How Cycling Helped My Recovery Journey

When I arrived into recovery, my body was ravaged by addiction. I spent the first 18 months exhausted. I was 150 pounds overweight and I felt terrible most of the time. Nobody told me about the importance of a holistic recovery. There was no emphasis on looking after my physical health. Skip forward a year, at three years sober, while not as tired, I still felt terrible.In time, I began looking at improving my health and I started with exercise. What happened was that my self-esteem grew enough so that I was able to value my body and make some changes. Slowly but surely my focus changed. Before I knew it, I was eating well and getting enough exercise. If you’d have said to me that I would be riding a bike as my main mode of transport and that I'd be cycling more than 50 miles a week, I would’ve laughed at you. Yet, there I was, just over three years sober and absolutely loving cycling.

Getting help started with one-on-one help from a nutrition coach. She advised me to immediately get active. Her first recommendation was to try and incorporate daily walks into my routine, starting with 10,000 steps a day. It sounded daunting, but I was able to do this by walking to work, and taking a stroll during my lunch break. I’d get off the bus on a few stops early and walk the rest of the way home. Before I knew it, I was clocking 10,000 steps a day. It felt great. I started to sleep better and I felt less tired.

During a lunchtime walk in the park I noticed the bike shop across the road. A few minutes later, I found myself inside the bike shop! I wasn’t entirely sure how I got there. Yet, I fought my instinct to run and I began by asking for help. For a long time, I told myself that because of my size I wouldn’t be able to do so many things; cycling, running, spinning, martial arts, yoga. You name it, I had a reason why my size got in the way.

For a long time, I told myself that because of my size I wouldn’t be able to do so many things; cycling, running, spinning, martial arts, yoga. You name it, I had a reason why my size got in the way.

My recovery has been a series of asking can you help me, please? I did exactly that in the bike shop. They walked me through everything I would need to set up on a bike safely, and measured me for the best fitting bike based on my requirements. Before I left the shop, I had ordered a bike. I surprised myself! As I walked back to work,  I was so happy that I felt like I was floating.

When I picked up my new bike, I had to ask for help again—I hadn’t ridden a bike since I was a teenager! Armed with a few tips and tricks, off I went—I cycled a cool 2.5 miles home. I felt on fire with excitement and inspiration. My self-esteem soared.

I still cycle today, nearly five years sober. In fact, buying a bike was one of the first things I did when I moved to Portland! It’s been invaluable to my recovery:  not only have I gained a new sense of independence, but I’ve learned new skills and increased my self-confidence. I mastered two cycle maintenance courses, a road safety course and cycle coaching. Physically and mentally I am so much healthier, and my energy levels have skyrocketed.

But most of all, cycling gives me a sense of serenity. I can’t describe just how peaceful and meditative cycling feels. It gives me breathing space, I feel connected and lightened somehow—just what I was seeking in wine and drugs, but this time, it’s real.

It gives me breathing space, I feel connected and lightened somehow—just what I was seeking in wine and drugs, but this time, it’s real.
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Olivia Pennelle is a writer, blogger, nutrition and recovery advocate, and is in long-term recovery. Liv passionately believes in a fluid and holistic approach to recovery. Her popular site Liv’s Recovery Kitchen is a resource for the journey toward health and wellness in recovery. For Liv, the kitchen represents the heart of the home: to eat, share, and love. You will find Liv featured amongst top recovery bloggers and published on websites such as: The Fix, Sanford House, Winward Way & Casa Capri, Intervene, Workit Health, SaplingAddiction Unscripted and Transformation is Real.