The Question I'm Asked Most
I moved to Colorado against everyone's advice. I was a month sober, freshly divorced, reeling, technically homeless and unemployed. Universal early sobriety advice: no major life changes within the first year.
There is a difference between rules and suggestions, so I did it all backward: no job lined up (red flag), moved in with friends (big red flag), no sponsor (might as well torch your sobriety now) and no program to work (just buy a bottle on the way, seriously). I hope in fifty years I never forget the fear of failure I had driving west alone that night.
Fear and doubt aren't the same thing. I've been taught that faith is the antidote to fear, but I believe that faith is actually the opposite of doubt. In my experience, conviction is the antagonist to fear. I actively try not to couch things in terms of right and wrong, but we make effective and ineffective decisions in life all the time. I crossed the Minnesota border with sincere conviction that I was doing the right thing, right now.
A month later, I wake up every day in a loving home without concrete on my chest and whiskey sloshing around my skull. I sip coffee and watch the pink clouds kiss Pike's. Hell, when I want to I can kiss it myself.
I learned a lot from going to treatment, and I'm not embarrassed to tell you about it. Treatment sounds like mint walls and slippers. It's not. I went to a non-traditional little space called The Retreat, which is a perfect label because at that moment in my life I was going to break without a break. Most of the medication I took there were gummy women's vitamins and the only doctor on staff was a theologian. Treatment, for me, was a safe place where I could think, sleep, and — perhaps most importantly — open up without consequence or bravery because everyone in the rooms was just as broken as me.
By the third day, I started to learn the most important lesson I would take away from the entire experience: if I do not know and own my reality, then I can never be my authentic self.
Yeah, that's related to sobriety — but that's the thesis for my life.
People ask all the time why I run ultras. It's by far the most frequent question of non-eccentrics (well, that and if I poop in the woods). I've written numerous articles and athletes' stories about it, and I've often claimed that you don't run triple digits without a reason. I stand by it. When the trail gets gritty, you need to be able to tap into some powerful personal truth to propel your spirit into the night.
But, what's the reason? When people ask me, personally, I shirk the answer or make a bad joke. I've asked myself, of course, but I've never heard the real answer. WHY is a supremely unproductive question. Most of the times I ask myself why things happened I end up in palpable depression. Call it predestination, Morpheus logic, cause-and-effect, faith, whatever you want — I don't care. Ultimately, the things in our lives absolutely could not have happened in any other way. The map is always going to unfold along those creases.
I spent a long time shouting at the lonely universe and demanding to know why things happened to me the way that they did, and it demoralized me because the answer was an impossible string theory of fuckupped psychology. The short answer: nothing matters and you don't either. That was not enough for me because it mattered very much to my broken teenage heart. I needed a reason.
Why was one drink too many and a hundred never enough?
Once in a while she may tell the truth. And the truth, strange to say, is usually that
she has no more idea why she took that first drink than you have.
I truly don't know why I drank so much (genetics, emotional effect, insulation, isolation, control, poor coping skills, ad infinitum). I will never know the full explanation of why.
I can tell you the what, though. I can tell you what I got out of it and why I'm affectionately grateful for it now. I can also assure you that the high cost of low living has been traded in for the expensive gift of intentionality. Each morning I wake up I consciously decide how I'm going to show up today; it'd be absolutely impossible not to. Recovery is the antidote to apathy.
Why did I become an ultrarunner?
Fuck, I dunno (it's an allegory for life, I'll survive the suffering, I'm gritty and competitive, it's my family, I like quesadillas, ad infinitum). But, I can tell you the what.
When I run, my reality is sharply in focus. I know my thoughts, my feelings, my needs, my hurts, my wants, my purpose. My reality is simple and clear to me. I can communicate it, fix it, and live it. People help me, love me, come alongside me, and listen to me. When I run ultras, I participate in the world and within a loving community the way I wish I could on the big scale. With training, someday I believe that I will.
Obviously, the parallel is imperfect. An endurance event is a small-scale manufactured microcosm yada yada. I'm simply saying that when I run, I have a strong voice. When I say I'm hungry, I get food. When I need to manage a blister, my pacer waits without complaint. For someone who has had decades of a reality denied, man, does it feel affirming to say something simple and be heard.
Valid and validated.
These are important words; it's probably easy to overlook them when you haven't had the luxury to take them for granted.
I am not very far into this thing, I realize, but I am doing the deal and that alone is teaching me boatloads. Endurance running, too, has a lot to teach about enduring life. When I was young, I endured my life and anxiously waited to make my escape from the looming dead end. As I gained independence, I promoted myself to be the new master of my life — fairly successfully I'd say, except in my cups. In that instance self-control was not enough, and that failure was insidious.
Today I see life with different eyes.
She has been set on a path which tells her she really is going somewhere, that life is not a dead end, not something to be endured or mastered.
That is the what of recovery, at least for me. Dead ends were why I went to treatment, but this new path is the result. Mastering life is why I had control issues with food, alcohol, stress, perfectionism, more. All of it dug a deeper and deeper cyclical rut that eventually I could not rock myself out of. It's not the why that has power, it is the what.
Really going somewhere? Now that's worth the climb.
Living with conviction? Now that's productive (and terrifying).
Owning your reality? Life-changing. Authentic.