By Jennifer Storm
I have been in recovery from drug and alcohol dependency for more than 14 years thanks to a stint in a rehabilitation center, an extended stay in a halfway house and thousands upon thousands of Twelve Step meetings. In the beginning, I would hit multiple meetings per day; they were my lifeline at a time when my schedule only consisted of meetings and therapy. I loved meetings. They enabled me to connect with people, share my struggles and find unconditional hope. I had a home group, a sponsor and did service work for years.
As I got more and more time under my belt, my attendance began to ebb and flow. I found myself making one or two meetings per week for a good 10 years, and that seemed to work for me. Over the past couple years, however, I haven’t been getting the same results from my meeting attendance as I once did. Usually, I would leave a meeting feeling blissful and unencumbered by the problems I brought into the room.
I work as a first responder with crime victims, so to say my job is stressful and traumatizing is an understatement. It got to the point that my stress level was so high I knew I needed more than meetings to release it.
I decided to go to the place I had avoided for years—the gym. A good friend of mine was an avid runner who spoke often of its stress-busting benefits, so I thought I’d give it a shot. I started slow on the treadmill, and I won’t lie: it was hard at first. My knees cracked, my ankles wobbled a bit, but eventually, I found my stride. I will never forget leaving work after one of the worst homicide responses I had ever been on and giving about 10 interviews to local media about the case. I was exhausted and emotionally spent.
I stepped onto the treadmill at the gym, which was lined up in a row facing a wall with large flat screen TVs in front of each treadmill, many turned to different local stations. It was 5 p.m., and all of the news stations began with their lead story—the homicide I just left. All of a sudden, my face was on every flat screen in the room. I felt my cheeks burn with embarrassment and frustration. I had so much pent-up stress inside my little body that the thought of running out of the room was just not an option as people began turning their gaze from the TV to me. Instead, I began to run faster than I ever had. I put the treadmill up to 7.2 mph and ran. I ran past the people staring inquisitively at me, past the TVs, past the crime scene tape I had left just hours ago, past the grieving families and my own pain, anger and frustration. I felt tears sting my eyes and marry with the sweat dripping from my brow. Before I knew it, it was just the road and me. I was running so fast and had never felt so free in my life. Soon, the chaos in my head had stopped and was replaced by a methodical pounding in my temples, a choir of my feet hitting the ground and my heartbeat catching up. There was silence, serenity and peace.
As my feet began to slow, I realized I had run about two miles, more than I had ever run in my life. I was drenched in sweat and breathing heavier than I had in a long time. As I walked and began to compose myself, I felt as if a pound of stress had been removed from my chest. My shoulders came down from my ears and rested lightly in their natural place and I could breathe deeper than I had in a long time. In that time frame, I was able to process out all of the pent-up physical, emotional and psychological baggage I’d accumulated throughout the day.
I floated out of the gym feeling lightened in ways I didn’t know were possible. I slept like a rock that night, and thus began my love affair with running. I started running daily in the morning and hitting the gym whenever possible. Sometimes I hit the gym instead of meetings now. I have also discovered spin class, which has taken my physical and emotional benefits to another level altogether, allowing me to merge the physical release I get from running, with a meditational experience I achieve in spin class.
For me, recovery is all about finding the tools that work for you and applying them accordingly. Sometimes my needs are not verbal, they are physical and meditational, and I cannot get those needs met in the rooms.
Jennifer Storm is the author of many best-selling books on recovery, victimization and trauma including Blackout Girl, Leave the Light Onand Picking Up the Pieces Without Picking Up.
You can also read Jennifer Storm's piece of the benefits of yoga in recovery in the July/August 2012 issue of Renew.
Running image courtesy of Karl92/stockxchng.com.