The hallmark of progress towards recovery from a drug or alcohol addiction? Continual improvement in health and wellness, says the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. When a patient has a strong, healthy mind and body, drug cravings fade and the urge to use drugs or alcohol to get that feel good response are weakened.
That’s exactly what personal trainer Paul Norris is doing at Recovery Centers of America at Bracebridge Hall every single day as part of the Wellness Program.
“Addiction is in my family. People don’t choose to be addicted – it’s a disease,” Norris says.
Norris helps patients make healthy choices that support both their physical and emotional well-being, starting with establishing a rapport.
“It’s not just about working out or getting strong. Patients have open gym time, and the sense of community that develops is amazing. Everyone decides what they want to do, but the option to have one-on-one time with me is always there,” says Norris. “A lot of topics come up in group and individual sessions. People open up.”
At the end of the workout, everyone comes together at The Wall – a wall peppered with all kinds of words, such as will, motivation, strength, power, etc. Norris asks everyone to pick a word and stand underneath it.
Then everyone talks about why they chose that specific word for the day. For example: “I chose the word ‘will,’ because I need the will to do this, to get on the road to recovery.”
“Everyone rallies around each other,” Norris says. “It’s all about coming together. It’s not just about how they can help themselves but also help others. They’re pushing each other. Then we go and drink smoothies and just talk. The peer support is incredible.”
Another part of the wellness program: weekly wellness seminars. Broken up in gender-separated groups, patients learn about nutrition, what to eat, how often to eat, what food can help them deal with cravings and emotions, and how food can increase brain capacity.
“This is how we get better,” Norris says. “I ask patients what a car needs to function: Fuel. The same goes for your body. We have to give your body the proper fuel for it to function as its best, so you can fight this.
“I ask a lot of patients to think hard about the last time they felt good about themselves. Everyone says it was before they started doing drugs or drinking. The better your nutrition and fitness, the better you’ll feel about yourself. The better you feel about yourself, the less likely you will do things to hurt yourself, like drugs or alcohol. This is a healthy distraction, a new goal.”
It’s all about identifying self-imposed limitations and pushing back on that voice that tells patients they have to use drugs or drink alcohol.
“When someone tells me they can’t do something, like ten push-ups, I ask – how do you know? Why are you putting self-limitations on yourself? I get them in the right mindset to break down those barriers telling them they can’t do something,” Norris says. “And then when they do it, I remind them they once thought they couldn’t, but just did.”
There’s plenty to keep patients focused on their recovery through healthy distractions, like the golf simulator.
The rules are simple: If a patient wants to use the golf simulator, they have to complete their core requirements and pay Bracebridge Hall’s version of a greens fee. The greens fee is something the patient is thinking about or struggling with, that he or she shares before swinging the club. Because the patient is relaxed and comfortable, he or she feels confident talking about deeper subjects, like trauma or previous experiences that caused them to start using or drinking.
“Patients come to BBH with more than addiction. Often, there’s something else going on. As a team, we try to find out what that is, how we can treat it, and get the person on the road to recovery,” says Norris.