Monday, November 26, 2012

Feedback On '9 Reasons Recovering Addicts Run'

Yes, I'm an egomaniac with an inferiority complex, so I love to get feedback on my posts. No article has received as large a response as the post:   '9 Reasons Recovering Addicts Run'
The post made it in Predawn Runner as one of his highlights of the month.  I was contacted by a 1/2 way house who had used the article for a group therapy session, it was posted on 'Treatment Talks' facebook page, and Yahoo bought it off of me for the price of a 12 pack of soda water. (For the article on Yahoo, click here)

Ironically, I wrote the article in a manic rush since I was about to read "Running Ransom Road" a book which traces a self-described "ex-addict's" journey through his past through marathoning. I'd been wanting to write on the subject for quite a while, and didn't want to unconsciously plagiarize the book, so figured I should get it out of the way. Yes, I typed away Jack Kerouac-style minus the Benzos.

Before I brake my arm patting myself on the back, here's a response I received from a runner/recovering addict who had written from the same experience: (posted here with permission of the author.) To me, it shows how pervasive running is as an outlet for those with a history of addiction,

It's a touching read with some very sharp and very personal observations.  (Thanks Eric)

A Running Addiction 
Eric Stanley
A while ago I found myself in the middle of a dusty trail marathon.  The forecast had said the day’s high was going to be 87 degrees.  It was currently approaching 90 and not yet 10:00 AM.  I had run the first half of the race well within my capabilities… far beyond, in retrospect, what conditions allowed.  I was on my hands and knees on the side of the trail vomiting watered down Gatorade, dully aware I was not sweating anymore and was getting goose pimples. 
The occasional runner would pass and shout a word of encouragement.  One asked if I was alright.  I mindlessly waved him off and allowed him to continue his own race… it was the least I could do.  Standing up I experienced tunnel vision, and a contrasted view of the world where the brights were too bright and the darks were too dark.  I made the decision and began heading back to the last aid station.  My race was over. 
When I made it back to the aid station I found out that the staff I took for granted when I filled my water bottle, was made up of high school students with no knowledge of what an unhealthy runner looked like, no first aid skills, and no way to communicate with “real” race officials.  Instead, I was greeted by cheers since I was the first person returning from the out and back section of the course.  I explained I was dropping out, and needed help.  I was rewarded with blank stares and directions on how to get back to the starting line. 
Cutting the course where I could, stopping to relieve myself when I was forced to, I managed to walk the 6 miles back to race HQ.  By that time I had recovered some, and was greeted with confusion and disbelief when I refused to cross the finish line and explained I had dropped out.
This story is familiar to some; you’ve read other reports of races gone bad.  Some of you have experienced similar occurrences in one form or another for yourself.  This is where, based on the title of the article, you expect a moral to the story, how I love running, how much running means to me, what I learned, how I got better.
I’m sorry to disappoint.  It was a clever title to make you read this far.
Although this is a true story, it doubles as a metaphor for my life.
I’m a recovering addict.
Two years ago my life had spiraled out of control.  Issues I had lived with most of my life had come to a head, and I was on the verge of losing my wife, my children, my home, my career.  Anything that had any value in my life was an eye blink away from being gone.  Forever.  And like a strained hamstring, or a tight IT band, that I needed to last for one more race, I hid it.  I hid it all.  I buried a damning dysfunction behind false smiles, trivial conversations, and the “healthy” habit of running.  All the while I planned how I was going to get my next fix.
I was on my hands and knees puking the guts out of my life, waving people on, telling them I was OK.  My smile was so sincere, they believed me. 
So, what happened?
I was saved. 
Not in a biblical, spiritual, Southern Baptist Bible beating, slap on the forehead, born again saving.  Although I’m sure there is a bigger plan in all of this.  I was lucky enough to have a wife who saw me at my lowest low.  Who took the worse psychological abuse I could dish out.  Who saw me as someone who apparently did not care about anything, and she decided there was something worth keeping.  She saved me.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not married to a saint, I’m not that lucky, but through a perfect storm of issues and resources, I was lucky enough to have a wife who cared enough to try to understand.  I can never give her enough credit.
I was given an ultimatum and a choice.
I chose to reach out and take the hand that was offered.  With my wife’s help I was able to find a group of people who were able to help start getting clean.  With a lot of really hard work, a strong support group, and a wife who loves me, I’m sober and healthy.
It’s not a happily ever after story.  There have been trials and tribulations.  There have been relapses and setbacks.  I’ve reached out to people who I thought were supposed to help and was rebuffed, and referred away.  By the time this is printed I will have a year sobriety.  My wife and I have a strong relationship that is healthier and better than ever; I’m a better father and a better employee.  But it’s a lot of work, and in some ways and at some times it is a daily struggle.
There are a number of elite and sub-elite runners, marathoners, and ultra-marathoners who are recovering addicts.  These athletes are normally the low-key men and women who are quick with a wave and a smile, can sometimes be within striking distance of a historic finish and are able to fade willingly into anonymity.  Running attracts addicts.  Look it up.  Once you get past all the pat-myself-on-the-back articles about being a “running addict” you’ll find hundreds of resources dealing with running as a therapy for addiction recovery, why addicts run, physiological and psychological benefits of running for addicts, entire programs set up to reach out to addicts to use running to help get them clean.
Why?  Lots of reasons.  At my worst it was an escape.  At my not quite worst it was an exercise of control – addicts like to have control, at least the illusion of it, and running provides the perfect outlet for exerting control in an aspect of your life.  You can make it all about charts and graphs, times and goals.  You can literally force your body to do things that it should not be able to do – run 16 miles with the last 4 at 10K race pace.  And addicts can get off on that.  For some, depending on the addiction, it can actually give them an outlet to delve deeper into their junk, to medicate without the drug of choice – then to medicate again with it.
In recovery running can be a therapy.  It can be a time for meditation, for prayer, a stress reliever.  Scientifically speaking endorphins and adrenaline can take the edge off of chemical dependencies or physiological behaviors.  Spiritually speaking it gives time to think, reflect, pray, commune, discover a meaning for your life, or any of a number of benefits that can be valuable to a person.
All I know is this.  Running alone is not a cure.  Running by itself cannot, by the sheer nature of its potential, be the sole answer.  Has it worked for individuals?  Sure… but so has cold turkey.
Think of your absolutely worst running experience.  Think of your lowest low.  Your hardest hurdle.  The biggest wall.  The most terrible cramp.  The career-ending injury.  Heatstroke.  Dehydration.  Hypothermia.  There are people out there, people you know, who are suffering much much worse… because someone they know has an addiction.  That is the suffering I caused my wife.
                For anyone reading this who needs a word of encouragement.  You are not alone.  There are people out there who want to help.  You are not the worst, not the first, not the only.  If you are curious about my story, or just want a sounding board for your own issues, I’m willing to listen.  And I’m always up for a run.
                Eric Stanley
                Sober since October 18th 2011.

1 comment:

Cait the Arty Runnerchick said...

first of all, mark, do feel free to at least make that arm sore for the pats on the back...congrats! that's sooo awesome! so ironic about some of the most read/responsive work was done rather quickly on ur end. there is something to be said for writing raw and then letting wat's in ur mind translate straight to page. i'm glad ur post has sparked so much positivity in others.
and congrats to u, eric, thanks for sharing ur own journey and a HUGE congrats on ur sobriety! :)

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