Soccer saved me from myself.
It’s hard for me to understand that there are people in this world who go their entire lives without being part of an organized sports team. My earliest memory of organized sports is playing soccer at the age of 5 in New Jersey. My sister and I were on the red team and the teams moved in clusters around the ball. I remember my rosy face hot with sweat and eating orange slices at halftime.
I haven’t stopped playing soccer since. The summer after third grade I went to a local YMCA soccer camp where we lived in Pennsylvania and I remember my first real set of sprints after a practice. I was breathing so hard I couldn’t catch my breath and my throat burned. I didn’t like the feeling and I asked my mom if I could quit. Luckily she told me, “hell no.” And my love for soccer grew into a steady and supportive relationship that I could always count on. I probably leaned on it too much. Throughout the years I’ve sustained many serious injuries due to my favorite sport, but that didn’t stop me from playing and connecting to the beautiful game.
Soccer was an outlet. When I was mad and sad and feeling like the world was out to get me I could always take those emotions out on the field. Soccer kept me accountable, it made me feel good to perform well at something. It gave me a ton of friends and people to drink and party with. It gave me something to look forward to, something to compete at, something to live for, even during my darkest hours. I would show up to practice on Saturday mornings in college so hungover I couldn’t see straight. In Cancun, I can recall one time when I stayed up all night taking cocaine and was still awake the following day at 5pm when my soccer game was, which I attended and played in, still high.
Soccer is different these days because I’m old and don’t play at a competitive level. There is no suffering through preseason and three practices a day. There is no eating meals together, sharing showers, or getting heated at practice when I’m feeling feisty. There is no locker room before-game talks and putting our uniforms on together. I also don’t have to worry about playing after not sleeping all night or being on a coke binge. I still have a team that I bond with and who I cried with when we won the championship last November.
I’ve been back and forth about retiring from soccer for years, doctors recommend it, but I always avoid it. Following my knee surgery in 2015 I was back on the field 7 weeks post-op. But for the first time in my entire life, soccer wasn’t enough for me. I felt heavy, out of shape, and lacking in some way. I gave CrossFit a second try, even though I had convinced myself it wasn’t for me because of my injuries.
If you follow me on social media you’ve probably noticed over the last two years I’ve become completely obsessed with CrossFit. I still play soccer, but not as frequently and I think that fact has helped my knees. But the other correlation I have made is that I recently stopped attending 12 step meetings. This won’t be that surprising to some as I did not get sober in the rooms of AA and I have my own internal conflicts about the way the organization is run. I didn’t stop attending on purpose, or maybe I subconsciously did? I just started to evolve past what I was learning in the meetings. I want to take what I’ve learned and live my life out there as a sober woman. I began saying yes to other things, mainly CrossFit. I joined a barbell club cycle that was on Saturday mornings, at the same time as one of the meetings I attended. I started missing the other meetings I attended during the week because I prefer to work, write, rest, or work out again instead. For a few weeks I felt guilty, but now I’m ok with my decision.
Has CrossFit become my new AA? I’m there more often than I’ve ever attended 12 step meetings. It provides me community and support. But I think the real answer is no. Even though CrossFit has become more important to me, even though I love spending my time there and I have new best friends there, even though I’m getting stronger and fitter and learning new things, I don’t define anything as my main altar of recovery. Since the day that I got sober I’ve attributed my sobriety to a variety of things: exercise, meditation, alone time, connecting with nature, connecting with others, writing, passing on the message, etc. These components are always changing, evolving, and I’m constantly adding new tools to my recovery toolbox.
I know that CrossFit, just like soccer, has in a way saved me. They are both compasses that have guided me in my quest to become the best human I can be. They are stepping stones on my path. They are not what fill me up, but they are what help strengthen me.
But I’m the one who is participating. I make the choices. I show up. I put myself on the pitch or in the box. So maybe, I’m saving myself.