How CrossFit Has Shaped My Recovery

in Recovery
Published Sep 11, 2020
crossfit and recovery

For as long as I can remember, fitness has been part of my life. I grew up as an athlete, playing soccer all my life, and eventually pivoting to rugby in college. It was only when I began drinking in college that I let my health slip to the wayside. I still made it a priority to work out, but my drinking and its unhealthy effects overtook anything I was doing in the gym or on the rugby pitch.

Over time, the negative effects of alcohol on my life built up until they came to a breaking point in May 2013, when I ended up hospitalized with a .34 blood alcohol content. It was then that I entered outpatient treatment and began the journey to acknowledging the way alcohol had begun to seep into all aspects of my life.

As is the case for many people in recovery, I was in dire need of an outlet when I was newly sober. Drinking had always been my way of burning off steam and filling time, and being left without that was a source of frustration. I found my way back to the gym, but it wasn’t until I was about three years sober that I found CrossFit and filled that void in my life.

three women pulling weights outside

Since joining my local CrossFit gym — known in the CrossFit community as a “box” — four years ago, my life has changed drastically, as has my recovery. Here’s why.

1. It provides an outlet for the hard days.

Before, I’d always turned to running or writing when I was in a funk. Those both worked for me, and still do, but there’s something about the intensity of CrossFit and throwing weights around that just feels more effective for me personally. I thrive on intensity and competition, and my CrossFit box provides both. Even on the days when I am not feeling like working out, I leave feeling renewed and in a better mood.

2. I’ve met people like myself.

There is something about CrossFit that people of a similar personality gravitate toward. That’s not to say everyone is just like me, because that’s not the case. But I’ve met people also in recovery, as well as people who just need that outlet in their daily life. There is something special about the community that a CrossFit box provides, and joining one made me feel like I’d finally found my place.

woman lifting dumbbell over her head

3. There is a direct correlation between working out and serotonin levels.

Like many in recovery, I have always struggled with depression and anxiety. While both are mostly under control, there are still periods of life where they flare up. It’s at these points that working out is especially vital for me. Both depression and anxiety have to do with serotonin, which is a chemical in the brain responsible for regulating mood. Exercise is believed to naturally increase serotonin levels, resulting in a positive effect on mood.

4. It creates a place to escape.

The reality is that sometimes, life is a lot. Everyday tasks and responsibilities can be overwhelming, and it’s vital to have a space where you can just be. For me, that’s CrossFit. It’s nearly impossible to be stressed about outside factors when you are in the middle of an intense workout, which is what I appreciate about it. It provides a place to focus on one thing and one thing only. Even if it’s just an hour during my day to do so, I usually find that I leave feeling less stressed and more capable.

woman holding gymnastic rings and doing crossfit

5. It allows me to push my boundaries.

I, like many in recovery, am a person who is always reaching for more. CrossFit gives me a place to do that in a healthy way. One of my favorite things about it is that there is always room to improve — a new skill to learn, more weight to lift, etc. You can continually set new goals for yourself and do things you didn’t think possible. In that way, it’s like recovery. Early on, I didn’t think I could do it. I doubted myself and my abilities. But over time, I have grown to realize just how capable I really am when I set my mind to something.

woman lifting heavy weights in a gym

While I realize that CrossFit may not be a good fit for everyone, I still believe it’s important to find that thing in your life that can fill the void people so often face in recovery. It may take awhile to determine exactly what that looks like for you personally, but once you find it, you will know.