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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.

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Staying sober by cycling? Riding a bike helped Liv in recovery.

When I arrived into recovery, my body was ravaged by substance use and 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 program. There was no emphasis on looking after my physical health.

Skip forward a bit. At three years sober, I was not as tired, but I still felt terrible. In time, I began looking at improving my health, and I started with exercise. My self-esteem grew enough 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 told me when I was drinking and using that I would one day be riding a bike as my main mode of transport and cycling more than 50 miles a week, I would’ve laughed at you. Yet, there I was—sober for years and absolutely loving cycling.

Taking my first steps toward fitness

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 to 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. After work, I’d get off the bus 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 one 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, but I fought my instinct to run. 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.

The leap into cycling

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.

Benefits of cycling

I still cycle today, at 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.

Olivia Pennelle (Liv) has a masters in clinical social work from Portland State University. She is a mental health therapist, writer, and human activist. Her writing has appeared in STAT News, Insider, Filter Magazine, Ravishly, The Temper, and Shondaland. She is the founder of Liv’s Recovery Kitchen, Life After 12-Step Recovery, and Tera Collaborations. She lives near Portland, Oregon. Follow her on Instagram @Livwritesrecovery and @teracollaborations

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