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Daily Archives: November 20, 2013

Why Fitness Works with Addiction Recovery

Of the 21 years I’ve been sober now, I’ve been physically active for probably 16 of them – I had a little break in the middle where finding something I liked to do to stay active proved elusive.  Within months of putting the plug in the jug I got into rollerblading, heavily and tried just about everything under the sun after that.

After rollerblading I dabbled in volleyball, softball, skiing and was heavy into golf. Mrs. Bgddy and I bought a couple of cheap bikes back in the early ’90’s but that never went anywhere. It wasn’t until I got into running that I found something that was relatively cheap (I was poor back then) and could do almost anywhere.

Getting to the point though, as I grew older and more fit, some interesting things became clear, especially through the running period:  I really did feel ‘better’ after a nice run. I could be struggling with something mentally, show up at the running club hang out with the fellas for a minute and as I rounded the corner on the home stretch, I had myself straightened around.  Running (and now cycling) does for me, to a small extent, what drinking did – running gives me a time to escape, or in less pejorative terms, running allows me to defocus for a short time.

All too often I take things way too seriously, a side-effect of living through hell and escaping its clutches.  In other words, I have a tendency to, as it’s often described, concentrate on the destination rather than the journey.  The other sports I took part in gave me the same escape only to a lesser extent, with the exception of rollerblading.  My rollerblading  kick began when I was very young and new in recovery and because I didn’t have anyone to explain why I was so drawn to it, I was incapable of understanding the changes I went through when I got my heart rate up.  What I learned when I picked up running to shed some unwanted weight is that the activity and the accompanying endorphins gave me a chance to reset, to use a political term.

When I have a problem, if I’m trying to think through that problem with the same thinking that landed me in that situation in the first place, I get stuck.  On the other hand, after taking an hour or two’s break from trying to figure things out (I rarely think about life’s “stuff” when I’m running – or now, cycling) and then get a nice little rush of endorphins which brings about an unmistakable feeling of wellbeing and calm, I can refocus on that problem with a new vigor and from a completely different angle.  The process of completing a physical activity allows me to look at a problem with a better thought process.

Now, while I would imagine that while this happens in everyone, it takes someone who is acutely aware of such changes to really feel it happen.  Call it one of the blessings of being a recovering alcoholic.  For years I built up a tolerance to mood and mind altering substances and it used to take a lot to have a little effect on me – having a blood alcohol level above 0.3 was not uncommon, I’m quite certain I’ve been over 0.4 on occasion – enough that a normal person would be poisoned and die – and I could function like that.  On the other hand, once that substance is removed, over time we become highly sensitive to any changes of a positive nature in our mood – so much so that we must make doctors aware of our recovery before being anesthetized.  The end result is this:  When endorphins are released post physical exercise and those dopamine receptors are tickled, that feeling of wellbeing washes over me like an ocean wave in paradise.

This, specifically, is why I choose to remain physically active.  When done properly, there are no drawbacks – only positive outcomes.

Unfortunately there is that one flaw:  “When done properly”.  I possess a proclivity to become addicted to anything that makes me feel good.  This includes exercise.  I must always be mindful that I don’t allow my addictive personality to take the reins and allow riding a bike to do the same thing that getting drunk did to me.  Everything must be in balance or I’m toast.