Beauty From the Outside In

By Kristen McGuiness 06/30/11

What if you've kissed the all-nighters goodbye and still resemble the haggard hard partier you used to be? The Fix explains how to look as good you feel.

Recovery is more than skin-deep

I remember the day I looked in the mirror and realized something had to change. I had just come off of another bender I swore would not happen again. My clavicle jutted out of my skin, acne studded my face, the extra-blonde highlights that my meth-using hair stylist had put in months before were growing out in disarray: the picture wasn’t pretty. Sure, I still put on nice clothes and went to work, and there were even times when I would wake up and try to go running in the morning—one of many sorrowful attempts to feel “normal.” But the truth was it had been a long time since I looked like me, and I detested the woman I saw reflected in the mirror.

And then I got sober. I took on an exercise regimen almost immediately, and began washing my face twice a day. I flossed (miracle of miracles). I grew out those nasty highlights. And it didn’t take long for me to see someone in the reflection: me. What I didn’t realize was that by taking all those steps, I was also helping to insure my sobriety. According to a 1982 Canadian study that focused on the role of physical fitness in the treatment of alcoholism, psychologist David Sinyor and his associates found that 69 percent of subjects whose treatment program included a daily regimen of vigorous exercise remained clean and sober after three months of treatment. By contrast, 62 percent of the subjects who completed treatment without the exercise component had relapsed to drinking.

69 percent of subjects whose treatment program included a daily regimen of vigorous exercise remained clean and sober after three months of treatment. 

Gabby Castellone, a trainer at Crunch, can attest to this. “Exercise is going to get the cardio system to work more efficiently, which means you will see increased energy,” she says. “It will clear up your complexion, increase endorphins, help you to sleep better, and build a better mind and body connection. One of the most valuable outcomes of exercise is that it can help you to get your self worth and confidence back.”

I know for me, those early days at the gym not only helped me to blow off some fairly overwhelming steam, but also began to show me what I was capable of—which turned out to be a lot more than getting wasted and finding myself in the wrong bed in the morning. 

Felicia, a 30-year old architect and recovering alcoholic from San Francisco, says she feels like she has grown up in sobriety, learning over the last 10 years how to finally take care of herself. “I used to be on the cocaine and speed diet,” she confesses. “I was 20 pounds lighter and I was really mentally sick. I hated myself and felt like I was dying. I was so defeated.“ Her diet consisted mainly of Fritos and Slurpees. These days, “I use food and exercise to stay healthy and have energy,” she says. “I need to eat lots of greens, drink lots of water, and go running or do some sort of aerobic activity.”

Castellone suggests that the newly sober start by doing easy cardio three times a week. “It can be any kind of physical exercise, either going for a walk or run, swimming, or dance class,” she says. “You just want the body to be functionally strong—meaning you can carry your own weight before you start lifting free weights. That’s why I often recommend yoga to people: it’s a stress reliever, it helps lengthens as well as strengthens the muscles, and the flexibility it offers is huge.”

But getting your body back in gear doesn’t necessarily solve all beauty concerns. I had cystic acne from all the poisons I was putting into my body and once I got sober, I wanted to get them out.

According to Celeste Hilling, the CEO of Skin Authority, skin problems aren’t just caused by what we’re imbibing but also by how we are managing the stress in our lives. “People often forget that skin is an organ,” she says. “What kind of physical and emotional stress you are battling has a huge impact on how your skin looks and responds.”

That moment I experienced—when I looked in the mirror in horror—can be, according to Hilling, as much a physical reaction as a psychological one. “The American Society of Psychiatry did an analysis and 71% of people said that how they look on the outside directly impacted how they see themselves internally,” she reports. “When someone is filled with toxins, all of those carcinogens are trapped in the body and the only way they can get out is through secretion. Humans detoxify through acne. But if you do the right things, you can come out on the other side with your self-esteem intact. It’s about committing to a new lifestyle. Those little steps that you make that have the biggest payoff.”

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