As many alcoholics and addicts do, when I first got sober I poured myself into exercise in a way I never had before. I had all this manic energy to get rid of, and at the time I felt like if I could just exercise myself to exhaustion, I’d forget I had quit drinking for good. This isn’t a unique story, and the longer I have been sober, the more people I’ve met who leaned on exercise to distract their minds temporarily from the chaos going on inside.
One of the most amazing parts of recovery, for me, has been meeting like-minded people who also share my passions and hobbies. We can relate to each other in how we needed the routine, the consistency, the safety of our new schedule. We can celebrate our progress together, knowing it’s a lot more than losing a few pounds on the scale. I can also reflect on how before I stopped drinking and was competing as a bodybuilder, I would squeeze 3 glasses of wine into my calorie allotment for the day, leaving myself starving, sloppy and unhealthy– and how different I am as an athlete today.
I got sober in 2017 after years of drunk arguments, embarrassments and threats of divorce thrown between my husband and myself. I didn’t have a program at first, so I threw myself into the only thing I knew: exercise.
Directing that energy into something positive was a game changer for my mental health and physical health. Not only was I suddenly more motivated to get up early and workout (no hangover will help with that!) I was seeing improvements in my overall fitness I’d never been able to achieve before. Truthfully, it was a bit of a high in itself to have this newfound strength and feeling of accomplishment. I took the daily exercise to a new level and decided to try competing in bodybuilding, which is something I’d done once before without much success. In 2019, I won the overall champion title twice, and was awarded pro status in two bodybuilding federations. I attribute much of that success to the clarity, patience and determination that sobriety has given me.
The hardest part for anyone starting a new fitness routine is simply knowing where and how to start. With Covid-19 making gyms less accessible than before, many at-home options have become available which is great for anyone who’s a little nervous about trying something new in front of strangers.
On-Demand exercise. There are a multitude of free and subscription-based exercise programs available online. Search YouTube for the type of workout you’re looking for (yoga, kickboxing, tabata, cardio– you name it) or enroll in an online program like Beachbody on Demand for a little more accountability and support. Most of the online programs also come with online support groups on Facebook so you can connect and compete with other at-home athletes.
See if your local gym offers Zoom classes or live-streamed workouts. The YMCA offers YLive and on-demand programs, and many CrossFit gyms offer live Zoom classes you can modify to be done at home with whatever weight equipment you have available.
Get outside. If running, walking, hiking, skiing or simply just exploring the outdoors is more your thing, this is the best way to get yourself moving. Pick a new location to explore and map out your route. Make sure if you are going alone, that you let someone know where you’ll be going and when to expect you back.
Over the past few years, my exercise of choice has evolved from running to lifting to bodybuilding to CrossFit… but the lessons I’ve learned through engaging in exercise as an integral part of my sober lifestyle have remained the same. I’ve been able to lead by example (in a good way) for my family, friends and colleagues. I have learned how to make quality friends outside of the bar, who share my passions and interests. I’ve been able to overcome the fear of trying something new, which limited me in so many ways when I was still drinking and using. For the first time in my life, I’ve come to appreciate and respect my body instead of treating it poorly.