It all began when I was only 9 years old. That was when, at a family party, I snuck a little bit of Aguardiente, a popular Colombian drink, and got drunk for the very first time. I didn’t really like the taste, but I did like how it made me feel. That night, one of my older cousins found out and covered for me, making me promise I wouldn’t do something like that ever again. It wasn’t long before I had broken that promise.
I had the best parents anyone could ask for, they always wanted the best for me and my siblings. They even left their country, Colombia, at a time in which it was very unsafe due to drug cartel activities and civil unrest, in order to give us a safe childhood and a better future. By the time I was 14 I started to smoke marijuana, and at 19 I was already doing more hard-core drugs like meth,throwing away the future my parents had worked so hard to give me.
When I was 23 I got sentenced to two years in prison for drug related charges. While in prison I joined AA and NA, and though I did it only to have an excuse to get out of my cell, at the end of the day it was a very gratifying experience. There I found the motivation to turn my life around.
Getting sober was hard. Detoxing from my drug addiction was especially tough. Luckily, I had people that helped me every step of the way, and there were some things they suggested I do in order to make my recovery more bearable. One of these things was exercising, which ended up helping me in ways I never imagined it would. It made me happier, it boosted my self-esteem and I started having fun when I thought I wouldn’t have fun again. If you’re thinking about starting to exercise for recovery, here are 5 things I learned during my experience that really helped me, especially at the beginning.
1. Know Your Limits
Having an obsessive personality like I do can be counterproductive at times. For instance, when I got out of prison I managed to get a job and I gave it all I had. But I gave it a little too much and got addicted to work, which made me depressed and almost led me to relapse. When I started to exercise though, I tried not to push my limits this time in order to make it right and really allow it to help me.
If you haven’t exercised for a while, chances are you’re not in the best fitness state. I recommend you to start with low intensity exercises a few times a week and build from there, instead of trying to start too fast. You need to remember that exceeding your capacities when it comes to exercising, especially at the beginning, can lead to serious injuries.
2. Work With A Professional
Whether it is getting a personal trainer or joining a gym or a sports class, I would highly recommend you get some guidance when you’re starting to exercise. A professional will make sure you’re working out according to your capacities and abilities. They will check that you’re doing the exercises right in order to avoid injuries. You can ask them questions and ask for advice, in the short term, they will help you reach your full potential.
I chose to join a gym near my parents’ house, where I was living at the time. I can’t say it was easy to start, since I had lived a sedentary life up until then and led a pretty unhealthy lifestyle. If it wasn’t for the motivation my trainer gave me and how understanding he was about my situation, I probably would have quit after the first week. With his help I started slowly but steadily gained strength, looking and feeling better. Now, many years from that first time I went to the gym, I still exercise regularly, which leads us to my next tip.
3. Make It A Habit
It’s only after a few months of working out on a regular basis that you start seeing results. Dedication and repetition are the keys to achieving your goals, whichever they might be. I know, it was boring for me too at the beginning, doing the same exercises every day, but consistency is the only way you’ll start noticing any progress in your body and mind.
If you have trouble staying motivated, maybe you can ask a friend to start exercising with you, that way when you’re feeling lazy they can motivate you to get out of bed and vice versa. You can also mix it up and instead of working out at the machines, attend a zumba class once in awhile. What I did was I would plan basketball or soccer games with my friends on the weekends, that way I was still exercising but didn’t feel like I was doing the same thing over and over.
4. Eat Healthy
This is fundamental, not only for anyone who works out, but for anyone who’s in recovery as well. Eating foods high in nutrients can help you get the fuel your body needs when you’re exercising regularly. They can also help you get rid of all the toxins you were putting in your body with whatever substance you were abusing.
This doesn’t mean you have to deprive yourself from the food you love the most. For example, I love fried chicken, it’s been my favorite food ever since I was kid. When I started eating healthier I didn’t give it up completely, I just started limiting its consumption and replacing it with healthier -and I must say maybe just as good- options. You can get a cheat day every once in awhile, but as soon as you understand how eating a balanced diet helps you both physically and mentally, you won’t feel like you need it that much.
5. Learn from your mistakes
Like in everything everything else in life, you’ll probably make mistakes when you’re starting to work out. It’s okay. One of the most essential parts of recovery is learning not to be too hard on yourself when you fail at something. What you need to do is learn from every mistake; usually, you learn more from failure than you do from success.
I have been sober for many years now. At the end of the day, I was able to get control of my life again and build a future for myself, the future my parents always wanted me to have. I now own a successful business with my brother, and most importantly, I can confidently say that I’m happy.
As I said before, exercise helped me all through recovery and ultimately changed my life for the better. It was difficult to start, as it might be for you too, but if you follow these tips it may be easier, and soon enough you will start enjoying it, and even missing it whenever you don’t work out. The important thing is not to get discouraged no matter how hard it may seem.