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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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Thinkstock photo via FS-Stock

Originally published: May 2, 2017
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