Monday, February 27, 2012

Breaking Through the Wall

On my long run over the weekend I realized there is (for me at least) a metaphysical dead zone that occurs at mile 10. I've already come so far, and yet, cannot even imagine continuing to put one foot in front of the other. It didn't help that there was a cold winter wind blowing in my face, but I can't say the wind caused my incredible sense of hopelessness. It was more that given I'd run 10 miles, knowing I had to cover another 6 and believing I couldn't even do another 1, that I felt an incredible urge to throw in the towel and go home. If I hadn't been so far from home, I likely would have done so.

Instead, knowing that the only way I'd get to rest was to cover the ground I'd committed to, I forced myself to keep moving. When I hit mile 14, I suddenly found the strength to finish. I don't know what happened during those four "lost" miles, but at some point it occurred to me that there is pain in what I'm doing - that the human body cannot continue to add miles, force physiological adaptation, and become stronger without pain. At some point I just started repeating the mantra: "this really hurts and it's supposed to". The pain was not an indication that something was wrong, it was an indication that my muscles were fatigued.

The corollary to sobriety is obvious. Almost so obvious that it's not worth stating, but here I go anyway. In sobriety, there are so many things that hurt. Life goes on, and eventually you hit these pain points. They come and go - exhaustion, pain, and exhilaration go hand in hand. And it's okay. One foot in front of the other, and eventually you do break through the wall. Eventually things do get better. Eventually, you get to rest. And when you look back and see how far you've come, you're amazed.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Half-Marathon Report

Yesterday I ran more than 13 miles on a training run (13.3 to be precise). It's the first time I've run that long ever. I did not hit my target time of sub-two hours, which was strangely disappointing. In fact, rather than feel proud of the distance I covered, I found myself thinking such a goal was impossible. Any other time I've exceeded my maximum distance I was thrilled by the simple fact of covering the miles. Why this time was different, I'm not sure.

After wallowing for an hour, I was finally able to get over myself. It's funny how easy it is to lose sight of an underlying goal by focusing solely on the outcome. Six months ago the notion of walking 13 miles would have seemed laughable, so to get pissy about not running fast enough seems distinctly childish. It reminds me how easy it is to focus on outcomes and to find the negative in what was largely a positive experience. It reminds me that I can sour any experience if I forget that things don't always turn out precisely the way I had planned.

With a bit of perspective I can say the following:

  1. I didn't go out too fast. Usually on long runs my excitement leads me to sprint the first three miles and then suffer through the rest. This time I paid attention to my overall effort and kept my pace in line.
  2. I felt great until mile 11, when things went suddenly down hill (cramping in my calves and new pain in my inner thigh). In the past, I never felt good for that long.
  3. The weather was mild - sunny and no wind (I really hate wind...) - so much of my run was an appreciation of the beauty around me.
  4. I remembered to eat the gels frequently and drank water (often I skip both and suffer for it).
  5. I was able to run 13 miles a month prior to the actual run, which gives me quite a bit of time to finesse my time.
  6. I didn't feel guilty for taking the time to run.
Things to work on
  1.  Motivational self-talk definitely suffered. Doubt crept in around mile 10, which made it difficult to keep going.
  2. Find a route that does not involve a huge hill at the end. I think I ran at pace for most of the run, but that hill really killed me. (The course route is flat, so running hills on the long run makes no sense.)
  3. Focus on endurance and putting in the miles, worry less about the overall time.
  4. Remember how lucky I am that I'm able to even cover this distance and that I'm still (knock wood) injury free.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Book Review Fridays: Ninety Days

In Ninety Days: A Memoir of Recovery, by Bill Clegg, he recounts his attempts to get 90 days of continuous sobriety. As with many of us, it took him multiple relapses before he was able to string together three months. In the end, it was his commitment to the rooms (3 meetings a day) and a sense of responsibility to the people he met there that gave him the strength to resist the urge to get high and the courage to build a sober life. He didn't want to let his fellow addicts down and stayed sober so he could be there for them if and when they needed his support. The book illustrates the power of the rooms to help us get and stay sober. I think we all need some reason outside of ourselves to stay sober, especially in the beginning when patterns of self-destruction are so habitual.

I really struggled with this book. I nearly stopped reading it about a third of the way through because the intricate, minute-by-minute narrative description of his early days following rehab was simply not compelling. Then, I almost stopped reading it because the detailed descriptions of drug use, craving, and crash were simply too real. In the end, I finished the book because I really wanted to know what happened to his friend Polly. In that sense, this is a good book - it is powerfully written and evocative.

Clegg powerfully captures the element of craving and its after-effects. His description of the mental twitch (you should get high now), followed by the euphoria of preparation, and the complete lack of attention to any of the reasons for continuing sobriety really resonated with me. Here is one description of a relapse:
I'm at the door. The same door I've stood at dozens and dozens of times. Looking at the same buzzer and hoping the same hope: that Mark is home and that Mark has drugs. Whatever hesitation struggled against the desire on the terrace less than an hour before is now gone. I am giddy and antsy and shuffling before the door as if something wonderful is waiting on the other side. Nothing of the past months, nothing of the ruin and upset my using has caused, figures into this moment. Or if it does, it's a dim unpleasantness that, along with every other worry, is being escaped. The world and its woe exist on this side of the door, where I am now; the place to hide from it all is on the other, where I'm going.
He perfectly captures the flawed logic that takes us from recovery back into active addiction, and it scared the crap out of me. Each time he describes another relapse I alternately wanted to slap him and get on my knees to pray for my own recovery. Much of the power of this book comes from such detailed descriptions of his mental processes. The realism in the book requires that his descriptions are not watered down by what he knows now.

Unfortunately, it's one of the things I really disliked about the book. As with his last book, his account is somewhat stream of consciousness and provides a very detailed description of events, however, there is no analysis of his behavior from his current standpoint. He does not investigate or analyze what he did, based on what he knows now. As a result the selfish absorption of addiction that follows us into recovery is primary to the narrative. I kept wondering why he didn't try to get a job, or move away, or do something different to prevent another relapse.

In the end, the book provides compelling insight into addiction and I would recommend it for anyone who knows an addict or alcoholic and is mystified by their behavior. I would also recommend it to anyone who is currently using and can't seem to quit. I'm not sure I would recommend it for anyone in recovery (especially early recovery) because of the drama around use. Detailed descriptions of chasing and finding the high nearly triggered me. Also, he speaks so little of life after recovery that his motives for getting clean are unclear. It's strange that his description of drug use is more detailed and compelling than his description of his life in sobriety. Maybe that's the next book?

Edited to Add: After ruminating all day I realized what is missing from this book: HOPE. There is none. Even though I would tell anyone (and often do) that sobriety is filled with joy (and pain and bullshit), none of that came across in his book. It was one endless plod. Perhaps this was his experience, so I don't want to judge. But I usually do look for some hope in the books I read, whether they're about addiction or not.

Monday, February 13, 2012

You Never Have Time for Me Now...

My daughter came up with this chestnut over the weekend: "now that you're running all the time we don't spend very much time together."  My first thought was, "The reason we don't spend time together is because you're always watching TV or on the computer." My second thought was, "Oh god! I am a horrible mother because I would rather go running than sit at a table and color. And I'm a horrible mother because my first thought was to go for the offensive" The second thought stuck with me through most of my run. I felt guilty for running. I felt guilty because I don't just run for 30 minutes three times a week. Instead, I run six days a week, often for an hour or more. Never mind that four days of the week I'm running on my lunch break.

After wearing that particular hair shirt for the bulk of my run that day, I decided to take what she said the way it was probably intended: I love you and would like more time together...but it led me to really think about how difficult it can be to balance my responsibilities, my passions, and my life with my kids (and my husband). These things are not mutually exclusive, but until my kids are happy to sit and knit for three hours on a Sunday afternoon, it will be difficult to find time. I even found myself wishing they were little enough to go in the stroller while I ran - then I wouldn't have to feel at all guilty... then I would be multitasking.

Without that "out", I'm going to have to deal with the guilt. Largely by letting it go. My kids are at an age where they want me around, but don't actually need me to be around. They need me, but only just in case they might want to cut an apple, or to referee a disagreement. And I am here for that 90% of the time. I also know that the time is coming when they'll be relieved that I'm out running (because they can eat junk food and talk on the phone while doing homework and watching TV). (I know... I'm trying to justify myself right now...not a convincing a mom-power position, but I can't help it!) And finally, I know that the best gift I can give them is to show them that it's healthy to do things we love, even if others don't understand why we do them - to live by the adage that as moms our lives don't begin and end with what others expect from us. That our lives as women don't begin and end with what our friends or boyfriends expect from us.

But it is bloody hard some days to remember all of that.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Book Review: Good in a Crisis

I'm a huge fan of memoirs. I love getting an inside view into how someone else thinks about things. Good in a Crisis, by Margaret Overton, is a wonderful memoir. She begins with her divorce and has much to say about recovering from the dissolution of a marriage. She speaks about how long it took her to get to the point of being ready to leave.

When I was married, if I'd had even a moderately high index of suspicion, I might have gotten rid of my husband instead of waiting as long as I did, which is to say, I waited so long as to never have a single moment of regret when I finally left him. Not one.
She is at her funniest when she speaks about dating, especially her experiences with What a train of losers! However, when all is said and done, the book is less a divorce memoir, and more an articulation of change and its effects. Nothing is permanent, not a marriage, not a relationship, not health - life can change in an instant:
And the understanding that everything you think you know, everything you count on, can change in a heartbeat. I guess that's the essence of middle age. You learn that lesson. Some of us learn it over and over and over.
In addition to her divorce, she goes through several near shattering experiences: a very close friend dies, her daughter is injured, and she develops an aneurism that requires treatment. While the book addresses her feelings about each of these events, it is largely inspirational due to her attempts to get through them.

I thought about how people always say that things happen for a reason, but I didn't believe it. We need to think that, to impose some rationalization, some order on a world in which chaos seems to be the only thing we can count on. I've seen too much tragedy, too much awfulness - most medical people have. Chaos, disorder, and complete randomness - that's all we can count on.
It is all too easy to forget that things do change - especially as I often find myself wishing away my situations, feeling like the bad will last forever and that the good is far too fleeting. I find myself tempted to believe in wishful magical thinking, hoping that every single thing happens for a reason so that the bad can be justified and the good a reward of some kind. She ends the book with this:

I had within me, we all have within ourselves, the capacity to be happy. It is not an entitlement. Sometimes it's work. Some days it comes more naturally than others. But it requires a basic acknowledgement of the input of other people into our lives - that in and of itself is a personality trait. It even explains, I think, why narcissists tend to be unhappy. They're self-centered. They don't take other people into consideration. Not others' input, nor the effects they have on others.
I really enjoyed this book and although it isn't "just" a divorce memoir, I would definitely recommend it for anyone who is going through one. Otherwise, it serves as a very good reminder that we're all ultimately responsible for our own happiness, even on the days when everything is so painful we aren't sure we'll get through it.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

A Collection of thoughts

I can't seem to get it together for a coherent post today; instead, here's a quick list of the crap rolling around in my head:

Running and Injuries
So it's finally happened. All the books state that if you run, you will eventually get injured. But here's the thing. My injury is only tangentially related to running. When I was changing out of my running clothes I wrenched my big toe (note: toes are not typically meant to bend 90 degrees sideways). Now it's killing me.

I keep reading stuff that indicates if you lift weights or do other sports that build overall strength, your running improves. The thought that jumps into my head when I read this is as follows: "If I wanted to exercise, I would already have been doing that." The truth of the matter is that I detest exercising, yet love running. That seems like a completely illogical sentence. But there you have it.

Anxiety Dissipates
My anxiety left the same way it came on - completely without reason. I'm glad about it, but will continue to be mystified. I feel like I'll never know if anxiety is produced out of my crocodile brain, based on subtle "barometer-like" reads of my environment, or if I just didn't get enough sleep.

If it was Really Bad I'd Leave
I keep hearing this. Another common statement is, "If I had kids I'd leave my alcoholic." Based on my experience, I don't think it's ever easy to leave. If it were, most alcoholics would be single. No matter what the circumstances, it's always going to be hard to end it, because just as the alcoholic is like a frog in a pot, so are all of their loved ones. We all slowly accept increasingly unacceptable behavior, until our normal is a toxic waste dump.

Lately I feel infused with joy when I run. I really just love it.

Thursday, February 2, 2012


Lately I've been feeling really anxious and I'm not sure why. Certainly, I'm able to come up with reasons. There is a long list of the might happens, a shorter list of the already happening, and a detailed list of the happened. Maybe part of the anxiety is caused by feeling that I don't deserve peace and happiness. Or maybe I'm still getting used to the idea that things will work out. I'm not sure. Is it old habit that leads me to cast for worry. To mar my own experience, rather than live in the moment?

I really wish I knew the answer. Unfortunately, I've spent most of my life trying to discount my own anxiety, so I no longer trust myself very much on this issue.

I'm told that a formal fourth step takes care of this. I've also been vaguely critiqued at AA for not doing it yet. The thing I find is that whenever I begin to catalog my resentments, I am overcome by deep sadness. I'll remember one event that occurred a million years ago, this will spawn two more memories and I'll feel myself drowning at the thought of dealing with it all. As sleeping dogs go, they aren't incredibly tragic. At the same time, it seems I would need a two week retreat in order to assess them all. To own what happened and to see my part. This is a tall order, on par with detox (in the sense that you feel worse in the short-term so you can feel better in the long term). I'm just not ready.

So, in the meantime, I'm just carrying it around with me. The fear that everything won't work out. The fear that I'm not strong enough to deal with what happens. I don't worry that I'll drink about it. I simply worry that I'll lose the motivation to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

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