I used to run a lot in my younger years, and while I got gung-ho enough about it to complete two half-marathons, I never crossed the threshold into “hard-core runner” territory. Never did I feel even the faintest shred of desire to run a full marathon, and when people would ask when I was going to move on to that natural next step, I just laughed.
Hell, 13.1 was too much for me. I never lasted longer than 10 miles in training, and during the actual races, I distinctly remember getting to the seven-mile mark and being like, “OK, I’m good now! Ready to do something else!” (the first time), and “Shit! How did I forget about the awfulness of the last six miles and sign up for another one of these?!?” (the last time). Of course, I am a competitor at heart and I don’t quit in the middle of athletic events, so I kept plodding along to the finish line — and got there in less than two hours; thank you. But that invisible “wall” runners always talk about hitting was, to me, a mammoth fortification akin to the home of the Night’s Watch in “Game Of Thrones”, complete with undead ice monsters on the other side whom I didn’t care to meet.
At some point or another, I always smack straight into that damn wall, no matter what task I undertake or journey I embark upon. And it’s not that I get tired physically. It’s some kind of short circuit in my head.
I hit it — or it hit me — for the first time in my recovery last week. I just woke up one morning and felt empty and spent, as if all my positive energy had drained overnight and been replaced by sadness, frustration — and yes, self-pity. I found myself contemplating a dangerous question that tends to pop up during all the low times in my life: “What’s the point of it all?”
On the one hand, it’s confusing as hell to go through this at five months (and change) sober, given all the hard work I’ve put into my 12-step program, the insight I’ve gained in therapy (individual and couples), the genuine connection I’ve occasionally felt to a higher power and the actual little miracles I’ve experienced.
On the other hand, this makes perfect sense.
I’ve always been good at starting things; the finishing, not so much. There always comes a time when the path I’m on gets old, feels uncomfortable, and I start looking for an alternate route, opt to turn back around — or literally just give up racing.
Don’t they say, when they talk about the big, important things in life, that “it’s a marathon, not a sprint”? Well, I think you can see why I’ve struggled to get past my issues up to this point.
My lack of mental endurance on the running trails and race courses has manifested itself in other areas of my life — maybe all other areas, now that I think about it. I picked up and moved from one region of the country to another, twice, switched jobs, sabotaged relationships, either fled social interactions and gatherings or avoided them altogether, and drank an ocean of alcohol to escape my thoughts and feelings — all because I was unwilling to stick it out through dull, monotonous lulls or put up with painful, frustrating lows to see how situations would play out.
I liked to do things, go places, take on challenges…up to a point. I liked diving in to activities…but never getting too deep. I liked being around people…but never staying too long. If I ever found myself in any one place, after a certain amount of time, a switch flipped. I got squirrelly, panicky, and started plotting my exit.
Who am I kidding? I always have my exits pre-planned. And when I first heard the term “Irish Goodbye,” I considered re-examining my ancestry because that’s my thing.
I think this metaphysical wanderlust, or whatever you want to call it, is the reason I was so well-rounded as a kid. I participated in every school activity my schedule would allow, from chorus to orchestra to community service and academic clubs, and even the youth group at my church. I relished the chance to play three sports, switching to something new and exciting every three or four months. The idea of focusing on one thing year-round seemed akin to being held prisoner.
That’s it, in a nutshell: I freak out when I feel trapped.
So, you might imagine that when it comes to things like, say, marriage, recovery from addiction, even employment (if you’re someone like me who can never, ever, ever afford to retire), once you’re in it, it can be difficult to wrap your head around the fact that THIS IS A LONG-TERM, FOREVER-TYPE DEAL, AND THERE IS NO ESCAPE. There is no “switching at the end of the season.” If you want any of this stuff to work, you can’t recoil or turn tail when you hit walls; you have to work your way through it.
If you want to make progress as a person/partner and get to a better place, you have to stick it out — to endure — through the lulls and the low points, even when it’s uncomfortable or painful.
If you want to be free from addiction, assholery and all the shit that keeps you stuck, you have to put in the work to knock down those walls. You’re only truly trapped if you refuse to try.
With apologies to employment, my recovery and my marriage are the two most important things in the world to me right now. I’m happy and grateful to report that, with continued hard work and perseverance, both are in good shape today.
I woke up this morning, 161 days sober and snuggled in flannel sheets with my husband’s arm around me, knowing he is proud of me — instead of fearing his wrath over shit I did last night, and the night before…
I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that this feeling will never, ever get old. Even when everything else about sobriety feels pointless and sad, and I feel sorry for myself, if I am sober and my husband is happy, really, what else is there?
All couples “hit walls” in their journey together. This is to be expected; this is why relationships don’t work out if you don’t put in the work. Spouses living with addicts have to do more than their share of that work while the other person is busy feeding their demons, and then even if/when they choose to enter recovery, that process is no picnic, either. Personal growth is painful as 🤬. There’s no way around that.
It takes some world-class endurance for spouses of addicts to stick it out. I know because I’ve witnessed it firsthand.
My addiction(s) did, in fact, make me an asshole in many ways, and as the person closest to me both physically and emotionally, my husband bore the brunt and absorbed the fallout — and he endured. He’s thrown himself into the recovery process with me, sat in a therapist’s chair alongside me, hasn’t even had a sip of alcohol in my presence since July 7, made our home a safe sober haven filled with scented candles, diet sodas and tasty treats, and offered encouraging words every time I’m struggling or stuck in one of my lulls or low points.
Sitting here writing this, I’m reminded of my first half-marathon back in 2013. I was plodding along toward the finish line, having left most of my motivation and all of my positive energy back at the seven-mile mark. I suddenly spied someone standing on the side of the road with a piece of poster board. Reading the words jolted me from self-pity to pure joy. That sign was for me!
With a world-class cheering section like that, pushing myself farther than I’ve ever been before, as I did that day, doesn’t have to be a matter of dull, monotonous endurance. I can actually enjoy the journey.
There is a better place between here and the finish line, even if I can’t yet see it in the distance. If it seems impossible to break down the walls blocking my way, it’s only because I’ve forgotten: I’m not running alone.