In the spring of 2009, my stomach was flatter than it had ever been since I’d become a mother. I had a nice tan as a result of running one of the sunlit trails along the intercoastal in my city. I was more flexible than I had ever been thanks to all of the yoga I was doing. At one point, a good friend of mine commented on how I needed to be careful that I didn’t get too skinny.
In short, I looked pretty good on the outside. I looked like a person who had discipline and cared about her body. In reality, I was completely out of control internally, and my alcohol use had exploded.
When I was drinking, exercise was the means that I used to control my outer appearance because the rest of my life was out of control. It wasn’t until I got sober that I realized my relationship with movement was as toxic as my drinking.
In sobriety, I learned, first and foremost, how to live without alcohol. Doing so changed my relationship with everything, including how I exercised and moved my body. More importantly, it changed how I exercised and moved my body.
I don’t run anymore.
Right now, I don’t run because it doesn’t feel good in my body. That in itself is a shift. Before sobriety, I couldn’t decipher how I felt in my body. I ran because the general consensus was (and still is) that running is a good cardiovascular exercise, and it is. But right now, at 34 with a little more weight on me than I’d like to admit, running doesn’t feel great on my knees, so I don’t do it.
The miracle in this is that I’ve learned to listen to what feels good right now, and I’m willing to be flexible enough to try something different. One of the gifts of sobriety is the ability to listen to my body and what it needs, rather than just doing something out of habit.
Yoga has a new meaning.
I was absolutely one of those white girls who appropriated the practice of yoga because I wanted a yoga body. In sobriety, I learned that the qualities I valued and wanted to cultivate — respect, humility, conscientiousness, and reverence for other cultures rather than the appropriation of other cultures — and the way I treated my yoga practice were in conflict. I took a step back, learned about yoga’s roots, listened to women and teachers who taught yoga in its full expression, and changed my relationship with the practice.
Today, my yoga practice follows me off the mat and into the world. It’s more about what my mind, body, and spirit need and how I can be of service from a yogi mindset.
I move just to move.
Exercise and movement equated to ROI (return of investment) for me. I had to get some kind of return. I needed to burn XX calories in a spin class because I’d just eaten something “bad” or I worked out a specific part of my body to achieve a specific look. When I looked at exercise this way, it became a chore… something I had to do.
Today, movement is more about how I want to feel than how I want to look. Yes, I absolutely need it. I’m a woman with a heart condition in my 30s. Exercise is necessary to maintain my physical health. But today, movement also needs to make me feel good. I regularly go on longish bike rides. Before I know it, I’ve biked 10 miles, and I’ve done so with ease. The reason? Being on my bike connects me to this childhood sense of joy. I love a good downhill, with the wind whipping against my face and the exhilaration of the speed. I can’t help but smile.
I’m still figuring out what movement works best for me because I’ve given myself permission to try different things. If I’m going to spend 5-6 hours a week doing something every week, I want to enjoy it. Sobriety taught me that I can take care of my body and really enjoy the process.