Four years ago today I ran 26.2 miles in three hours, five minutes, and 42 seconds. It was and still is the shortest length of time it has taken me to complete that distance. I am extraordinarily proud of that personal record, but I feel as though it should have several asterisks after it, because the number doesn’t even begin to tell the whole story.
The average person, for example, might look at that number and be mildly impressed. He or she may be familiar with the marathon distance, may have several friends who’ve completed one in 4:xx or 5:xx, and may think, “wow, that’s pretty quick, especially for a woman.” He or she would not know that I logged 80-100 mile weeks from January through April of that year, or that I completed dozens of workouts that indicated I was capable of a sub-3 hour marathon. This individual, unless he or she were compelled to look closely at the splits from that humid June morning, would not know that I ran 21 miles at 6:45 pace before succumbing to stomach issues and dehydration.
But perhaps most important: no one who saw that race result could possibly have any idea that it marked the beginning of a slow and painful decline in the form of alcoholism. Prior to that race, I was able to balance my training with my drinking, but that summer it started becoming more difficult, and in the months that followed, when I had to make a choice between alcohol and running, alcohol started winning.
I have not run a strong marathon since.
One month and two weeks ago today, at 36 days sober, I completed a training run in preparation for another marathon. My goals for this race, while realistic, were optimistic. I hoped to get to the starting line healthy and injury-free. I hoped to run a strong, confident, smart race. I hoped to restore a little bit of confidence that maybe I can continue to improve at this sport. I hoped to qualify for Boston, something I haven’t done in nearly two years, despite easily qualifying in my first-ever marathon back in 2007.
I finished the aforementioned run, 16 miles at about 8:00 pace, around 7:45pm that evening.
Fifteen hours later, I was called to a conference room and informed that, after ten years of better-than-average evaluations, I was no longer gainfully employed. “Your position has been eliminated,” they said without emotion. Almost immediately, the sinister voice was awakened. “You don’t have to get up for work tomorrow,” it hissed.
Twenty-four hours later, I was drunk out of my mind and had completely forgotten about not only running, but everything that matters in this world, and everyone who cares about me.
Forty-eight hours later, I was still drinking.
One week later, I was drinking literally around the clock and wanted only to be unconscious. I’d wake up sick and shaking at 5:00 am, reach for the bottle next to my bed, drink what was left of it, and (if I was lucky) return to a brief and merciful state of semi-consciousness, where I could forget the hell that my life had become. Several hours later, when the stores opened, the cycle started over. I stopped caring if anyone saw me. I stopped trying to hide what I was doing. I went to bars and I went to liquor stores. I drank. I remember some of it. There was a kind bartender who held onto my wallet after I dropped it before stumbling home. A lunch date with a good friend during which I tried unsuccessfully to string together sentences, failing miserably, while spilling food all over myself. (He later admitted that he was “shocked” at my appearance.) There was a woman who caught my arm as I fell backwards, asking gently where I lived and if she could help me. I couldn’t tell her; I knew, but I couldn’t use words. I slurred helplessly and tried to run away, falling over and over again before finally finding my front door, and eventually, my bed.
(I’m going to stop here and state for the record that I live in a city known for its high-crime rate, a city about which not one buttwo award-winning TV shows have been created documenting such crime, and yet no one tried to hurt me or take advantage of me in this horrifying state. I experienced nothing but kindness.)
Two weeks, three days, and approximately one hour after that last training run for the marathon I never started, I took my last swallow of alcohol, and the following day I did the unthinkable: I checked myself into rehab.
I completed inpatient treatment on June 8, 2016. That same afternoon I ran again in the sunshine for the first time, and I felt something different, something indescribable.
In four days I will celebrate one month sober, again.
This is a different kind of marathon. There is no finish line for this one, no stopwatch, no competition, no medal.
But it’s the most important race I will ever run.
*Alcoholics Anonymous works for me. The fellowship and my personal program, are what has kept me sober for nearly 10 months. I have a “home group” and attend a daily meeting, or sometimes two meetings per day. Recently, I stepped out of my comfort zone and attended a meeting that I had not been to before. While there, someone said something that really resonated with me. That relapse of our addiction happens long before we pick up that first drink.
A recovering alcoholic who is headed for relapse is not just suddenly “struck drunk”. There is a process and a series of events that leads up to the moment when the person picks up the drink. Something happens internally, on an emotional level, before the decision is made to put drugs or alcohol into the body.
When we talk about this occurrence we often refer to it as “emotional relapse.” Before you actually pick up the drink, something happens on an emotional level whereby the alcoholic rather non-chalantly thinks “Whatever, I am just going to get drunk.”
Why does this happen? How can it be prohibited?
Your current emotional state today is a result of all of your past decisions in life. How are you cultivating your emotional garden? Have you excavated your personal history?
The influence of routine cannot be overlooked. You become what you practice every day.
Emotional sobriety and your level of stability are crucial to your well being.
What are you cultivating today? How are you rebuilding your life and your labors?
Are you nurturing your body? What about your character? Are you being showing gratitude each day? If not, how can you begin to increase your gratitude? (Keeping a daily journal, join a gratitude group)
What is the state of your relationships? Are you learning to love yourself again? Even though that takes dedication? Are you learning to love and care for others in your sobriety? And perhaps most importantly, are you learning to set boundaries in your relationships? Are you putting healthy distance between yourself and those who would steal your energy and your serenity?
There are many ways to nurture YOU in recovery. YOU are accountable to find these tools to start living a healthier life. Sobriety is a journey, connected to your physical and emotional well being. To avoid relapse, take care of every aspect of your psyche.
Do you have awareness when you are emotionally upset in your recovery journey? Do you notice that you obsess about the drink when you sink into that state of mind? What is your plan to deal with the symptoms of relapse? Leave a comment and let us know.
*Recovery Elevator is not affiliated with Alcoholics Anonymous.
To reach the lowest or worst point of something; to descend to the lowest point possible, after which only an increase is possible; to reach a level that is as low as it will be.
Hitting bottom is as personal and individual as the God we pray to, or the spirituality we find in our journey to sobriety. Low bottoms, high bottoms all terms to describe what finally left us defeated enough to seek out help in the form of personal serenity. The point at which we admit we have a problem that we can no longer “control”. The sought after peace of sobriety is often driven by fear and shame.
Admitting our powerlessness is the first step in a healthy direction. Giving in isn’t giving up control, but is instrumental in regaining our independence. Handing our addiction over, asking for help, realizing that we are by no means alone in this battle.
I prefer to think of my rock bottom as the moment I surrendered and turned the whole affair over to the universe at large. It was the night, after weeks of intense drinking, that I finally did not want to live. I really didn’t want to die, but in my drunken, defeated stupor, realized that I could no longer keep up the pace and façade that I had built. All leading to a place of unfathomable hopelessness and demoralization. It was then that I just gave up. I quit fighting it, turned it over to my conception of God at the time.
What is your bottom? Are you there yet? How are you climbing your way back up?