Saturday, March 31, 2012

Heart Attack City

I've been battling a cold for the past few weeks and finally succumbed on Wednesday. I had to work Thursday, but took most of Friday off. Unfortunately there's a big project at work (okay, it's not big, it's small, but it has a crazy deadline) and it's not going well. It's not the work so much as it is the communication. You know when you think you've been clear, but then (based on what the other person says) it's obvious that something was missed in the translation? Well, my whole week has been that way. Each time I think we're in good shape, there's an explosion that tells the opposite story.

One self-protective measure that's become increasingly obvious to me is the desire to come up with a story that makes me look good. A series of logical justifications that mean I don't have to feel bad about the way things are. I do this to myself, for myself. I was up half the night last night trying to pull together evidence to justify each of my decisions so that I wouldn't have to feel badly about where things sit now. It didn't work. My brain ignored my instructions to go to sleep and continued to write and rewrite narratives that would place the steaming pile elsewhere, anywhere, but at my feet. Because I don't want to feel bad. I don't want to deal with the consequences of a failed project. (the project isn't failing, but perception is everything)

Anyway, most of what I've just written likely does not make any sense, because I don't want to provide too many details about work. But I do find the temptation to write self-protective narrative one of the most annoying habits I possess. Far better to look at things honestly and let the chips fall where they may. It doesn't make me a horrible person to have made a mistake. It also makes me wonder - does everyone have this temptation? Because if that's the case, then all we're ever doing is trying to sell through our own narrative, rather than sit together to honestly discuss what is going on in our lives. That may be a fair bit of projection (assuming that others do this as often as I've done it), but it does make me stop and think.

It takes courage to be honest. More than I feel I have some days. I'd much rather stick my head in the sand and hide until it's over. For me, that's the real road back to drinking. It's not the umbrellas on patios in the summer, or the wedding toast, it's the hiding and prevaricating and feeling bad about myself. I can accept that I'll feel bad, I just need to keep pushing myself to be courageous and own my actions.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Half-Marathon Race Report

I've been sitting on this post for three days because I haven't been sure about what to say of the race. Here goes: I hit my sub-2-hour goal: 1:59.10. It felt amazing - although it wasn't until I saw the clock that I was able to push through the last fifty yards.

In the end, I think I went out too fast. I was able to maintain pace for the first 10 or 11 miles, but after that I started to slowly fall apart. I felt tired. The music wasn't right. I took walk breaks. At the 16K mark my legs went on strike and my hips started to hurt. I daydreamed about ducking into a coffee shop for a shot of espresso. I seriously considered going home. I wasn't expecting to battle the mental exhaustion during the race to be honest - I somehow thought that there would be enough mental stimulation to get me through. At the end of the day, it wasn't that different from a training run in terms of motivation. Who knew I could be lazy regardless of the event?

After a few days of reflection, I think I did many things right:

  • I tapered for the full week prior to the marathon.  My last long run was a week prior to the race and I only ran twice (Monday and Wednesday) before the race Saturday, giving my legs time to heal.
  • I ate a ton. Glycogen storage is key. I've had trouble running in the past if I didn't make sure to eat. I spent the entire week loading up on carbs. (likely overkill, but I enjoyed every bite)
  • I consistently trained. Looking back over my training calendar, I can attest to a steady progression since September. 
  • I worked on my mental game. I've been reading about the positive thinking and goal setting. During the week prior to the race I reminded myself that I was capable of completing it. That I would do well, etc.
  • Breath and Pacing. During the race, I focused on breathing and tried to keep my pace within a comfortable range. Even though I lost a lot of time during the last 4K, I think the distance did me in more than my pace did.
There are a few things I'd change:
  • Leave my camelbak at home. During longer training runs I've been bringing water with me and I thought I was used to the weight and would need the hydration. However, it's really not a long enough race to justify the added weight. In the end, I barely drank any of it. I thought constantly about hucking it into the bushes. I think the water stations would have been enough.
  • Include more long runs in training. I've gotten really great at the 10 mile runs. Unfortunately, a half-marathon is 13.1 miles. I think that more experience running 15-16 miles would have made this one a snap to complete. 
  • Delete every crap song from my MP3 player. It's amazing how much a good song can keep you going and how much a bad song can make you want to lie down. Before the next race I'm going to really clean up what's on there.
  • Bring the Garmin. I decided I wouldn't obsessively track every mile of the race, so I just brought a stop watch for my overall time. I memorized timing points at each K and thought that would be enough. Unfortunately, the race had only three markers - 5K, 10K, and 20K. When I started to fall apart, I had no idea how much further I had to go. If I'd had the watch, I could have slowed down at the beginning and had a bargaining chip to bribe myself with at the end.
I really really loved it though. And I can't wait for the next one!

In the meantime, I have to get my marathon game together. Eeek!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Race Day

Wow, do I ever feel nervous. Underneath all of the nerves I am reminded that the most important thing I can do today is have fun. Nothing more and nothing less, really. To cling to any specific outcome is to take away the joy of the moment. To think ahead to any other run is to miss out on all of the work that has brought me to this moment. So, to hope for a specific time, or anything else that has run through my head over the past several months, would be a loss. I'm going to go out there and try to stay in the moment for the entire race.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012


The time has arrived. My first half-marathon is on Saturday. I realized this weekend that there's nothing more I can do to enhance my training at this point. Whatever speed or endurance I have is what I'll take into the race. It's tempting to try to "cram" like I used to do for exams, but really, it won't make a difference in my overall performance. Well, that's not absolutely true. It could make a difference: it could tire my muscles so that I perform less well than I would have if I followed the advice to rest up my muscles. This is an interesting place to be - hungry and full of energy that can't be expended yet.

The only thing I really can do between now and then is work on my mental game. I had an interesting experience during my last run. I was fast. Well, I was fast for two miles. And then I freaked out a bit. I began to wonder how long I would be able to run at that pace. I began to second guess myself, worried that I'd burn out on the third mile. The weird thing was that I wasn't feeling tired when I began to psyche myself out. I slowed to a walk, planning to run after one minute. Instead, I walked for three minutes. What's interesting about the experience wasn't that I was fast, or that I got tired (which I didn't), it was that I let my conscious perception of my own limits define my capabilities, rather than trusting my unconscious brain to set the pace. It led me to think about all of the ways we limit ourselves because we're afraid of finding out what we could accomplish. I still need to think over what I was afraid of on that run (because frankly, who cares if I get tired on a training run and end up walking the final two miles???), but it was food for thought.

I do hope that I can keep my own "committee" in check during the race. I hope that I can trust the place that my training has taken me to and run my best.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Getting Sober

This month I have eighteen months of sobriety. I've stopped counting the months, days and hours since my last drink. Not drinking has become a way of life for me these days and even on my worst days I don't romanticize the idea of a drink. I am so happy to be free of the craving - to be free of the need to drink to get through the day. I do find that the change of seasons has an impact though - part of me becomes afraid that I will want to drink. More daylight and warmer days does occasionally remind me of the days spent on the patio with a glass of wine. But I still don't want to go back there.

In many ways I'm still figuring out how to be sober. I'm still working on my resentments and I'm still trying to do the right thing. It is interesting to try to determine this path without meetings, but despite people's worry over my lack of meetings, it still feels important to find a path that's right for me. It would be much easier to just go to the meetings and keep on doing the same thing, than it is to stay this course. To sit with the sometimes awkward feelings I have these days. It's especially strange because if you told me you were trying to quit drinking, I would definitely tell you to go to a meeting. I would offer to take you. My meetings did far more to ensure my sobriety in the first year than any other single thing I did. At meetings I learned that I was completely normal, that I didn't need to carry the shame of all of the things I'd done. I learned that my needs (or my perceived needs) weren't front and center. I learned how to think of others first. I also learned alot about my father, through the words of other alcoholics. I'm still working through my resentments there. I learned that alot of the time it is better to do nothing than to act (because action implies you already know how everything should turn out). Essentially, I learned to be sober. And I made friends who really care about me.

So, if you want to quit drinking and cannot, I'm going to tell you to go to a meeting.

That said, what I wrote last week still stands. I'm trying to work out for myself, based on where I am now, how meetings fit into my life. When I was fifteen and my parents divorced I started going to church. I don't quite remember how I came to this decision, but one Sunday morning I told my mother I was going to go. I went every Sunday after that until I graduated high school. While there I found friendship, family, support, and encouragement. It helped me to negotiate high school without drinking (my father's alcoholism was too fresh at that point for me to believe that drinking solved anything). I still always felt like I was on the outside looking in, but it was much better to have my church friends around as a support system. I became disillusioned at one point (it doesn't matter why) and made the decision to leave the church when I left for university. I never really looked back.

I'm not sure how that all fits into my situation now, but I know it's related. I'll keep trying to figure it out.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

So You Want to Run?

I put up a post a while ago with a few tips on running, but was asked recently for advice on how to start running, so thought I'd put together another post with more detailed information. Here goes:

  • Find a beginners book on running. I used The Beginning Runners Handbook, but also read  The Complete Book of Running for Women. Both books offer training plans that start from zero running and take you to 5 or 10k after a set number of weeks. There are also online options (Couch to 5K, for example) and phone apps that offer similar training options. I appreciated the books because they offered valuable information about running that I didn't know before.
  • Look into a running class. Many running stores offer classes that teach you how to run. The benefit of signing up is that you'll meet a bunch of people exactly like you and share the experience. Sometimes I wish I'd done this as I still don't know many people who run. As a result, my long runs are spent inside my own head, instead of in scintillating conversation.
  • Check with your doctor. If you have any concerns about your health please make an appointment to discuss them with your doctor. That way, you can proactively address any issues before there's a problem.
  • Less is more. Although it's easy to get discouraged when you're only running for 2 minutes at a time after six weeks of running (or whatever), try to remember that this is part of a longer term goal. Commit to putting in the time and don't worry about the outcomes. Everyone is different and responds to training differently. It doesn't matter how long it takes to achieve your goals, only that you continue to work towards them. Want a few interesting facts?
    • Your cardiovascular system responds to running faster than your muscular-skeletal system. This means that even when you can run while breathing normally, you need to be wary of pushing to hard, because your muscles and bones haven't caught up yet. (This is true for me, even though I smoke!)
    • Beginning runners are most likely to get injured around the twelfth week. I think this is related to the item above. We get excited and we do too much.
  • Rest days are as important as run days. Follow the program. Run only 3-4 times per week. Go slow. Remember that your days off allow your muscles to heal, your bones to build, and your energy to recover. 
  • Make a commitment and then go for it. Sometimes it's hard to find the time to run. I try to sit down at the beginning of the week (or sometimes, the beginning of a run day) and plan when I'm going to do it. If I don't plan for it, the day will completely get away from me.
  • Make a mental tape. I have this vision of myself effortlessly running down the street with the sun at my back. It's a weird mental image, but I keep it close.
I can't think of anything else I'd recommend. The most difficult thing for me was to remember that the only thing that mattered was making the commitment and getting out there. It was hard at times to believe I would ever be able to run more than five minutes in a row. I clearly remember the day I was supposed to go from running 3 minutes, walking 2 minutes, to running 5 minutes and walking 1 minute. It sounded completely insane. I really thought it would be impossible. And then I did it. I felt like I was on top of the world.

The other thing I remember is that I felt so slow and embarrassing as I made my way through the neighborhood, huffing and puffing. I put this out of my head and forced myself to keep going. What other people think of me is none of my business, right?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Kill Your Love of Running

Through trial and error I've come up with a few simple strategies that guarantee you'll detest running in no time.
  1. Time and map every single run you do. Expect constant incremental improvement. 
  2. Run on tired muscles and never allow adequate time for rest.
  3. Criticize yourself endlessly when incremental time goals are missed.
  4. Call yourself lazy because no matter how much you run, your legs feel like they're filled with lead.
  5. Eat poorly and wonder why you're tired all the time.
  6. Call into question your ability to complete your next race at all.
  7. Spend every training run in a state of anxiety about pace and speed to ensure your heart rate is always too high.
  8. Repeat.
Put like that, in black and white, it's now obvious that I've taken an approach to running that ensures I won't be successful or enjoy myself. Moreover, I wouldn't ever notice success because I keep moving the bar higher and higher without mercy. Last week I took two days off because I felt too tired to continue. When I went running on the third day I felt amazing. Suddenly I had the energy and joy I'd been missing. I left my tracking devices at home and went on a new route (to prevent memory of distances from sneaking up on me) and had a great run. I ran for the simple pleasure of running instead of running to see how close I am to my 1/2 marathon goal pace. Big difference.

It's all to easy to feel like we should be doing more than we are, whether it's running or work or fixing our lives after addiction. Sometimes it is better to do less. Especially if there's a history of perfectionist denial lurking in the corners of one's past. I continually forget that a gentle approach produces big change over a long period. A gentle approach allows me to accurately remember where I came from and to slowly build change. It allows me sufficient time to check my bearings and make sure I'm on the right course. It gives me time to celebrate the successes and to learn from the failures. Racing endlessly to a predefined finish line can mean that I lose sight of the more significant underlying goals. It can mean that I forget why I was racing to that particular finish line in the first place.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Fear

I think I am generally a somewhat anxious person. I tend to look around corners for monsters and easily become unsettled. One of the things I like so much about running is that the exertion sucks up some of the jangly emotions. But lately, I've started to fear that my husband will drink again. It's been seven months and for the most part things are good. And yet, my imagination gets away from me. Instead of staying in the moment, I imagine scenarios where he comes home with a bottle of wine and a flimsy excuse. Or, he stops off after work for a few drinks and hides it from me. I'm afraid that he would be able to drink and successfully hide it from me. More, I fear that there would be no dissembling and he would drink openly. I fear that I would be paralyzed and incapable of action. That I would get sucked back into the painful existence of living with someone else's drinking. That I would sacrifice my own bottom line and feel violated. I'm afraid that I would not have the courage I had last summer. That I would not do the right thing.

One thing I've read in countless books on running is that our minds can't tell the difference between an actual run  and visualizations of a run. It's recommended that you create "running tapes" to train yourself to get through a race. With this concept in mind I can see that living in fear causes me to act as if he's already drinking. I begin to believe I'm doing or not doing something that will lead him to pick up. I double my efforts to be a good wife. I begin to lose sight of my own choices and start to awaken the co-dependent beast.

I know his sobriety is his. I also know that if he wants to drink he will. I came across this quote "If someone wants to drink, you can't say anything right. If they want to be sober, you can't say anything wrong." It really helped. For five minutes.

I have to deal with this fear, somehow. I'm not living in the moment and I can't stand the anxiety. When I try to talk myself down, I begin to wonder if there's not some sort of "crocodile brain" response. Perhaps my fear is not imaginary - perhaps there are subtle signs that I'm picking up on? Or not? I don't know. I do know that sometimes, in my imagination, I'm still living with the active alcoholic and I can't stand it.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Here Goes Nothing

I haven't been going to meetings with any regularity since Christmas. Part of it is that I've been really busy with work and family stuff, but the bigger part is that I just haven't wanted to go. The desire to not go has been around since October. I forced myself for two months because it's so often said that if we stop going to meetings we'll drink. My fear of eventually drinking led me to continue going to meetings blindly, despite the fact that I didn't want to go. I'm not sure why it is that we drink if we don't go to meetings. I've heard people say that they forget they're alcoholics and begin to think it's okay to drink after time away. Meetings remind them of where they come from so they are able to stay sober. I can see this point. At the same time, I think we all have the responsibility to remember what will happen if we pick up the first drink. We all have to remember what would be lost if we began drinking again. For me the urge doesn't come around very often. When it does, I remember two things: first, I remember how it felt to be drunk (those times when I thought to myself that I'd had just one drink too many). Then I remember the looks on my daughter's faces, I remember the meaningless fights with my husband, the constant anxiety. Then I eat some chocolate and manage to get through it. When I think of the raw cost that alcohol has extracted from my life (and not just when I was drinking it) I know that to drink would be to throw it all away. Meetings help, but if they were the only source, I would need to go to a meeting every day.

So where did my aversion to meetings come from? It's the judgmental list of do's and don'ts and the pat sayings and dismissive comments. Instead of hearing people share where they're at right now, based on the notion that the most any of us really have is one day sober, I hear old timers telling the new people that they'd better go to meetings and finish their steps and do everything their sponsor says. I am told that because I'm still on Step 4, I'm doing something wrong. I won't stay sober because I should have completed them already. That I am being selfish because I can't sponsor anyone until I complete Step 6 and I should already be sponsoring people. I see a closed system in which any critique of the system is explained by pointing out a failing in the individual who raised the concern. One of the reasons I've been so afraid to write about my feelings on this topic is that I hear the comment that closes the loop. I am hearing that voice right now.

I'd really like to do the rest of my steps and sponsor someone. I'd really like to help other women get and stay sober. But to blindly follow the above directives because the threat of drinking lies behind them seems insincere. I want to do my Step 4, but resist the idea that I'm packed with defects. For me, Step 4 is important because it allows me to really dig deep to understand my resentments and the past. It's my sense that understanding (and remembering) the past allows us to see it clearly and without judgement. It allows us to be free. I'm still working on it. But it doesn't quite fit what my sponsor told me to do. So I wonder how I could really sponsor anyone I meet in meetings anyway - if I'm not a representative of the viewpoint, then I'd always feel like I was divided between what I thought and what they think.

I almost forgot - I also no longer have a sponsor. My sponsor really helped me through the difficulties I had in my marriage. I honestly don't think I would have been able to get through that if I hadn't been talking to her every day. That said, we parted ways because she was deeply entrenched in closing all loops. I always felt like I couldn't say what I thought without judgment.

What I look for in a meeting (and what I desperately miss right now) is that sense of community that comes from a group of people honestly looking to improve their lives. I'd really like to find a group like that. I am honestly trying to improve my life - by understanding myself better and by doing more of the right things. I have been to meetings where this does happen. It may be that I need to seek out a different meeting to find more of what I'm looking for. In fact, there is a Step study I went to early in my sobriety and it might be interesting to go back to that one.

In the interests of full disclosure I do think I wouldn't have been able to get and stay sober without meetings. Prior to going, the most I could string together was two weeks. I was so lost and so alone. By going, I learned so many things and felt such peace. I owe the people in the rooms my life in so many ways. I guess the point now is that I don't know quite where it fits at this point in my sobriety.

Friday, March 9, 2012

I think I Figured Out the Problem

I know why I can't write. I'm not myself these days. There is much that I've been feeling and I don't want to admit it to you or to myself. I'm practicing a deep level of avoidance and it's making me edgy and irritable. There's no real way to write if you're hiding your own feelings from yourself. If you push the fear deep deep down, your voice is paralyzed. So I have to choose: be honest and free myself from this constriction, or keep going and feel myself sinking up to my neck in the sand.

I send this note so you can prepare yourself. My posts will likely be incredibly self-absorbed.  But they could also be insightful. Too close to call at this point - but the time has come.


When I first got sober I can remember wanting change so urgently that it was difficult to stay in the moment. I'd felt so shitty for so long that I figured sunlight and joy should permeate every experience from the moment I put down my last drink. The truth of the matter is that it took a long time to face up to the many things I'd let happen because I took my eye off the ball of my own life for such a long time. There was some joy for sure - the glee of waking up without a hangover was high on the list most days. But I often felt weighed down by the sheer amount of time it took to pull my life back together. For the most part, it took time and patience, rather than brute force to get through.

That lesson applies to so many other elements in life as well. People and circumstances don't change overnight (for the most part at least). Learning to let things be is so difficult. Lately, I find myself up against this same feeling: the desire to use brute force to get through, rather than to seek patience and allow time to take care of things. I'm beginning to realize that life is like this. Time and patience are always required; brute force is rarely the solution.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Wanted: Gratitude

I've been struggling lately - feeling distinctly out of sorts and tired. Not sick. Well, not exactly sick anyway. Just tired and grouchy. It's affecting everything from my writing and paid work to my running. I feel like I'm in a bit of a fog. When this happens I tend to add to the problem through copious amounts of self-blame and a few metaphorical slaps. I also eat candy. Lots and lots of it. (Do I eat candy because I'm down? Or am I down because I eat candy?)

Little by little, I lose sight of the many positive things that happen every day. I struggle to "snap out of it" and can't. It could be the end of a long winter. On the other hand, this winter wasn't so bad, so maybe the weather has nothing to do with it. I could be PMSing, though I can't remember when I'm supposed to get my period, so this may be unlikely. It could be that I'm running too much, or not enough. And like this, I select various causes and test them out. As each is rejected (either because it is illogical, or because this knowledge does nothing to make me feel better) I sink just a little bit deeper.

Anyway, it occurred to me early this morning that part of the problem is that in my current frame of mind I am not taking time to be grateful for the many blessings in my life. Instead, I'm so focused on slogging through my day, worried about outcomes, worried that I'll never snap out of it, that my attention has been completely mislaid. By focusing on the negative, on what I can't do, I don't have energy left for what I can do.

So I'm going to go back to gratitude lists and hope that the fog lifts.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Convenient Plot Developments

The other night I was watching Tower Heist and there is a scene where the FBI agent gets drunk with Ben Stiller's character. As soon as she says, "Do you want to get drunk?" I know what's going to happen: she'll get drunk and say something she shouldn't say that will drive the plot forward. It's a cheap trick. But it's also interesting that culturally we're sent conflicting messages. First, isn't it cute and sexy to get wasted, and second, alcohol leads us to do regrettable things.Tea Leoni plays a great drunk. Her slurring and stumbling were top notch. I felt queasy and embarrassed on her behalf.

The funny thing is that seeing people drink does not lead me to wish I could do so. It bothers me sometimes because it brings back the feeling of being drunk - the vague nausea, the tunnel vision, the under-water exhausted feeling. I'm reminded of the effort it took to prevent double vision. The weight of saying or doing something sort of stupid. That reminder doesn't lead to wishing I could participate. This is difficult to explain to regular non-drinkers. Or at least it is for me. Unless you've been drunk, you can't understand how exhausting it is day after day. Addiction makes a certain kind of sense to them - the craving and the drive to consume - but only intellectually. And I guess that's it. Intellectually, it makes more sense to my non-drinking business friends that when exposed to drinkers I would wish I could have some too. What doesn't makes sense to them is that my at-a-distance empathetic reaction to drinkers keeps me sober. As much as AA meetings remind me what I was like, "drinks after work with potential clients" reminds me viscerally what I was like.

It makes me nauseous. And oh so happy that I don't live that life anymore.

Now, if only we could deal with crappy plot development.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Hello Dear Blog...

Weeks and weeks have gone by and I haven't really been writing. I am aware of this. I have tried to change it, to write more, but when I sit down to write, I'm just not sure what to say. Interestingly, I do compose blog posts in my mind. It's just that by the time I actually sit down to write them out, I've lost some momentum. Or something. I'm really just not certain.

Lately I've been really busy between work and running. My long runs have begun to take up most of the morning each week. Lately, I've become increasingly aware of the tie between running performance and belief. Scientific studies show that if you think you aren't a fast runner, you'll slow down. Negative self-talk has an immediate effect on whether you continue to run at pace or slow down or stop. For the past week or so I've begun to question whether I'm actually capable of running a marathon. Or capable of running at all. These thought patterns have resulted in a slow dogged pace and very short runs. I find myself thinking - "if you can't even run three miles without getting tired, how do you expect to run a full marathon?" Fear and tension builds. I lose the joyful feeling that running brings.

Of course this applies in all areas of life. What we tell ourselves defines what we are capable of doing. Our beliefs shape our attitudes and actions. Perhaps the reason I'm not writing is because there's a part of me that thinks I can't do it. That I'm not saying interesting things. That everyone has become completely bored by my endless chatter.

It might help to shake things up a little. Yesterday I went trail running for the first time. It was a completely different experience. Because there were so many hills, I was freed from endlessly looking at pace details to see whether I was on track for the half-marathon goal time. It was really challenging (I have the flattest training runs in the world) and I found the off-road experience refreshing. Early signs of spring (mud!), deer (3 of them staring at me from the top of a hill), and nature was refreshing. It didn't feel like a failure to walk up the hills and it was exhilarating to run fast on the downhills. I felt rejuvenated and freed from the self-imposed success/failure head trip I've been on for the past several weeks. I may need to leave my watch at home for the next three weeks leading up to my half-marathon. I've been psyching myself out without even realizing it.

How to shake up the writing? I'm not sure. I may try out a few things, because I do suspect that the "busy" excuse is just that - an unnecessary evasive maneuver.
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