I am a runner in recovery.
There are a lot of us: people with addictions who have sobered up and now get our fixes with running shoes on our feet and numbers safety-pinned to our shirts, but that’s not actually what I’m talking about.
I’m a runner recovering from running itself, and so I shall remain until my doctor says otherwise. I’ve been training for a year for the Bay of Fundy Half Marathon, a race that starts in easternmost Maine (where I live), loops across the international bridge to Campobello Island, New Brunswick (in Canada, where I wish I could live), and ends back in Lubec, Maine. I trained hard. I trained well. I followed a schedule. I eased off when I was sore or tired. I got hurt anyway.
The pain is deep in my hip; where the femoral head rotates around in its socket. There are many possible diagnoses. We ruled out (for now) a stress fracture, but diagnosing soft tissue injuries requires an MRI or something even more complicated involving a radioactive injection. (I just watched Chernobyl, so no thank you.) For now, it’s a mystery. What’s not a mystery is that I’m walking with a forearm crutch and the Fundy Half is out. My doctor said I should count on being on the bench for two to four months, but she’s not a runner and what does she know anyway? (The answer is a lot. She knows a lot. She’s a former competitive swimmer and does, in fact, run a bit, but if I cast her as not a runner, I can ignore her advice, see?)
I’m not a great runner. I’m not even a really good runner. At least, not if one measures running prowess in terms of competitive achievements. I won in my gender and age group in a 5K last year because I was the only person in that category, and that is the only way I ever will win a medal. But I show up. I’ve been lacing up and showing up in every kind of weather and every kind of mood and every level of feeling motivated or not since the day I got sober over two years ago. Running has turned down the volume on the crazy, and I have thanked it by showing up.
And the cranky? Epic levels. I have enough cranky to share with the whole world.
So now what?
Slowly, the crazy is staging a comeback. At meetings of a certain twelve-step program I may attend once in a while, people talk about their addiction as this stalkeresque figure who is in the parking lot doing push-ups, maintaining readiness for the inevitable attack. If my addiction’s attention span is anything like mine, it lost interest ten minutes after my last drink and is off bothering someone else. But my crazy will never leave. It’s a low-frequency hum. White noise. It’s like the soundtrack from Chernobyl. Less like music and more like the sound of slow, quiet doom with occasional clanging. My recipe of crazy is equal parts ADD, addiction, and PTSD. Without exercise, sometimes I can’t think a single coherent thought and it’s been two weeks since my last run and so my sentences are getting longer hey the sun came out just now oh look a bird! I’m getting foggier, more forgetful, more defensive and argumentative, and I haven’t seen my debit card for two days.
So again…now what?
I spent the first year of my sobriety trying to get a A+ in recovery, and if there had been an A+++ available, I would have tried to get that. I wanted to figure out how to do this. There are a lot of us overachiever types who overachieve ourselves right into addiction. We achieve our way into therapists’ offices, rehabs, and hospitals, the irony of which cannot be missed. A lot of us achieve ourselves directly into early graves, and until that last gasp of air we’re pretty sure we can still win at this. Ask us what the game is, and we can’t tell you, but we’re determined to win it. I spent that first year reading recovery memoirs, pondering spirituality, trying (failing) to overlook the sexist parts of twelve-step literature, and studying as if there were a standardized test to take that would absolve me of the long-haul work ahead. I was in it to win it.
Right around the time when I picked up my one-year chip, I had a moment of realization: there’s a lot of time. We are, in fact, made of nothing but time. My days had accumulated into weeks, then months, through no effort of my own, and there were more days, weeks, and months ahead, all mine if I chose to show up for them. Time slowed then, and I learned to be present, to take what each day offered instead of trying to steal everything I could from it. The long haul is the point: that’s recovery.
This injury has slowed things down even further. It’s forcing me to strategize, to move more efficiently. If I don’t want to limp across the house six times, I better think carefully about having my glasses and my book and my coffee and my phone with me when I head for the couch. (Note the extra challenge of thinking strategically in the midst of an ADD flare-up.) (What was I saying?) I can’t silence my crazy by running it into the ground right now: I have to sit in it and listen to it and find another way through. There’s some other twelve-step cliché that goes something like this: the only way [preposition] is [other preposition]. The only way out is through? The only way through is up? No, that’s not it. The only way out is in? (I can never remember this stuff.) For sure though, the only way through is through, which reminds me of that algebraic property that a = a and b = b, which feels closer to theology than math but I digress because untreated ADD.
Four months on the bench (but probably less because what does my athlete doctor know, anyway?) is a long time, but it’s also not. The only way to recover is to recover, and it takes a long time. It takes forever.
Maybe I’ll try swimming. After I find my debit card.
I wanted to name this post after the algebraic property that’s quoted here, so I spent twenty minutes Googling to see what it’s called. The answer is that there is no such property. The other answer might be Ritalin. I should change the post to reflect this, but I already forgot.