I never expected to live to see 30.

I’m not the only recovering addict to have had that melodramatic thought, and I’m not the only recovering addict to have neglected his health as a consequence. And then one day—if you’re lucky—you’re over 30, and you’re sober, and you have a body you need to take care of.

Neglect Was Normal, and Recovery Brought Imbalance

For years, while I was using, I paid no attention to my physical well-being. My vanity meant I cared about my looks, but the drugs I was using kept me thin. That was good enough.

When I got sober, I ate. And ate. I craved sugar fiercely, a common enough experience for folks recovering from alcohol or opioid addiction. I gained weight and got cavities. I was clean from drugs, but my body was a dumping ground. I ate my feelings, and my health that had been previously compromised by drugs was now compromised by weight gain. I still was not paying attention to my physical health in recovery.

At my sponsor’s suggestion, I took up running. Like many people with addictive personalities, I took to it like a fish to water. Within a few years, I was running marathons and ultramarathons. I had switched one addiction for another—until injuries began to take their toll.

Repairing the Damage We Did

The bottom line is that few of us come to sobriety having treated our bodies well. Worse, in early sobriety we are often so focused on getting our thinking straightened out that we’re left with little time to focus on physical health in recovery. Yet as everyone knows, physical and mental health are linked. If we want to have sustained recovery, we need to be good to our bodies too.

Yes, this means paying attention to diet. It means exercise and seeing the doctor. I bet you knew that before you read this. It means something else, though; something both more basic and more important.

Minding Your Physical Health In Recovery Is Planning for the Future

Taking care of your body every day, however imperfectly, is a way of reminding yourself that you’re planning to stick around. No one can guarantee a long life, but we vastly increase our chances of a long, healthy, happy life if we take care of our bodies now. As addicts caught up in addictions, we rarely thought long-term. We expected to die young—or, just as often, we didn’t think about the future at all.

When you watch what you eat, or you exercise, or you make that doctor’s appointment, what you’re really saying is, “I’m worthy of sticking around.” One day at a time, putting that belief into practice can lead to the fulfilling, longer, higher-quality life that you deserve.