Recovery Exercise: Relapse to Running

Christy P. and others at the finish lineRunning a marathon was never something I particularly wanted to do, and was NOT something I envisioned doing when I got sober. Marathon runners are impressive and inspiring. They train, with dedication, are committed to their goal, have tenacity and strength of spirit and fierce determination. When I got sober, I wanted all of those things, but did not believe for one second that I had them.

The disease of addiction didn’t impact my life until well into adulthood. I started drinking in an unhealthy way when I was 35 years old. Prior to that, I had a pretty great life. I had built a successful career as a nonprofit development professional, I was married with two beautiful children. I had a lovely home and was fairly healthy. Things came pretty easily and were generally good.

And I’d had pretty normal experiences with drugs and alcohol up to that point—shenanigans in high school, experimentation in college—nothing crazy, nothing alarming. Nothing to indicate what was to come.

Divorce, Drinking and My Bottom …

When I was 35 everything changed. My marriage ended. I immediately entered into a long-term relationship with an alcoholic and addict, though I didn’t recognize that at the time. He had a couple drinks after work every day, drank at all social events, drank before all social events, drank after all social events…. He drank a lot. So I did too. It just became what we did, and it happened so naturally that I didn’t ever think too much about whether or not it was normal or healthy.

Over the course of the next six years—from 2009-2015—I went from drinking fewer than a dozen drinks in any given year to drinking every day, then drinking during the day, then drinking all day and all night, day in and day out. My life completely deteriorated. I lost my job in the fall of 2014, and the relationship with the alcoholic ended the following spring. I had no income, no relationship, and a house I could in no way afford on my own. I had lost everything—including my self-confidence and sense of self-worth.

Miserable, Alone, Wanting to Die …

I spent a year in and out of treatment, racking up fewer than a couple weeks of sobriety at any given time. I went through detox three times within four months, went to group therapy, tried 12-step programs, started working with the best addiction psychiatrist in the area. But I just couldn’t stay sober. I was miserable and alone and I wanted to die. Because I wanted to die, I drank. I drank to make the days disappear and to escape the reality of my life. I hit bottom and bounced up and down there a couple times before I finally got sober in January of 2017.

Sober Energy I Did Not Know What to Do With
I checked myself into a rehab facility in North Carolina for six long weeks. Once sober, I had all this energy that I didn’t quite know what to do with. I started walking a fast mile before and after every meal and spent my one free hour every day on the elliptical machine in the center’s basement gym. I did 10,000 meter endurance rows when we went as a group to an off-site gym twice each week.

When I got home I was terrified. I had no job and this huge hole in my resume that I had no earthly idea how I would explain to potential employers. I was still single and splitting custody with my kids’ father so I had all this time alone. I was facing this monumental task of rebuilding my entire life and I had no idea where to start or what to actually do and I felt incapable of doing anything…. So I started running.

I was so slow, and I ran a painfully boring street route, but I made myself do it every single day. Then a friend introduced me to trail running and I got hooked. I started running five miles in the woods three days each week, slowly building up my endurance for the elevation gains. These became my favorite hours of the week.

ROCovery Fitness and Finding Hope …ROCovery runners

I’d been stalking this amazing nonprofit on Facebook called ROCovery Fitness. It’s a sober active community using fitness and wellness to promote recovery from addiction, and they were just about to open a new community outreach center in an old firehouse that had been gifted to the organization. I decided I’d look into volunteering… I had nonprofit experience which could be useful, but I was willing to do anything. I just wanted to be around other people in recovery, and I needed to be active.

I reached out to Yana Khashper, ROCovery’s co-founder and asked about volunteering. She checked out my resume and saw my experience and asked if I’d be interested in joining the board: “Absolutely” I said. I met with Yana and Sean Smith, the other co-founder, once or twice before my first board meeting, and knew right away that what they were doing was special and I wanted to be involved. It was just the two of them on staff, along with a small army of volunteers supporting their efforts. Within a week of joining the board I approached Yana about volunteering in a more official capacity—I wanted to volunteer like it was my job. They agreed, so I just started showing up every day.

The Rochester Marathon …

A couple of months in, there was talk in the office about a group from ROCovery that was going to run the marathon. Yana and Sean had signed up a young guy named Michael as a surprise to him. He’d never been a runner and he was very early in recovery, but he was motivated. He was showing up at ROCovery every day, working hard. This was a kid who had literally died TWICE from overdose. And they believed he could do it, so they signed him up. And he was excited—you could see how much it meant to him that they believed in him. It was inspiring.

So I signed up too. I was running every day and had been for a few months. I looked into crash training programs for running marathons and figured I’d give it a shot, knowing full-well and reminding myself often that I could always switch to the half marathon if I wanted to. Secretly I intended all along to switch to the half marathon, but that didn’t happen.

I’d been coaching a “Couch to 5K” running group to prepare people for a 5K for ROCovery, which was a week after the marathon, and Michael had come to a few runs. We’d agreed to stick together for the first half, which was all I intended to do, and agreed to go slow and walk as needed. I knew he could do the full marathon, and I knew he would. He had done a couple long training runs with a group from ROCovery, but at that point I still hadn’t run more than 8 miles in my life, so I was not at all sure that I could do it.

The Beast Unleashed!Christy P. approaching the finish line at the Rochester Marathon

The day before the race Michael told me he’d been bragging out his “running partner” with his friends. He referred to me as a “beast,” and I suddenly realized that he thought I could actually run the whole thing. Maybe even a little easily. I was stunned, and knew right then that I had to do it. I believed that Michael could do it, so why didn’t I believe that much in myself?

So I did it. Michael and I stuck together, along with Yana from ROCovery, for the first 13 miles, then we each kept to our own pace and got separated. There were six of us total running from ROCovery, and Michael was the last to finish. The whole ROCovery team crossed the finish line with him. Just thinking about it now makes me cry. He has said since that it was the best day of his life.

I could so easily see Michael’s strength of spirit, even when I couldn’t see my own. I needed to believe in myself, but I also needed to believe in other people, and I needed others to believe in me. THAT is the power of community in recovery, and it’s at the heart of everything at ROCovery Fitness.

Sharing The Gift With Others …

I now work as director of development at ROCovery and it’s the best job I’ve ever had. I’m nine months sober and going strong. For the first time in almost a decade, I believe in myself again, and in the power of the human spirit. I am living proof that recovery is possible, and I am one of thousands who realized that possibility through ROCovery Fitness.

Celebrating 4 Years Smoke Free on Mount Rainer

I recently attempted to summit Mount Rainier in Washington State. I didn’t make it to the 14,500 summit but I did climb to 11,200. I plan to get some experience this winter climbing on ice and will give Rainier another go in 2018. Totally beautiful mountain. Hope you enjoy …

The top video is the edited version, the bottom video is the full version.

CrossFit for addiction recovery

Tim Mustion climbing a ropeTim Mustion of Boca Raton, Florida and the CrossFit gym, CrossFit HYPE shares with us his recovery/exercise experiences. After years of mixing drugs and alcohol with CrossFit, I got sober in September 2015 and worked the Twelve Steps. I soon found out that getting involved in the community, being held accountable, and helping others both inside the CrossFit gym and in AA meetings has strengthened my recovery ten-fold and has allowed me to do things I never thought possible. CrossFit and recovery go hand in hand, healing the mind, body, and spirit.

Exercise and Nutrition for Twelve Steps of Recovery: 40,000 Facebook Likes

Thanks for helping us get to 40,000 Likes! A shout out to all our friends on Facebook for helping us message the importance of exercise and nutrition as part of a Twelve Step approach to Recovery. And thanks to ROCovery sober community center for letting us film with you!

Win By Showing Up

I learned in recovery that what really matters is just showing up.  Whether it be to a meeting or anything that we do, the decision to actively engage in life rather than isolate, makes you a winner.  In this video, I describe why I compete in men’s physique at the ripe old age of 48 ½.  It’s really not about coming in first, but rather increasing my level of discipline, being around healthy minded people I aspire to be more like and having a great time.   In many ways, the reason I attend twelve step meetings is exactly the same.  I hope you enjoy this blog and maybe get inspired to step out of your comfort zone.

Recovery Spirituality – Send Someone An “Other” Gratitude List

fatherandsongratitudeAn “other” gratitude list is a collection of reasons that you are grateful for having a particular person in your life. As important as creating the “other” gratitude list is sharing it with that person.   I use gratitude lists for myself all the time as they are an effective tool for reminding me just how wonderful my life is, and, to not take all the gifts of the program for granted.  One refrain you will frequently hear here at Spiritual Adrenaline is a “grateful alcoholic or addict will not use.”

So how did I come up with the other gratitude list? Two things occurred in my life simultaneously which resulting in this idea.

Buddhist Teaching of Being “Other” Occupied

I was reading a Buddhist text about the virtues of being other occupied rather than self occupied.   The text describes at length the virtues of being other occupied and reminds us that we must recognize this on a daily basis and make it our business not just to aspire to think and act this way, but to affirmatively do so.   Being other occupied is a Buddhist tool to end our personal suffering and find happiness.

 

Diagnosis and a Sudden Death

At the same, a member of my extended family passed away quite suddenly.  Everyone was shocked by the diagnosis and two months later, by her death.  By all accounts, this person was an amazing Mom and Grandma and was universally loved.  So many people who interacted with her and who had the privilege of knowing her posted the most beautiful tributes on Facebook.   The church was standing room only for her memorial service as hundreds of people turned out to pay tribute.

 

Two Concepts Merge

I was thinking to myself how beautiful it would be if the deceased could’ve read the tributes on Facebook and at her memorial service.   I reflected on how powerful it would be to share those strong emotions, most notably immense gratitude, with someone while they were still alive.  I often shy away from expressing strong emotions as a result of the cultural taboo of doing so.  It is often perceived as a sign of weakness rather than strength.  Then I realized that it really doesn’t matter what others think.  If it is a positive action for me and makes one other person feel more loved, that’s what matters.

 

Other Gratitude List

             So I decided to prepare my own other gratitude list for my Mother.   Over the course of a few days, whenever I remembered something that made me particularly grateful for my Mom I wrote it down. I collected all of these memories as they came to me and prepared my top 100 to share with my Mom.   I mailed the other gratitude list to my Mom along with a thank you card that explained my creating the list.

My Mom loved it.  She called me up and was very grateful for the list.  She explained that so many of the things on the list happened so long ago she was surprised that I remembered.  In fact, she hadn’t thought about many of these events or other things on my list in years.  It was an opportunity to rekindle some of her own fond memories of the wonderful life we have been able to share together.

So many beautiful memories lie dormant, just waiting to be rekindled.

 

Send Someone You Love an Other Gratitude List

I encourage you to send someone you love or for whom you are grateful an other gratitude list while they are alive and here to share with you how it makes them feel.  For me it was my Mother.  For others it may be a brother, sister, teacher, colleague or friend.   All that matters is that the person is someone who helped you get to where you are in life and for whom you are grateful.

I would love your feedback on this and other posts.   Email me at blog@spiritualadrenaline.me.    Thanks so much for being part of the Spiritual Adrenaline community.

 

 

Introduction to Soulfest: Video

Music can change our mood, our thoughts and play an important role in our lives.  Music can play a role in our recovery by keeping us positive, serving as an inspiration and just helping us have fun.  This week we take a look at Soulfest, a Christian, faith-based multi-day concert at Gunstock Mountain in New Hampshire.  Soulfest has a huge recovery presence and is big time fun.  I hope you will check out this video and consider attending Soulfest next year.

Study Confirms Link Between Exercise and Overcoming Addiction

young fitness woman runner running at forest trail

A recent study conducted by U.C.L.A. has confirmed the link between exercise and overcoming addition. The specific conclusion of the study was that exercise contributes to the regrowth of dopamine receptors in the brains of people recovering from addiction to crystal meth.   After reading the full study, I was very excited to learn that the positive results also have a broad application to folks who have a history of abusing alcohol and other drugs and wanted to share it with you right away. Check out the UCLA article here.

The Control Group

For eight weeks, ten people were given an exercise routine that combined both cardiovascular and weight training.   The ten people walked or jogged on a treadmill three times a week for one hour and then engaged in weight training.  The weight training combined machines and free weights.  A second group of nine people were exposed to health education for the same eight weeks.   All of the subjects had a PET scan at the outset and conclusion of the study.

The Results

The results were unequivocal: The ten that exercised regularly had an average increase of 15% in the number of dopamine receptors. The nine that did not saw an increase of just 4%.

But Wait, It Get’s Better

But that was not all.   Exercise appeared to affect other components of the striatum, the part of the brain that releases dopamine. The striatum has different regions that are related to different brain and body functions.  Among the ten participants who exercised, the average increase in the numbers of receptors in the associative region (responsible for memory, attention, perception, awareness, thought and consciousness) was 16%, in the sensory motor region 16% and in the limbic region (responsible for emotions and memory) 8%.   By contrast, the group that did not exercise showed increases averaging only 5% in the limbic region, and 4% in both the associative and sensory-motor regions of the striatum.

The study focused on methamphetamine, an addictive drug that causes the brain to release a spike of dopamine.   However, because many different drugs mimic the effects of methamphetamine in the brain (albeit most not as severely), the results are applicable to people in recovery from a variety of drugs and alcohol.

A methamphetamine high can last up to 6 hours. Dopamine allows cells to communicate, but it also has a role in responding to external stimuli—including drugs—providing sensations of pleasure and satisfaction. Repeated use of meth causes the dopamine system to suppress production and reduces the number of dopamine receptors.

Why Should You Care?

The study proves that brain receptors can recover over time, even more so if you incorporate exercise and healthy nutrition into your recovery.   The only caveat is that the rate at which the brain receptors recover varies widely.  That shouldn’t matter to you:  The fact is that they do recover.  Lastly, we must be patient, as it will take at least six to eight months to restore brain function to what is considered normal levels.

I would love your feedback this and other post.    Please also feel free to share your experiences on this topic with us.  You can email us at tom@spiritualadrenaline.me.