Do you think walking is useless? Not a calorie burning exercise and a slow way to get around? I didn’t learn about the benefits of walking until my first year of sobriety.
The first year of my sobriety was like restoring electricity to a house that had regularly been hit by hurricanes for sixteen years. Overwhelmed by the wreckage, I didn’t know where to begin. AA recommends you find a sponsor to guide you through this process. Fortunate to be immediately introduced to a woman I deemed appropriate, she told me to call her every day to check in. That sounded ridiculous initially, but I ended up calling her 3-4x a day because I had the coping mechanisms of a thirteen-year-old.
Most of my problems were fictional, stories I made up and played on a loop in my head. My thinking was obsessively cynical, portraying me as the victim in all scenarios. I complained to my sponsor incessantly. Two months into working together, she interrupted one of my monologues, “Since you have already been to an AA meeting today, why don’t you go for a walk around the block? Or if you have time, go for a walk in the park. Move a muscle, change a thought.” The simplicity of her suggestion annoyed me.
At that time in my life, exercise was a punitive measure after an evening of binge eating cupcakes. After I quit running due to injury, I would spend hours counting calories on an elliptical trainer at my neighborhood gym. Aimlessly walking around was a waste of time and how the hell would that solve any of my problems?
I took her advice because she had been spot-on about everything else so far. I got off the sofa, where I had been sprawled out stewing, put on some sneakers and a jacket, and walked out of my apartment. I had never walked without an end goal in mind. Something shifted as I walked around, listening to Van Morrison and looking at passing people and clouds. The thought bubbles I was stuck in burst and started flowing. I felt lighter, all my problems more manageable in this mindset.
Walking became my primary mode of transportation around New York. I walked home after work most days, sixty blocks from the Meatpacking District to the UES. On weekends, I walked around the park. Aside from AA meetings, it was the only time I could escape my mental tenants, Fear, and Anxiety. Occasionally, when I was focusing on the scenery around me, another voice would speak up. “All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking.” Friedrich Nietzsche This voice was softer and didn’t ramble on. It came from a deeper place, below my regular chatter. All my best thoughts pop up out of nowhere and come from this voice.
I still walk everywhere, in silence or with music or podcast or audible book playing. The combination of walking and replacing my thinking with better thinking works wonders. The problem du jour goes away in minutes. Taking in new information has been the most effective method of influencing my patterning. Move a muscle, change a thought.