Recovery from addiction is a life-long journey. As such, it’s critical that we continue to practice our program regularly in order to avoid relapse. We often hear people say that they’re working their program, but just not getting as much out of it as they once did. That’s not unusual. In fact, it’s the same for anyone starting a new diet, taking a class or joining a gym. We start with great enthusiasm, but soon lose interest and start skipping classes, going off our diets, avoiding workouts, etc. Before long, we’re right back where we started. For the non-alcoholic or addict, the consequences may be little more than disappointment. For the individual in recovery from addiction, the consequences can be dire. The moment we begin to feel we aren’t getting as much out of our program, is the moment we need to find activities or programs that benefit our whole selves -- body, mind and spirit. Fortunately, opportunities to do so are everywhere. Let’s look at a few.
Exercise – Move a Muscle – Change a Thought
It’s long been known that exercise has a powerfully positive effect on the brain. In fact, it alters your brain chemistry. When we exercise, our body releases endorphins that create a natural high. Regular physical activity helps to reintroduce natural levels of endorphins to our system. This helps us to feel better and teaches our body that it can regulate our brain chemistry and mood naturally.
Exercise has also been shown to alleviate stress. We often hear the phrase “Move a Muscle – Change a Thought.” Moving your body alleviates tension, and allows us to dispose negative emotions.
People who exercise regularly report increased feelings of self-confidence and optimism and reduced feelings of depression and anxiety. This is in part a result of the body regulating itself during exercise, but it also has to do with the feelings of accomplishment, and self esteem as the body grows stronger and healthier and personal goals are reached.
Organizations promoting physical activity for people in recovery are springing up in communities throughout the country. Many tend to be free and only require a minimum of 48 hours sobriety to participate. One such organization, The Phoenix, “aims to build an active community of sober individuals through peer-led CrossFit, yoga, rock climbing, boxing, running, and hiking events.” Another, ROCovery, is “a supportive community of physically active individuals brought together by sober living, committed to creating an environment of healing and recovery. Members, friends and families are empowered to discover their inner strength and confidence through adventure, fun and camaraderie.”
If you think you’re too out of shape to work out or you have a physical limitation that keeps you from exercising, figure out what you CAN do and start there. When you’re ready, add another exercise or extend the distance or length of time in small increments. Just get moving and the results (physically and emotionally) will speak for themselves.
YOGA – Finding Balance in A Complex World
Addiction can easily be described as separation. In fact, it’s often said that the opposite of addiction is connection. In active addiction, we separate from our selves and our loved ones, our environment, etc. Yoga, on the other hand, means union and balance. Its practices teach us how to balance our lives in a complex world. Its proven to reduce stress; and as anyone who's ever lived with substance abuse knows, stress can play a major role in our drinking and/or drugging.
While there's no scientific evidence that yoga alone can help to stop substance abuse or prevent relapse, research does suggest that it can and does complement recovery programs. In fact, a growing number of recovery-focused yoga classes (a blend of 12-step teachings and easy, stretching sessions) are springing up throughout the country.
One such program Yoga of 12-Step Recovery (or Y12SR) is becoming increasingly popular. According to its website, Y12SR “was created as a holistic model to address the physical, mental and spiritual dis-ease of addiction. Informed by the latest research in neuroscience and trauma healing, Y12SR connects the dots by combining the somatic approach of yoga with the cognitive approach of the 12-step recovery model – the most well-known addiction recovery program in the world, with millions of active practitioners.”
Mindfulness – Living in the Moment
Mindfulness is essentially the state of being present in the moment. Studies have shown that a regular mindfulness practice can reshape our brain in positive ways, improving physical and mental health and promoting wellbeing. It can reduce anxiety, increase self-awareness and help us recognize thoughts and emotions that may not be based in reality. During active addiction, most individuals focus on avoiding stress and anxiety. We drank or used to “numb-out” and avoid both. Being present in the moment helps us learn to accept and cope with reality.
Mindfulness can be practiced anywhere and at anytime. It doesn’t require a great deal of time or energy; but rather only requires the willingness to try it and to stick with it.
In practicing mindfulness, we learn to focus on our breath. Instead of getting upset by things we cannot control, we learn to center our attention on what we can control -- our breathing. Focusing on our breath helps to restore a sense of calm that helps to sustain our recovery.
Our thoughts drive our feelings and behaviors. They determine how we live, how we interact with others, and how well we manage our lives. All to often we create problems for ourselves and/or others by confusing our thoughts with reality. Recognizing and challenging damaging thoughts allow us to see ourselves in a more accurate light. Practicing mindfulness helps us become aware of our thoughts and let go of those that do not serve us. A daily practice can result in a more meaningful and rewarding recovery.
If you’re interested in incorporating any or all of these activities into your recovery or simply learning more about how they can support and enhance your recovery, you can find a wealth of resources including blogs, podcasts, support groups, books and audiobooks online.