How My Exercise Addiction Fueled My Alcohol Problem

Written by Jason MacKenzie

I toiled away in the gym for 41 years without ever reaching my health and fitness goals. I was reasonably fit and strong, but I never came close to what I told myself I was capable of. It turns out, I was doing exactly what I was capable of. Exercise helped me survive chaos and heartbreak that might have broken me otherwise.

Over time I came to use "fitness" as a pathetic rationalization to defend the destructive behaviors that had started to take over my life. How's that for perverse irony? I was using the very thing that should have made me physically and mentally stronger to excuse actions that were destroying me physically and mentally.

I used fitness as an excuse to keep drinking. If I was able to get up and go to the gym in the morning, then how much of a problem could drinking be? I used fitness as a way to punish myself for the damage I knew I was doing to myself. I'd never admit to myself that I hated what I was becoming, but my heart knew.

Your heart always knows the truth.

I didn't exercise to move myself forward. I exercised in a desperate attempt to stop myself from sliding so far backward I would never recover. And somehow, I still thought that in order to achieve my goals, I just needed to do more crunches.

When I finally put down the bottle, it wasn't the end. It was just the beginning. The past two years have been a voyage of self-discovery that changed my view of the world and my place in it.

I've cultivated vulnerability by sharing my story with the world. In the process, I've connected with countless people committed to creating goodness by being of service to others. I've gradually been eliminating the negativity from my life and replacing it with gratitude, humility, kindness, openness, and vulnerability.

After a lifetime of toiling away in the gym, I'm fitter, faster, and stronger than I have ever been in my life. One of the most amazing discoveries of all has been realizing it was never about how many crunches I did.

Sobriety has given me the time and space to incorporate practices that enhance my overall wellness. Meditation has helped make me more mindful and aware of my thoughts and emotions. I understand now there is no weakness in feeling emotions and learning from them. Weakness is in denying they exist.

I was so damn scared of people seeing me as weak that I weakened myself by not asking for help.

Writing and reading affirmations has given me a clear definition of how I want to live my life and why. Practicing gratitude reminds me every day how damn lucky I am. Having a morning routine helps ensure I do my best to start each day with positivity and optimism. Some days are better than others. I no longer drink to escape my low moments. I try to learn from them.

The most important change I've made is the decision to cultivate vulnerability in my life. I'm able to look at myself in the mirror and be honest and withhold judgment about who I see staring back at me. Accepting where I am right now doesn't mean I have to be in the same spot tomorrow. Vulnerability has allowed me to love myself as I truly am instead of judging myself on how well I fit into someone else's mold.

I no longer project my own self-judgment onto people and tear them down in the process. That's a guaranteed road to ruin. Accepting and loving myself lets me accept and love others in a way that celebrates our differences.

Becoming vulnerable has completely changed how I set and achieve goals. In the past, my self-loathing would boil over and I would compensate for it by setting an audacious goal for myself: "I'm going to lose X amount of pounds and have a six pack."

Then I would try to achieve it with the same thinking that had prevented me from achieving it in the first place. It was the only way I knew how to think. I'd start strong but inevitably, and before long, reality would always set in. I'd start to understand just how far away from my goal I really was. Then I would fill the space between here and there with roadblocks, obstacles, excuses.

Before long the obstacles appeared overwhelming, and quitting was the only realistic option. I'd quit and then drink the feelings of failure away.

Vulnerability has allowed me to understand it's showing up that matters most. Sometimes things will work out and sometimes they won't. But I no longer judge myself based on the outcome. I pat myself on the back for having the courage to try. I'm open to learning where I went wrong and applying the lessons to my next go-round. I'm no longer afraid to ask for help.

The only reason I felt the need to be an army of one was fear. I was so damn scared of people seeing me as weak that I weakened myself by not asking for help. The magic we can create together surpasses what we can create alone. Having the courage to confront your fears will show you that most of them will never come true. Imagine what it will do for your sense of personal power to understand you no longer have to be scared.

Ultimately it's all about the choices we make. There are no freebies. Every single one alters the trajectory of our lives in some way. Make choices that create kindness and generosity and you'll change the world for the better. Knowing you have helped someone feels wonderful. Hold the door open for someone and smile at them. Share your story. Show empathy toward someone you know is struggling. We're all in this together.

Accepting yourself as you are means accepting others as they are. You'll stop seeing yourself as above or below anyone else. We're all just human beings. By elevating others you will stand taller, but your humility will keep your feet firmly rooted to the earth.

You only have so much space in your life. The more you fill it with positivity, the less room there will be for negativity. When you understand how good creating goodness feels you'll want nothing less in your life. The negativity will just fall harmlessly away. That's what I call the Spiritual Six-Pack. It's about developing yourself spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and physically.

Your physical health is but one part of the beautiful mosaic that is "you." Develop all your parts in harmony by consciously making choices that raise people up, move them forward, and help them feel safe to own their stories. Embrace that showing up is what matters most. And love yourself. You're worth it. Before you know it, you'll be fitter, healthier, and happier than you've ever been.

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