I don’t view myself as an alcoholic, I view myself as a runner.

I don’t view myself as an alcoholic, I view myself as a runner these days.

 

This may seem a strange title on a blog page on a site about recovery from addiction and alcoholism after leaving recovery groups, but is fairly accurate summary of my self-image these days. I certainly prefer it to that of alcoholic which is what I was told to call myself at the start of my recovery. I actually find it quite hard to believe, considering the mess I was in when I started. I was a really heavy drinker (about a bottle of spirits a day) and smoked Marlboro reds. In the past I had used many drugs. I am now extremely fit and motivated to continuing to live like this.

I did not get up one day and decide to stop drinking and live a healthy lifestyle centred around good food and activities. I knew I had to stop drinking or die, and had liver problems. I would probably be dead by now if I had not stopped, if the doctors diagnosis was correct. I actually slowly changed direction over a couple of years.  The fitness thing started about two years into recovery after I had given up smoking.

I stopped smoking with the aid of the Paul Mckenna book on the subject http://www.amazon.co.uk/Paul-McKenna/e/B001H6GIYI and this was probably the first self-help book I read. It really helped me and so I decided to look at the one on changing your life. This got me into the idea of setting goals and it also talked about the benefits of exercise, which was something that I had been told would be good for me by my doctor, to help with depression, but had so far ignored. I listened to the motivating discs, practiced most of the exercises and decided to start swimming. I could not contemplate running at this stage. I had done some damage by falling off motorcycles and my general fitness was not good being about 42 years old at this stage. I swam regularly and got competitive with myself. I felt stronger, slept better and was happier! The stretching was helping me counteract the effects of sitting down at work and life was generally improving.

After a few months of swimming I was given a great present by a friend who I had helped. This was 10 private lessons with a Brazilian Ballet dancer, doing Pilates in a studio using the Cadillac and Reformer machines along with stretching exercises. This was really tough! The effect was incredible and I signed up for another 10 private lessons and then paid for 50 studio sessions. I had now joined a great community of people who were using the Pilates method to stretch and improve their core strength. They were a really positive bunch of people and much more fun than the types I had met in recovery groups. here were a bunch of people maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and this really influenced me in a positive way.

Another thing that changed with Pilates was my body posture improved along with my core strength, which had been a problem thanks to a motorcycle crash where my pelvis alignment had been affected. I was now walking better and decided to start running. I also got into mindfulness and some yoga around this time as well and find that yoga stretches really help avoid running injuries as well as being good  for the mind and flexibility.

polar loop iphone

The running was difficult at first and a did get some strains in the first year but it has become much easier and really enjoyable. It is something I look foward to not something I am forcing myself to do. I started logging my runs with an iPhone app and now use the Polar apps with a Polar Loop wristband and heart rate monitor. This gives a good indication of how things are going and if I am exercising safely and effectively. At the moment, I regularly get an elite status on this app which amazing considering where I started. It is a useful device to motivate me and is also useful when I am at work and have a tendency to sit down for too long. The Loop tells me to get up and move! I still need a good kick up the backside from time to time.

I am not interested in competing in races, but love the healthy lifestyle and this has been a really important way to change my values in life, over the past few years. I feel that I have transformed from a helpless addict into something quite different as a result of channelling my efforts in this direction. I think I probably spend about the same time a week exercising in various ways as I did attending AA in my early days of recovery. I feel that they change since I left has been for the better and if I compare myself to many of those who I was going to meetings with, then the difference is dramatic. I do bump into a  couple of people I knew from AA regularly, at the football club where I swim and they seem to be doing well, and have a good balance to their lives. The ones who do not seem have such great balance are those who simply go to meetings and have not made any great changes to their lifestyle. They are often overweight and smoke and see the 12 step program as the way to live life rather than joining in with the rest of society. That was not what I wanted from recovery.

I really think the key to recovery is building a wide range of interests and activities that are better than drinking, and learning to deal with life. My quality of life has really improved and I know longer suffer from depression and I feel fitness plays a big part in this, as well as having a good social and working life, with well-balanced people who are a world away from many in recovery groups. These activities and groups have helped me change my self-image into one that I find positive. I actually find the idea of drinking and smoking as rather disgusting. I certainly have no wish to moderate, and have no interest in spending time with heavy drinkers any more. I have moved on at last. Fitness is not the only thing I do. For example, music plays a big part as well and I have taken that seriously as well in the past few years. I was influenced by musicians in recovery quite a lot as many have had to battle bad addiction. There are other activities and meeting a wide range of people also helps. Fitness is just one part of my life, but something I take seriously.

I would like to see sport being pushed as a good idea for people with addictions. I think it really helps and had so many unexpected benefits for me. I get really annoyed when companies such as McDonald’s and Budweiser sponsor events such as the Olympics and the football World Cup. They are buying into the image of health by a creating a link between sport and their unhealthy poor quality products. It is a shame that the people involved in organising these events don’t tell these American corporations that encourage obesity where to go, as this kind of sponsorship can make the young get used to certain brands.

Alcohol would not have been sold at the recent matches in Brazil, partly due to problems with crowds in the past, but the corporate dollar has big influence amongst those out to make a profit from what should be a celebration of physical excellence and competitiveness. booze was therefore allowed even though there was a chance that drunks would spoil this great occaision for others. One of the reasons people form the bad habits that lead to addiction, is because they are influenced by advertising. I am glad that attitudes have changed in the UK to smoking and this has been partly achieved by banning smoking in public places and advertising. Banning alcohol and McDonald’s etc from sport would also promote health over corporate interests. Generations to come would benefit if society were to take more of an interest in basic fitness and decent food. Many view sport as something to watch, not to take part in and this is a shame and another thing that has increased in my lifetime. I think the basic breakdown in activity and the bombardment of advertising has influenced many to make very poor lifestyle choices, and sadly this often leads to addiction.

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  1. Hi Michael…Thank you for your blog/site as it is optimistic, realistic, temperate, educational, and supportive. When I read this current post regarding your identification as a “runner” rather than an “alcoholic” it was thought provoking, inspirational, and a great reminder that life does not have to be alcohol-centric either in pursuit or avoidance…

    My leaving AA story is quite similar to yours. In the beginning, AA was a place of great support, understanding, and acceptance. I was fortunate to find groups of wonderful caring folks with long-term sobriety and on the surface they had what I wanted…they did not drink. Alcohol was taking its toll on my health too and that being a terrifying reality, abstinence became imperative.

    To keep it short and sweet, after doing some research about the founders of AA and the tenets on which AA is based, it is simply not my choice of how I wish to pursue and maintain my sobriety. It was during those hours of reading, digging, and exploring both the pros and cons of AA that I made the decision to leave. It was also how I discovered your site and alternatives to AA such as SMART. Like many who leave AA, I do miss the people not the program and it can be difficult at times. Not so much for the drinking part as the thought of getting caught up in that mess is distasteful at best and not where I want to ever be again, but the genuine feelings of affection and respect that arose from friendships that were forged in the rooms.

    In any event, thanx again for taking the time to develop your site and for all the information and helpful suggestions you offer. I hope others who left AA, are contemplating leaving, or are simply curious as to what is available out there take the time to explore your site. I look forward to watching it grow even more!

    • Thanks so much for your comments and I’m glad you find the site useful. I think having a healthy self image is important and branding yourself as an alcoholic day after day can actually be a really negative thing to do. It is almost a way to program yourself for failure! I know quite a few people that go running after stopping drinking so I thought I would mention it while the sun is out.
      I did get fed up with a lot of the arguments on other sites and hate the trolling of many comments sections on thefix etc, so I decided to do my own blog. I have actually learnt quite a lot doing it, after reading many different opinions on what works in recovery. I get quite a few emails from people who are just interested in moving on from formal groups, but are not people that hate AA like a few that tend to be quite noisy. My time in AA did not give me all the answers I needed, but it was the place I went to start my recovery. I had no interest in the religious side and it made me self conscious, but being with people who were looking for a common solution was motivating for a while. It was not an environment that I wanted to remain in for very long. I found a lot of people were pretty crazy, and that I wanted to fit in with normal people, not slogan speaking recovery people. I think it is important to say you can move on and have a normal life after a while, rather than just talking about alcohol. I am interested in the things people do to make them feel better, rather than going on about the limitations of recovery programs. I am also interested on how sites such as soberistas grow in the future, as they provide support without any program or religion.

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