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Why Sports Have Helped Me Stay Sober in My Battle With Addiction

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When I am on the court, hearing the sneakers on the hardwood, the ball bouncing and the smooth swoosh of a perfect shot, it’s like music to my ears. I find inner peace while playing basketball. After a long day, I can tune out my troubles for a few hours; a few hours of healthy competition and my problems seem less serious.

Drug addiction does not have to feel like a life sentence. I learned this through my observations and life experiences. There are thousands of people who have fallen deep into drug addiction and managed to find sobriety, whether it was by going to rehab, attending 12-step meetings, therapy or religion. All of these strategies are viable, but what helps me stay sober after all of this time more than anything is sports. Competing, exercising, yelling and genuine friendships all help me to clear my mind after a long day or work week. For someone who is trying to stay sober and meet good friends, forming new friendships can be a problem, but playing basketball has not only helped me meet good friends I can socialize with. It’s helped me cope.

When I got sober, especially in the early stages of my recovery, I needed something to occupy my mind and time. I used to play basketball a lot. but in my eight years of active addiction I slowly stopped playing. The rehab facility where I recovered luckily had an old worn-down basketball court. I would go outside during my free time to play almost every day I was there. It was a way for me to forget about what was going on in my life, and focus on something else. Playing basketball allowed me to release stress in a positive way.

Exercise and Mental Illness

Exercise has been proven to help reduce the effects of anxiety, depression, stress and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). When you exercise, you release endorphins in your brain which make you feel good. In fact, you’ve likely heard this feeling called a “runner’s high.” Exercising results in the formation of new activity in your brain and bolsters feelings of serenity and happiness. If you are fighting with depression, stress or anxiety, going to the gym or playing a game of basketball can free your mind and change your mood. The sense of well-being, distraction from your worries and providing you a natural high are all great coping mechanisms for fighting drug addiction.

When you are active, your body is also less stressed because tension has been released, making you more relaxed both mentally and physically. When you are new to sobriety, it is common you may also struggle with one of these mental illnesses, but this is something that can be managed through exercising and daily maintenance. I did not think my anxiety or depression would ever go away in early sobriety. After working out regularly for about three months, I noticed my spirits changing. I was generally happier, had more energy and was becoming my old, outgoing self, like I was before I became addicted.

Should Rehab Treatment Facilities Implement Sports Programs?

Most rehab treatment facilities do not have exercise equipment or any recreational activity. I understand the idea of rehab is for the addict to focus on themselves, but having an outlet for physical activity could be beneficial for many addicts seeking sobriety. Some people do not know about the benefits of exercise and competition. If rehab treatment facilities implemented more sports programs, this would open new positive outlets for addicts who need tools to stay sober. Imagine going to rehab and being able to participate in running, lifting weights, playing kickball, flag football, or basketball. I have always known about the benefits of sports, but many don’t. Most people need to see that sobriety can be fun; sports are a great way to stay active in recovery and enjoy yourself.

Alternative Options to Help Stay Sober

I have been fighting drug addiction by using exercise and sports for the past five years, and I have won the fight so far. I know that simply playing sports is not enough to keep someone sober, and there are other steps which must be taken. For others who may not enjoy sports or are not able to exercise, there are other outlets that can help in fighting drug addiction:

1. Meditation
2. Massage
3. Yoga
4. Art therapy
5. Pet therapy
6. Trying new hobbies (reading, gardening, etc.)
7. Joining new clubs

These alternative options are all ways to find your inner peace. To me, that’s what being sober comes down to — finding inner peace. Whether it is through exercise or painting, whatever works for you therapeutically … do it!

If you or a loved one is affected by addiction and need help, you can call SAMHSA’s hotline at 1-800-662-4357.

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After Addiction and Eating Disorders, Wondering If I Am a Man Yet

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I woke up one day, age 25. “Am I now a man?” I wondered.

I remember when I was a little boy, lying on my back on the hill in the yard watching the clouds roll past. Squinting hard, the sky blurred and I kept my eyes nearly shut until one cloud took the shape of a man. Running inside, I exclaimed to my mom, “I just saw God!” I wanted to see him. I needed to see him. How could I know he was up there if I could not pinpoint the space he occupied?

And what would that little boy say about that 25-year-old he has become? He probably foresaw marriage and children, a house and a career. To a 5-year-old, 25 might as well be 45. But that prediction was so far from the truth.

I have close to $100,000 in student loan debt. Just the other day, I slept past noon and subsequently stayed up all night. When I make a list of men whose advances I’ve entertained in my iPhone notes, I have to scroll to get from top to bottom, and some have names I can’t remember without stopping and thinking really hard. Some meant so little, but some meant a lot. “They were all worth it,” I tell myself. What good does it do to think otherwise?

I’ve been in love once, actually I think twice, maybe even three times. I’ve been told, “I love you,” and felt a sense of peace beyond words, and I’ve said, “I love you” when I didn’t mean it, quietly over the phone sitting on the floor of my closet with the lights out; I was so surprised at how easily the words came out sounding sincere.

I’ve been kind, but I’ve been cruel, so very cruel. I’ve stolen, and I’ve cast stones from my glass house, and weighed down my white horse and I’ve shoved the knife right in and twisted it. I’ve spent years on the couches of therapists, lying. I’ve spent weeks in treatment centers, and nights in ERs and on cold bathroom floors. I’ve binged and purged and worried about how much space I am taking up, while subconsciously desiring to take up more, in different ways.

In boarding planes and crossing borders and in uncorking bottles and swallowing little pills and plants, I’ve run from myself, but never quite fast enough to get away.

Mess. Troubled. Whore. Alcoholic. Toxic. Addict. People can say what they will because now, more than ever, I cannot help but feeling that I have finally begun to cross that imaginary threshold from youth to adulthood.

I do not know when it began, though I know it was not when I got hair under my arms or down below, or when, fascinated and petrified, I stopped pulling it out and let it grow in. It wasn’t when my voice cracked, or when I lost my virginity, or when I got my first diploma, or second, or third.

I know it wasn’t when I got my first bank account, or paycheck or credit card or bill. Nor when I came out, or got my first negative test result or kissed my first boy in public without caring who was watching.

It wasn’t when I felt broken, or mighty; or when I felt immortal or ruined.

I don’t think it happened when I took my last drink, or pill or toke.

It wasn’t when I first gave without expecting anything back, nor when I first felt self-loathing or had my heart broken once, or actually twice, and maybe even three times.

Just like what is or isn’t above us and below us, I cannot pinpoint when it happened. It must have been when I started liking the sound of my own voice and the words it was forming; when I first gently spoke then projected my being out into the world. It must have been when I became proud, but not prideful.

Or at least getting there.

I dare to say, I hope I have reached a place where, no matter what is given or taken, no matter what comes or goes, I can wake up on a rather uneventful September morning and know I am not on my way, but I am here. I am OK. I am love. I am alive. I am a man.

If you or a loved one is affected by addiction and need help, you can call SAMHSA’s hotline at 1-800-662-4357.

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Why Addiction Recovery Is Like a Game of Jenga

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I find that certain quotes and readings really resonate with me lately. I’ve always been the sensitive one in the family — felt things more deeply, loved more passionately, been more emotional about pretty much everything. I recently I read this quote: “The more I find myself, the more people I lose.” It’s by Kushandwizdom, and after being diagnosed as a pathological gambler, having bipolar disorder and major depressive disorder (MDD) while still trying to deal with my fibromyalgia and chronic pain, this quote felt like it pretty much summed up my life over the past two years.

Why, you may ask, does this resonate with me? Well, here I was — a smart, well-educated, high-level corporate executive. I was social, fun to be around… the life of the party. Then all of a sudden, what my friends don’t know was I had this secret life — a life where I was a gambling addict, where I was gambling away my paycheck in one night, where I was still struggling with my recent divorce, and where I couldn’t handle the stress of my job anymore. I also didn’t leave my apartment anymore except to go to work, I cried all the time and my denial of friends’ invitations was not because I had other plans but rather because I didn’t have the energy to get dressed or shower, and I hadn’t even hit rock bottom. Not even close.

Fast-forward two years. Now you’re rebuilding your life and it’s like a game of Jenga. You pull one “bad” block out — perhaps the block which represents the addiction you’re fighting, and when you put that block back on top now it represents the GA meetings you’re going to. The object of the game is to keep the building straight and strong and your friends do the same; can they support you when you pull out that bad block, and support you when you make the changes in your life and put that new block on top? Can they be there when you need support? When you need someone to just listen and not judge? Sometimes they can’t, and the building falls right away; they didn’t sign up for this, they want their old friend, their “fun” friend. Maybe they don’t have the strength or endurance to rebuild, or maybe they were never meant to be part of the rebuilding team and that’s OK, this is just part of the journey. I’ve learned this, and truth be told it can be painful. However, then there are other friends who do help you rebuild, and the ones who stick around sometimes surprise you. Even if the team is small and even if the building wobbles many times and is shaky, it somehow continues to stand and even with all the cracks, the building can be built stronger than ever. It may take time and patience, but these are the people, the builders you want on your journey.

These last two years have meant a lot of self-exploration. It has meant a lot of visits to doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists, addiction specialists, support groups etc. I have read self-help books, tried meditation, exercise, medication, you name it. I researched it or tried it. I have had to tell people I loved and cared about terrible things I’ve done or felt or wanted to do, but part of getting better is being honest with yourself first and then with those you love. If those people really love you, they will stay by your side and support you through your journey.

So I end this with another quote, this one spotted on lovethispic.com: “As we grow up, we realize it becomes less important to have more friends and more important to have real ones.”

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Why I've Made the Decision to Stop Drinking

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It doesn’t come as a surprise to me that my drinking habits have crept into dangerous territory. Since I was young, I’ve known I have a predisposition towards alcoholism. Today, I have made the decision to quit drinking for good. I know the road to sobriety is going to be a long and difficult one, and relapses will occur, but I know that if I keep on the same road I’m on, both my physical and mental health are going to take a serious hit. That scares me. Here are just a few reasons why I’ve decided to become sober:

1. I’ll have more time.

I never realized just how much time I waste on drinking. On an average week, I’ll come home from work and drink until I go to bed, which is roughly a good 30 hours of my time devoted to getting drunk. That’s ridiculous and could be better spent doing things that are actually productive, which in turn would make me feel so much better about myself.

2. I’ll save money.

I usually live paycheck to paycheck because I spend so much of my income on alcohol. I will even make myself buy the cheapest liquor, solely because I know I drink so much and the cost would hurt my bank account even more than it already does. Every time I do the grocery shopping, about 25 percent of my food budget is spent on alcohol. I’m really looking forward to being able to live comfortably and not have to resort to using credit just to buy necessities because I’ve already spent my paycheck on vodka.

3. I’ll remember events.

It’s never fun being told what you did or said while you were blacked out. I hate the feeling of embarrassment, yet I will still risk it for a few drinks. About 90 percent of bad decisions I’ve made in my life can be attributed to being drunk. For someone who has anxiety and likes being in control, it doesn’t make sense for me to use a substance that lowers my inhibitions and judgment. My memory is severely impaired due to alcohol abuse, and my cognitive function will only get better once I quit the bottle.

4. My mood will improve.

It’s a vicious cycle – alcohol is a depressant, so although it might curb things like my anxiety temporarily, it’s only making me even more depressed in the long run. I also struggle with bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder (BPD) and I should really be taking my medication. But I’ve noticed drinking too much interferes with the efficacy of my meds and makes them not do their job as well, if at all. So usually, I just don’t even bother taking them, or I forget to in my drunken state. If I actually took them consistently, my mood would improve drastically.

5. I’ll physically feel better.

If you want to feel like death warmed up, experience a hangover. As I’m getting older, the hangovers are getting worse and it now takes a couple of days for me to recover from a hard night of drinking. I would also much prefer to feel great when I wake up in the morning and to have the energy to do the things I used to enjoy, instead of feeling awful and sluggish.

I think this is one of the smartest decisions I’ve ever made. It’s not going to be easy, but as someone who already has high blood pressure caused by my drinking habits, decreasing my risk of other health issues like heart disease, stroke, liver disease and digestive problems is worth it. Not to mention I’ll make new friends, have better relationships, learn healthier coping skills and generally just feel proud of myself. What could be better than that?

If you or a loved one is affected by addiction and need help, you can call SAMHSA’s hotline at 1-800-662-4357.

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10 Ways to Support a Friend Whose Loved One Struggles With Addiction

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The best way to describe how it feels to have a loved one battling addiction is isolating. It’s lonely. It can be hard to relate to other people.

It’s hard to make commitments, like volunteering for church activities or children’s school trips because you might be overwhelmed and never know what will happen from day to day. Going to work can be good if you get yourself motivated to go, but some days, it’s too much to handle. Inviting friends over for coffee is generally out of the question because you never know what environment your home will be in that day. To be honest, it’s easier to withdraw than reach out.

If you’re the wife of someone with an addiction, then being around other couples is almost unbearable, especially at church. It’s hard to make conversation with other wives or mothers.

My friend doesn’t talk about her loved one’s addiction. What’s she feeling?

It’s tough to fully explain how it feels to be caught up in a loved one’s web of addiction, but I’m going to try and verbalize it so you can understand what your friend or family member is really dealing with.

Whether in a crisis or recovery phase, the emotions are still very much the same. When a loved one goes into recovery, the insecurities are still there. The boundaries still need to be in place. Recovery from addiction is one of the “long narrow roads,” Jesus talked about leading to life.

Sadly, there’s also a growing mortality rate among substance abuse users. So if that’s the addiction your friend is dealing with, then she’s carrying that fear around too. Deaths due to drug overdoses have climbed significantly in recent years, jumping 102 percent between 1999 and 2010 alone to make it the leading cause of injury death in America, ahead of traffic accidents and gun-related incidents.

Although there are many of different types of addictions, generally speaking, most compulsive behaviors leave family members feeling the same way. I hope this helps give some insight into what your friend or family member might be feeling. I know it may sound mostly negative but don’t despair! Recovery does happen. Treatment can work. I believe God does heal.

Here are 10 ways to help your friend or family member feel supported.

1. Ask her if she wants to talk about it.

We need to talk. We want to talk. This isn’t a topic that’s difficult for us to discuss. If we seem hesitant to talk, then it’s because we aren’t sure what you can handle hearing. The darkness can be deep. We don’t want to be judged, just heard. If we cry, then it’s not because what you said was hurtful, but because we’ve been holding it in. If we didn’t want to talk that day, then ask again later. If we’re complaining too often, then take us out to vent, have dinner, get it off our chest and then tell us gently, we need to stop talking about it now. You’re protecting us from ourselves because constantly complaining only makes us feel worse.

2. Don’t make us feel guilty.

Mothers feel guilty for not seeing the warning signs and being unable to protect their children from harm. Wives feel guilty for taking on the “head of household” role and not being loving enough. Siblings feel ignored.

We need to know you support us. You may not agree with everything we say but as our friends, trust us and have our backs.

3. If she has kids, then babysit for a day.

Take our children to the movies or to the park. Pick them up from school for us. Take them anywhere. We might be able to pay for it. It takes so much effort to be a loving, caring mother and we’re exhausted. A small break goes a long way in helping us stay peaceful amidst our storm.

4. Give her a small token to show you’re thinking of her.

Flowers, a card, a pretty scarf, cupcakes — it’s the thought that counts. We spend most of, if not all our time, pouring into others and ignoring ourselves. Showing us you’re thinking about us with a small gift does two things: It reminds us we’re valued and treats us to something we wouldn’t do for ourselves. A little goes a long way!

5. Be on the lookout for an opportunity to help her environment.

Have we been griping about not having time to paint that one bathroom? Has our flowerbed been poorly neglected? Is our couch old and peeling into shreds? Do our windows need cleaning? Anything you can do to help our physical environment will help us feel better on the inside. Your investment into our lives will have a long-lasting effect on our overall health and daily life.

6. Bring her a casserole.

I say it all the time, but nobody brings you a casserole when your husband goes to rehab. (There may or may not be a book in the making! Winky face.) I’m not sure why this is such a big thing to me, but it is. It could be because I personally don’t want to cook when I’m upset but eating a healthy, wholesome meal does wonders for the soul. If your friend or family member has children, then you won’t only be blessing her, but you’ll be blessing the entire family.

7. Sincerely ask how she is doing.

People often ask, “How’s it going?” or “How are things?” and we obligingly say, “Fine. Good. I’m fine. The kids are good.” What we really want to say is, “Things are not good. I am not OK. The kids are having a tough time,” but often people don’t really want the truth. They ask because it’s polite. Ask us with sincerity how we really are and we’ll be ever thankful you cared enough to ask.

8. If you know something she doesn’t, then tell her.

Please, don’t hide truths from us. It doesn’t help to keep us in the dark. We need to know what’s really happening so we can react accordingly. This is especially true for wives. Dear friends of our husbands, if you know something, then tell us. We are hurting more than you know. A hard truth doesn’t bring more pain, but it gives freedom. Living in uncertainty makes us bounce back and forth between compassion and asserting boundaries. Without the truth, it’s hard to know the right thing to do. We love them. We will do what is best for them, not what feels good. Trust us that we know what that is. (We probably do. We’ve been riding the roller coaster!)

9. If you see red flags she doesn’t see, then tell her.

Being on the outside looking in, you might be able to see behavior we’ve become accustomed to. Our love for them can be blinding. We hope for the best and want to get to a place of trust so we unintentionally overlook or make excuses. Be fairly warned. We may not receive advice well, but it’ll be stored into our subconscious. We’ll look more closely at our loved ones or our own behavior.

10. Pray for her.

People often brush off comments like “Hey, I’ll pray for you,” as being a “wishy-washy” thing to say, but heartfelt prayer is powerful. I’ve seen it happen!

Here are a few things to avoid saying to your friend:

In your innocence, you may say some things that hurt more than help. I mean this in the kindest way because I understand no one understands addiction until they experience it. So here’s some gentle suggestions of things that are better not to say.

Don’t compare your problems to ours. “My daughter did this once at a party,” or “My husband has problems, too. No one is perfect,” doesn’t help. It only confirms to us that you don’t get it.

Tread lightly when advising a wife to leave her husband for the sake of her kids or telling a mother to no longer allow her child to come home. Those are not small decisions or boundaries. They’re huge. They’ll ignite a river of events our loved ones may or may not be able to survive. It’s OK to say what you see, just be gentle. If you sense resistance, then I wouldn’t push it.

Is addiction hopeless?

No! Nothing is hopeless. I know there’s healing for addiction.

Remember, a friend that will be there for us, cry with us, help us with our daily tasks and get us through the hard days means everything. We’re fighting a battle we never planned on fighting and having you stand behind us gives us strength to keep going. Your support gives us life by reminding us we have a life to live too.

If you or a loved one is affected by addiction and need help, you can call SAMHSA’s hotline at 1-800-662-4357.

This post originally appeared on Leah Grey.

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What I've Learned in My 7 Years of Sobriety

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Are you the same person now you were seven years ago? Physically speaking, this is impossible because many cells in your body are changing all of the time. Things even change on a day-to-day basis as our lives are all so fast-paced now. It sometimes feels like I either get with it or fall behind — this is the nature of the world we live in. Seven years ago, I was in a very dark place and today, my life is a thousand percent different. I have learned many things throughout the years as well.

My sobriety date is April 21, 2010 and before this date, my life was a mess. I was addicted to Adderall, alcohol and prescription painkillers. Seven years ago, I was in a drug rehab where I was still getting high. I was miserable and completely broken down both mentally and physically. I thought the world was collapsing in on me and I had no hope for the future. I hit a point when I realized I was absolutely miserable while I was high and when I was sober, I was even more miserable. I knew I had to do something and recovery was my only option.

My first year of sobriety was one of the hardest years of my life. For as long as I could remember, I relied on drugs or alcohol for everything. If I was in pain, I took prescription painkillers. If I couldn’t focus, I took an Adderall. If I needed to relax, I smoked a joint and if I wanted to have a really good time, I got hammered drunk with my friends. I had the perfectly medley for every situation. But in sobriety, I quickly learned no mood-altering substances were allowed in my body.

After the painful withdrawal, it was time to finally do something about my addiction. I started going to AA meetings and abruptly immersed myself in the program. I got a sponsor, started going to a meeting or two meetings every day, started hanging out with sober people and most importantly, got honest for the first time in my life.

The first year of sobriety was a lot of work. I made it my goal to go through all of the 12 steps as quickly and thoroughly as possible. Up until this point in my life, I had never done any character-building work like this before. Now all of a sudden, I had to “make amends to people I had harmed” and “admit when I was wrong,” two things I barely even knew how to do.

As I continued to work through the steps, my attitude and outlook on life changed. The more time I spent without alcohol or drugs, the more happy and content I became. And somewhere in between six and nine months of sobriety, I realized I no longer obsessed about getting high.

It is amazing to be able to make the claim I am recovered from addiction. I say this with the utmost humility. I know I will never be cured from this disease, but I can soundly say I am recovered. Most people don’t know the difference between recovered and cured. Recovered means the disease is in remission, and will remain in remission as long as I continue to go to AA meetings and continuously work on myself. Cured means you are completely relieved from the disease.

Every day that goes by when I do not get high is a miracle. So, imagine how I feel about having seven years of clean time. When I stopped using drugs, I simply just wanted the pain to go away. Never in my wildest dreams did I believe I would receive such a beautiful life.

Within a couple of years of sobriety, I got everything back I lost. Regaining control of my life wasn’t about getting materialistic things back such as money, cars, phones or clothes. For me, it’s about repairing relationships with not only other people, but myself. Today the most important part of my life is the fact I have great relationships with the people close to me.

Seven years ago, I was in a hopeless state of mind, I was spiritually bankrupt and could barely even muster any sobering thought. Today, I wake up with purpose and meaning. I know people are counting on me to be sober and I take this to heart. My word means something today and I will do anything to keep it. Sobriety is a gift, a gift not everyone receives. I am incredibly lucky.

If you or a loved one is affected by addiction and need help, you can call SAMHSA’s hotline at 1-800-662-4357.

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