On a recent Tuesday evening, Sarah E. Roberts, a yoga teacher at Wellstrong, a new gym in Teaticket for people in recovery from addiction, welcomed 10 students to her class.
Ms. Roberts teaches a particular form of yoga that integrates the 12 steps used by anonymous recovery groups with yoga postures and breathing exercises.
The class opened with a reading on the first step: admitting powerlessness.
“I was a complete slave to alcohol,” Ms. Roberts told the group. “Every thought that went through my head revolved around it.”
Sitting on yoga mats in a circle, members of the group took turns sharing their own stories of addiction and recovery, taking a deep breath in unison after each person spoke. After 45 minutes of discussion, Ms. Roberts transitioned to 45 minutes of yoga practice.
Ms. Roberts also works part-time at Wellstrong’s front desk. On a sunny Thursday morning, as light streamed in the gym’s large plate glass windows, she sat down to speak about her addiction, recovery and working at Wellstrong.
Now in her fourth year of sobriety, Ms. Roberts, 32, began drinking heavily in college at the University of Vermont (UVM). “It progressed really quickly for me, my addiction,” she said. She left UVM to take classes at UMass Boston and waitress. But drinking soon became “a full-time job,” eclipsing school entirely. “I was physically dependent on it. I needed it all day, every day to function,” she said.
Ms. Roberts checked herself into a detox facility three separate times but relapsed after each attempt to “get sober on my own.”
“There’s a deep level of surrender that needs to happen when it comes to being an addict and wanting recovery,” she said. “And that surrender usually takes the form of a leveling of pride, accepting that I don’t know what’s best for me when it comes to my addiction and how to get better—that I can’t do this on my own.”
The fourth time through detox, Ms. Roberts knew that for her to succeed, the next step needed to be full-time residential rehabilitation, but she did not have the money to pay for it privately.
“I didn’t know where I was going to go,” she said. “But luckily, the day my insurance ran out for the detox, a state bed at Emerson House opened up for me.” Emerson House is a residential addiction treatment program for women housed in a Victorian mansion on West Falmouth Highway and run by Gosnold, Inc.
After Emerson House, Ms. Roberts transitioned to a sober house in Buzzards Bay. She credits the power of community for her ability to stay sober. “I met some really strong women and mentors. And without the words these other women spoke to me, the support of other people, my own willpower alone would not have sufficed.”
Ms. Roberts began attending a 12-step yoga class in Plymouth, which, at the time, was the closest location offering that style of yoga. She also established a meditation practice.
“For 10 years of my life, the only way I knew how to cope with anything was to pick up a drink,” Ms. Roberts said. “If I was excited, I wanted to feel that more, so drinking would accentuate that. If I was sad, and didn’t want to feel that anymore, drinking would mask it. If I was anxious, whatever, replace the emotion, and drinking was there.”
Mindfulness and meditation interrupted that closed circuit of addiction and opened Ms. Roberts to a more conscious and intentional way of living. “I’m grateful for my journey—even in the depths of despair that my addiction brought to me—because it’s given me so many tools I can use in everyday life: it’s like a blueprint for how to live,” she said.
Working at Wellstrong “is an amazing job,” Ms. Roberts said. “Because I’m helping people who have been where I was.”
A nonprofit founded by Amy C. Doherty, Wellstrong opened in December 2017. The gym is located in the shopping plaza just east of Cape Cod Healthcare’s urgent care facility near Teaticket Green. Ms. Roberts grew up in Waquoit and recalled that in her youth, the space served as a thrift store.
Wellstrong has 83 current members. Members must be in recovery from addiction, with at least 48 hours of sobriety. The gym organizes outdoor running groups and offers 18 classes—from kickboxing to meditation—as well as a full suite of exercise equipment.
Studies show that physical exercise reduces cravings and rates of relapse. Exercise can help displace drugs as a healthy means of coping with stress and feeling good. And by only serving those in recovery, Ms. Roberts said, Wellstrong provides an empowering sense of community. “We all have a common ailment, this common peril. And we’re all on this path trying to better our lives.”
She elaborated: “There’s been times when I’ve been here and a class has gotten out, and it will be me and a couple other members, and we’re here another hour just talking about our recovery. And it’s so healing and therapeutic to do that, to tell our stories in a way that we don’t feel shame or humiliation over… We wouldn’t get that if this was just a regular gym.”
For years, Ms. Roberts viewed her addiction as a moral failing. “For so long, that was the ball and chain around my neck, was this idea that I’m a bad person,” she said. But she has since embraced the disease model of addiction. “The disease of addiction is super complex, but I believe I was born with an allergy to mind-altering substances, so that when I pick one up, I can’t stop… it’s not a moral failing, and it doesn’t make me a weak person.”
Ms. Roberts has returned to school. She is taking classes at Cape Cod Community College and intends to transfer to a four-year college to get her bachelor’s degree in engineering.
“In high school, I was a good student,” Ms. Roberts said (she attended Falmouth High School). “I was really involved in extracurriculars. I played a lot of sports. So that was hard, getting sober at 28, and being like, ‘Oh, my god, I don’t have a degree.’ But I’ve let that thinking go. I never envisioned myself at 32 without a degree, but it’s just been my journey, and it’s fine, and I’ll get where I need to go.”
Wellstrong is not Ms. Roberts’s only employment. She also waits tables on the weekends at Persy’s Place in Bourne, where she lives, and tutors students at the community college in subjects she has excelled at, including chemistry and statistics.
Ms. Roberts is the daughter of William A. Roberts of Hatchville.