GUILFORD — On a recent Saturday morning at the Guilford Athletic Center, Hannah Jurewicz, a Guilford psychologist, sat cross-legged in a circle of a socially distanced group and shared what was going on in her life.
There was no sign that an hour-long intense workout had just transpired at the Soundview Road facility. There was no echo of hip-hop music booming through the warehouse-sized space amid the clang of barbells and grunts of exertion, and trainer Clint Zeidenberg barking out “Go go go.”
Beside the workout attire on Zeidenberg and many in the group, that is. As well as the endorphins thick in the air.
And that’s by design.
Jurewicz and Zeidenberg created the program, which comprises a one-hour workout followed by a recovery meeting, in an effort, as the Guilford Athletic Center website reads, “to use the health benefits of exercise to help conquer anxiety, COVID fatigue, substance abuse, physical abuse, loss, depression or any of life’s challenges.”
The program, which meets each Saturday at 9:30 a.m. at the Guilford Athletic Center, is free and open to teens and adults on the Shoreline. It’s not an AA or NA meeting.
Zeidenberg, the owner of Guilford Athletic Center, has distinguished himself over the past decade as an internationally ranked CrossFit athlete, as well as both a fitness coach for various area teams and individuals, and an international CrossFit Games coach.
“I have a family member who suffers from depression and addiction, and I already knew how much exercise helped them,” said the seemingly indefatigable Zeidenberg, as he bounced through the fitness area, disinfecting equipment between the workout and the meeting.
In September 2019, Jurewicz, a member of the Guilford Athletic Center, approached him with the idea of donating his space and coaching expertise for a 30-minute workout; she would facilitate a reflection recovery meeting directly after the workout.
The fitness high, Zeidenberg recalls her telling him, is something that people struggling with addiction can relate to — “a positive, clean addiction,” he said.
Jurewicz, a clinical psychologist and licensed professional counselor, runs a private practice in Guilford. She’s also the co-founder of Journey Home Recovery Living, a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting individuals in recovery through sober housing, community education and advocacy. She referred to herself as “an alcoholic in long-term recovery.”
“We learn in recovery that we need fellowship and community to heal and live better lives,” said Jurewicz, as she stood just outside the workout area.
It’s not just those with substance use disorders that need fellowship. “Everyone is struggling in some way. Everyone is recovering from something,” she said. “This was a natural way to bring our community together to support each other through exercise, health, and wellness.”
Zeidenberg “wholeheartedly supported it,” she said.
“I’ve seen time and time again how someone going through hard times comes into our building and finds comfort in coming and getting away from the stress in their lives,” Zeidenberg said. “The benefits of exercise go way beyond physical fitness.”
Right away, he said, “I saw how life-changing it could be, how working out in a group opens people up to become more outgoing and more willing to share what’s going on with them, and ultimately making them feel part of something. It’s certainly helped me.”
Evidently he wasn’t alone. “From day one, they came through these doors, young people, adults,” he said. “More and more people were showing up.”
Then came COVID-19.
“There are obvious benefits to exercise, doing it together, not isolated, and COVID is very isolating, and that goes to trauma,” Jurewicz said. “The two things that traumatic events have in common is they’re isolating and they’re fear-producing. There’s nothing you can do about what could happen to you, and that’s very traumatic.”
Already, she said, there was a recovery community in place. “Then, when COVID hit, a much more robust class started coming,” she said, and not just those recovering from addiction. “A lot of people, particularly young people, were struggling with stress and anxiety.”
Recent studies bear this out. An August 2020 report issued by the CDC showed adults with “considerably elevated adverse mental health condition associated with COVID-19,” with younger adults, among others, experiencing “disproportionately worse mental health outcomes.”
Another study, in the Journal of the American Medical Association in September 2020, reported a three-fold increase in depression among adults since the outset of the pandemic, with the burden falling disproportionately on individuals already at increased risk.
At the same time, the positive impact of the program on its participants coincides with the seeming promise of exercise to help people in recovery from addiction, as Claire Twark, a Harvard Medical School psychiatrist with a focus on treating patients with severe addiction, has noted.
“In my experience, many patients with various substance use disorders have found that exercise helps to distract them from cravings,” she wrote in a blog in Harvard Health Publishing of the Harvard Medical School. “Workouts add structure to the day. They help with forming positive social connections, and help treat depression and anxiety in combination with other therapies.”
That rings true, it seems, for Guilford’s Brian Valaitis, who’s been attending the Saturday workouts and meetings, since the fall of 2019. He’s also an active member of the gym, working out four to five times a week.
“This was a life-changer for me, because I was already in recovery,” said Valaitis, who credits Jurewicz for introducing him to the program and Zeidenberg for helping him reach a high level of fitness. “This kind of put it on steroids.”
“The big thing,” he said, “is just showing up. Then the magic happens.”
Recovery Move exercise and Recovery meeting meets every Saturday at 9:30 a.m. at Guilford Athletic Center on 391 Soundview Road, Guilford. There is no charge.