If you’ve spent any time at all reading these blogs, you know that I love to work out. It’s been an essential component of my recovery ever since I decided to get sober and I preach its virtues whenever I can. However, it’s very easy to start using the gym maladaptively. For those of you who haven’t spent a lot of time around the recovery community, by maladaptive behavior, I mean a non-productive coping mechanism. For example, rather than dealing with an overwhelming situation, a person with a drinking problem might turn to alcohol to cope. Since they’re not dealing with the issue at hand, and because they’re making things worse by drinking, this is clearly not a productive behavior. How, then, you might ask, can one use exercise maladaptively?
Exercising the Wrong Way
It’s actually pretty easy to do, especially for those of us in recovery. After spending all that time in the throes of addiction, followed by the sick sweats of detoxing, a trip to the gym for the newly sober can be a revelation. Those endorphin rushes feel pretty incredible and since all the counselors are telling you about the benefits of exercise, you become a gym rat overnight. It’s almost like exercise has become your new drug. This may be fine for the first month or two, but you’ll soon be able to tell whether or not you’re using the gym maladaptively. Are you blowing off your obligations? Do you immediately run to the gym after any kind of setback or problem? If so, you’re probably want to re-examine your relationship with exercise. Here are some pointers to get you on the right track:
Check Your Intentions
Ask yourself why you’re really hitting the gym. We work out because we like to do something good for our bodies. We also work out because it acts as a mood stabilizer by combatting anxiety and depression. However, if we’re in a low mood because there’s something going on in our lives that needs addressing, we might want to take a minute before we head to the gym. Have we done everything we could at the moment regarding this problem or are we putting it off? Have we taken the time to sit with our feelings and process them or are we running away from them? This approach is even more effective when you talk it out with someone from your sober support network.
Set a Schedule
For those of us in recovery, the drug of choice was always “more.” And unfortunately, that doesn’t stop with drugs or alcohol. Food, sex, and even exercise are all prime candidates to be the next replacement drug. Setting a realistic schedule can help to alleviate this tendency and keep things from getting out of control. Furthermore, it’s a great way to focus and maximize your workout time, so it’s win-win.
Find a Workout Partner
Ideally, this would be someone from your sober support network or someone who knows you pretty well. It becomes much harder to start using the gym excessively or maladaptively when you have someone with you to call you out on it. And, again, this is another way to get the most out of your workouts, so you really should be considering anyway.
Exercise is a great tool in recovery to help us get in the position to live our best lives. However, it is not a magical cure-all and it shouldn’t be treated as such. No matter what the well-meaning Instagrammers might tell you, exercise alone with not cure depression, addiction, or any mental health issue. If you or someone you love is suffering from one of these disorders, please consider talking to a professional.