I’m a big supporter of doing absolutely nothing in early recovery. Simply not drinking is enough.
Someone once told me that on Day 1 of recovery, I should have zero guilt for staying in bed all day if I needed to – it was perfectly okay. That was a completely foreign concept to me. But the reminder that sobriety can and should take priority over everything else during those first few days was a godsend.
Because I have a tendency to try and do too much. That was part of what got me a ticket on the booze cruise in the first place – putting too much pressure on myself, and trying to please everyone at the expense of my own wellbeing.
No – I didn’t need to host a formal dinner party for 30, or finish that first draft of my novel during my first month of sobriety. I gave myself the permission I needed to take that nap, eat that entire pint of Chunky Monkey, not put makeup on, and decline any social obligation that would require me to wear something other than ratty sweatpants and one of my husband’s Grateful Dead t-shirts.
I was treading water so I wouldn’t sink. Nothing else really mattered. But how long can a person swaddle themselves in a misery quilt of their own making and pay zero attention to social constructs or basic human hygiene? The simple answer is for as long as it’s necessary. For me it was over a week.
But eventually, I emerged from my self-protective cocoon like a beautiful butterfly.
Okay, not really.
You could say that I emerged like a naked mole rat, squinting at the brightness of a world that I hadn’t seen unfiltered for a long time. And I found myself wondering if I should just crawl back into that dark, lonely – but at least familiar – place.
But I knew going backward wasn’t an option. I needed to find some tools – give myself some forward momentum. It was time to embrace a simple truth:
Exercise makes everything better.
Seriously – it does. It is a well known prescription for depression and anxiety. Exercise also serves another – and perhaps even more valuable – purpose for those of us in recovery. It reconnects us with our physical bodies.
And that’s really important. Because as alcoholics, we are too often governed by our not-so-rational minds. That inner voice that convinces you that wine is your friend. That insistent urge to numb your feelings and temporarily forget your troubles in a bottle of Jack Daniels. That nagging self-doubt that makes you believe that being bold and brave requires liquid courage from a shot glass.
Exercise helps the physical body get on an even playing field to battle the mind fuck that is addiction. Even after years of being abused and neglected, it’s amazing how the body can heal itself. Before that first week was over, I was already feeling 10 times better. When I started to get physically active again, it became even more obvious that…yessss – The Bitch Is Back.
Now, lest you think that you accidently stumbled upon some annoying fitness blog pushing acai smoothies and featuring insecurity-evoking images of ripped abs and perfect bubble butts – please don’t hit the back button before hearing me out.
Exercise can play a vital role in recovery. Any physical activity that you enjoy will work – walking, cycling, yoga, surfing, tennis, or even prancercise. Whatever floats your boat.
If it’s something that gets your blood pumping and your body moving, that’s all that matters. Just do it – whether in a pair of Nikes or not. And do it even when you don’t feel like it – because repetition is the only way positive habits are formed and negative ones are overcome.
PECS is my personal term for exercise’s benefits. And not as in the pectoralis major muscles -although they may benefit as well. It’s an acronym – because acronyms are easy to remember and make you sound like you know some special formula or copyrighted secret. So here it is. For free. With only a $19.95 shipping and handling fee.
P – Power: Exercise in recovery is all about taking your power back. Alcohol has had the power for far too long. This is your opportunity to give a big FU to the beast of addiction. You are in control now. You might be thinking, wait…doesn’t AA teach us that we are powerless over alcohol? Yes. I knew I needed help to overcome my addiction, but that does not mean that I am powerless as a person. True power is taking responsibility for controlling your own destiny, and taking the necessary steps to change, when required.
E – Endorphins: If there is one common trait of alcoholics, it is that we are endorphin chasers. We enjoy that rush – how booze can cut through the boredom and dull the pain of everyday life. The problem is that substances are always false highs. The body, in a constant quest to achieve stasis, will counterbalance their effect once the drugs have worn off. You end up more depressed and anxious than ever, chasing an ever more elusive high. The good news is that the endorphins that we get from exercise aren’t as volatile. They last longer and don’t include hangovers because they are produced naturally by the body. These endorphins are our friends. You will sleep better, have more energy, think more clearly, and feel happier when you exercise regularly.
C- Calm: It’s important to learn how to quiet our bodies and minds. When you’re stressed out, it’s easy to look for a quick fix to calm your nerves. I was always a stress drinker. If I had a bad day, I couldn’t wait to get home and open a bottle of wine. Exerting myself physically is a far better option for me. It seems counterintuitive that you can be calm when you’re sweating, your heart is pounding, and you’re breathing hard. Aren’t those all physical symptoms of stress? Perhaps that’s the key – we “trick” our bodies into a fight or flight response, but then afterwards, we get to enjoy that laid-back feeling of restfulness. For the remainder of the day, it is harder to ruffle my feathers. My blood pressure is lower. I feel less annoyed and tense when confronted by the inevitable small setback or minor inconvenience.
S- Strength: Physical strength, sure. But emotional strength as well. My physical body suffered when I was drinking. But miraculously, it never gave up on me. It patiently waited for me to start taking care of it again so that it could show me what it’s truly capable of. Every push up, every lap, every squat reminds me that I’ve got this. Mind over matter. Strength in sobriety. It’s like the oft recited phrase No pain, no gain. No one said it was gonna be easy. But I am stronger than my addiction.
There’s no magic pill or silver bullet…just me – waking up and doing the things I need to do everyday to make my goals a reality. The solution is definitely not waiting for me at the bottom of a bottle – if it were, odds are I would have found it by now. So I’m not drinking. I’m hitting the gym and moving forward one day and one decision at a time.