This is our final blog post of 2014, and we’re proud as peacocks to present a special contribution chronicling a truly remarkable first year of sobriety, authored by our own fellow LifeRinger and blog supporter and frequent commenter Dennis Meeks. Our many thanks and heartfelt congratulations go out to Dennis, and here’s to another great New Year for us all!
When I tell non-runners that I run marathons, the first question I get is “Why?” And it’s a very good question.
I have always been running from something, most of us have I think. Now I am running toward something, sobriety, but to get there I have to run through a ton of bullshit to get to the other side. And I needed help to get there.
At the tender age of 63, after finally (hopefully) getting off the crazy-go-round of serial relapses that had been ongoing for 3 years, I decided I would run 6 marathons in 6 months. The first 2 or 3 went well, so I upped it to 12. But, then I thought, “What if I get injured and need some time off?” So I added one more, #13, and just in case I had to skip one, I could still finish 12 in 12 months.
Running – now I am speaking literally; feet pounding the pavement running – and getting sober are not that that dissimilar. I’ve been running on and off for decades, but for the last several years, especially 2010 through 2013, my running was mostly off.
I started training again in July 2013 after quitting drink and drugs on June 29. Some may think it borders on masochism to train for one marathon, and just plain craziness to train and run one every month for a year. But, not so fast….I had been drinking myself senseless with alcohol for years, so why not run myself sober? I needed a goal to strengthen my sober resolve.
Running became my go to therapy. Running, hurting, growing, and getting stronger with every training run and my self-confidence shining in the sweat of my contorted face at the finish line of every marathon. It’s difficult to drink (like I drink when I drink) and exceed at anything other than resolute failure and regret.
So, my first marathon time this year was a 4:23, not bad for the aged among us. I was stoked. And 6 months later, I had a personal best at 4:22. And I kept going. Running. Not drinking. Repeat. I ran in the rain, sleet, and the heat of the Tennessee summer, when I came to understand the splendid relief that shade trees and sobriety offer. I ran when I didn’t want to run, I ran when my feet hurt, when my calves cramped, when all I could do is put one foot in front of the other and I ran when I didn’t like myself and have kept running now that I have discovered that , hey, I’m not so bad, I’m actually a pretty good guy. I have endured. By god, that’s what I do, I endure.
Marathons are hard. 13 in 12 months is harder. I ran on beastly hills, I ran in the ugly parts of strange towns, I ran in the beautiful Utah Canyon in Provo, I ran a marathon that was stopped because of an impending ice storm in Little Rock, AR ( I was at mile 18 and finished anyway with an official time), I ran in Tupelo , MS on the last day of August where the heat is oppressive and humidity worse (like running with a hot blanket wrapped around your head), I ran a midnight marathon in rain-soaked darkness that consisted of 5 x5 mile boring loops and then 1.2 miles to make it an official marathon distance, I ran the Flying Monkey Marathon in Nashville in November, in a forest of hardwoods the color of copper with swaths of still green foliage providing a peaceful patina over a course with 7200 feet of total course elevation change, up and down up and down. And, finally, I ran in the desert at the Tucson Marathon . I could have been on the moon, the landscape so different, but breathtaking, from that which I am familiar. The only forests there are of cacti and shrubs. I plodded, I lumbered, I shuffled, but I always finished. Every freaking one of them. I fucking endured.
And I have been sober every day of this marathon year. Again, not that much difference between running marathons and staying sober. Both are stinking hard (marathons literally so), insanely challenging, and infinitely rewarding. However, although running is a gift, abstinence is essential. Moving forward, letting go, looking back without going back, befriending sometimes without being befriended. Falling down, getting up, getting it wrong and making it right.
My first days sober were much more frightening (and more important) than my first trip to the marathon starting line. Running is exhausting and exhilarating, generally, while drinking is always, without exception, a dead end for me. Smack, thud, every goddamned time.
Now, I run “somewhere” because I am determined not to drink “anywhere” anymore. I run because the physicality of it makes me appreciate what I have and what I almost lost. Running and sobriety prepare me for what’s ahead. I had begun to wonder how many more times I would see the sun rise, the moon slide across the night sky, experience the explosive light show of a thunderstorm, hear my 14 year old daughter’s infectious laugh, or feel my wife’s embrace. I started thinking about being 63 and actually did some math….and it was sobering, no pun intended.
I see more days ahead. More active, sober days. When the alarm screams in my ear In the morning, I awake reluctantly, but gratefully without a hangover or owing anyone an apology. Then I toe the starting line of a new sober day, game face on, experienced, excited and still a bit frightened of what may come.
But, hey, I’m a total badass….bring it on.
(Special thanks to LifeRing and the friends I have made here. Without their support my marathon year would never have happened.)