Rick Hagaman celebrated 19 years of sobriety on August 2, 2016. He went to his first AA meeting at 18 but didn’t effectively call it quits until he was 30. What finally made him give it up for good? “There was a lot of self-will and trying different formulas to continue doing what I was doing. When I went [back]into the rooms, there was no big event, no arrest, no fight—I just felt nothing. I was just like what’s the purpose? Why am I on this planet? I don’t bring any positive thing to anyone. It was a spiritual vacancy,” he says.
What It’s Like Now
Today, Hagaman is thriving in sobriety. A personal trainer before getting sober, he describes his fitness routine prior to recovery as the “binge and purge” method: going to the gym three to four days in a row, swearing off all the bad habits then he would go out for “one drink” on a Friday night…and not come-to until Tuesday morning. Still, he credits exercise as a tool he desperately needed in the early days of quitting drinking. Hagaman recalls, “When I wanted to rip someone’s head off, I’d go to the gym. I’d get some of my energy out; I’d get home and feel better. I’d go for a run and after the run the world didn’t look so bleak.”
The longer he stayed sober, the more Hagaman believed that he wasn’t alone in his need for regular, structured physical activity—especially in early recovery—and the more he wondered why it wasn’t a legit requirement at treatment facilities. Having successfully run a private fitness and training company (Blue Cay Fitness) for over 10 years, it was two years ago that Hagaman began to create his passion project: Recoveryfit. Described on its website as “a physical experience of the 12 steps and principles,” Recoveryfit is a training curriculum designed wholly for those in early sobriety who are also working a 12-step program. It is a physical program that complements the spiritual program, and it’s why Rick Hagaman is our latest AfterParty Hero.
How It Works (And You Definitely Gotta Work It)
The exercises are doable for any level of physical fitness. Whether someone is coming out of a six-month crystal meth run, or just reaching 30 days sober and taking up a jogging habit, the fitness program is accessible. And each session is tied into the 12-step framework by corresponding to one of the steps.
With Step One, for example, Hagaman explains, “In order to have come to this point of admitting powerlessness and un-manageability, we had to have a moment of clarity—an honest assessment of our lives. If we’re real alcoholics, we admit that to some degree, ‘my life is unmanageable and I’m powerless.’ That same thing holds true with fitness and wellness.”
Each session begins with a 15- to 20-minute talk followed by a demonstration. After that, clients can expect a 30- to 40-minute workout. The demonstration is usually one of the 12 steps manifested. Continuing with the Step One example, Hagaman describes one of these demos like this:
“I ask someone to come up and be the volunteer—usually the strongest person in the group. I ask them to do five push-ups for me. They say it’s easy so I tell them to do five more but I put my hands on their back and make it so the fifth one is really hard. They say it’s harder and I say, ‘but you were able to push through it.’ They come to ground again, do five more push-ups, then I sit on their back and they try and struggle, and tell me to get off their back, then they do five push-ups.”
In this scenario, Hagaman (or one of his specialized sober trainers) is acting as both alcoholism and addiction—at first, life is easy; you’re cruising along. But alcoholism and addiction are standing by the side and watching. When life starts to get harder, you can push through with self-will but it’s not quite as easy or enjoyable, and eventually it takes over and you can’t even manage. The trainer is the physical manifestation of powerlessness. Hagaman reiterates the importance of these visual demonstrations, then doing the exercise themselves. “When someone reads something, they maintain it at one level. When they read and someone else talks about it, they maintain it at a different level. When they also experience it on a physical level, they’re going to retain it much, much longer,” he claims.
Another example? Step Three is all about the principle of faith, so it’s usually a partner workout. Trainers typically talk about faith and the physical experience of faith, then go through 10 stations—each one presenting a different life problem manifesting as a physical challenge where participants can practice “turning over” their will. Alcoholics notoriously have a hard time asking for help, so this exercise forces them to help each other. Hagaman or one of his trainers might write an issue on a racket ball. They bounce the racket ball to a pair training together and they read it, “Mom calls: 80 reps together.” It doesn’t matter how they split it, they just have to get to the problem solving. “It teaches them they need and rely on each other. They feel a feeling of accomplishment for working it [out]together. The next station might be a stubbed toe, a bad hair day or just being sad or hungry,” Hagaman says. “I try and use fun, realistic scenarios…things that they’re going to experience when the old tools aren’t there anymore.”
I, for one, think this concept is brilliant. Honestly, in that first year, I was willing to do whatever it took to not drink or use—and sometimes it took a lot.
Carrying the Message
Hagaman’s big picture goal is to get this program into treatment facilities across the country. Inpatient programs or IOPs would be able to pay a licensing fee to use the Recoveryfit system, then buy the instruction manual, training guide and props from Recoveryfit, and—in an ideal world—hire their own alumni as trainers. Hagaman believes recruiting trainers in recovery who have a working knowledge of the 12 steps is essential.
Recoveryfit seems like a solid compliment to 12-step work that’s bound to lead to some self-discovery beyond the emotional and mental journey. For Hagaman, it’s ultimately just his way of being of service to others. He says, “My primary goal is to help another alcoholic. If I can create this system where more and more facilities can experience these groups, then I am doing my job.”