It was always so much more than just a run…
I started running in early recovery because I was getting sober at a faster rate than I was learning to process my emotions. What I mean is that in addiction it always felt like I was drowning and everything was blurry. I didn’t know what way was up or down, I couldn’t tell what was going on right in front of my face. And as I got sober I was still underwater but things stopped being blurry. I was waking up and the images around me were starting to become clear, yet everything was still moving in slow motion. It was like I was waking up my emotions but I had been numbing them for so long that I had no idea what to do with them or where to put them.
This simple cycle caused me to relapse; waking up to all the shame and having nowhere to put it led me right back to the bottle my first time around.
But this time I took those emotions to the pavement instead. I don’t know what possessed me to start running because there was nothing about me that was a runner back in 2018. Even though I had stopped drinking, I was still smoking, still had no self esteem, still just wanted to bury myself into my bed everyday and do nothing. My entire life revolved around alcohol and having to remove it was hard enough; the last thing I wanted to do was go for a run.
But my thoughts were racing, my cravings were creeping in and something inside me just wanted to exhaust my body so that my mind would focus on anything other than my urge to drink again.
So I ran. I got maybe 5 minutes without needing to stop. My lunges were burning, my legs were so not use to it. Everything hurt but everything also slowed down. My thoughts slowed down, my cravings disappeared during the run. My entire being was focused on the motion, so much so that it was unable to focus on the rest. And in that moment I realized I could silence my addiction. I could silence the addict in me mentally by awaking the athlete physically.
So running became a cure for me. Ironically, the tool that was helping me in sobriety became a complete reflection of my recovery journey altogether.
Running helped me rebuild what I had lost in addiction. It reminded me that I am capable of more than I think. It reminded me that the temporary pain of wanting to quit will pass. And it reminded me that the voice that tells me I cannot do something is wrong. If I just keep moving forward, what seems impossible will become achievable.
When I first started running, I did not intend for it to last. I did not intend for it to be one of my recovery tools. But then again, I did not expect sobriety to last either. The first day I put down the drink was the absolute worst day ever, until the second day! I had heard all the lines; one day at a time, take it easy etc...But as I sat at home shaking and afraid to get up knowing my legs would walk me right to the liquor store, sobriety didn’t really seem like anything remotely achievable. All I heard in my head was, “This restraint is so painful and pointless, you can end this torture at any moment. You can cave and give into the addiction.” But letting that moment pass is the turning point between addiction and recovery. In the running world we call it the “second wind”.
It is that moment when you have nothing left but you continue to be strong. It is the moment when you realize all pain is temporary and if you can just pass the pain in the moment, you will be able to go on for awhile longer.
Once I started to draw the parallels between running and recovery, running became almost like a reminder tool that the “second wind” will always come. And I needed that reminder more times than I could count. The thing about addiction is that voice telling me to give in may get quiet on average over time, but I never knew when it would all of a sudden become painfully loud again. I could be doing everything right all week, but at my weakest moment out of nowhere it could appear telling me to go have a drink. During those moments when it felt stronger than me, I’d run. Running became a physical and tangible reminder that temporary relief is an illusion and the feeling I need is to finish what I set out to do.
So when I say it is much more than I run, I mean it. Because every time I hit the pavement, I am chasing the sense of accomplishment that addiction stole from me. I am strengthening my mind and learning how not to give it for immediate satisfaction over long term rewards. I truly lost myself in addiction; I had no confidence, no drive, no ambition and no self worth. Running reminded me how to believe in myself. It’s not the runners high I’m chasing and its not the racing part that I love so much. What I love is the runner that comes out on the other side of the finish line. What I love is proving to myself that the addict voice that says I won’t make it... is wrong!