I was speaking with someone new to recovery the other day. Per usual, I was telling her that being out in nature and getting physical exercise was a great way to stay sober. I went on to say that hiking or kayaking or even going for a long stroll on the beach was an excellent way to ensure that you would not be using alcohol or other drugs. I barely took a breath before I expounded on the benefits of fresh air and comradery.
She waited for a pause in the monologue and said, “You know, I don’t think that’s going to work for me. I drank while I was exercising for years.”
Exercise as a Trigger?
I am ashamed to say, with all my bravado, I did not have a good response. I think I said, “Oh my.” I was flummoxed when she listed the things she did while in her cups. She said, “Cross country skiing, hiking, biking – I carried a sippy-cup or a thermos. There are drink holders on bikes and pocket flasks to keep you warm while snowshoeing and there is nothing like pausing at the top of a hill for a rest and the reward of a slug of wine. I kept it in my backpack.”
I’ve been thinking of this conversation ever since. And what I should have said.
First of all, in recovery we are developing those practices that improve quality of life. You may say a belt of booze at the top or a mountain is refreshing, but what about the trip back down? And a “warming” guzzle of brandy in the middle of the winter woods, is actually dangerous. Let’s be practical. If getting on your bike gives you a yen for iced wine in your water bottle, shake things up.
Change it Up!
If I had been thinking more clearly, I would have given the following advice. Because moving your body and filling your hands with something like ski poles, is still the best way I know to sideline the cravings early in recovery.
- Find some sober friends – This may be a time when you need to make new friends. I have found that sober people do not understand the need to anesthetize when gazing at vistas.
- Develop new interests – If skiing was the place you always had a few red wines at lunch, try ice-skating. And hot chocolate.
- Get on the bike with a bottle of water – The little metal holder on the frame is actually for water. Not a rum and coke. Force yourself to start on the ride with water in your sippy-cup. For the duration of the ride you will not have an opportunity to drink.
- Which reminds me: stop calling it a sippy-cup – You are not a toddler. Stop acting like one.
- Start being the designated photographer – I have found that filling one’s hands with a camera or a racket or canoe paddles keeps one’s hands busy. Busy hands are sober hands. In the photo above, not only am I navigating a slippery dock in 3 inch flip-flops, but I am waiting for the perfect, breaking wave…
- Up your game – If you are able to drink a split of champers and hike back along the trail, you need to increase the difficulty. No one who is a real hiker or mountain climber would even think of drinking (or smoking or using) while on the trail.
Thinking on My Feet…
It’s like those arguments where later you think, “Damn, I should have reminded him about the time he left me to clean up the trash the raccoons had spread all over the neighborhood…” I really do wish I had been better at thinking on my feet. The good news is that I write a blog. I always get the last word and I will print this and hand it to little Miss Sippy. She means well, and this was no argument. She was asking for advice…