Early Morning Hikes Fortify Your Rehab/Recovery Experience…

Sober walk on Reeds Lake at sunrise

Sunrise on Grand Rapids’ Reeds Lake

 

I have started a walking group at Sanford House at Cherry Street. Two mornings each week, rain or shine, I turn up at the treatment center early for “Walks With Mare”. I lead (sometimes follow) a group of women for a four mile hike around the city. We are starting a similar walk for men at our John Street location, because rising early and getting the blood pumping is good for recovery.

 

Why in the world shouldn’t we all just sleep in?

The residential clients at Sanford House are very busy. Programming begins at 9 AM. It finishes with candle-lit “gratitudes” at 9 PM. Lights out at 11. All that introspection is exhausting. There is a lot of sitting in groups, plumbing the root causes of addiction. Or sitting in individual therapy sessions and family get-togethers. Evening finds them sitting in 12-step meetings – all important aspects of our schedule. And although our evidence-based programming is interspersed with wellness activities like yoga, acupuncture and robust Excursions, there is dawn to consider…

 

For folks like me, who get up early naturally, there is downtime in the morning that needs filling with more than coffee. All work and no fun makes for a dull treatment experience. And that’s the point of a brisk morning walk – fun.  Because there is nothing wrong with having fun in treatment. We are clearing our heads with fresh air and the challenge of trekking up some of Greater Grand Rapids’ biggest hills.

 

We rarely talk about addiction on our walks. It feels more like a group of friends. And for those who have lost friends and family to their addiction, it is an opportunity to rekindle the social aspects of life in a non-threatening environment.

 

That is not to say we’re not working on our recovery…

Remember the seven dwarfs, whistling while they worked? It’s like that. When a group of women walk for an hour and a half, they talk.  We talk about family, children, work and the price vs. the value of Lulu Lemon workout clothes (to name a few topics)…

 

 

Founder David Green says, “Rigorous exercise is the cornerstone of our treatment programs. A walk in nature with a kindred group provides entertainment and aerobic challenges. But it also encourages conversation and sharing, especially for those who find communication difficult, in a nonthreatening environment.”

And talking with friends on a challenging morning walk helps in early recovery and beyond…

  • I’ll say it again – the path narrows during active addiction. We lose friends, family relationships and interests. A group walk exercises rusty social skills as well as the hamstrings
  • And walking with friends is something everyone can do when they get home – fortifying the recovery experience
  • When you are huffing and puffing up 137 stairs, you don’t think about anything else – practical application of one day/one step at a time

 

sober hikers on big staircase

Stairway to Heaven – the challenge on Walks With Mare…

 

  • But everyone challenges themselves at their own level. You don’t HAVE to do the stairs…
  • In general, anything that is good for your heart is good for your brain. Aerobic exercise improves brain function
  • Exercise also stimulates the growth of new connections between cells in the brain. Recent research from UCLA showed that exercise actually makes it easier for “the brain to grow new neuronal connections” – key to changing negative behavior.
  • And speaking of stimulation – the beauty of a sunrise over the lake, or the solitude of a pre-rush-hour downtown Grand Rapids is good for the soul
  • Quiet time is necessary in order to process all of the material discussed in groups
  • And laughter – we laugh a lot on our walks
  • Hiking is a good progress marker of the benefits of recovery and a reminder of how good it feels to feel good
  • Those who walk in the morning are ready for their day when they return. Maybe even a little overly zealous to those who decided to sleep in…

 

There is no “right way” to go for a long walk…

As the leader of these walks, I can’t help but notice that group treks also allow and encourage individuality. Some folks choose to walk with the group and chat. Others might want to challenge themselves by jogging ahead. Still others ask to be left alone and walk by themselves to work out a problem or just experience the quiet. There is no “right” way to go for a long walk.

 

sunrise over bridge on sober walk

The things we see…

 

Other than to hydrate, eat a little something beforehand and look both ways before you cross the street…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Author, Marilyn Spiller is a writer, speaker, sober coach and recovery advocate with a 20-year history of international hobnobbing and outrageous over-drinking. Four years sober, she writes a popular blog called Waking Up the Ghost, where she pens a humorous account of her wobbly steps toward long-term recovery. Marilyn is the Director of Marketing for Sanford House. She is responsible for all Sanford House publications and serves as Editor-In-Chief for the Sanford House online magazine, Excursions.