A couple of weeks ago, the Sober Business Network Whatsapp group was filled with laughter as we enjoyed Michael Sargood’s first foray into standup comedy.
He shared a video from his Instagram, making fun of how newly sober people seem to throw themselves into fitness in some form. Yoga, running, cold water swimming, crossfit and so much more. Sobriety seems to be a gateway drug to borderline obsessive fitness for so many.
And I am one of them.
Although, it has to be said, as with so many things in my life, I did it the other way around. I started hiking after my brother died, enjoying the peace and space that nature provided, the physical intensity in my muscles, the hard work for my lungs, and the pounding of my heart that reminded me that I was alive. And I loved the connection it gave me with my mother and son, who were my regular walking partners.
But as well as that, it also started to create a connection with my body that I hadn’t experienced before. My body was, until then, something I wasn’t really that well connected with. I didn’t like it, and took every opportunity I could to punish it with alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, crap food, risky sex and not enough care.
But enjoying walking started to give me a new appreciation for it, and a desire to treat it better. If I could walk well enough with a badly treated body that was never exercised, what could I do with one that was stronger? I started going to the gym, swimming, going to exercise classes, eventually finding my way to yoga.
Yoga became my pathway to recovery, giving me the tools I needed to embrace sobriety when I spent a year training to be a Yoga teacher. I often joke that I wouldn’t have done the course if I’d known I’d emerge from it 6 months sober, and I think that’s almost certainly true. I wouldn’t have liked that idea before I started. But thanks to the strength and resilience I developed, the healing I did and the new relationship I developed with my emotions, sober became the only way I wanted to live.
Newly sober, I practised Yoga daily and hiked regularly, but that was it. I was certain for a while that if I ever stopped the Yoga, my recovery would be at risk, such was the deep connection I had between the two parts of my life.
But over the years, my relationship with Yoga has changed, and it did drop from my life for a long time. I still practice and sometimes teach it, but it isn’t what keeps me sober. I keep me sober.
Walking has always been a big part of my recovery from that very first hike. When my mother was diagnosed with the cancer that took her from us, I feared that without my favourite walking partner at my side, I would lose my love of walking. But in reality, it helps me heal from her death just as it did when my brother died.
So those two ‘sober cliches’ were part of how I got sober, not what I have done since getting sober.
But recently I have discovered a new love. I have, after years of being resolutely a non runner, discovered the joys of swapping the walking boots for the running shoes. Inspired by my brother’s recently discovered fitness, I started running in the summer last year, albeit sporadically thanks to injury, illness and Welsh rain, I can now say that I am a runner. In true Esther fashion, I have already signed up to do two half marathons this year, as well as the Mighty Hike (26 miles!) I am doing in the summer.
I think it is a very natural progression from excessive alcohol consumption to fitness. Getting sober reacquaints you with your body, and fosters a deeper respect for what it can do for you.
For those of us who are dopamine seekers, fitness can give us the hit that we need, and those endorphins can’t be beaten.
The mental health boosting benefits that exercise provides can be a much needed antidote to the depressant qualities of alcohol, not to mention the mental health problems that often accompany alcohol abuse.
And the confidence and self esteem that can come from feeling strong, fit, healthy and in control of your body can go a long way to healing much of the damage that alcohol abuse can create.
I love this body I live in, and love moving it in ways that feel good. Sometimes my exercise is enthusiastic dancing at a gig, sometimes it’s hiking up a mountain, sometimes it’s stretching it out on my yoga mat and sometimes it’s running like the zombies are chasing me. However I move it, it always feels good, my body thanks me, and I thank it.
How do you like to move your body?