Don’t Call My Exercise Discipline an “Addiction” -Jay Keefe

 Don’t Call My Exercise Discipline an “Addiction” -Jay Keefe

“It’s good that you have an exercise addiction.” A woman recently said to me.

I was immediately caught off guard (and a little offended).

The definition of “addiction” is “a brain disorder characterized by compulsive engagement in rewarding stimuli despite adverse consequences.”

I stole quarters out of a friend’s Jeep to buy a half pint of Tequila.  I was making over $100,000 a year, but I was broke.

I drove my sister’s three kids, my stepson, my brother and my two dogs home from an arcade completely blacked out.  The next morning I asked my brother if he drove home.  He looked at me and said, “No. You did.”

I woke up in a thorn bush outside a Boston University dorm with cuts and scratches all over my exposed skin.  Brief glimpses of trying to find my truck the night before and being thrown out of a building vestibule by two burly college kids flashed through my head.

I was in my early 30’s.

I lost a snowboard in Vermont.  I lost a rental car in Delray Beach.  I lost my nephew in New Hampshire.

I also lost several friends, my marriage and my sanity when I was drinking.

When I start drinking, the compulsion to drink is so strong that I’ll do anything for another one.

I got into exercise for the same reason everyone else does-I wanted to lose weight.

And I did.

But exercise became so much more to me than that.

I felt better.  I felt fresh, whole, energized.

Every time I’ve been to a 12-step meeting for my alcoholism, I’ve felt better.  It was my spiritual medicine for the day.  I feel the same way when I exercise.  If I’m feeling groggy, irritable, angry or just plain “off”, I always feel better when I’m done.

My head is clear, my body is warmed up, my concentration is better, my sex drive is higher, and I’m serene, calm and content.

Am I compulsive about exercising?


I exercise for one hour a day, six days a week.  That’s 4% of my day.

When I was drinking, I’d wake up, try to figure out where I was, made sure I didn’t kill anyone the night before, and then I’d start thinking about drinking again, or at least about how I could sneak a shot or a quick beer to get rid of the insidious hangover coursing through my body.

Then I’d go to my job, get my work assignments, hop in my truck (usually half drunk) and drive around Boston for the next four or five hours, fixing phones in customers homes.  If they offered me a drink I’d take it.  I worked the 12-8 pm shift so I was always finishing up my day around “Happy Hour”.  But I’d always stop at two because I didn’t want them to think I had a problem.

I’d finish for the day, park the truck close to the last customer’s house, and then walk to the closest bar.  I’d order a shot of Patron and an Amstel light and hang out for the next hour or so, before I’d have to return the truck in South Boston.

But I’d stop at a liquor store on the way back in, grab four nips of Cuervo and two Coors Light, and drink them on the 8 mile commute home.

Do you see where I’m going with this?

Then I’d get home, put my pups in the car, swing by another liquor store, get four more nips, two more beers and proceed to get obliterated as I sat on the high school bleachers and threw the ball to my dogs.

And I’d do the same thing the next day.

That lifestyle continued for the last two years of my drinking.

Towards the end I wasn’t even getting drunk anymore.  I simply needed to drink to feel normal.  Like I said, that compulsive behavior destroyed my life.

I was a walking zombie, completely lost and dead inside. All I cared about (all I obsessed about) was drinking.  It didn’t matter what I had to do, where I had to go, or who I was going to hurt in the process; I was going to do anything I needed to get another drink.

I do not obsess about exercise.

Am I disciplined about it?

You bet your ass I am.

Why wouldn’t I be?

It makes me feel amazing, without the  “adverse consequences”.  But I don’t obsess over it.  When I’m done exercising for the day, I’m done.

Sometimes I go a few days without exercising.  I take a rest week (or two) after I’m done with a certain program.  I’ll go a few days without working out if I’m on vacation.

Does that seem like an “addiction” to you?

Do you know what I don’t do when I exercise?

I don’t steal quarters when I exercise.  I don’t recklessly drive my family around in a blacked out state.  I don’t pass out in random doorways.

I don’t destroy relationships or lose my sanity either.

I get a little piece of mind while I’m exercising.

I don’t think about a thing when I’m working out.  I don’t think about whatever luxury problems I’m having, what’s going on in the world, or where my next drink is coming from.  I don’t think about anything at all. It’s my version of active meditation.

So if improving my mental health, reducing risk of cardiovascular disease and living longer (to name just a few) are “adverse consequences”, then sign me the fuck up.

Jay Keefe, Staff Writer and Director of Happiness at The Addictions Academy

National Academy of Sports Medicine Certified Personal Trainer

Published Author of “And Drink I Did”

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