Most people are aware of a state of mind called a “runner’s high” that follows strenuous cardiovascular exercise. Despite its name, the so-called runner’s high can be induced by any sustained cardiovascular activity, not merely just running. It is the result of the body releasing natural substances that fight pain in response to stress. These natural substances naturally activate the body’s internal opioid receptors. The result for the runner is a feeling of calm, happiness, euphoria and a general sense of well-being following the exercise activity, and lasting much of the day afterward.
In order to achieve a runner’s high, especially for those who are new to cardiovascular exercise, is to speed up when you feel like slowing down. For me, it takes around 3-4 miles of running at a decent pace before it can even begin. When I start to get really tired and my body is telling me to stop, that is exactly when I need to start running even harder. And at the point when my body’s signals to my consciousness get almost overwhelming, that’s when it kicks in. A wave of relief washes over my body, and I’m enveloped in a second wind. This is what it feels like when the runner’s high kicks in. The entire run afterward feels like a breeze, as I am free from aches, pains and soreness.
Recovery is a lot like trying to achieve a runner’s high. In order to achieve it, you have to power through the most difficult early parts. You have to speed up when you feel like slowing down. You have to hold on when you feel like letting go. In those first three or four miles, if you listened to your body telling you to slow down because it’s tired, you wouldn’t be able to experience a runner’s high. Similarly, in those first few tumultuous months of recovery, your addicted brain will tell you to stop chasing recovery so aggressively. It will tell you to stop going to so many meetings. It will tell you to stop calling your sponsor, and it will tell you that you’re working too hard. If you want to experience recovery, you must disregard these signals from your addicted brain telling you to slow down, and respond instead by chasing recovery even harder.
Speed up when you feel like slowing down
I call this concept “doubling down on recovery.” They say you should chase your recovery as hard as you chased your addiction. Why stop there? You can put twice as much effort into your recovery as you did your addiction. This is not as difficult as it sounds. As recovering addicts and alcoholics, returning to active drug and alcohol usage is the most natural, and thus the easiest, course of action we know. Going to recovery meetings, making our appointments with drug and alcohol counselors, calling our sponsors, and being honest all the time feels unnatural to us. It takes serious effort to step out of our comfort zones and participate in our recovery. In early recovery, going to one meeting a day may feel twice as difficult as getting drunk or high multiple times in one day. If we call a sponsor or trusted friend and go to a meeting each day, ask for help, and get involved in our local sober communities, we are already putting more effort into our recovery than we did into our addictions.
Much like a runner’s high, the extra effort pays off in the end. A runner’s high lasts the rest of the day, and the runner experiences a natural, healthy reward as payoff for their effort. Recovery, when properly implemented, lasts far longer. It can last the rest of your life. And it too yields natural and healthy rewards: a sense of calm and well-being that results from honesty, integrity and adopting a healthy lifestyle. When you feel like slowing down in your recovery, remember that it’s time to speed up.