Exercise Addiction, Alcohol and Other Substitutes for Feelings


I feel like my training is finally getting back on track and my fitness is returning to where I was in April before my last marathon and subsequent hip boo-boo. Damn, if all the strength exercises aren’t a lot of work. I feel like a true gym rat now. But seriously, it’s been worth it even if this recovery has lingered longer than I wanted (meaning I didn’t want to be hurt to begin with). I’m lucky I was able to safely run during my injury, although I had to scale back my expectations — with mixed results. I’d say I was disappointed more often than not.

Yesterday I had a 90 minute progression run with 3 segments: easy, moderate and hard. I managed to run my last segment at an average pace around my 5k speed, bringing it down to my 1mile speed for the last quarter mile. And I felt good, which given I ran a total of 11 miles was an achievement in my book.

Before I ran yesterday, I was struck with some sort of anxiety attack. It’s good that I’m able to recognize it, the impending doom and sense of futility. But, hell if I ever get used to them. I’m not sure if anything triggered it as it happened in the morning before I’d actually dealt with any part of my day. The night before, my husband and I had a fun evening out with a friend for dinner and a movie (Guardians of the Galaxy — so great and I’m a fan). I couldn’t pinpoint anything stressful In particular, so I decided it might just be some mis-wired chemistry in my head and worked on yoga breathing to calm down my stressed-out system. It helped at least distract me from the maelstrom of feelings.

IMG_3138-0.JPGFeelings that made me really feel like I wanted a drink. Which is never a good place for this alcoholic.

I figured I’d feel better after running, and I was right. I was even able to have a relaxing workout, even with the hard sections of the run. Last night, I had a nice time at a gathering with my husband’s family. Anxiety attack averted.

I’m happy I’ve found better ways to deal with my anxiety than drinking it away, but as someone in recovery, I need to keep an eye out for other addictive behaviors. Exercise can be dangerous when overdone or used for avoidance. I hate sitting in uncomfortable feelings and I learned over time to overwhelm them with food (binging or restricting), drink, cutting, all sorts of stupid things. They are short term fixes for bigger internal problems.

I found this interesting article http://whole9life.com/2012/10/lies-we-tell-ourselves/ on ways we disguise bad behaviors as “healthy” or “hardcore”. I’ve read a lot of running and “healthy living” blogs that I feel fall into this deceptive category. Not by evil design, but because so many of us have distorted self-views, including probably many of these bloggers. Many of them post as pseudo-life coaches, as examples of how to live healthy. I often wonder if they blog to get supportive comments that justify their unhealthy behavior. I find this terrifying and guilt-inducing when I read these kinds of blogs. Not good for someone prone to self-abuse.

I know one of the negative tapes in my head tells me that I’m not trying hard enough, that I am a wimp, chubby, a quitter, not good enough, and there’s two ways I’ve dealt with those accusations: I give up and shush the voice with bad activities or I push myself to an extreme (and also shush the voice with bad activities). And I don’t even find this latter behavior as particularly badass; I think I’m doing the minimum and that I can still work harder to meet some unknown ideal when I don’t even know why. The “why” is probably to escape being me.

One reason I feel having a personal trainer and a running coach are important for me, a middle of the pack runner, is that they keep me from wrecking myself and encourage more positive action. I am good at listening to their advice and sticking to their prescribed workouts. I feel accountable to them and use it as a way to teach myself healthier behaviors. I think of it as my duty to report to them honestly, which includes when I am hurt, because they can’t do their job as well if I am not telling them what’s happening with me. I know that sounds like a runaround way of thinking of things, but right now it’s the best way to get to taking care of myself. Maybe one of these days I’ll get around to feeling like I do it to be good to me and not because I don’t want to mess up their jobs. (This is an example of how my childhood messed me up a little, that my first concern is for not disturbing someone else :/ )

I’m aware how fortunate I am to be able to have a trainer and coach (as well as a fabulous chiropractor). I’m also glad that when I had a personal trainer for about a month last winter who fell into the “pain is temporary” category and who pushed me in a dangerous way, I had the wherewithal to let her go. Not until after I got injured working with her, mind you, but I’m trying to give myself a little credit here. I have made a lot of good choices in my life, including my husband who supports me even (or especially?) when I’m being crazy. Don’t ask if I think I deserve the good things in my life, however.

I struggle a lot with my own demons, and I’ve spent years trying to unscramble my head. I like to think I’m better at it, but I still have room for improvement. The first step is admitting I have problems, and oh yes I do. I get frustrated that they haven’t dissipated, that my first instinct still isn’t the right one. But the upside is that my feelings don’t seem to be getting worse and I spend less time trying to change the things I have no control over.

I do have to wonder what my anxiety yesterday was about. I probably have some kernel of fear festering under the surface, but it doesn’t want to come out and show itself. Until it does, I have to keep an eye on how I deal with the itchy feeling of it under my skin and make the next right choice for a healthier me.

This is Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy. His dancing makes me happy and this post was a little too serious.


31 thoughts on “Exercise Addiction, Alcohol and Other Substitutes for Feelings

  1. Funnily enough, your willingness to work with people who know more than you do and do what they ask and share with them honestly how you’re doing is incredibly healthy. My counselors and my physical therapist all saw fit to comment how refreshing but also unusual it was that I did everything they asked me to do and a little bit more, which is why they also set limits on what they would permit me to do… Wow… I just realized that they set healthy boundaries for me. I didn’t know how to make my own, so I was more than happy to accept the ones given to me. As you’ve pointed out, the challenge is finding people who know how to set healthy boundaries but also walking away from those who don’t. You are an inspiration.

  2. Serious yes but rightly so. You hit the nail on the head about how someone in recovery needs to be ever vigilant. That is often the bit most tricky to explain to normal people they see you not drink or do drugs or self harm therefore you are cured they think but we know to watch ourselves like hawks.

    • I always think of the old timer who said little at AA meetings except to pound his fist on the table and say, “Constant vigilance!”

      It’s true (and tiring at times) that we have to watch ourselves always. I may be sober, but I’m still me and dealing with all the things that made me drink to begin with. I am just much more aware of it all now and, I hope, smarter.

  3. OMG what a great post … the reality is that just like drinking 27 liters of water every day is no longer healthy, so to is it possible to overdo and pervert anything that is healthy until it becomes unhealthy.

    I have done a number of posts taking up my concerns with so many of these so-called healthy living bloggers who pontificate, and too often it DOES seem like they are covering for stuff, and the more didactic they become, the more sure I am that they have issues.

    I honestly think that the biggest indicator of where you are at is the thoughtfulness of your approach – it doesn’t erase the issues, but it helps provide more strength.

    Thanks again for sharing!

    • One of the things (ok, there are quite a few) that bothers me about some of these healthy living bloggers is that they claim to no longer have the disorders — and I can’t help but think that’s bullshit. It’s not like you take an antidote or vaccination and are cured. Eating disorders and addictions are pretty much lifelong struggles. At times they can be easier to deal with than others, but they always hover in the background, even when 99% of what we do is healthy. It’s dangerous to act like you’ve got it all locked up. A lot of times that’s just denial taking over your thinking.

      I try to voice where I am out loud because silence and denial make my issues stronger and I want to keep as much power away from the bad things as possible.

      • Absolutely – which is why I always say that I HAVE an eating disorder, even though I have now spent more of my life thin and eating fairly healthy, the reality is that using restriction for weight control is always an easy ‘go to’ for me …

        So when I see people (ok, almost exclusively young women) claiming they WERE disordered, I sigh sadly … because I believe that the feeling of it being ‘cured’ is actually dangerous, because it means you fail to realize that those thoughts are still in there somewhere. They might never come back … but if you ignore them that gives them more of a chance.

        • Especially when some of these young women insist that the things they are saying/posting are not disordered when they scream “red flag” to others. I’ve noticed quite a few of them don’t admit they were struggling until after they’ve gotten their mood turned around. They seem to cycle through this, and yet they still hold on to the idea that it wasn’t a relapse of sorts. I want to help them but any expressed concern usually gets labeled as mean.

  4. I love to hear how much you have benefited from having a coach and a trainer. Actually reading your blog has made me lean very heavily toward getting one for myself.

    This post speaks to me in a lot of ways. I have a very addictive personality. For a long time exercise was an addiction for me and it has always been a challenge to find a balance, especially when injured and not able to do the things that I really want to do.

    Thank you for sharing all this. Also I love me some Groot dancing.

    • Isn’t Groot awesome?! After seeing Guardians, I tugged on my husband’s shirt and looked up at him with toddler eyes and said, “I want a Groot.”

      I love having a coach and trainer — they really keep me on track and it’s nice to have professionals to defer to.

  5. Thank you so much for sharing this. Someone very close to me is currently dealing with anxiety and substance abuse issues and it’s very interesting to read about this from someone else’s perspective – seeing the similarities and differences and all.

    We were just recently talking, too, about how addiction can bleed from one thing to another and often is disguised as a “healthy” obsession when really it’s just as addictive and damaging, even though society has decided to label one thing acceptable and another thing not acceptable.

    • Addiction is tricky and I’ve found the best path for me is talking about it. It tends to hide in the shadows and pretend it’s not all that dangerous unless I call it out. The tough part isn’t just the addictive substances or behaviors, for me it’s WHY I have used them. Until you begin to deal with the underlying issues, you’re going to be vulnerable to your addictions. Heck, it’s hard not to be vulnerable to them when working at it. I don’t mean to sound all dramatic about it, but it is something I deal with daily at varying levels. Most days I’m pretty ok so it’s not like I’m playing my tiny pity violin πŸ˜‰

  6. Martha B says:

    I am so glad to read this post from you. For some reason this same sentiment has been really banging around in my head hard lately. I feel like I’m walking a tightrope of exercise addiction sometimes, and then I think… To what end?
    It’s so nice to know that maybe I’m not crazy, and I think it’s really brave of you to step up and call it out. We all need to have this discussion. The healthy living blog movement is really counter productive for people who have inclinations towards addictions or underlying eating disorders that they maybe are in denial about.
    I am proud of you for contributing to the greater good… Not the perpetual myth that you have to pound your body into the ground to be healthy. I think that we need to open these ideas up to our fellow bloggers so that they can be more mindful about distinguishing what is helpful and what is hurtful. I think some things that I write could go either way, but it just feels so normal.
    Again, good on you. Thanks x1000 for writing this. I’m reblogging. You are awesome.

    • I won’t say I’m not crazy πŸ˜‰

      I hope that by talking about my struggles it helps someone. I know that being able to talk about it has helped me tremendously. I think questioning certain behaviors is healthy and when people get overly defensive saying things like “you don’t know me” or “everyone is different and this is what works for me” they probably would be doing themselves a favor by asking if maybe there isn’t a bit of truth in people’s concern. No one likes to be told they’re doing something wrong, especially if somehow they are benefitting from their bad behaviors or addictions because let’s face it, being thin or buzzed feels good.

      Anyway, thanks for re-blogging and for sharing that you sometimes worry about similar things. It ALWAYS helps to not feel alone.

  7. Martha B says:

    Reblogged this on Boring Broad Runs and commented:
    Judith articulated this much better than I could have. But it needs to be said. We need to have this talk with ourselves and in the fitness blogging community. This is my first reblog ever, because this is that important.

  8. Needless to say – but I get this. Big time. I just wrote about how my addictive behaviour is manifesting in different ways. How it can show it self in obvious things – food, sugar, exercise, but also the other more subtle ways – old ways of thinking, old habits, etc. That little voice that tell you you’re a wimp, quitter, etc. gets us all in our own ways. Ego tells me things to make itself right but take me off course in recovery and in general.

    Running is something that I can obsess a bit about, but by the nature of it (physical exertion), I find I can’t really give into it the way I can other things. I need rest! I do my best to listen to my body and try to not let ego wrest away any good from my runs (i.e “why are doing this?” “why bother?”, “you’re not going to finish that marathon”, etc). So I let it be a practice of just being.

    I would love a coach and trainer for the exact reasons you laid out – being accountable, opening and sharing, letting my ego go and ask for help, not overdo it when I would want to, etc. Healthy reasons. And I think that is a balanced approach.

    Thank you for this – loved it.

    Glad you’re getting back in the groove!


    • Thanks!

      I try to practice just being as well, although it can be difficult when my emotions aren’t on an upswing. Running is so overwhelmingly positive that I really don’t want to corrupt it with my addictive brain. Being mindful is one if my favorite gifts of sobriety.

  9. Awesome post! You’re truly brave and thanks for sharing. Oftentimes I feel like there are too many health blogs that just reflect the good in our lives. When people are honest it helps people out so much more and makes things real. So, thanks!

    • I have a hard time relating to blogs that are always happy happy! I feel like not only are they unrealistic, but the evoke unwelcome feelings of envy and like I’m falling short, neither of which lead to good things for me. I like blogs that show more of a whole person because I think balance is a good thing. When I personally ignore the bad, it usually ends up as some sort of issue in some form. But I hope it’s not like this for everyone!

      This is not to say I don’t find positive blog posts inspirational because I need those pick me ups and cheerfulness too.

  10. Such a great post. Thank you for sharing your inner monologue and ruminations. This is the familiar thin line between love and hate, but in the guise of healthy and unhealthy. That you’re able to read and examiner your feelings speaks volumes about where you are and how far you’ve come. I don’t know life as an addict, but I know the terrain all too well, perfectionist child-of-an-alcoholic that I am. Your vigilance serves you well, and your openness and honesty serves the rest of us well. Thank you.

    • Your story about your father broke my heart. It seems to me you’ve made the best if what was, but I’m sorry you had to deal with an alcoholic in your life.

      I’m grateful I was able to get sober and work at it because I want to keep what sobriety has given me. Thanks for your comment. It means a lot to me.

  11. I do have a few lady friends who have gotten into the whole fitness competitions – not bodybuilding, but the ones where you get ripped without getting bulky. All of them have one thing in common – in their personal lives they have some sort of drama going on – divorce, husband deployed, etc. I guess not eating and working out all the time is their means of coping.

    • It’s a way of controlling SOMETHING when you don’t have control over other things. I think it’s necessary to escape from time to time, but when it becomes an obsession and avoidance it’s trouble. I hope your lady friends find a healthy balance.

  12. Syd says:

    For me, I worked and worked some more. Now I keep busy doing a lot of things that I love. Maybe it is a form of running but my motives are that I get easily bored and need to keep moving. I see my wife replacing the alcohol with other things that I think are healthy. I would rather that she enjoy gardening and cooking instead of sitting in a chair and having depression. Alcoholism is a symptom often of other underlying issues. We all have demons of some sort.

    • Doing things you love (and not just things you think you convince yourself you love) is a great way to go through life. I think it seems like you and your wife have found a healthy balance. You’re not burying your head in the proverbial sand. I find you both inspirational.

  13. Again, I gotta say it: you are one of the most psychologically healthy people I “know.” Can I get a little of your self-awareness, please?
    But, seriously, it is so great that you are working so hard on keeping yourself in check. Pulling in the help of others, is wicked-smart too.

    • Thank you, but I don’t know if I consider myself all that psychologically healthy, but I do actively work at it πŸ™‚

      Asking for help was probably the hardest step for me, but once I asked for it (deciding to go to rehab was that first giant leap for me), it was a huge relief. There’s still a lot I have to do in my own, but it’s great to have people smarter than I keep an eye on me.

  14. TR says:

    You handled the situation really well. That is great progress – “But the upside is that my feelings don’t seem to be getting worse and I spend less time trying to change the things I have no control over.”

    I totally get the viewpoint of doing something not to interfere or inconvenience someone rather than the viewpoint it’d be healthy for me, struggle with that too. I often wonder about our natural default settings, if they disappear, only reappear under stress or stay as a ‘kind’ reminder while we continue to make healthy choices?

    • I think it’s a movement in the right direction that despite that I default to not taking care of myself, I’ve put things in place to protect me from myself. It’s a little like I’m split into two, and hopefully I will merge the parts into a cohesive whole.

      It takes time for us to change the script we were given.

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