Fit For Recovery

By Amy Paradyz

Just as there are many paths to recovery, there are many paths to physical fitness.

Some like the camaraderie of gyms and exercise classes, while others prefer the calm of a yoga class or a solitary walk on the beach. Whatever the path, getting your body healthy again after the damage done to it in active addiction is vital for those in recovery. Feeling physically fit and at your best also improves self esteem and gives confidence, two important tools in maintaining recovery.

Keagan Delaney, 28, of Windham, in recovery for two years, says he “lives for fitness,” but he’s no gym rat. J Rather, he takes a broader, all-around fitness approach: fitness of the mind, emotions, spirit and body. He tries to learn something new every day, works to understand his emotions and those of others to strengthen relationships, prays to his higher power and works out.

"All the nature around Portland is the perfect environment to get sober."

“As humans, the physical is the easiest understood. Action precedes understanding,” he says, adding that physical fitness helps him build the endurance to effectively work through his other fitness goals.

Exercise reminded Tom Shanahan of the joy that is found in a sober—and active— lifestyle. When he kicked alcohol and cocaine eight years ago, he went to rehab and worked his way through the 12 Steps, and he also took thousands of steps around the Eastern Prom and other scenic locations.

“All the nature around Portland is the perfect environment to get sober,” says Shanahan, the author of “Spiritual Adrenaline: A Lifestyle Plan to Nourish and Strengthen Your Recovery.” “I would go to Portland Head Light or paddleboard to Fort Gorges. I wanted to get out of bed every morning. I wanted to see the sunrise. Combining the nature of Maine with the traditional step work and incorporating nutrition and exercise can really supercharge a recovery. Moving your body will make you less likely to relapse.”

Tom Shanahan, author of Spiritual Adrenaline. photo courtesy of Tom Shanahan

Shanahan also saw Dr. Michael Bedecs, a Portland-based manipulative therapy specialist, and found he had high triglycerides, high levels of bad cholesterol and high cortisol levels, high white blood cell counts, and low testosterone.

“I had all the markers of someone who had been abusing their body for years,” says Shanahan, who turned to personal trainer and sports nutritionist Michael Foley for help. “Once I started reducing sugar, caffeine and nicotine, these conditions started to resolve themselves. Nutrition isn’t a cureall, but it makes a big difference.”

Over the past 30 years, Foley estimates he has worked with at least 1,000 clients who are trying to stop drinking.

Mike Foley

“When you’re trying to quit a habit that is very addictive, it’s hard if you’re not eating well and exercising,” Foley says. “If you’re working out and you’re getting healthy, you think you’re working too hard to go back on that roller coaster.”

Foley, who coaches at World’s Gym in Portland, outlines some of the reasons exercise can be an integral component of long-term drug or alcohol recovery.

“Exercise releases endorphins, and it gives you a kind of rush,” he says, noting that depression is a common battle amongst people in recovery. “Plus, if a workout is part of your daily routine, you have less idle time. When you’re trying to beat a chemical addiction, you need structure and routine because the more routine you have you usually make better choices. Separate exercise and nutrition from feelings and just make it a habit, a part of your day.”

Whether it’s called “tough love” in a gym, “loving kindness” in a yoga studio or “amazing grace” in a spiritual setting, true recovery may hinge on self-respect.

“When people get off the drugs and into exercise, they feel so good about themselves that they treat people, including themselves, better,” Foley says. “They’re usually kind of competitive; that’s how they beat the drug. So I say, ‘Life’s too short, let’s be great. Fitness is something you can excel at.’”

But don’t overdo it.

“People give up a ‘bad addiction’ for a ‘good one’ that becomes problematic when they take it to the extreme. It’s about balance,” Shanahan says. “Sobriety is a long-term plan to stay happy and healthy.”

For someone with a quieter nature, yoga may be a more natural way of coming back to the body with respect.

“Yoga brings an awareness of personal needs and bodily health,” says Leslee Clark, owner of Yogave, a donation-based yoga studio on Route 1 in Falmouth. “Yoga can be a beneficial tool for healing or recovery, whether it’s from illness, addiction or grief. Having lost a child to cancer two years ago, yoga has become more important to me as a tool to cope with anxiety and depression.”

"The more routine you have, you usually make better choices."

Yoga is a natural way of coming back to the body with respect.

Yoga typically involves movement with breath, and, of course, moving through the postures has physical benefits. But even in life’s most difficult moments, when getting to a yoga class isn’t realistic, Clark comes back to breath and back to loving kindness for the mental, emotional and spiritual benefits.

In the last six months of her son’s life, she lived in a state of fear, as one medical emergency followed right into the next.

“During that time,” she says, “my yoga practice consisted of repeating the ancient ‘Loving Kindness’ blessing: ‘May I be happy, may I be healthy, may I be free from hard, may I live with ease.’ It’s a mindfulness practice.”

Portland Head Light at Fort Williams Park, Cape Elizabeth. Photo by Brian Delaney
Portland Head Light at Fort Williams Park, Cape Elizabeth. Photo by Brian Delaney

Take It Outside

By Amy Paradysz

Whether you’ve done the 12 steps or you’re still working your way through them, this is a glorious time of year to get in several thousand steps under a blue Maine sky. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Kick off another day of sobriety with a walk at sunrise. Anywhere will do, and it doesn’t need to take all morning. But for a spectacular sunrise stroll, try the Cliff Walk at York Beach Harbor.
  • Walk the beach at Ocean Park, a dry community on the southern end of Old Orchard, and stop for a game of shuffl eboard at the corner of West Grand and Randall avenues.
  • Hike the 1.5-mile perimeter of Mackworth Island State Park in Falmouth for Casco Bay views, quiet resting spots, fairy houses and woodsy trails.
  • Kick off another day of sobriety with a walk at sunrise. Anywhere will do, and it doesn’t need to take all morning. But for a spectacular sunrise stroll, try the Cliff Walk at York Beach Harbor.
  • Walk the beach at Ocean Park, a dry community on the southern end of Old Orchard, and stop for a game of shuffl eboard at the corner of West Grand and Randall avenues.
  • Hike the 1.5-mile perimeter of Mackworth Island State Park in Falmouth for Casco Bay views, quiet resting spots, fairy houses and woodsy trails.

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