I was dreamin’ of the ocean
The devil is just out of frame
80 miles is a lot of time to think. The 24 hours spent in almost constant motion sees your body embroiled in both mental and physical turmoil. A pendulum swings back from doubts in your brain to pain in your physical body. It would have been a big enough undertaking under ideal circumstances. The cold weather and howling winds are not the circumstances that I am hinting at though…
A few weeks prior, I stumbled into my bathroom and gripped the sink. The feeling in my head brought to mind being on a sinking ship going down among rolling waves. I was drunk. Wasted. As usual. More often that not the past 7 months, this is how I ended my days. And sometimes, how I started my mornings. What started as just trying to have fun and forget about my failed marriage had turned into a real problem. Sometimes, it just felt better being out of control. It was a joke to me that I could run as much as I did despite my binge drinking…until it stopped being funny and the problems started to outweigh any sort of release I was getting from being drunk. Things started to change when I ran 20 miles still drunk from the night before and while on the outside I was chuckling about it with my friends, on the inside I felt awful and worried about how stupid it really all seemed to me. Because I was still getting up and making it to work every day, I guess I never really faced the fact that I had become a full blown functioning alcoholic. The funny thing was, I didn’t know I was an alcoholic until I stopped drinking. My body did a good job of letting me know just how bad I had let things get. I made it through the first week feeling positive enough. I laid low, ate healthy every meal of the day and locked into my running and weight lifting routine. “This is just like turning over a new leaf, getting healthy in a New Year’s Resolution sort of way”, I told myself. On day 7, things came unraveled.
It started as I was finishing my day at work. My head started to feel an immense amount of pressure and pounding. And then my skin lit on fire. It felt like it was peeling off the back of my neck and shoulders, all the way down to the tops of my fingers. I could barely keep my hand on the keyboard in front of me. The crazy awful sensation on my skin let me know what I was facing; I had heard my wife describe them to me many times over. I had been the helpless bystander watching a loved one crumble in front of me…now I was the one crumbling. And I would be all alone during it.
Before it was even 4:00, I kept it together best I could and drove down the street from my office to my parents house. I crawled into bed and turned out the lights. All I can say is that the horror stories I heard about quitting a substance problem were true and that it was the worst feeling I have ever felt in my entire life. It was like time stopped too. I literally would stare at the clock and just try and make it to the next 5 minute mark. Each 5 minute increment was a small victory, until I finally lost track and went into a resting state until the sun came up. The rest of the week was a living hell at work. I felt like screaming at the top of my lungs and smashing every piece of equipment in my lab, and anytime someone spoke to me it took all of my willpower to not snap at them. Each night I would do the same thing. Crawl into a dark room and turn on the TV or music for some background noise. And just lay there in agony. I felt really alone, but was terrified of telling anyone what I was going through. I was ashamed and embarrassed that I had let this happen. I told my wife what was happening, and for a minute I thought maybe she would come home and take care of me since I had done the same for her all of those times and she knew better than anyone what I was going through. Of course, that didn’t happen, the most she offered up was “I know how you feel and I’m sorry”. She even accused me of telling her I was falling apart in an attempt to get her to come home.
Eventually, around day 12 I was able to rest at night without feeling like I was on fire. My head felt “foggy”. I was right up against the weekend, and the Destin 24 Hour beach ultra marathon. I almost dropped out of the race that Thursday. Friday afternoon, I drove my car to the beach, the first time I had gone more than a mile from my office in 2 weeks. The water was really calm, and the suns dying rays were coming down between a cloudy sky. I decided I would start the race and go for as long as I could.
I ran 80 miles on the beach while having withdrawals from alcohol. I know a lot of ultra runners that have rocky personal lives and have gone though plenty of turbulence throughout adulthood. People sometimes ask me if we are all running from something. I like to say that we are all running with something. Running away from your problems and ghosts is pointless, because they will always be waiting for you at the finish line. Each step is your journey through it all, and if you push on and batter your body up against whatever resistance life puts up as an obstacle, those demons will eventually tire and fade behind you.
So here I am 28 days sober. I have had some rough days since those 80 miles but I’ve taken them in stride. To be honest, this is the best I have felt in a really long time. Aside from not feeling like shit from being drunk so often, I just feel…free. If I ever feel like having a drink is something I can handle responsibly, it will be when I am at a stable point in my life. For now, I don’t feel like my past is a ball and chain weighing me down emotionally. I’m not sad. My wedding anniversary was last week. It was just another day. The phone rang but no sense answering it when I said everything I needed to say a long time ago. I’m 32 years old and sober, with an entire planet to explore. Life’s race goes on.