Running Toward Recovery

April is Alcohol Awareness Month, sponsored by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc. (NCADD).

By Karen James, LCSW-C, Manager, Adult Therapy Services

karenjamesSome people say we are trying to fill a hole inside the self with our addictions. That makes sense to me, but what about the hole in the structure of our day-to-day life?   If you’ve deleted the primary focus of every waking (and/or anesthetized) moment, how do you spend your time now? Maybe the better questions are: “What will I fill my life with?” and “How will I do that—with what attitudes and awareness?”

In his popular memoir “The Long Run,” Mishka Shubaly describes replacing his addiction to alcohol with a commitment to long-distance running.  A CNN piece on his book quotes researchers on the helpful role of exercise in treating — and perhaps even preventing — addictions.   Exercise helps with mood, self-esteem, and daily structure.

All good news, yet I was struck by one expert’s comment that there is no potential problem with substituting an exercise obsession for an addiction.  As a therapist, I am aware that most people with addiction issues can relate to almost anything (inanimate or animate) in an addictive way.  It also seems clear that we should not minimize the potential to go too far with any activity, and the need to stay alert to that danger.

With drugs and alcohol, we can easily see “what” is causing a lot of damage, but it is also “how” we use anything that affects its impact on us.  Let’s not downplay the danger of a slippery slope. If we give control of our lives to an activity or a person, we are once again out of control. We need to find the middle ground and fight those familiar urges for “all-or-nothing.”  We do that in recovery by changing what we do and how we do it.  We need to live with more awareness, and not substitute new compulsions for old addictions.

Shubaly seems to have that balanced approach. He sees running as a way he commits to his health and to his new-found desire to live.  He runs toward life.  In our addictions, we have run away from life and even from our selves –running instead toward something that will never fill the holes we feel.  Addicts in recovery need to live completely “clean” lives, clean of substances and rationalizations.  “Coming clean” with ourselves and trying to live with that constant awareness is part of the how.

By Karen James, LCSW-C, Manager, Adult Therapy Services, Jewish Community Services, Baltimore, MD

Jewish Community Services helps those dealing with the challenges of substance use, abuse and addiction through recovery-focused counseling, treatment, referral services, and educational programs.  To learn more, visit

For more information and resources, visit these websites:

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services,
National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence,

To learn more about how JCS can help you solve life’s puzzles please visit our home page or call 410-466-9200.

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