What the gym is teaching me about my recovery

Over the past couple months, I’ve been hitting the gym every day, usually twice. Except two, maybe three, days I have consistently worked out every single day. What I didn’t know when I signed up for a gym membership was that I was about to learn some valuable lessons, relevant to both fitness and my life as a whole.

When I tried to get in shape in the past, I would always agonize over creating the perfect workout plan. I think I spent more time researching the best routine and supplements than I did actually in the gym working out. Putting action behind the wanting never came easily. With too much planning and not enough action, I usually failed to execute and experience positive results.

Seth Blais

You can’t plan your way out of addiction

When I was deep in my addiction and using drugs every day, there is no doubt that I wanted to stop. I would frequently come up with plans for how and when I would get myself sober. These self-created programs often consisted of a combination of more drugs, tapered slowly over a period.

Often I would attach my plans of sobriety to some geographical cure or other outside circumstances. I would convince myself that I needed to go somewhere, or buy a different car, or change jobs, or wait for the perfect timing before I could successfully get sober. I was always focused on controlling everything around me, instead of focusing on myself and what immediate actions I could take to get better. It took me years of living in constant chaos to realize that my circumstances didn’t control my recovery.

On one occasion, I flew to Florida to spend a week alone on the beach. I had planned on taking this week to detox myself from opiates before flying back home to resume my life and career as if nothing had happened. I wasn’t willing to be open and honest about the severity of my substance use and, to my sick brain, asking for help seemed like a crazier idea than what was about to unfold. I expected to sit in the pool and ride out my drug detox with some alone time, beautiful weather, and, of course, Xanax to take the edge off. In reality, I ended up spending the entire week holed up in a cheap Florida motel, blowing several thousand dollars on cocaine and heroin. I never dipped a single toe into that pool nor took a walk on the beach that was fifty yards from my motel door.

I somehow managed to make it back on a flight home, worse off than when I had left. This failed attempt is just one example of the dozens of times I tried to plan my way out of my active addiction. I had spent time planning out the details of my trip and attempting to control everything around me, making an honest effort to leave my addiction behind. The problem was that when I boarded the plane to Florida, I wasn’t able to leave myself behind.

Focus on the how not the why

You don’t need to understand why lifting weights will make you stronger. I know that if I show up to the gym every day and lift heavy weights, my muscles will grow. Spending my time trying to understand the science behind why this happens, or why it might not happen as well for me, will not help me get the results I desire. Knowledge isn’t power unless execution precedes it. If your goal is to gain muscle, don’t waste time trying to figure out why working out will help you achieve this, just trust that it works.

Recovery works, and there are several pathways to get there. For years I consumed myself with trying to understand why a particular path to recovery could work, or convincing myself why it wouldn’t work for me. Once I stopped trying to figure out why and trusted that doing the work could save my life, I began to recover.

Consistency always beats intensity

When I joined the gym recently, I tried a new approach. This time around I didn’t spend time thinking about crafting a routine or researching supplements and diet shortcuts. I just decided to show up every single day. I didn’t worry about not having a specific plan, or whether I was feeling tired that day. I just forced myself to walk through the gym doors. The physical results I’ve seen from this consistent approach have been far better and faster than I expected.

Over a ten-year span of drug and alcohol use, I achieved a handful of short stretches in sobriety. I was capable of stopping, but I could never stay stopped. These short terms of abstinence were often preceding an intense set of actions or strong self-will. I would force myself to endure an excruciating detox and then dive into a program of recovery. After a short time, usually after I started feeling good again, the intensity would start to burn out, and I would distance myself from the actions that were keeping me sober.

I’ve never heard of anyone completing recovery perfectly, probably because there is no finish line, at least not that I see for myself. I know I haven’t done it well, let alone perfectly. The important part is that I show up every day and make an effort, regardless of how I feel and how difficult it is. Incremental daily progress in the right direction, consistently, beats short bursts of intense effort.

For me, my Substance Use Disorder is not something cured with a well-planned and intense treatment. My disease needs to be treated every single day with constant awareness and work. For years, I tried to find a shortcut or silver bullet for recovery, but now I know those don’t exist. Consistency will always beat intensity when treating Substance Use Disorders, and in most other things in life, including the gym.

Seth Blais

About Seth Blais

My name is Seth Blais, and I am a person in recovery from a Substance Use Disorder. I have personally struggled with the misuse of drugs and alcohol for more than a decade. I think it’s important to openly and honestly share my experience, and I’m fortunate to be in a position where I feel comfortable doing so. I’m not an expert or a medical professional, and I’m not qualified to provide treatment or advice. What I can provide, are honest self-reflections, hard-earned life lessons, and relevant commentary on issues surrounding substance use.