of which are intangible and difficult to articulate, such as the boost in confidence or the effect that fitness has on your diet or sleep habits.
I would encourage everyone who is interested to talk with their doctor first, determine if they are healthy enough to engage in vigorous exercise, and then find a way to tap into these benefits. Even deliberate and vigorous walking can be all that you need, so long as you are consistent and you push yourself a bit. Again, check with your doctor first, but just know that these are benefits and a huge boost to sobriety that almost borders on “magical” for some people–you don’t want to miss out on this stuff. Good luck!