THE UNIQUE CHALLENGES FACED BY THOSE IN RECOVERY WHEN IT COMES TO FITNESS
By: O. R. Marv, One Rep At A Time
Before saying anything else I want to congratulate you.
You are a miracle.
You have defied the odds - you quit drinking and/or using and you have found recovery.
That is a BIG freaking deal!
For many people that also means that while you put down the bottle or the spoon you most likely replaced it with a fork.
While it is not the end of the world, it can pose a problem.
NOTE: I recognize that for some this can also constitute as an over-eating addiction which I am not insensitive to by any means and do not wish to simply “sweep under the rug.” If that is one of your addiction(s) I encourage you to do something about your over-eating.
Most likely your problem is now the results of that fork, or on the opposite side of the spectrum you are so run down, broken, and physically weakened from years of self-abuse you are little more than skin and bones.
No matter which side of that coin you fall on, becoming fit can become a priority once we start to feel a little better, quit pounding ourselves with toxins, and start to clear our heads.
For that I commend you.
Too often times individuals in recovery work hard as hell to build and strengthen their mental, emotional, and spiritual health; but they completely ignore their physical health.
Physical health and becoming fit are a huge piece of the puzzle when it comes to recovering, as well as building self-confidence, discipline, and happiness.
Obviously if I didn’t feel so strongly about this I wouldn’t have quit my corporate job to focus on bringing fitness “to the masses,” but even had I not done so I would still encourage people to work on their fitness level.
Feeling strong, energetic, flexible, capable of performing any task or activity without having to worry about whether or not you will you fall behind the pack or get winded can go a far way to building confidence.
Plus I don’t care what anyone says, we all just want to look good naked – it’s human nature!
There is a caveat to this pursuit of fitness, which is because of our pasts there are some unique challenges we in recovery face that may not be faced by the “normie” crowd.
What I intend to do is shed some light onto these challenges from my own personal experience, in hopes that some of these may resonate with you so you DON’T feel alone, or so you DON’T make the same mistakes I made.
In no particular order the unique challenges I find to be faced by those in recovery when it comes to fitness….
WE MAY HAVE MORE THAN THE USUAL RESIDUAL PHYSICAL DAMAGE
This doesn’t apply to everyone I have worked with or met in recovery, but for a large majority of folks the years or even decades spent in our disease did some residual damage.
That is why it is so important to get cleared by a Doctor before starting any sort of exercise program.
It is my personal opinion that bloodwork should be a part of this screening, along with any other testing your insurance will cover.
The more information you have the better.
I know for me I discovered a few vitamin deficiencies and some cholesterol imbalance issues along with a heart murmur, but thankfully no kidney or liver issues.
Based on that information I was able to properly construct my eating plan and know which exercises I should and shouldn’t have done as I started to return to exercising.
NOTE: The great news is 2 years later they re-tested me and found the heart murmur was no longer present which I directly contribute to being clean and sober, eating and exercising properly.
Physical damage can also mean joint or back problems.
These should not be ignored when it comes to creating a plan to become fit.
Trust me when I say this…based on my injury history I am not exactly a candidate for hardcore exercising or weight lifting, yet I make this possible on a near daily basis.
NOTE: Quick list of my injuries that I have found a way to intelligently work around includes 4 torn tendons in ankle, 3 knee surgeries, hip trouble, lumbar spine and disc injuries, torn rotator cuff, 3 wrist surgeries, 1 hand surgery, head trauma, and nerve sciatica.
Knowing what joints you need to be careful with will help you pick and choose what exercises or workout routines you should follow.
It’s as simple as this – if the exercise causes physical pain you should NOT do it.
Longevity and consistency is the key to life-long fitness.
If you constantly re-aggravate old injuries you are not going to be able to exercise often and your dreams of becoming fit will never become a reality.
Get a physical, get tests run, get cleared by your Doctor, and determine where any “trouble spots” may be on your body that you are going to have to be mindful of in your journey to becoming fit.
WE ARE GREAT “ALL-OR-NOTHING” THINKERS
I don’t know about you, but I am the king of thinking of everything as either black or white and then assigning a false sense of morality to these two options.
NOTE: Which is an odd thing when you think about because for years while in my addiction I tried to convince myself I was only living in the “grey” to justify my insane behaviors.
Anyways, all-or-nothing thinking can lead me down a very slippery path.
I over-complicate everything from the start, leave absolutely zero wiggle room, and begin to make unreasonable connections that result in defining myself as being either “good” or “bad.”
Remember, perfectionism is the enemy of best, and for some reason I always strive for absolute perfection even when it isn’t reasonable or remotely practical.
I must have the “perfect” diet, or the “perfect” workout session, or the “perfect” body.
“If I’m not perfect what’s the freakin’ point, right!?!”
As soon as I stray from “perfect” I quickly get a case of the “F--- IT’S!”
I either go on a binge and promise myself “I’ll start my perfect diet tomorrow”, beat myself up mercilessly and call myself terrible names in hopes of finding angered motivation, or shame myself into feeling like a real piece of human waste.
I tie my sense of morality to these areas of my life and before long I am miserable, irritable, and discontent.
I did NOT quit drinking and using to be any one of those three things!
Fitness and everything that comes along with it should be something that EMPOWERS you not CONTROLS you.
It controlled me for years and prevented me from enjoying my progress or even enjoying my life.
Therefore I have to be real careful with my thought patterns, self-talk, and emotional associations when it comes to my fitness progress.
TROUBLE WITH MODERATION
I have had many nicknames over the years, but I can guarantee you “Moderate Marv” was never one of them.
I struggle with moderation.
Always have and always will.
The only area that I ever seemed to moderate was my sobriety when I was first introduced to the rooms all those years ago (no wonder why I was a chronic relapser!).
When it comes to fitness and in particular the number of weight training/cardio sessions and how drastic of a “diet” I follow (whether it be to lose fat or build muscle), myself and many others struggle with moderation.
I tend to want the follow the alcoholic addict way of thinking of, “Well, if one is good, then two is better, three is best…and ten is bestest!”
While being willing to have such a great commitment to daily weight training or exercise sessions or follow an aggressive weight-loss diet right of the bat is respectable, I strongly discourage this.
For one you are simply going to burn yourself out.
Consistency over the long-term is the key to becoming fit and healthy.
Not one or two week-long “sprints” that always end up with you frazzled and giving up for the next five or six months.
That doesn’t work for anything in life, let alone your physical health.
The second reason is leaving yourself room for improvement in the future.
Now, I know that sounds odd, but let me explain.
Our bodies are incredibly smart, you show them a new stimulus, and they will adapt to be able to handle this stimulus.
Eventually, no matter what we do in regards to exercise or diet, our bodies will adjust and the changes will stop if the stimulus stays the same.
Our bodies, like many of us, simply hate change.
So…if you start out with high intensity weight training 6 days per week along with daily cardio sessions your very first month of exercising, where the hell are you going to go from there?!?
Or…if you start on a drastic crash diet of a measly 1,000 calories and already experience hunger pains, once the weight loss stops how many fewer calories can you realistically eat and remain healthy let alone functional?!?
It’s all about the principal of minimum effective dose, meaning we want you to do the LEAST amount of exercise possible yet still change your physique while eating the MOST amount of calories possible while still burning fat (or vice versa eat the LEAST amount of calories possible while still building muscle).
We need to have room for improvement in the future (whether it be more exercise, less calories, etc.) for when our bodies re-adjust and the changes stop happening.
Obviously minimum effective dose should NEVER be applied to your recovery and all the things that you did in the beginning to become and stay clean and sober.
Remember this question when it comes to moderation…
Are you COURAGEOUS enough to do the least amount possible for your fitness goals, while not being INSANE enough to do the least amount possible for your recovery?
A COMFORT LEVEL WITH USING DRUGS & ALCOHOL WHICH MAY BE RE-DIRECTED IN OUR NEW FITNESS ENDEAVOURS
There should be no surprise that this key fact made the list.
Without giving a long, strung-out drug-o-logue, all I will say is I chose to go down the path of athletic drugs at way too young of an age – young enough and hard enough that there are life-long effects I am already struggling with at the age of only 30.
I plead with you to not make the same mistake of giving in or “taking a shortcut.”
Yes, we were quite comfortable with putting unknown and/or inherently risky substances into our bodies on a daily basis, but that does not mean we should continue to do so in our recovery.
This also applies to those “questionable supplements” or any other “item” that deep down you know you shouldn’t touch as part of your recovery.
NOTE: I am not going over a list of such items on purpose just in case people don’t know exactly what is out there so I am not placing a temptation of what to research. It sounds crazy but in my past if someone on a forum or website said “don’t use this!” I more often than not researched it and sometimes even ignored their advice if it promised extraordinary results – all those nasty side effects are never going to happen to me, right???
I can tell you from personal experience it has been far more uplifting to see my NATURAL progress with my fitness today than it was all those years ago, even though back then I was “better”, because back then it was all due to “synthetic strength, muscle, and striations.”
Of course it is tempting to think that a certain shiny bottle, blister-pack, or vial of “stuff” can TEMPORARILY give you years of progress in a few short months (that progress will disappear once you stop taking it I promise you that)…but let’s face it deep down you are just attempting to justify your decision to do so, comparing it to what you “used to be like” or whatever rationalization is your poison of choice.
That can be a very, very slippery slope – one that I fell off the face of more than once – and one that I don’t want you to gamble with either.
I know for a FACT I cannot substitute one drug for another….I am hoping you know that too.
WE ARE PRIMED FOR A NEW ADDICITON OR WAY TO DEFINE OUR IDENTITY
For the first 27 years of my life I had no sense of internal identity.
I used something, or worse – someone, to define myself by.
For a while my physique was the sole basis of my identity – which, with my perfectionist “black or white” thinking - made for a very miserable existence.
The worst part was I was beating myself up relentlessly with what I was trying to accomplish, and it was only a hobby, it wasn’t what I did for a living professionally.
My hobby controlled me negatively, which makes it not a very productive hobby at all, it makes it an addiction.
When we come into the rooms we are primed for a new addiction now that the old “crutches” are gone.
When we come into the rooms we are primed to find a new way to define our identity now that the lifestyle of drugs and alcohol is gone.
Fitness and all it entails can quickly fill this “void” if we are not careful.
And this brings about the ultimate “Catch-22” of our situation:
We need to care enough to want to become fit (everyone has their own definition of what this entails) and therefore be willing to put in the hard work and discipline required. By the same token, we cannot allow fitness to replace our drug(s)/drink(s) of choice or become the sole basis of our identity. We have to have a healthy relationship with fitness, one that comes from a place of self-love or empowerment, NOT self-hatred or punishment.
Now that “Catch-22” means a lot of things to a lot of people because we are all unique.
I urge you to figure out what fitness means to you, what you are willing to do to achieve it, and what your intentions and motivations are behind this new journey.
Just like with your recovery, our relationship with fitness can and most likely will be fluid – we will have our “up’s” and our “down’s.”
Just a few short months ago I found myself starting to obsess about my physique like I did in my past.
Unexpectedly it was slowly starting to creep its way back into my definition of identity, which led me to completely stop my “fat loss diet” and change my goals immediately until my mentality was back to where it needed to be.
I strongly feel there is nothing wrong or shameful in that experience - simply put my mental, emotional, and spiritual health had become weakened and old behaviors were starting to appear.
I recognized this, instead of ignoring it I made the correct adjustments, and I now feel that the balance has been restored.
If you find yourself in the same boat you should give yourself a pat on the back that you recognized this, then make the adequate changes and stay in the solution, not the problem.
Just like a closed mouth doesn’t get fed, an ignored problem doesn’t get solved.
Care enough to make the changes necessary, but don’t allow the changes to become your new identity.
Thus concludes my list of unique challenges faced by those in recovery when it comes to fitness (I know as soon as I wake up tomorrow I will have another new set of challenges but we will stick with these for now).
Hopefully I struck a chord with some of you, or at least laid out a roadmap of the potential pitfalls you should avoid in the future.
Regardless, I am so very happy and proud of you for deciding to make fitness a part of your recovery.
Two phrases that I know for a fact have never been uttered by anyone in the history of mankind are:
“Geez, I wish I hadn’t found such good recovery.”
“Geez, I wish I wasn’t in such good shape.”
With some hard work and discipline, maybe one day you can become the first person to do so and prove me wrong…although I highly doubt you’ll still want to say it when you achieve such wonderful accomplishments.