Every once in a while, someone in a 12-step meeting will confidently testify of a treatment for addiction — something that changed their life and gives them power to get through another day. My first reaction to these suggestions is almost always a cynical one. Come on, it can’t be that simple! However, I am learning to not discount the effectiveness of something just because it doesn’t make sense. I started trying some of these crazy ideas and discovered that they actually worked! I’ve decided to make a series of blog posts about a few of these counter-intuitive actions that make recovery a reality.
Don’t we all know that walking is one of the best exercises a person can do? It is low impact, it prevents heart attacks and stroke, it keeps you young, it builds bones, it wards off diabetes, it tones your muscles, and it burns calories like crazy. But can walking actually help someone recover from addiction? Believe it or not, the answer is a huge YES!
For over a year, I heard recovering addicts talking about how walking helped them, but I always thought it was ridiculous. But then I started noticing how many “Stop Smoking” programs included a daily walk as part of their road to quitting. And I knew that taking a daily walk is one of the fastest ways out of depression, so maybe there was something to this after all. The final straw for me was when I discovered that Life Coach Tony Litster who has a program to “attract wealth, improve relationships, make more money, eliminate self-sabotage, reconnect spiritually, and find self-acceptance” insists that his pupils take a walk for at least 5 minutes each day.
So I tried it. At first, I walked only for the 5 minute minimum. It seemed like a waste of my time and I couldn’t tell any difference. Then one day I was standing in line at Costco. Now, if you are familiar with Costco, that’s all the information you need to know. I had been in line for 30 minutes, surrounded by crying babies, impatient shoppers, and giant shopping carts loaded with over-sized items that kept bumping into me. The walls were closing in on me. For someone like me, who hates crowds and would never leave the house unless he had to, I was in hell. I could feel the panic welling up inside me and my frenzied mind started to scream, “I’ve gotta get out of here and take a walk!”
What? I was literally stunned when I realized what I was thinking. Here I was in a stressful situation and my mind wasn’t begging for the comforting escape of my addiction. It was craving my little 5 minute walk. Somehow, I had rewired my brain.
I’m not going to try to go into a long explanation of how walking helps brain function, emotional health, and cognitive development. You have access to Google. You can look it up yourself. I just want to convince you to try it.
This is how walking helps me recover from addiction:
- Walking is a healthy escape. Most addiction comes from an uncontrollable desire to escape — escape reality, life, stress, feelings, abuse, fear, depression, boredom, etc. Walking helps fill that need.
- Walking clears my head. There is something about the combination of walking and fresh air that makes me thinking clearly and make better choices.
- Walking grounds me. When I feel that little shift begin to happen inside me, and I know I am getting to the point when cravings are heading into full blown addiction mode, I feel outside of myself. I feel like I am a different person. I can hear my own voice inside my head telling me to stop, but I just keep moving forward. (It’s like when everything inside you is telling you that a hot fudge sundae is bad for you and will only make you fat, but you just eat it anyway, and then afterward you wonder why you ate it.) Going for a walk puts me back in control of my actions. There is something about that rhythmic drumming of my feet against the ground and the swinging of my arms harmony with my legs that grounds me to my surroundings and puts my world back in order.
- Walking awakens my senses. I feel so alive when I feel the rain on my face, or the warmth of the sunlight on my arms, or the cold wind biting my cheeks and stiffening my fingers. I understand my place in the world when I hear the birds, or see the flowers bloom, or watch the leaves fall, or witness kids playing, or see a dead animal, or wave at a neighbor, or feel my heart pumping.
- Walking helps me explore. It’s amazing how many addictions began as curiosity. Walking in new places, along different paths, fills the need to explore and discover.
If you are like me, you can’t come to know the benefits of walking until you do it yourself. So get out there and do it! Now, if you are walking to stay physically fit, just get out there and do whatever kind of walking makes you happy. But if you are walking as part of addiction recovery, here are a few pointers that will make it bring you the greatest success:
- Don’t bring your Ipod. Don’t listen to music, talk radio, audio books, or anything else. All of those things are used to distract you from what you are doing. That’s why people who walk for exercise use them — it distracts them from their workout. But you don’t want to be distracted. You want to be focused.
- End up where you began. The point of your walk is not to go to the store, or a friend’s house, or anywhere else. The point of your walk is only to walk. The walk is your goal; getting somewhere else is not your goal.
- Breath. Before you begin, take several deep breaths to expand your lungs and get oxygen rushing to your brain. It makes a big difference.
- Go alone. Not only do you not want the distraction of a walking partner, but you don’t want anyone else setting your pace or choosing your path. This is your time to explore and discover. Stop when you want to stop. Look at what you want to see. Be still when you need to. This is your time.
Walking will require some commitment. Ultimately, all I can say is try it yourself. That’s the only way you will ever really find out if it works for you. Give it a week. It might make all the difference in how successful you are in your recovery.