Book Review: The Recovering Body

download (3)Jennifer Matesa’s The Recovering Body: Physical and Spiritual Fitness for Living Clean and Sober seeks to provide “a roadmap to creating our own unique approach to physical recovery” and frames “physical fitness as a living amends to self–a transformative gift analogous to the “spiritual fitness” practices worked on in recovery.”

She focuses on five areas, blending her own experiences, other recovering people, empirical research and practical to-do lists. The five areas are:

  • exercise and activity
  • sleep and rest
  • nutrition and fuel
  • sexuality and pleasure
  • meditation and awareness

I see two reasons this book is an important contribution to recovery literature.

First, it’s the first book I’ve seen (not that I’m well read in the area) that places such emphasis on physical wellness and self-care as an important element of recovery within traditional 12 step recovery paths. I’ve seen it addressed as an aside, and I’ve seen it offered as an alternative path, but not as an important element within traditional recovery paths.

As researchers and clinicians search for every tool to give addicts any possible edge as they initiate and maintain their recovery, we’d be wise to take notice. There is a growing body of evidence to support Matesa’s assertions that these are important elements of recovery rather than frivolous and indulgent accessories to treatment and recovery programs.

Second, I am convinced that the future of treatment and recovery programs (All chronic disease management programs, really.) should emphasize a lifestyle medicine as the foundation of care. After all, “recovery as a lifestyle” epitomizes one of the things addiction treatment has gotten really right historically and something the rest of chronic disease care could learn from us.

Despite this, professionally directed treatment that discusses the idea of the “recovery of the whole person” has mostly been lip service. Matesa brings this concept to life and presents holistic recovery as a lifestyle to be cultivated, practiced and maintained. On this front, she’s far ahead of professionals and researchers. The field is not there yet and too often equates recovery with swallowing pills or passively doing what professional helpers direct them to do. Matesa bypasses professionals and speaks directly to recovering people as a peer, calling them to action and offering experiential and empirical truth. That’s radical, in the best sense of the word.

Her writing is very accessible, is not preachy, and unpretentiously conveyed a lot of deep truths that I hadn’t considered but seemed self-evident as soon as I read them.

On a personal note, as someone who only started paying attention to physical fitness after 20 years of sobriety, the book takes a lot of previously disparate pieces of information that I vaguely knew to be true and organizes them into framework that not only deepened my understanding, but offered a concrete path to continue enhancing and securing my own recovery. I highly recommend it.

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