An excerpt from my book Chasing The Dragon: Running To Get High,
|$2.99 for Kindle, $6.99 for paperback
Nine Reasons Recovering Addicts Run
1. You Only Get What You Give
Distance running by its nature lends itself to the addictive personality, if there is such a thing, of rewarding those who blast past barriers. It not only rewards but demands the obsessive brain, the kind who go to a 5 dollar 'all you can drink' keg party and ask for 10 dollars worth. It’s the metaphorical potato chip that, once it’s on your taste buds, lights up something deeper within you that craves for more.
Yes, addicts can be cowards, immature, fragile, obnoxious, and so on (it’s an ‘in’ group thing, so I can get away with saying that) but lazy is one thing they are not. Maybe lazy when it comes to responsibilities, sure, but not lazy when it comes to getting what they want. There is nothing more industrious, more creative, or more persistent than an addict trying to get high. Waking up with unexplained bumps and bruises, not a penny to your name, barely able to see through blood shot eyes, vomit ready to project out of you at any moment, and afraid to make eye contact with another human being. Yet still, an addict is pulled by powerful forces to will themselves out of bed, get out the door, scrounge up some money in some creative (albeit often times illegal) ways, and travel as long as it takes to get what they want.
You think a bit of muscle pain or discomfort is going to stop us from hitting the road and taking a run? No way.
Running can provide the needed spiritual awakening to help an addict stay sober. Running just seems to make all of your atoms spin a bit faster, unearths previously hidden parts of yourself, and allows a connection with something deeper. Yes, this is partly due to the physical explosions of endorphins and cannabonoids, but the result is an overall sense of well-being and feeling of peace with your place in the universe. Compare this spiritual awaking with the spiritual despair of the last stages of addiction. As the consequences of addiction escalate, a loss of meaning to live is often the result. That is why spirituality is crucial to recovery.
They say religion is for those who don’t’ want to go to hell, but spirituality is for those who have been to hell and don’t want to go back. Running and facing the challenge of pushing yourself to physical extremes provides a sense of harrowing hell and then ascending. It’s the biblical notion of a descent, and then ascending to yes, feeling like you are sitting on the right hand of God at the finish. During some euphoric moments of a run, I feel fully connected to the universe, doubts of a higher power are erased, and I understand my place in the universe at these moments. And it's pretty darn beautiful.
By the way, if you subscribe to or read the 12 steps of AA, spirituality is the whole reason you work the first 11. The steps say not a word about staying sober; they only speak to having a spiritual awakening. Once you experience the thrill of such an awakening, the despair of using would taste too bitter.
3. A Solitary pursuit in a communal environment-
Solitary and communal. Running is both of these. It offers alone time and an inner exploration unlike none other. “I run as I dream – alone” I like to quip, paraphrasing Joseph Conrad from the Heart of Darkness. Yet the communal nature of a group run, and even more so, starting a marathon with 40,000 other runners, and then seeing them near the end, at mile 23, is a feeling of primitive yet transcendent connection. We are all psychically connected in those moments, and the primal nature of the event has stripped down the artificial barriers between us. The feeling of being one with others around me during these moments is not unlike using psychedelics.
4. Keeping an edge
When you are using, sober life seems so boring and like a curse. Of course, once you get sober, you realize there is not enough time in the day to do all the things you want to do. But, you still need an edge, and despite the stereotypical geeky cross country runner in high school, runners have an edge since their brain and heart go to some unique places, and discomfort becomes a whole new comfort zone. Drunken wasted exploits are replaced by stories of amazing workouts. A strung out addict is a sad, silly cliché, where as the ultra-marathoning tattooed-up runner doing 80 miles a week with self-made body armor of muscle is truly one who lives on the edge.
5. Emotions and expressing them.
Most addicts are emotionally stunted. We can’t express fear or joy or insecurity or talk about things. But running, even though it isn’t verbal, has always been an expression of feelings for me. There is nothing that vents rage and anger like a good set of intervals. Nothing. And nothing that provides a sense of joy as a nice ten mile trail run. Running brings me to an emotional catharsis such that I cry at the end of every marathon. It both expresses emotions and polishes them up. Witness the end of any marathon, and you’ll see the spectrum of emotions squeezed at of every human who makes it across the finish.
Our bodies are pretty ravaged and have been punished by too much and not enough, so running is one way to start being good to them.
7. Ego-maniacs with an inferiority complex ---
Yes, we've done some rotten things, sacrificed our ethics and made choices that are shameful, so in order to live with ourselves, we tend to have inflated our ego and lied to ourselves about who we really are in order get by. The worse we became, the more lies we had to feed ourselves about who we really were, and this usually means artificially building ourselves up. But deep in our heart we feel less than, inferior, scared of others since we've always felt they had some secret gene that made them know how to live in ways we never learned. Inside the haughty ego is a core of shame and worthlessness.
Running balances this out. It checks your ego since there is always, always somebody faster – and you will always be humbled by a run. Yet you feel incredibly triumphant inside, and never inferior because you have conquered, you are a warrior now, you run like a beast and have found new strength and new hope. This leads to the affirmation of....
8. You’re good enough, You're strong enough, and God dang it, God Loves You.
Yes, you are worthy--- this seems so Stuart Smalley, but running makes us face ourselves, prove ourselves, and every time we win one of those little battles – either to get out the door and put in a few miles, to hit a certain mileage split, or to qualify for the Boston Marathon, it affirms our existence. We’ve stared into our selves, listen to the voices of doubts and self-fears, but heeded naught yet instead responded to something higher.
9. The persistent need to get high
The bottom line is, a Recovering Addict still needs to get high. Difference is, one form of getting high is cheap, is killing you, will hurt your loved ones, and is not going to work anymore, while the other will bring you to a higher place of your higher self. Yes, I still want to chase the dragon down, sometimes catch it, ride aboard and soar above my existence for a while, but I would also like to return from the ride in a better spot. Drugs and alcohol never did this, but the highs through running often provide what the addict was truly looking for in the first place; Physical strength, emotional expression, spiritual well-being, and a deeper connection with oneself and others. Recovering addicts are just on a different side of the ‘getting high’ Yin-Yang.