Did you begin CrossFit as a sober activity or was this something you did while still out?
CrossFit began as a sober activity. When I was drinking, I sort of looked in shape, but only because I ate one meal a day and my abs were slightly visible. I was weak as shit. I started fitness almost immediately after getting sober and bounced around from weightlifting to boxing and then on to CrossFit about a year into my sobriety.
Do you feel like this is an extension of your recovery? Or, do you feel like you do CrossFit ‘alcoholically’ and it’s just your way of acting out?
Oh. I guess I never considered that it could be both.
On the surface, it’s as important to my recovery as anything else I do. There’s a lot of overlap between CrossFit and the program. Pick any common criticism out of a hat and it can probably apply to both. Self righteous, cult-like, holier-than-thou, you name it. The reality is that both depend heavily on community and accountability and I was severely lacking them in my life. I used to isolate so much when I was drinking, particularly at the end. I had a lot of shame and self-hatred and I was ready to do whatever it took to get my life back. There’s that “Seinfeld” episode where George starts doing the exact opposite of what he’d normally do and everything starts going his way. I took the same approach. And you know what? It worked. I still had some athletic ability and I caught on pretty quickly.
Despite what you might think about a CrossFit gym and it’s members, everybody was incredibly welcoming, encouraging, and supportive. (Like meetings, it’s helpful to find the right one for you. Seriously.) Also, CrossFit really works. If you show up, you will get fitter. You will become more confident. You will continue to surprise yourself week to week, month to month, year to year. I’m four years into CrossFit, five into sobriety, and I am not sure which has changed my life more. But I do know this–for me, one can’t exist without the other.
That said, it’s a bit of a replacement addiction. It gets me high and I crave that. The endorphin rush is very real and on days when I unexpectedly don’t get to go to the gym, I’m an absolute brat about it. Workouts typically get posted the night before at 8pm and when it’s a particularly punishing workout I look forward to it like I’d look forward to a party or bender. Acting out is a good way to put it. When I drank and used, I had no fear of overdose and I loved overconsumption and staring down huge amounts of chemicals without flinching. CrossFit is incredibly hard, it’s not for everybody, and I like that about it. I’d guess both have to do with some form of overcompensation/low self-esteem that I continue to battle. Like trying to prove that I’m a badass. How lame!
How much do you enjoy physical pain? Do you get off on it?
I actually think I hate pain. But I love surviving pain. I love feeling alive which so often seems like something I don’t experience the same way normal people do. What I get off on is taking on an objectively difficult challenge, rushing toward it, and conquering it. Until I got sober, I shirked responsibility my entire life taking the easy way out every fucking time. I simply don’t do that anymore. CrossFit gives me an hour a day to prove to myself that I’m good enough and I’m not the loser I used to be. It completely validates me. If it was a half an hour on a treadmill at Planet Fitness it just wouldn’t have the same effect. And please don’t get me wrong–if a half hour on a treadmill is all somebody does, that’s great! I’m all for movement and physical fitness any way you can get it, but for me to repair my broken self, it just has to be this. The pain creates a meditative state that less intense exercise doesn’t replicate. When you reach an anaerobic level of training, it’s nearly impossible to focus on anything but the task before you and the movement to be completed. When I’m finished, it’s a reboot for my brain where my baggage doesn’t seem as important anymore.
What happens if you get injured? Do you think that would be a huge setback for your recovery or do you think you’re emotionally prepared to handle it?
I hate to even think about it. Would I drink? I doubt it. Would I become depressed? Probably. I have enough alternative practices in my recovery that I feel confident would keep me sober, but the key part of all of this, from why we use to how we heal (I think?) comes down to self-esteem and loving ourselves. CrossFit fast-tracks this for me and without it, I’d have to work a little bit harder. I’ve factored this into how I train now versus how I trained when I started. I’m much more comfortable and aware of where my boundaries are and I’m not as willing to push it to the point where my safety is compromised. I’m also going to be 40 this year and at this point in my life, my priority isn’t to go to the CrossFit Games (impossible) so much as it is to do CrossFit for the rest of my life (possible!).
What have you learned about yourself and your sobriety doing CrossFit?
I’ve learned that I don’t have to be afraid of doing hard work. It’s dragging your ass out of bed, in the dark and cold of winter to go do an incredibly hard workout at 5AM. It’s taking that very first step into a meeting or a gym on day one. It’s making amends with somebody you’re terrified to confront. Cold calling somebody to ask for something you have no business asking for. You dread it, you lose sleep over it, and you make up every excuse as to why you shouldn’t do it–why you don’t actually need to do it. You tell yourself that tomorrow’s probably better.
But on the day you decide to do it, you feel better when you’re done. Every time. So you go back the next day and it’s still hard but it’s a little bit easier than the day before. And days turn into weeks, weeks into months, and so on. When you regularly do hard things, you gradually build an immunity to them. Your threshold for pain and suffering rises. You become less afraid. One of CrossFit’s tenets is that you’re either in a state of fitness or a state of decrepitude. It’s a bit heavy handed, but it’s also probably true. I think that applies to recovery as well. We’re either doing the work and getting better or we’re receding. I’m done searching for that perfect thing that will make me feel ok for I know it doesn’t exist. I just want to keep doing the hard work. It finally feels good.
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