I’ve mentioned my love of climbing quite often in this blog, but I’ve never really gotten around to writing anything specifically about climbing and, more importantly for this here blog, the specific benefits of climbing for a recovering alcoholic.
Just to give a bit of background about my own experience – I’ve been dry for about 2 years, and climbing for about 2.5 years, so I started climbing a few months before I quit drinking. I started with a little taster session at Huddersfield Climbing Centre, back when I lived up north, which turned into weekly sessions with a climber I know called Luke. Then, when I moved to Milton Keynes, I ended up – by total chance – living around the corner from Big Rock Climbing Centre. It’s a place I love spending time, and it’s been somewhere that new friendships have been formed, and old friendships have been strengthened. I visit Big Rock 2 or 3 times a week, and I try to get out for some proper outdoor climbing whenever I can. The benefits I get from climbing go beyond physical well-being. Honestly, my journey through booze recovery would have been much harder had I not had the climbing centre available to me as a place of reflection, respite, focus, and shit-your-pants scary moments.
I know everyone likes big fuck-off lists these days, so here’s a big fuck-off list of the reasons you should consider climbing your way through recovery:
- Fitness. Let’s get the obvious ones out of the way first eh? Different climbing routes and styles mean that there’s a huge range of physical benefits to be gained. Firing up long sports routes will get your heart pumping and give you a dose of cardio, bouldering (low level climbing with no ropes) will build strength. You’ll also get in to some Yoga-like stretches and balances up on the wall if you’re going to reach that next hold mate. All this, mixed with the removal of alcohol calories, means that you will lose the wobbly bits whilst bulking up the firm bits.
- The buzz. Drinkers are said to be in constant pursuit of the buzz. When the buzz from drinking gets more elusive, we drink more and more to chase it. Eventually we wake up in a bin behind Greggs with no trousers on and we realise (hopefully) that we’ve got a problem. The alcoholic buzz isn’t even real though, it’s just a skewed perception of reality caused by the poison in your bloodstream. Climbing is the real thing mate. There’s no buzz like slipping off the top of a wall at 40ft only to be saved by a bit of rope, or the buzz you’ll feel when you get to the top of that route that you’ve been battling with for weeks. It feels dangerous and exciting, and actually it is a little bit dangerous but all the best things are. For example: wasps. Hang on, I haven’t thought this through.
- Social. Man, climbing is the best place ever to spend time with your friends and your loved ones. I go climbing regularly with my mates, with my fiancee, my colleagues, even with my little nephews whenever I get a chance. If you’re belaying (holding the rope) for each other then you need to learn to communicate well and be able to support and encourage each other, but more importantly you need to learn trust. Every time I fall off the wall, my life (or at least the structural integrity of my legs) is in the hands of the person on the other end of the rope. I want to feel safe when I climb, and I want them to feel safe when they climb, and this trust is an amazing basis for building solid friendships and relationships. Gavin still hasn’t paid you back that fiver? Wait until he hits 30ft then drop the fucker. Jokes bruv. For the recovering alcoholic, when you’ve run out of Game Of Thrones and there’s nothing but old episodes of Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares USA on the telly (shite compared to the British ones) then somewhere to socialise that isn’t a pub is a godsend.
- Distraction and focus. Quitting drinking can be a horrible, drawn-out affair. Trying to change habits, whilst slowly fixing the mess you’ve left in your wake – whether it’s soured relationships, or job under-performance, or even more serious stuff involving the cops – can feel like a constant battle. Give yourself a break from all that worry. Ask any climber and they’ll tell you that when you’re up on that wall, clinging on for dear life whilst plotting your next move, nothing else matters. In that moment all that exists in the world is you and the wall, and your worries will take a back seat. Try it dude.
- Improved confidence. Years of booze abuse can leave your confidence somewhat battered and bruised, and nothing can help you get this confidence back quite like witnessing your own transformation as you crack the routes you used to struggle with, and start moving on to harder and harder climbs – all whilst meeting new people and getting fitter.
- Fun. Climbing is hardcore motherfucking fun. Never a dull moment when you’re hooning about up a wall with your mates. Our local centre even blasts cool music; 90’s hits, drum n bass, punk, banging techno. Who needs vodka when you have ropes and bags of chalk anyway? Exactly.
As an aside to this, there’s also been a LOT written about the benefits of climbing for improved mental health. For example: https://www.ukclimbing.com/articles/page.php?id=7264
I’m totally aware that climbing isn’t for everyone, but I’d recommend that anyone struggling with recovery at least gives it a go. Scared of heights? join the club mate – I was terrified until I started climbing but that just kind of goes away. It’s another benefit to this awesome, social sport. LOOK FEAR IN EYE.
I was going to end on a wordplay, something about climbing an overhang with a hangover, but I couldn’t really make it work. Come up with your own you lazy bastard.
Stay strong brothers and sisters!