The other day before a recovery meeting, I was chatting with someone in my group who, like me, enjoys working out.
“I’m a recovering alcoholic and CrossFitter,” I told him with a chuckle.
It wasn’t really a joke. After more than a year away from the competitive fitness circuit that consumed my free time and dominated my consciousness for about a decade, I can see very clearly how it brought out the best parts of my Type-A achiever personality.
I can also see how it fed and enabled my darkest demons.
Now, before anybody gets their booty shorts in a bunch, let me be clear: I have absolutely nothing against that community, nor would I try to pin any of my personal issues on an exercise methodology, a gym culture — or anything outside of my own brain, for that matter. I was a sick puppy long before I walked into my very first WOD back in (I think) 2009, and it’s like they say: Wherever you go, there you are.
Or, to quote another cliché: It’s not you, CrossFit. It’s me.
And I am a person plagued with never-ending, nagging not-enoughness.
It’s getting to the point where I can say that in past tense — “was plagued” — because 202 days of sobriety has begun to ever so slightly soften the sharp edges of stringent self-appraisal that used to make me look in the mirror at lean legs, cut arms and six-pack abs and think, “Yeah, but you can do better…”
Maybe some of you can relate to this awful affliction. It’s as damaging as any physical addiction, this innate compulsion to always keep reaching for more than what you have.
You’re in the best shape of your life, and you focus on what you perceive to still be wrong with your body. You push yourself hard, physically and mentally, in an activity, but still emerge displeased because you could have gone harder.
You measure your self worth by constantly comparing yourself to others.
If it’s possible to be better, why would you ever accept where you are? If satisfaction is somewhere else, why would you ever stop and enjoy the view here in this spot? If happiness is a few more accomplishments away, you can’t be happy until…
[Space Indicating An Infinite Wait]
That was my mentality outside the gym — you can probably see how someone who lives this way might be partial to mood-altering substances — and inside, it found a very loud, very crowded, very sweaty playground in which to run amok.
I still love working out almost daily. I still enjoy fast(ish) movements and heavy (it’s all relative, right?) weights, but my relationship with fitness is changing. The way I view my body is changing. Everything is changing for the better since I quit drinking back in July, and I do not miss a single thing about my old rigid, unforgiving routines.
Above all, I’m really a recovering perfectionist, and the greatest gift that recovery can give someone like me is a belief in my own sufficiency.
Up until now, this was a completely foreign concept. In fact, I didn’t even know that was a real word until I sat down to write this blog.
The lessons, of course, are ongoing. Somehow, I still haven’t learned that if you’re going to perform compound lifts and explosive movements at 4:30 AM in a cold basement, just minutes after rolling out of bed and slamming a pot of coffee — and you’re 41 years old working a sedentary job — you’re asking for repeated muscle pulls and tendon tweaks and chronic back and neck pain if you don’t warm up first.
Somehow, I still struggle with forgiving myself if I choose to sleep in (which means getting up at 5) and miss a day.
But what I have learned is, it’s OK to do things that make me happy and let whatever that is be enough.
When I lift, I go light. I don’t look at the bar I’m squatting/cleaning/pressing and beat myself up because it’s like… I don’t know, 100 pounds less than my old 5-rep max.
When I do a circuit “metcon” workout, I keep the movements basic and the reps low. Leg lifts instead of toes to bar. Step-ups instead of box jumps. A few strict pull-ups per round. No thrusters, sumo deadlift high-pulls, handstand push-ups or anything else I hate. When I get tired doing “easy” things, I don’t spend the rest of the day beating myself up for “being out of shape.”
When I do yoga in my living room, I’m not constantly thinking, “This is too slow.”
When I go for a nature walk, I’m not constantly asking, “Why aren’t you running?”
When I get done doing any of those things, I don’t go study myself in the mirror.
No more analysis. No more picking every little damn thing apart. No more keeping score. No more “should”s or body shaming.
As long as I’m moving, that’s all that matters.
As long as I feel good, the mirror is meaningless.
You can never really tell what condition a person is in by looking at their physique, and I’m a perfect example. I was pretty shredded — hell, you might even say skinny — a few years ago, as a practicing alcoholic who was lying and sneaking around on the daily. I was pretty much rotting away at the core while I was in “the best shape of my life.”
I also was never, ever satisfied with the reflection in the mirror.
Again, I’m not saying any of my issues were caused by my environment. I’m saying that my recovery process required taking a big step back from all my old behavior patterns, getting down to the root of what had gone wrong, figuring out what I needed to do differently and then rebuilding my entire approach to life from scratch.
I’m almost seven months into that process, and something pretty amazing has happened. I’ve healed enough inside that I can do whatever makes me happy on a given day, and however that manifests itself on the outside is good enough.
Yes, I actually believe my level of physical fitness and the shape of my body right here, right now are GOOD ENOUGH!!!
Yes, I could be better. We all could. I could be pushing harder, trying to lift heavier weights or perform trickier movements in more complicated combinations, and faster. I could eat (a lot) less food and lean up into a smaller clothing size.
Maybe someday I will do all of those things. Maybe someday, I’ll go back to joining a gym and training for competitions or races or whatever. Maybe someday I’ll also be comfortable enough in my sobriety to be able to walk into a bar or go to a party where there’s alcohol being consumed freely…
Not there yet. I’m here now. Recovery is about looking around at wherever you happen to be and knowing it’s sufficient, because it’s exactly how the universe (*whispers* your higher power) intends it to be. Recovery is about realizing, as someone articulated in my meeting this morning, that “we have everything we need, within us, at all times.”
Thanks to those meetings and all the “heavy lifting” required by my 12-step program, I am currently in the best spiritual condition of my life. So even though I can’t squat for shit, I’ve never, ever felt stronger.