I Struggled With Addiction For 15 Years. Here's How Fitness Keeps Me Sober

Written by Aimee Barnes

One day, after 15 years of chasing both inebriation and perfection while on a cocktail of mood-altering pharmaceuticals, I finally decided I’d had enough.

Nearly six years have passed since my last drink, “downer” or antidepressant — things I once believed were the glue that held me together, that kept me strong enough to face the next day.

Since that time, I've become an athlete in my mid-30s while running a successful wellness business for women. On my journey to find peace and sobriety, I turned one of my greatest weaknesses into the fuel that helped me develop an uncommon strength as a weightlifter, distance runner and figure competitor.

A passion energizes you and enriches your relationships.

People have often asked me, “But didn’t you just trade in one addiction for another?”

I think we have to be careful about the language we use while acknowledging the very painful reality of addiction. Dr. Gabor Mate, a compassionate expert on addiction, defines the difference between passion and addiction so poignantly: “Addiction is centrifugal. It sucks the energy from you, creating a vacuum of inertia. A passion energizes you and enriches your relationships. It empowers you and gives strength to others. Passion creates, addiction consumes …”

Bodybuilding and distance running have become energy-giving forces for me, as well as anchors of joy and stability. In my coaching practice, I always encourage my clients to challenge their bodies, to make fitness a part of each day.

My own evenings are now spent hanging out over a barbell, instead of at a bar. Here are five ways that weightlifting keeps me present, balanced and sober:

1. I live more consciously.

My time at the gym is a time of focus, reflection and contemplation. By continuously developing my inner strength through meditation and prayer at home, I’ve been able to increase my physical strength as well by pushing through mental barriers and remaining focused. I remain aware of what’s happening within my body, as well as my external surroundings.

Weightlifting has become an act of dedication and self-improvement that awakens my higher consciousness just as significantly as my spiritual practices outside of the gym.

2. I’m at peace with my body.

For much of my life, I’d struggled with extreme body self-loathing that gave birth to a host of eating disorders and constant comparison to my peers. It may sound counterintuitive, but bodybuilding and sports in general have actually freed me from identifying so much with how I look.

I no longer strive to live up to the standards of female beauty set by industries that disempower and commoditize women. I focus on what my body can do, rather than how I look.

3. I surround myself with healthy people.

Since becoming an athlete, my peer group has radically changed. Now I find myself surrounded and supported by women who are dedicated to living their best lives while lifting others up in the process. Instead of meeting up for cocktails, we catch up over a workout session or sign up for a 10K together or spend the morning hiking.

Being part of a strong community of kind and self-motivated spiritual seekers has taught me that a social, fun and sober life is possible!

4. I embrace structure and ritual.

Developing a routine is a critical component in addiction recovery, providing comfort and stability while increasing productivity. Addicts enmeshed in their addictive behaviors typically let self-care fall by the wayside; their substance or activity of choice determines the way their days are going to go.

By scheduling my workouts and setting a specific time and destination for exercise each day, I honor my self-care needs and set a rhythm for sleeping, meals, work and socializing.

5. I recognize my abilities and my gifts.

If you told me six years ago that I’d be able to run a marathon, become a National Physique Champion and dead lift nearly twice my body weight, I would've handed you my therapist’s business card!

Continuously increasing personal bests in the weight room has translated into so many other areas of my life, from business to writing to public speaking. I now realize that the sky is the limit for me, and I see it for my clients, so many of who once also believed that an achievement was impossible … until they did it!

Photo courtesy of the author

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