Aside from spending time with family and friends my absolute favorite things in life are reading, physical activity and, during a certain period, booze. Reading, if one reads broadly, is obviously a way of cultivating one’s intellect. Physical activity (running, yoga, weight-lifting, etc) is the second part of the equation – Mens sana in corpore sano. Most of us adopt these habits organically, not consciously adopting them because they are “GOOD HABITS”. Like an anxious dog who has been locked inside all day, your body and mind will give you explicit hints that they need to be exercised. Weak and flabby is not a great feeling, whether it’s intellectual or physical.
Addiction, in all it’s forms, is the flip side of the coin. Addicts have an instinctive need to retreat from some aspect of their life. All addictions, be it alcohol, weed, social media or cheesecake, are methods of changing one’s brain chemistry and ultimately changing one’s perception of reality, however briefly. Addiction is also an attempt, albeit very counterproductive, by the addict to assert control over their life. It’s an attempt to quiet the ceaseless background chatter, the ever-present feelings of anxiety that lurk in the margins, the monkey mind. The irony of addictive behavior is that in the immediate aftermath of a binge, the background chatter is foreground and the volume is pegged at 11. Interesting that clichés about addiction employ circular imagery; a vicious circle, a downward spiral, spinning your wheels, etc.
It’s not surprising that gyms, yoga studios and running clubs are filled with ex-addicts. For one, it’s a logical reaction to want to offset the damage of the addictive behavior. Physical exercise can also be somewhat addictive (in a good way) unless taken to extremes (which, let’s be honest, are rare). It’s a time-honored tradition to swap an addiction for one that is relatively harmless (i.e. people guzzling coffee at AA meetings). Most important, I think, is that physical exercise begets a calmer state of mind and ultimately puts one far closer to the goal of quieting the monkey mind than guzzling tequila till 4 in the morning. When you start to train seriously you set in motion behavioral patterns and interests (exercise, nutrition, quality sleep, meditation) that reinforce each other and, yes, help you become that “best version of you”. (Eeech, horrible phrase, but fitting in this context.) Physical training makes you feel better, look better, clears your mind AND gives you regular hits of endorphins.
Probably less well-known is the number of people who still engage in addictive behavior and for whom training is a way of offsetting, somewhat, self-inflicted damage. It’s also a handy psychological crutch, it allows you to feel just a little bit better about your sorry-ass, bleary-eyed self if you drag yourself to a heavy squat session. And, yes, sports training is the ONLY way you’ll offset all of the calories you’ve ingested and clear the cobwebs a little. (It goes without saying that this refers to people in a certain stage of addiction, not hardcore addicts. Also, I am not referring to addiction to extremely dangerous drugs such as crystal meth or opiates) In a way, training might empower some people to continue their addictive behavior by serving as a physical and psychological counterweight. I like to think, though, that if the person stops the destructive behavior, the good habits they formed in training will help them through the rough patches on their way to sobriety.
I have mixed feelings about alcohol. I appreciate good wine and beer. I was a wine enthusiast for many years and did, at one point, take some preliminary steps towards a job in the wine trade. The closer I got to this goal the more I realized that I didn’t want to make my living from a product was potentially harmful. Like many, my life has been negatively impacted by alcohol. I have family and friends who were alcoholics and are now sober, some who are still fighting that battle and 2 friends who ultimately lost their lives as a direct result of their alcoholism. In high school, college and “after work” I binge drank with the best of them – only I couldn’t keep up. I was usually, but not always, the drunkest of the group. I have done a number of idiotic and dangerous things while drunk and it’s truly astonishing that I’m still here to tell the tale. Worse still, a perpetual hung over state meant that I often “less than present” for family or on the job. Some people can take or leave alcohol while others are on a spectrum of “where have you been all my life?”. I’m in the latter camp. It’s only in the last few years that it dawned on me that alcohol was getting far more out of me than I was getting from it. So I decided to spend less time in the bar and more time under it.
It might surprising, then, that I still go out for the occasional beer with friends or have wine with some meals. I also like to scuba dive, hike, go camping and pursue other interests that have inherent risks. An intelligent adult identifies and mitigates potential risks as much as possible. A better analogy is having an aggressive dog in your house. If you aren’t in control, the undisputed Alpha, that dog is going to bite you on the ass eventually. I haven’t had hard spirits in my house for decades, and I rarely have wine or beer in the house. I don’t go out much any more, especially when the occasion is a thinly veiled excuse for excessive drinking (which is most of the time in the country I live in). If I do go, I offer to drive (thereby taking myself out of the boozing equation) or I go only if it’s within public transport or taxi range. It’s matter of recognizing what could happen. To thine own self be true.
Gyms are full of dogmatic cliques; cardio freaks, Crossfitters, bodybuilders and powerlifters. While each group looks down on the others they are united in their disdain for the New Year’s Resolutioners that pack gyms in January like salmon swimming upstream to spawn. OK, it’s annoying to be in a more crowded environment but we all know that by February things will be back to normal. I really love seeing new people in the gym, people who are little out of their element(for the time being) but are giving it a go. There are so many good excuses to not go to the gym; I’m tired, it takes too much time, it costs too much, gyms are full of shallow, judgemental douches, I feel self-conscious etc. I say silence that background noise, get greedy and go get yourself some. The bar will lift you up.