Bodybuilding can be viewed in many lights—As an art form, a hobby, a sport, some even make this endeavor a career. Bodybuilding can also be a therapeutic tool of recovery for those that suffer from the afflictions of alcoholism and addiction. From the US’s ever-expanding Prison-Industrial complex, where those incarcerated find a positive recreational activity to relieve some of the suffering to be found behind the grey walls; to the recovering addict who harnesses the same obsessive-compulsive mentality and applies it to transforming their physique. While negative adjectives are thrown at this subculture, it also saves lives via the positive impacts stemming from the Addiction of Bodybuilding.
My own experience is no different from many others. Upon reflection I can say that bodybuilding has been the single most positive influence of my life. At age 15, I was starting to feel the harrowing pain of depression. My middle-school gym teacher murdered my childhood friend, her family, as well as taking his own life. In a small island village everyone was affected, and the year did not get much better after the tragedy happened. Later that year I found myself in interior Alaska, the first person I became acquainted with and friends, took his own life. Later I learned from my social studies teacher he managed to squeeze his big toe on a Remington Police Model 870 shotgun. These tribulations and many others had me searching for an outlook, something to turn my attention to that could help my emotional suffering. Later that summer, I purchased my first plastic weight set from the Walmart Overlords, and began my life-long progression. I slowly increased the weight on my plastic weight set each week, as I felt a new found sense of self-confidence. I spent less time pondering on the dreary aspects of death, and more time flexing my bicep in front of the bathroom mirror.
Over the years, I remained adamant in my goals in developing a herculean physique, even though at times I succumbed to addiction myself. There was this one thing that always kept me from straying too far off the path and that was my dedication to the iron game. Without bodybuilding I would have found myself in a much sorrier state at many times, I will always be grateful to this art.
At the local gym I train clients at, we have a unique program that I am unaware of takes place at the other chain gym facilities. Residents of the Salvation Army (most in a recovery program) can work out at our gym for a price so cheap, even the homeless can afford it. In my short duration in this town, I’ve already seen men transform their lives and physiques in the process, graduating from their recovery programs and eventually becoming functioning members of society once again. One of the common themes that these iron enthusiasts share as they acknowledge the importance that weight-lifting played in their recovery. Not just a recreational activity to vent steam from the crushing weight of modern existence, it becomes a new ‘addiction’, a positive one of constant progression.
A widely circulated study came out recently that made scientists reanalyze the causes and pathways of addiction. In a previous study a rat had been left alone in a cage, with a water bottle laced with heroin and cocaine. The rat would gourmandize the drug-laced water until it eventually died. In the new study rats were placed together with each other, with fun rodent accruements such as colorful balls, tunnels to scurry around and plenty of friends. The rats had the choice of either drug-laced water, or normal non-narcotic water. In the stunning revelation, the happy rodents overwhelmingly chose the normal water, nary few choosing to reward the addiction pathway. The conclusion was that the rats now experiencing a rich environment with exercise and social contact did not feel a need to ingest drugs. Humans are social creatures as well, and a social setting such as a gym where friendships can be forged and invigorating exercise takes place, well leave many less wanting to pursue drugs.
It is a well-known statistic that the United Snakes incarcerates more lives than in any country in the history of mankind, and it’s not even close. In the past decade there has been a major push to eliminate weight-lifting equipment from many of these facilities, as administrative officials view the heavy slabs of iron as weapons. Certainly, weight lifting equipment can be used as weapons and in the Lucasville Prison Riot of 1993, a few prisoners lost their lives as a standard Olympic barbell was placed on their larynx with the weight of an adversary crushing them to death. However, there are many ways to kill a nemesis and the elimination of exercise equipment has negative repercussions, with increased prison violence. Overwhelmingly prisoners choose not to use weights in this fashion, fearing that one of their few recreational activities get taken away. It is apparent to many administrative officials that weight lifting serves a positive outlook for those incarcerated, as inmates finds ways to combat a highly stressful environment. In many of their lives, bodybuilding plays a role in recovery as well.
Life experiences and first-hand observation are more invaluable than any scientifically validated research. However, perhaps it is time for psychologists and therapists to pay a closer look to the role the ‘iron game’ plays in aiding people in recovery. In the current socio-political climate people are working more hours for less, and finding less sociable activities as well. Not surprisingly, just like our rodent companions, more are turning to dangerous mind-altering substances. We can use the gym as a tool to better the lives of ourselves and others, if we only have the patience to sacrifice the short-term rewards of euphoria induced by substances for the long-term reward of being healthy and looking damn good.