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7 Ways Exercise Helped Me Work Through My Addiction Recovery

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Growing up in Fort Collins, Colorado, was as easy as one can possibly imagine. Rather a small city, I didn’t have many friends to spend time with and mostly everyone knew each other’s parents. I used to go on walks near the woods and kept myself busy staring into the lake or the mountains in the background, which are covered by snow for the better part of the year.

My first contact with alcohol was when I was 13. A couple of friends and I were listening to some records after school and we had some beers that the oldest brother of one in our group bought for us. When I realized what drinking was doing to me I felt like I could leave behind all my anxiety, worries, and everything being shy brought along with it. It was fine and it felt good. We didn’t think anything bad of it at that time. Maybe if I had been more careful I could’ve still have had some drinks every now and then. But I’m way beyond the point of telling myself, “I wish I did this or that.”

Years went by and I eventually developed an addiction to alcohol. I felt embarrassed because none of my other friends got addicted to it. I started to drink almost all the time. I couldn’t keep any job for longer than a month or two, not to mention all my relationships went into inevitable doom. Everything went totally out of control and I didn’t realize until my family made an intervention. My brother helped get me involved in addiction and rehabilitation programs in our own city so I could still be close to them. Of course, it took me a while to realize I was having a problem, but when I look back into my past I still wonder sometimes, why me?

My family was a great support during my recovery process. I was really happy they understood it was a disease because in lots of cases I’ve heard of, there have been different situations when I wish people knew more about the topic before blaming or leaving. They were always coming up with ideas to distract me or keep me busy so I wouldn’t have bad thoughts or feel the need to drink again. My brother had always been the kind of guy who was into all types of sports and while I was attending the rehab program he suggested I should join him occasionally for some training or mild workouts. I’ve never really been a gym person, but since it was my brother I saw it as an opportunity to spend time with him and somehow make up for the pain I had caused him by being an alcoholic. In the end, that was simply one of the greatest ideas he’s ever had, and one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, and here’s why.

1. It literally changed my life.

When we started going to the gym, my brother told me I might feel exhausted at the end of the session but in the long term, like everything that requires dedication, it would be worth it. As I went with him a couple days a week at the start, I began to spot some changes in my daily life. I was in a better mood. I felt less depressed and tired. I felt motivated to accomplish new things and my self-esteem improved a lot. It was like a new me. When I was working out I realized it was the first thing I put myself into with dedication and motivation. More than anything else I had ever done so far.

2. I slept a lot better.

Not only because I was exhausted after a good training session, but also because it relaxed my body and mind to the point that when I finally got the chance to rest, I fell on the bed like a rock. Addiction disrupted my sleeping pattern, so along with the treatment and the exercise, my body was trying to go back to normal and that meant having a balanced and healthy sleeping pattern.

3. I wasn’t stressed or anxious anymore.

One of the best things about exercise is that it gave me the peace I so desperately needed. I was releasing endorphins while working out which gave me a natural “high.” So on top of the fact that things were actually going well at that time, I also felt like they were. I could appreciate the progress a lot more because I was seeing how my body was changing due to our training sessions.

4. I felt healthy.

Abusing alcohol made changes in my body I really wanted to change back. When we started going to the gym I remember my brother telling me how I’d see changes not only in my muscles obviously, but also in my skin. After a couple of months, I looked some years younger. It felt great. I could breathe better and sleep better and I wasn’t even feeling the need to relapse that much because of how motivated and busy I was keeping myself with my brother.

5. My self-esteem went up.

I’ve never really considered myself an attractive person, it kind of runs in the family. But getting fit made me feel a lot better about myself. I wanted to grow my muscles and increase my strength. After months I was looked in the mirror and I could barely recognize myself. My brother wasn’t the only strong guy in the house anymore.

We even ended up doing some repairs in the house. My father had been asking my brother to do them for a long time but now that we had both of us, we took up the challenge. When we finished I reflected on how many great things are connected to each other and how I could see the physical results of my efforts, which also strengthened the relationships with my family. I’ve heard that when people exercise they feel more confident, optimistic, and happy about themselves and their life. I was definitely feeling that way.

6. It made me meditate.

I had no idea about that at first, but an instructor at the gym told us that exercise has very similar effects on the body and the mind as meditation does. Concentrating on the effort, and focusing on the goals for the session can distract from any other issue that might be present in life. I remember just telling myself repeatedly one more minute, one more push-up, one more lift, etc. Nothing else mattered but what I wanted to achieve with my body at that moment.

7. It gave me a new outlook.

The chemical reactions going on inside my body have a lot to do with this, but overall seeing results made me feel more confident about my recovery process. We were setting small goals or benchmarks every time we went to the gym. And by achieving them I started to believe more in myself. The idea of overcoming my addiction didn’t look so unrealistic anymore because I was seeing that I could do anything I wanted if I put my motivation and dedication on it.

Going through recovery was hard regardless of how much support I got or whom I got it from. But it’s not impossible. I’ve learned many valuable lessons from this experience, and the best part of it is that most of them apply to every single human being. Dedication and motivation got me further than I ever thought I’d go. I’ve successfully completed my recovery program now. I have a wife and a baby coming soon and a wonderful nephew. It all is the result of a mixture of many things, but I know I owe a lot to exercise. I never felt this happy before, and I know that if I had never taken the chance my brother gave me, I probably wouldn’t have opened my mind and my life to all the wonderful things that came along.

If you’d like to ask a question or would like to suggest other benefits I might’ve forgotten to write, feel free to leave a comment below.

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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Thinkstock photo via shironosov

Originally published: February 21, 2017
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