It Hurts So Good

It Hurts So Good Jenn R I woke up and groaned—every muscle in my body ached—and I wondered how I would move across my small apartment to the fridge. Still, it was the best I had felt in a long, long time. The train wreck feeling was well earned and came as a result of an invigorating, adrenaline-pumping workout the day before with a group of recovery friends at BoxUnion in Santa Monica. For 45 minutes, an energetic, and unbelievably fit, man led us through ducking and rolling, combination punches, and a ton of ab work—the pace was unrelenting. In the background, dance music thumped, lending some rhythm to our awkward movements. We laughed, we begged for mercy, we moaned, and not one of us left without a huge, satisfied grin on our faces. The next day we texted each other, comparing sore muscle groups and complaining about how sitting to pee was painful. We were also making plans to do it again. It wasn’t so long ago when waking up feeling like a train wreck was a daily ritual. My head pounded, my stomach lurched, and I couldn’t figure out how to put two feet on the floor and get out of bed…every day. Then the dread and the anxiety would hit—I couldn’t remember what had happened the day before, but I knew it wasn’t usually good. For me, recovery has been much more than putting down my substance. It has been a journey to find myself again, to reawaken my mind, body, and soul. And I cannot put too fine a point on how important activity has been in this, the more physical the better. After feeling dead inside for so many years, I love feeling alive. And I’m not wrong on this—there is a lot of science to back up the role physical activity plays in recovery. Here are just a few things exercise accomplishes:
  • reduces stress and anxiety
  • releases endorphins—the same ones that are released when we get high
  • leads to better sleep patterns
  • it’s great for anger release
  • builds self-confidence
  • it’s a form of meditation
I’m not going to lie—the motivation to get out there is tough at first. Sometimes, just getting through the day sober seemed like enough of a battle. And it often was, in the beginning. But as soon as I started walking, going to yoga with some friends at the Riviera Recovery sober house, playing softball on the Riviera team, my recovery seemed to go into warp speed. I laughed more, my anxiety disappeared, and I would go days without even thinking of a drink. Today, I jump at every chance to move, to feel alive. So, when Jose texts and says, “Hey, do you want to go boxing?” I don’t even hesitate to say, “Yes!” I know I’m not going to be able to move after, but I also know that I’m going to have a great time with friends, that I’ll sleep well that night, that my body will benefit, and that I’m that much farther from a drink. And now I just got a text from another friend asking if I want to go skydiving next weekend. I think you know my answer.

Making the Decision to Choose Riviera Recovery


Humiliation, shame, defeat, anger, disgust, disbelief and an ounce of relief were just some of the things I felt when I woke up for the second time in a detox unit run by my former rehab facility. On the one hand, I couldn’t believe I drank myself back there. On the other, some part of me knew that this was exactly where I needed to be. Resigned, I got out of bed and started the familiar routines of detox life, the quiet rhythm of shuffling between therapists, acupuncturists, group meetings, the smoking area and back to bed again. Each day, my clarity increased and the seemingly surreal grew more real by the minute. Without the aid of a drink, I had to face the terrifying realization that I had no future—I lost my career, I lost my boyfriend, I lost my friends, I lost my family and, worst of all, I lost me somewhere along the way. Sure, I still had my house, I had money in the bank, I had a car; but these were poor substitutes for all I had lost. On the third day, I talked to another client about his discharge plans. Normally, after detox, clients go into a rehab facility, find sober living or go back home—I had already attempted two of the options before (rehab and home), and clearly failed. I had dismissed sober living before because I had a perfectly fine house, where I lived with my dogs, and the sober living facilities I had seen over the past five years in Connecticut were depressing places, small places, places where drama was as abundant as relapse. Yet, I knew I couldn’t go back home—I would just be inviting the cycle of isolating and drinking back in. Then this client said something that piqued my interest: He was researching sober living in southern California. As he showed me the websites for some of these facilities, I realized that this was an entirely different recovery ballgame. Sure, these places were beautifully appointed and wonderfully situated by the Pacific Ocean, but what whispered to me was the unparalleled recovery community they provided. These sites spoke of 3,500 recovery meetings to choose from in the greater Los Angeles area EACH WEEK. They described community events like surfing, softball and camping. They encouraged participation in recovery programs, in yoga, in gyms. And that’s when it struck me, perhaps this is what I needed all along—a community that bridged the gap between recovery and the “real world;” a safe place to regain myself; a place that would hold me accountable, and encourage me to get out and restart my life. Excited by this prospect, I tasked the guy in charge of after care to find me a place on the West Coast that offered all of the community and programming I needed and, most importantly, allowed dogs. The next day he came running into the detox unit wielding a printout, thoroughly pleased with himself. “I found the perfect place for you and your dogs,” he said. “It’s in Malibu and it’s called Riviera Recovery.” A week later, I climbed into my car, two mutts in the back seat, and headed west. As I write this, almost five months later, I am sitting in a little guesthouse I am renting in Topanga, having moved out of Riviera a week ago. I’m heading back over to the house tonight for dinner and the weekly in-house AA meeting and I’m looking forward to catching up with friends. As I look back on my stay at Riviera, I am certain of one thing: It was, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the right choice for me.