On January 16, at 18 days sober, I got up before dawn and drove 50 miles outside of the city to toe the line for a 25K trail race. I had no competitive goals; I just wanted to enjoy racing again. And…I did. It was invigorating, challenging, and at times even euphoric. It was all the things my addiction has robbed from me over and over again in the past two years. Trail racing is more exhausting than road racing because your brain is perpetually engaged. You’re constantly judging, calculating, balancing. As I ran through the woods, dodging roots and fallen branches and sliding through the mud, I felt more alive than I had in weeks. Maybe I can really kick this, I thought. For real this time.
Two and a half hours later, I finished, covered in dirt and full of joy. Later I discovered I was 6th female, which was a nice bonus, but it wasn’t why I was out there. I left fairly quickly, because there was an after-party for the normal people (the ones who can have a few, call it a day and go about their business) and I knew that I wouldn’t be able to handle that. Smart decision, right? Yes…but it sucked.
Because in my post-collegiate running career, I’ve learned that I could not only run well enough to sometimes win races, sometimes even win money, but that I could also reward myself with a drink or two after a race or a hard training run.
But slowly, deceptively, that drink became more than two. Eventually it became five or six or seven. Finally, it replaced running entirely, and I didn’t see it happening until it was too late. But I miss those post-race rewards. I still remember the days when that’s truly all they were.
And I haven’t fucking gotten over it.
You’re a freak. Just accept it. You never really grew up. You can’t drink like an adult because you’re just a piece of shit with no self-control, I thought as I drove home after slamming two sodas and saying awkward goodbyes to people.
The thought festered and smoldered in my mind for three days, getting more and more unbearable…but I kept quiet.
I should have told someone. I should have reached out for help. Instead, I buried the thought, ashamed of my inability to be like other people. And eventually I broke, telling myself that an impending snowstorm and the inevitable few days off work was a good reason. This, of course, is a perfectly good excuse for most people, but the reality is there is no excuse in my case. There’s only the ugly, sober truth: I can’t drink. What’s fine for most people is poison for me. It didn’t take long to sink into oblivion, and for nearly a week I became a virtual ghost, completely removed from reality. The aftermath, of course, is never pretty. A more accurate description would be “horrifying.” What I’ve experienced in the past few days is not a hangover. It’s sickness, and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.
I still have hope that I will run again- maybe even compete again, sooner than later. But deep down I know that the bigger problem is that this could eventually kill me, and I don’t want to die.
You can run all you want, but you can’t escape yourself.