Nell Hurley had her last drink on December 27, 1997 at the age of 27. To help combat her anxiety in early recovery, she started running, taking things at her own pace but working hard to make progress block by block and day by day—much like a recovery journey. Exercise became an outlet for her as she focused on her sobriety and eventually helped lead her to a new phase of her career.
Since first hitting the pavement, Nell has run eight marathons, become a certified personal trainer and yoga instructor, and channeled her experiences into Hurley Health, the gym and recovery support program she runs from the basement of her St. Paul home. Not only does she offer a variety of workouts, she also schedules time to check in with her clients both in person before their workout and via text throughout the week to help them on their path.
How did your life experiences lead you to found Hurley Health?
I have been in recovery for a long time—over 23 years. I got into recovery when I was 27. For the last 12 years, I’ve had an incredible run of working in the addiction recovery field for nonprofit organizations and Hazelden. I went to work for an organization called the Phoenix, a national nonprofit based out of Denver; it’s a recovery support organization that revolves around physical activity: hiking, biking, yoga, you name it. [After a few years], I went out on my own and started Hurley Health.
“I started from nothing—I could only run one block, walk a block, or run for a minute and walk for five minutes. It was hard but I kept doing it. Almost 24 years later, I’m still doing both of those things. I go to 12-step meetings once a week … I like the support and community I find there. I just ran the Twin Cities Marathon. It’s still my medicine for coping with stress and anxiety.” —Nell Hurley, founder of Hurley Health
Can you share how fitness helped you get sober and your relationship with fitness today?
Nell Hurley Running
I have a really broad background in fitness. I’m a certified yoga instructor, Crossfit instructor, and personal trainer through the National Association of Sports Medicine. [When I started my recovery,] I joined a 12-step group and a running club right around the same time, and for me it was the combination of those two things. I had a lot of anxiety in early recovery; I was using alcohol as a way to deal with anxiety and just didn’t have great coping skills. … When I started running, that was a great outlet. I started from nothing—I could only run one block, walk a block, or run for a minute and walk for five minutes. It was hard but I kept doing it. Almost 24 years later, I’m still doing both of those things. I go to 12-step meetings once a week … I like the support and community I find there. I just ran the Twin Cities Marathon. It’s still my medicine for coping with stress and anxiety.
Tell me more about Hurley Health. How does the program work, and who is it best for?
It’s a very unique business model in that I combine fitness with recovery coaching. I work with people all along the spectrum of substance use, but the population that I’m homing in on is what I call “grey area drinking”: people who are not alcoholic, who wouldn’t be appropriate for treatment or AA, detox, or any clinical model. They are drinking at a level that is harmful or hazardous [to their health], or they’re just feeling like they’re drinking too much.
Recovery coaching is very different from being a drug counselor or a medical model-based clinician. Recovery coaching is more like life coaching with substance use as part of the conversation. The person that I’m working with sets their own goals around what they want their substance use to look like, then I support them in their goals. I act as an accountability buddy … and help them develop new habits.
I do 75-minute sessions so we have time to do a recovery check-in. [I ask clients], “How was your week? What came up for you as you abstained from substance use this week? What was that like?” We sit down and talk for 15 to 20 minutes, then we do a workout together. I also do accountability texting between weekly sessions. I love being able to provide support. It’s about learning new habits, a new way to live.
Many people are becoming “sober curious,” either cutting down on drinking or stopping completely, and the conversation around alcohol is changing. Why do you think that is?
There’s a big swath of the population that is drinking too much. It’s a very personal—your drinking too much might be different from my drinking too much. Because of the pandemic, people are home more, and a bottle of wine or a bottle of beer is right within arm’s reach, and there’s so much uncertainty and added stress in the world.
As a society, in some ways we’re getting sicker; the world is just more connected, everything is faster, harder. In other ways, there’s more awareness around health and healthy living.
I see two things happening at the same time: one is that there’s this pro-alcohol culture. Alcohol is everywhere and it’s very normal for it to be at every single event: the Super Bowl, holiday parties, work happy hours, baby showers, kids’ birthday parties. Two, there’s more of a push toward healthy living: yoga, meditation, the Whole 30, sugar cleanses. With social media, there’s more access to that as a trend, and the sober curious thing falls into that.
From a health standpoint it’s becoming more acceptable to say no to alcohol. When I first got sober 23 years ago, I was so nervous about going to work functions where someone might offer me alcohol because I thought it was so weird to say no. It’s becoming more and more acceptable to just say no thanks and not have to explain.
This content was originally published here.