Recently I was forced to consider that I could be a recovering addict.
Some of you know about this part of my life, but most people don’t. Some people might be upset at how I’m writing this and others will think I’m being stupid.
I would say that the first time I truly had to confront this was in college. In truth though this actually started in high school. Like many stories like this, it started with a girl…
I have always been motivated by my muses. With an imaginative and romantic mindset, it doesn’t take much external help for me to push myself into doing something. And this was just another example.
I had my eye on someone and I wanted to know more about her. In the past this had led me to work harder or study more. To enter more advanced classes. This time, she was into sports and so I had no choice at that point. It was time to get into athletics myself.
Thankfully once I was in it, I kept it up for my own joy and pleasure, also a common theme from my muses. Track and cross country became my outlet.
I always have a lot of ideas and projects spinning around me, and physical activity, as I learned more about when I was older, was exactly what I needed to help slow me down and bring my whole self into a better balance from my mental exertions. In track, I did sprints, relay, and primarily hurdles. I miss being that flexible to do the splits in the air while running. Well, that’s what hurdles was to me at least.
Cross country though became my passion. I wasn’t the best by any stretch. If I remember right, I was the last on the team or near enough that I wouldn’t have known much of a difference but I was also new on the team and everyone else had already been doing it for a while. And with other later sports, I found that cross country is the type that I love. A ‘group’ sport that I can do as an individual. It’s all up to me to do my best. Like rock climbing, the route can only be conquered by me and my skills only. The belayer is just the safety device while I do my thing. And in cross country, I have to run the best race I can, even if that’s to give it all so well that I’m dry heaving as soon as or right before I cross the finish line.
Running became a place of peace for me. A zone of personal zen that only belonged to me, even if it was during a race. When I had a path I could just run over and over again, I could enter a fugue state and let my body move on its own while my mind drifted into a relaxed state. The more I ran, the more I fell in love with it. Some of my best mile splits were after high school and in college where I just ran for me. Until I stopped that is.
I tried to stay very active in college. It wasn’t like I was doing much studying so I had plenty of time for other things like organizations, yearbook, maybe even the occasional newspaper article. I had friends and activities. I was fortunate my first year to be a part of a hall with a group of some seriously crazy guys. I was also a scrawny guy weighing in at about 125 lbs. I’m 6’1” by the way. That’s whipcord low on weight. I was running a lot.
You start with a mile or two for warm up. Then you stretch. Then you actually run. Who knows how long. Without a team I would just run for me until I wasn’t into it. Then you run another mile or two to cool down and you stretch again. If it wasn’t running then it was ultimate frisbee. Or with the help of my crazy hallmates, learning how to lift weights without hurting myself. Proper form first.
I enjoyed dances and working at the movie theater. I loved taking pictures and writing yearbook articles. I enjoyed and was obsessed with my DayTimer planner counting my day in 15 minute blocks of time. Classes with friends to challenge me so I would actually study and do the work (thanks eric and jen). I’ve never been one to be motivated to study on my own, still a problem. But whenever I needed a break, I let running become my reality.
The run through the arboretum was calm and serene but it was a giant loop that was up and down. Not something you could just relax into. But I had a great path in college. I would exit the university and head down the country road on the path to no where. Make a left at a certain road and it looped around the mall and I worked my way back to the university. Mapping it out once, it looked to be about 8 miles and it took me a while. I never really checked how long my runs were and I can’t remember even checking my mile times. I would work hard on my runs because I had a problem. I enjoyed the run.
I don’t mean I liked running so much. I mean that I would run until I hit my wall and would push through it and past it so I could get my runner’s high. That endorphin kick was glorious. And that’s what helped me enter into my fugue state. I wonder if that’s what natives feel when they rub the poison frogs on their chests and their minds drift away. One day that pleasure seeking zen filled run turned into a nightmare. I still remember most of it today it was that strong of a memory.
It was autumn so it was cool. It was some time in the afternoon when I started my run. I remember being in dark clothes. A black cotton long sleeved top and black shorts. Both meant to keep me warm. It was sunny and i knew it would soak up the sun’s rays. The run I think started like normal or at least I would have started it from the same location and started on the same path. Some when though, it went different.
I must have hit my wall and I must have passed through it, but the high this time must also have been more. I entered into the deepest fugue state I had ever been in. My subconscious got punted and I just ran. In modern times I would reference forest gump and they way he just kept running and running.
I don’t remember the run. What I remember is all of a sudden snapping out of my fugue state. I noticed a bobbing light in the distance. It was dark out. The sun mostly set already into the mountains. That bobbing light was a car. The headlights moving up and down on the country road. Even today I wonder if a steady light from a smooth road would have done anything to for me.
Once I was aware I moved myself to the side of the road. I wasn’t running anymore. I was still coming to terms with what was in the present moment. Why was it so dark? I always made it back with light out. Where was I? There were trees on my left side and on my right were fields as far as I could see. I was on some road, narrow, with just enough room for two cars to pass each other. And I was out there too.
As my mind became more alert and aware, my body soon followed. And that was not a pleasant thing. I had pushed myself far beyond normal and I would soon pay the price now that the endorphins were gone. I was exhausted. I’m not talking about being tired. I get tired after a long day at work. I’m talking about the level of exhaustion that encompasses the entire body. An exhaustion so profound that I was looking at those fields and I honestly thought about going to sleep in them. My mind though kept reminding me about rats, mice, snakes and god forbid, waking up with a thresher barreling towards me.
I was fortunate that my legs hadn’t cramped up on me or I was just too tired to notice it. But my mind was sharp enough. If I was going in one direction when I stopped, some kind of logic would hopefully win out that I should then go in the other direction to find my way back. So I did. I just turned around and started walking. There was no way I was running. It was hard enough putting one foot in front of the other. I had a watch on me but my mind wasn’t that sharp. I was in a survival mindset of trying to keep myself from laying down onthe road the moment I stopped. I believe I had walked at least half an hour, or some very long sense of time, before I saw a house.
I was also very lucky. There was a light on and there was an older man raking some leaves. I made noise as I was walking up to the yard and to him. A stranger, and I was going to ask and beg and plead and do just about anything I could for help and hoped that in the area and community I was in, I might just get it. He stopped what he was doing and let me say my peace. I explained I was out running and I got lost but I was I so exhausted, I didn’t think I could get back on my own. I wonder what I must have looked like to him. He didn’t even bother to finish raking or saying very much that I can recall. He reckoned that I was a from the university and he said he’d give me a ride back. I sat in the passenger side, window down as I recall since I was still putting off a lot of heat like I do now as well.
Again I wish I had been sharper to clock the time or measure the distance. But we did drive for a while. Quite a while in my state. It was a country road so no fast speeds but fast enough and long enough I must have been far far out. Once we got closer I was able to guide him to my dorm and he dropped me off. I thanked him. I never did ask his name though, another oversight.
I don’t remember much after I got back to my room. I imagine I just laid down in bed and passed out. But I do remember when I woke up feeling scared. I almost lost it out there. I had my runner’s high. I got into my fugue state. And I never wanted to run again. I didn’t for a long time.
It was at least a year I think before I put on my running shoes again and even then I stayed to the track or ran with others. I stopped pushing myself so hard I would feel the wall or feel the high I so craved. Fear it seems was some kind of motivator, or demotivator in this case. I did slowly work my way back into longer runs. I would do half-marathons lengths. 13 miles is really not that much longer than 8 which I had been doing several days a week. I even started to have aspirations of maybe training for a marathon. Alas, a sports injury in graduate school cut that off. A hip injury that leaves one leg a different length than the other makes running not so pleasant.
In my efforts to get back into better shape, I cross train. I enjoy all types of sports, including yoga as a sport as well. But I keep coming back to running, even if it’s a pain in my as… hip.
A few months ago, I had a crisis. I hit my wall. At first I felt the panic. Seriously. I was on a treadmill when I started to push myself. And I felt the wall approaching. It wasn’t until it was right there that i panicked. That moment when you want to just stop because it hurts and you know that if you just push a little more, a little harder, it will be ok. The rush of the endorphins will come to your rescue and you can keep going. And that’s where I panicked.
Even on a treadmill I didn’t want to zone out. I’ve since learned that at least in the gym, the treadmill will time out in an hour and will slow you down regardless but I didn’t know that then. I stopped running again. This time it only lasted a few months. One step forward, two steps back.
I’ve never liked lifting by myself and just didn’t do much of anything at that point. And again, back on that horse I went. Slowly working my way up except this time I let myself plateau and I didn’t push myself. I learned at this point about the time limit on the treadmill. In another working area, I found a school track that I can run on in the morning or the evening. I’m still out of shape enough that a few miles is more than enough to wind me and I still haven’t been able to push myself to the wall again. I don’t know if I ever can again. I’m scared. Will I get back to that place where to live is to run? I’m sure I’ll be in much better physical shape if I can do that. My doctor would be pleased for me to have better lab tests. But can I handle it mentally again? The desire for the wall and the endorphins is a driving force. I want to. Isn’t that a sign? But I hate this idea that something can beat me, especially if it’s internal.
When I chased my fear of heights, I took up free fall skydiving. My fear of the open water (thanks Jaws), I became PADI certified. I appreciated the acknowledgement of my fears and I want to face them around. But while I found outlets for other fears, I haven’t found the one for running. How does one confront this fear other than directly confronting it by just doing it. There’s no extreme way like diving except to just run. Being out of shape and running on a treadmill or track, I’m not too worried.
But I know those types of locations will get boring and I’ll want to be out there again, on a long stretch with a beautiful vista, to let my body hit a smooth stride and my mind to drift away. But will I still be me if I ever return? Or will I wake up to find it was all in my dreams to begin with.
p.s. This was stream of consciousness and as such I have minimally proofread it if a mistake was staring at me. Nor have I actually read this for exactness, clarity and if it even makes sense.