Gary Rutherford struggled for years to get sober.
“The first conversation I remember about having a problem with alcohol was when I was 17,” the UK resident told the BBC. “That just continued when I went to university where I had no ties with family due to being in another country. I had freedom, but it spiraled and snowballed.”
Even when Rutherford’s drinking had negative consequences in his life, he wasn’t able to stop.
“I thought I had reached the end point so many times. I had broke my back in a car accident, I lost part of my thumb, I had dislocated a shoulder, I had broken ribs,” he said. “Even the breakdown of my first marriage wasn’t enough to bring the change around and neither was my first time in rehab.”
However, a three-month rehab stay finally helped Rutherford turn the corner. After that, he began focusing on fitness as a way to maintain his sobriety. He ran five marathons in a year and a half, and then began CrossFit training. Now, eight years into his sobriety, Rutherford offers personal training for others who are in recovery, helping them find fellowship in the gym.
“I want to find the strength in that person and draw it out. I want to make that person feel like a person, empower them, make them thrive, encourage them,” Rutherford said. “Somebody found the strength in me to let me see that I was actually okay, there was hope and I was worth something—it saved my life.”
Scott Reid, who joined Rutherford’s training group right after rehab, said that being part of the group made him feel that people really cared about his sobriety.
“In fact, Gary was the first person I told I had relapsed because I was too embarrassed to tell my family,” he said. “A group of six strangers came together and left as friends that understood one another. So if one of us felt down or was struggling we could pick up the phone or go out for a coffee or a walk or something.”
Kevin Canning, 37, said that participating in Rutherford’s program was the first time he had set foot in a gym.
“But it’s not all about the fitness side of things, because now I have a lot more support from these guys,” he said.
In addition to growing stronger physically, the group can share their tips for building the mental strength needed for recovery. That way, they can choose sobriety, one day at a time.
“I think the biggest hurdle for me, was that I had to decide that I didn’t want to drink,” Rutherford said. “I’d been told: ‘No, you can’t drink.’ But here’s the thing—it’s like a diet. If somebody says you can’t have chocolate, it’s all you want, and it’s the same for alcohol. I was resentful, so I had to make that switch in my mind that I could drink at any point, but I choose not to.”
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