Luis asks if they have any bandaids.
He is resting on the couch in Scott and Laura Garrison’s living room, and his heels are bleeding from the five-and-a-half mile ruck that began before daylight.
The four other guys that joined in for the heavy circuit around Ferdinand spread out in the living room. One, Jacob, plays with the Garrison’s one-year-old daughter, Esther, while in the kitchen, Laura builds a mound of pancakes four at a time for the famished men looking to refuel before taking on the second workout that morning.
Those Saturday workouts at Southern Indiana Complete Fitness are usually challenging brink-of-failure tests that end in sweaty endorphin-laden smiles.
Fresh ground coffee accents the caramelized pancakes from the hot skillet as the group loads up plates with the carbs covered in syrup, peanut butter and chocolate chips.
It’s quiet in the kitchen and dining room, the guys looking at their phones while pushing calories in to replenish what was burned during the hard ruck.
Esther now happily mowing through her own tray of pancake bites; Jacob grabs one, folding it in half to create a syrupy taco as he heads out the door. He usually makes the early Saturday morning rucks and late morning Crossfit workouts, but he can’t stick around for today.
Catrina, the Ferdinand couple’s oldest daughter, calls from the hallway. “I have a rainbow and a unicorn bandaid.”
Luis motions for her to bring them over.
This is SoberDuco, a local group affiliated with The Phoenix, a national nonprofit that combines community-based activities with fitness and sobriety
Later that morning, the ruckers meet at Southern Indiana Complete Fitness for the 10:30 a.m. workout. It is usually a larger group on Saturdays, comprised of all ages and walks of life. Some are justice-involved, others are involved in the administration of justice and rehabilitation services, like Scott. There are counselors, case managers, family members and advocates for those seeking sobriety.
Scott warms everyone up with a few laps back and forth in the former Wilmes Window factory before demonstrating the day’s workout. Some workouts are his own specially designed suckfests. Or, in Crossfit fashion, he pulls from the many Hero workouts created to honor military servicemembers, police officers and others that have given their lives in the line of duty.
The work usually begins with Scott’s simple, “All Right! Let’s go!”.
As they heave, jump, pull, push, and run through the high-impact workout, Scott walks around correcting any problems with form, offering modifications and making suggestions.
If everything is going well, his singularly repeated mantra is, “Here we go! Here we go!”
Here we go.
Scott started SoberDuCo with support from The Phoenix because he could appreciate the nonprofit’s mission. Through his experiences as a Dubois County Drug and Alcohol Court case manager, he knew there was a need for more support programs here. He and Laura have also operated a Crossfit gym. The Phoenix provided a perfect match for Scott’s passion for fitness, sobriety and helping others.
As SoberDuCo formed, the group received an injection of donations that Scott used for equipment and gear. He passed out pamphlets announcing the program at community corrections, which led to his first converts.
Early workouts began at Bohnert Park in Jasper. But, with thousands of pounds of gear being hauled back and forth from his home, Scott decided to move the workouts to his garage.
Weekly on Tuesdays and Thursdays, the group spills into the cul-de-sac, heaving, pushing and running for about 40 minutes. Saturdays, after the ruck, the group gathers in Southern Indiana Complete Fitness — a space that has been donated for SoberDuco’s use.
Anyone is welcome to participate in the workouts; there is no cost, just 48 hours of sobriety. A couple of other rules exist. A slipped f-bomb leads to hundreds of burpees, and in the close-knit group, you better believe they will hold you accountable to those burpees — in a good-natured way.
A banner in Scott’s garage lists all the requirements for continued participation in the activities. Most revolve around self-respect and the respect and support of others involved in The Phoenix.
That is the magic. Everyone here believes in the power of showing up for the three or four events each week. Participation helps create and strengthen guardrails for those fighting personal battles with any number of addictions.
The events are open for anyone — sign up on The Phoenix app. And then show up at Scott’s address, the park, or wherever that workout is set to take place.
Here is also a state of mind.
“Here means meeting people exactly where they are at,” said Dana Wood, the clinical manager at Dove Recovery House for Women in Jasper. She usually shows up for the Saturday workouts.
Ferdinand police officer Joshua Clouse also comes in on Saturdays. He sees the workouts as a place to break down walls of separation in society.
“I love coming here and learning everybody’s story and then sharing part of my story,” he said, adding that the common goal of working out creates avenues for new relationships. “It is such a cool environment; you can let your barriers down. That is where the real support comes in. It’s not the working out; it is that community.”
Juan Avalos started coming to the workouts late last year. He generally makes it to as many events as possible each week. He enjoys the hard work in a place that meets him where he is and accepts him for simply showing up.
“I just feel accepted here; it doesn’t matter what I did in the past,” he explained, adding that he was just thankful to have the program available for him and others to participate in.
For Scott, “here” symbolizes his role in putting the classes together each week and a lot more. He wants to be present. “Being present as in being a part of the lives of the people that come to The Phoenix,” he explained. “They’ve had a lot of people who’ve come and gone throughout their lives, and I feel like I need to be present and stay present through those three, four times we meet a week.”
But that doesn’t just mean being in Scott and Laura’s garage or at the fitness center; there is also a group chat room that SoberDuco members use to continue to chat about events and issues when they aren’t sweating it out through a grueling workout. That bleeds into helping each other and having group gatherings, strengthening this new community.
The opposite of addiction is connection.
Journalist Johann Hari brilliantly highlighted that point in a tremendously popular TED Talk. You can watch it here. In his talk, he outlines experiments that show the effect of community on different types of addictive behaviors. Those in a supportive community tend not to be drawn to addictive behaviors.
It is an idea that addiction specialists have been promoting for years.
“The sober journey is one that is extraordinarily difficult to do alone. Most of these folks that come here have tried at one time or another to get sober and stay sober; most of them fail at some point,” Scott said. “There’s a lot of stigma that comes with substance abuse, and that leads to isolation; some of that is self-isolation.”
He aims to create an environment where “it’s not about me; it’s about we. About us together.”
It’s working. When Scott started SoberDuco, only one or two would attend the workouts. But word spread, more people came, and those attendees became devoted to the community. They have become advocates for The Phoenix, and many of the new faces in the workouts are now there because another participant invited them.
The hard workouts completed together provide small victories every time someone shows up, but they are made more powerful through the commonality created in sharing in the suckfest.
“I think our society sometimes here in the U.S. can be really individualistic, but we are truly hardwired for connections,” Dana Wood explained. “We can’t accomplish as much (individually). There is so much power in the we.”
Shea McGovren has struggled with addiction in the past and is in the process of rebuilding her life. As she worked through her substance abuse issues alone, paradoxically, she found herself sober but unhappy.
“My life changed dramatically when I leaned into friends,” she explained. “I was just kind of doing it by myself. I was not enjoying life. I was 18 months sober, and I was miserable.”
Leaning into friendships allowed her to pull out of that misery, and now, The Phoenix has expanded that community and the number of friendships she can lean into.
“Knowing that there are other people that will show up that may not want to show up, and we are going to do it together, that keeps me accountable,” Shea said. “And we’re all here just trying to be active and be fit and deal with life without any substances, together. It’s pretty remarkable.”
One of the catchphrases of The Phoenix is “Stronger Together.”
“To me, that sums it up, you know, you or I may have a difficult time by ourselves staying sober, but if we are all doing it together, there is a lot of power in that,” Scott said.
One Saturday, Scott had a simple workout planned — complete 150 wall balls in ten minutes. It involves holding a heavy ball in front of your face with both hands cupping it on either side. You squat down and thrust up, throwing the ball about ten feet at a tiny target before catching it and doing it again. The movement incorporates all of your body in the motion over and over and over and over.
Scott advises everyone to complete the reps in manageable sets with small breaks so they don’t crash and burn. The timer starts, and the balls begin smacking the targets.
As the timer counts down the final few minutes, more and more participants catch their breath and rest as they finish. Finally, one person is left. He had grabbed the maximum-size ball Scott suggested and is now struggling with his last 30 tosses.
Seeing the struggle, the group gathers around, cheering him on while counting each agonizing throw and catch. Focused on completing the wall tosses, he surpasses the ten-minute time limit, but no one stops him. He has to finish.
Everyone remains with him as he throws three, four and five tosses at a time with rests in between. He finishes all 150, out of breath and exhausted. Another participant removes the heavy ball, cleans it for him, and puts it on the rack.
Sobriety and other endeavors worth completing are like that. A step at a time, a decision at a time, going forward. Movement made easier with the support and encouragement of friends and those that love you—made easier as others take the same path with you.
“That is the power of this kind of activity. It creates a community with people that normally don’t hang out together outside of these events, Scott said. “But when you see someone struggling, and everybody’s around him counting down his reps, clapping, and cheering for him, man, that is what this is all about.”
These hard moments in the gym make those hard moments outside the gym more manageable.
“If you can push yourself to a place of physical suffering through an intense workout to the point of asking yourself, ‘Why am I doing this? This sucks, and this is really hard,’ and then keep going, that transfers over to building strength to move to freedom from substance abuse as well,” said Scott.
But that movement begins with the decision to show up. To go to one of the open workouts through SoberDuco, attend a local recovery group meeting, or join another community group dedicated to sobriety and recovery.
For Scott, it’s more than just sobriety, though. It is about creating a community of people broken down to the base level of the shared struggle in the gym that transfers into the world. That despite their differences, different struggles, different backgrounds, and different opinions, they share a commonality in being human and flawed but striving forward to be something better together.
“It’s about giving them a new family, and if we can give them a new family that desires what they desire, then I have accomplished my goal,” he said.