Ignite Recovery: Wisconsin & The Sober Active Movement!

Ignite Recovery, based in Wisconsin, is the latest sober active group that has successfully integrated a healthy lifestyle into an overall addiction recovery program.   I interviewed the founders to find out how Ignite came to be and to learn about Ignite’s mission.   Here’s my interview with the founders of Ignite.  

A group shot of members of Ignite-Recovery in Wisconsin.

What are your short-term goals and long-term goals for Ignite?

Our short-term goals are to increase the capacity and membership of our sober active lifestyle community.  We are also involved in community outreach to reduce the stigma around addiction and recovery.  We are accomplishing these short-term goals by increasing our class offerings and expanding Ignites’ reach. This has been a grassroots recovery movement and we have been building partnerships throughout southeast Wisconsin. Through these partnerships, we have been able to find new locations to offer our classes.  

Our long-term goal is to start planting recovery outreach centers through Wisconsin. Our plan is to start small, but we are striving to create the Ignite model for these recovery outreach centers.       Our dream would be to have space with a warehouse-style gym, yoga studio and cafe that serves healthy foods. We want to create a space where people can connect with one another and grow in physical, mental, and spiritual wellness. 

The inclusion of Mixed Martial Arts (“MMA”) is unique.   I am not aware of any other similar type program here in the United States!  How does MMA fit into an overall recovery program?  People think of yoga and meditation when they think of recovery but not MMA.  So, let’s enlighten them to the benefits since what you are doing is unique. 

All of our offerings are about serving, mobilizing, and empowering the local recovery community.  When we launch a class or group it is really about what the local community wants to do.  Offering MMA classes came about because a person in recovery reached out to me about being of service.  He is certified as a personal trainer, he trains people in jiu-jitsu, boxing, kickboxing, etc. and he wanted to give back to people in recovery.  For Ignite, it is really about us being able to empower himto help others.  When we talked more, MMA is about self-discipline, embracing pain, and becoming a better, stronger person.  Before we launched the first MMA class, “Fight for Recovery”, we started asking our community what they thought and if people would be interested in attending. The overwhelming response was yes!

For us, Ignite Recovery is about creating opportunities for people to connect and find their tribe. Nobody is pressured to do anything they do not want to do.  If you want to do MMA – do that, if you want to do yoga – do that, if you want to train for triathlons – do that.  As long as it is about creating community and growing in recovery together, we will probably support it.   

Shari is the mother of someone in recovery.  I asked her how a sober active community can benefit the families of people in addiction recovery?

For almost 4 years I’ve been co-facilitating a family support group for those with loved ones who are either in active substance use or in recovery. My sole credentials for first working with families was that of being a mom of a person in recovery.

Aerial yoga and Sharon, one of its founders.

Ignite embraces both harm reduction and the ideology of the evidence-based CRAFT (Community Reinforcement and Family Therapy) approach. There are three things at the core of this: First, is a need to pull families out of their unhealthy entanglements with their loved ones — yes, we get too close and try to micromanage everything.  Second, we share with them some of the best strategies for moving their loved ones toward treatment (no, you can’t force them to do anything). And third, we teach them some of the best ways to support a family member in recovery (lean in when you can, step back when you have to). So, those who embrace CRAFT, also embrace the idea that there is value to understanding as much as they can about their loved one’s condition.  For many families, these basic concepts are game-changers and Ignite plays a part at in each.

Having a sober active community is the first line of defense when your loved one is using, and you need self-care. Take a yoga class. Go on a Sunday morning hike with people who are journeying toward recovery (and see what possibilities are out there).   We also provide a valuable resource.  Family members can sit in an open meeting after a class. Listen and learn from the experience of others   Finally Ignite is a useful tool for reconnecting with a family member once they’re on their recovery path.  For example, at one of the Ignite classes, I met a mother and daughter who were doing just that. They were taking one a yoga class together because they had been looking for a place where they could just “be” together.  Ignite provides a neutral space where people can be safe just being themselves.

Given the reality of so many student athletes getting hooked on opiates for sports-related injuries, I wanted to know how Ignite could benefit this growing demographic within the addiction recovery community.

Members of Ingite after a CrossFit workout.

The benefit is enormous.  Many young people struggle to connect with the treatment world, particularly with AA. While all of us at Ignite are huge proponents of the program (for family members, of course, t’s the community of Al-Anon), we know that many struggle with the feeling that AA was the only community for addicts. So, if you’re not sitting in a church basement somewhere talking about your issues, you’re not healing. Often, a person is scared or uncomfortable to open up in a small room filled with chairs in a circle. It’s difficult to develop relationships, true relationships with individuals that way.  For an athlete, it’s easier to work out, sweat, feel pain together and at the end there is this connection over something common you did together.  And, after a few times, it grows from a “Hello”, to a “How was your weekend” to knowing intimate details about another person. It’s funny, because it’s almost like dating. There is a fear of opening up at times, specifically in the meeting rooms. But once you do, it changes your life.  And if that connection you made at Ignite reaches out and goes to a meeting, that person may feel stronger to open up because they have support with them.  There’s a lot of healing that can be done in experiential communities — a lot of bonding that can happen while hiking, climbing, working out at the gym. 

Adam lived in a sober house for a period of time and that experience helped him stay sober.  I asked Adam about how he benefited from that experience and how others could as well. 


Adam and his family



When I first found recovery, I was a mess.  Living in a sober house help me learn how to live life again.  I got connected to 12-step recovery groups and I launched myself on a path spiritual progress.  Being active was also a big part of that early journey that has continued for the past now 8 plus years.  I began going to the gym with another guy in the sober living and working out became a consistent part of my life.  I also got connected with a recovery softball team (where I met Tim), got back into rock climbing, and started playing beach volleyball.  It was really about doing all the activities I loved to do, and the disease of addiction had gotten in the way of.  Working the steps, sponsoring guys, and being active has always been a huge part of my recovery.  I was always trying to grow and be a better person.  I am also pretty competitive, so I spent a few years training for beach volleyball and competing in tournaments.  The importance that being active has had on my journey and my physical, mental, and spiritual growth is what led us to launch Ignite Recovery and create an inclusive active lifestyle community.  We just know how important fitness has been to us and we want to help others find fitness in recovery.

Ben has shared publicly in the past about how his addiction to pain-killers began at the dentist.  I asked him what advice he has for others about pain killers for dental visits or other routine medical procedures? 

I work in the medical field as a Veterinarian and have many friends on the human medical side as well. The government is doing a great job at restricting the access of prescription pain medications. Most practitioners are starting to avoid opioids as a first line of defense for pain management and opting for other, non-addictive substances.  But, more than likely, there will be a time in almost every child’s life when they will be prescribed opioids.  And rather than blindly doling them out without fear of consequence, parents should educate themselves as much as possible. The same care they give to what their children eat, and what they watch on TV really needs to be given to what medications they allow them to have — even more so.  They will need to research addiction and understand its causes and causalities.  

The first Vicodin (Hydrocodone) I ever took was prescribed for my wisdom teeth.  I remember it vividly:  Sitting in a living room chair, staring at the wall, thinking this was the greatest thing ever.  But, as stated earlier, education is key.  Because of this experience I definitely had a genetic component in me that would have reared its ugly head at any time.  The next thing to consider is that while my prescription was only for 5 days, I had easy access other opiates. The problem arose when I realized my mother (who had a significant medical condition and has had many operations), had a cabinet full of Vicodin (hydrocodone) that she never finished.  I had direct access to something that my parents never in their wildest dreams ever thought was a problem. It was not locked up, not thought about, or ever checked on. I stole that medication for months with no one being the wiser.  Herein lies the larger issue.  Potentially, if these unused prescriptions were disposed of correctly, or accounted for in a lock box or safe box, itmayhave slowed my progression.  But as an addict, I would have found a way.  I would have bought them or lied in the locker room to get them.

Most parents think, “never with my child” and I had a white collar, privileged upbringing.  That is how my parents thought.  But addiction doesn’t care about income, race, sexuality or any defining factors you can think of.  Its all-encompassing and can affect anyone.  So, if there are controlled substances in the house.  Lock them up.  Keep track of them! Do not put them under the bathroom sink and forget about them. 

I asked Tim about how got started and why CrossFit has become an important part of his program personally and at Ignite….  Here is what he had to say.   

A.J., a member of Ignite getting his pump on

A good friend who I met through a co-ed recovery softball league came to me with an idea about a community non-profit that was based around fitness.  He showed me what The Phoenix (then known as Phoenix Multisport) was doing and how it was centered around CrossFit.  I thought that idea was great! I have my CF-L1 and I also coach classes at CrossFit Waukesha which is where Ignite holds its functional fitness classes right now. I’ve been to prison twice which is where I found time to do correspondence courses through ISSA. Ultimately, I received my personal trainer certification. Almost seven years later, with a lot of work by a lot of people, we’ve launched interest meetings doing CrossFit and it has blossomed.

Why is CrossFit so popular in the addiction recovery community?   How does it benefit members of that community?

So many reasons!  In general, CrossFit is about fitness.  Our physical, mental, and spiritual health are all interwoven.  I love how CrossFit talks about fitness being beyond wellness.  Where wellness is normality, being healthy, and the absence of disease.  Fitness is having a heightened defense against disease.  When we look at our physical, mental, and spiritual wellness we actually want to be FIT.  We want physical, mental, and spiritual fitness to provide a heightened defense against the disease of addiction.  Like you would say, we want to supercharge our recovery – and CrossFit enhances our fitness. 

CrossFit naturally creates community.  Tim, Shari, and I along with some others in our community all belong to CrossFit Waukesha and the structure of classes create opportunities for people to connect.  It is not like going to some chain gym where everyone is listening to music on headphones, their face is in their phones, and they just want to work out and leave.  At CrossFit, people are talking, connecting, encouraging each other.  They connect with those who work out at their box and they notice when somebody misses a class.  CrossFit’s ability to build community and relationships is perfect for the recovery community.

CrossFit is both a physical and mental test.  Physically it’s about the sport, there is infinite room for improvement and growth.  Everything is measurable so you can really see where and how you are getting better.  Nothing feels better than a new PR – hitting a big lift or smashing an old time.  At the same time, CrossFit is just as much about the mental aspect of the sport – the sports psychology.  It’s about embracing the pain and knowing what your body can do.  So many times, it’s about a mindset.  My legs, arms, and lungs will be on fire and my mind will tell me to stop, yet when we embrace the pain and keep pushing a breakthrough is often waiting.  Nothing feels better than physically doing something your mind tells you that you can’t.  This carries over into our recovery journey.  We are going to deal with pain and things that are uncomfortable and being fit helps us overcome adversity.  

CrossFit is often referred to as “functional fitness” and many of us in the recovery aren’t just looking for something that helps us tone or look good — for many of us ‘fitness’ is about being able to function in the world and to do the work that has been given to us to do. So, the term “function” takes on a whole new meaning. It really fits us.Ultimately, CrossFit enhances our physical, mental, and spiritual fitness so we can have resilience in recovery!

To learn more about Ignite, visit their Facebook page @IgniteRecovery or their website: www.ignite-recovery.org.