People often ask why I am so in love with running and I have never been able to provide any real answer. I mean I have to admit that I had not really given it any thought because, while I had known there was “something” about it that gave me an unmatched strength and desire to continue, I also struggled to put my finger on exactly what that “something” was. That is until recently, as these questions were rolling around my head leading me to contemplate everything while out for a run (imagine that). Then it hit me and I felt a need to share the story of my secret love affair with running. At the same time, I understand the only way to accurately convey what it does for me is to equally convey the state of mind I was in when I began running…running in a way that gently caresses the soul towards a world of that sought after peace that continuously dangles in your path. With that in mind, I feel I must start from a turning point in my life when my soul had become so consumed by the depravity of the world that it needed saving…
Seven. That is how old I was when I first thought that I no longer wanted to live. Nine is when I began cutting and was the first time that suicide entered my mind as something more than just a fleeting thought. I was removed from my mother’s home, was living in yet another foster home and had continued my progression of feeling more alone than ever. Upon reading the back of a Tylenol bottle that stated you should consult with your doctor in the event you consumed more than the recommended dosage, I naturally perceived this as an opportunity to escape this draining life and took the bottle’s remnants, which clearly did not work as I had hoped. In fact, the only thing it did achieve was a deeper disappointment with a constant ringing in my ears for the next day or so…all of which I kept to myself.
The years continued ever so slowly while my disappointment in life grew all too quickly. It was as though the scars that were being inflicted upon my heart were growing just as rapidly as those that were being inflicted upon my body with no end in sight.
Twenty-two. I shot over twenty bags of heroin at once and curled up on the corner of my bed while experiencing this intensely satisfying rush of warmth that slowly enveloped my body while permeating through my soul until finally I laid my eyes to rest, allowing my mind to fade into a calm, dreamless sleep. That is all it was, sleep, because the next day came followed by the night and I awoke. Still a few days later I sat with a loaded gun to my head and then became terrified of what would happen if I failed yet again and was left for someone else to care for. The last thing I wanted was to become someone else’s lifelong burden. Again, more disappointment.
This was followed by my year stint of homelessness in Las Vegas, which is a story for another day. However, Vegas was followed by a renewed hope for myself. After surviving my childhood and Vegas, I came to another realization that I could most likely accomplish anything I wanted…I mean clearly I was living the life of a cat and by my count I still had at least three or four lives left. So I signed up for school and began working in the legal field. During this time I met someone, fell in love, married him and was as happy as I thought I would ever be until everything came crashing down and I was left with the beginnings of a divorce. I immediately scrambled in relentless attempts to save even a shred of hope for the survival of my marriage only to realize that there was no real relationship to begin with…so there was never anything worth saving. The ending of my marriage devastated my soul, but I should have known. I mean really…how had I allowed myself to become so wrapped up in this unrealistic thing called happiness that I momentarily forgot to watch for any potential dangers? How had I allowed myself to once again become so vulnerable? To think that happiness was real and that it was meant for me? Come on now…I knew better than that.
The problem, or saving grace (depending on how you see it), is that I had always held onto some unfounded hope that something would change. That things would get better. That life would be worth it, but it never was.
Thirty-two. In the midst of my ongoing divorce, I was out to lunch with someone that I had been dating when he did such a horrific thing to me (also a story for another day) while making jokes and laughing in my face as I was finding out. At that moment, something in me died as my being grew colder and emptier than I had ever felt before. That hope I once held onto did not simply fade as the light in my eyes did. Instead, it assessed the situation and ran faster than it had ever run before leaving me uncertain as to whether it continued to exist because I searched with no luck. Yet, in that very moment sitting across the table from him being forced to watch as his dark twisted smile taunted me, my mind had already devised a plan. I calmly paid the bill, stood up and told him that upon returning to my apartment he needed to get in his car, leave and never contact me again. Of course, he screamed at me and argued with my decision the whole way back, but I was thankfully unable to process a single word. Finally, when we arrived he for once did as I had asked. So I just as calmly drove to the nearby CVS, bought a bottle of Unisom gel-caps and proceeded to the nearby Walgreen’s to buy another, which was followed by a quick purchase of my favorite bottle of Sauvignon Blanc. When I returned to the apartment I quickly consumed the day’s purchases without a moment of regret and while I lacked any outward emotion, inside my heart was breaking…it literally felt as though millions of shards of glass were being forced through every inch of my body and there was nothing I could do to find any relief…except to finish off the pills. As I did, I immediately began reliving every horrible moment of my childhood, of Vegas, of my marriage and of that ill-fated lunch and I remember standing in the kitchen as they began taking effect. First my knees gave out as I somehow managed to catch myself by grabbing the edge of the counter. However, while attempting to regain my balance I went down…hard…with my head hitting the counter and the floor. I made no attempt to get up. Instead, I laid there listening to my slowly fading pulse, feeling my dismembered heart, and suddenly all my racing memories rested on one simple thought “…just let go.” This was exactly what I wanted…peace…and I continued thinking “…just this once do something for yourself and let it all go.” So I did. I closed my eyes, I let go and in that moment I felt such an indescribably comforting peace that I never dreamed possible. It was finally going to be over. There was finally an end. I no longer had to carry this weight. I no longer had to endure this pain that had somehow become my inner poltergeist. In that moment, I was left with no thoughts, no struggles, no heartache, no sadness, no cares…and the pain gently subsided. Finally…I was at peace.
Then I awoke in the hospital several days later. My soul more broken than ever, which was further broken by more devastating news, which was followed by returning to work as though nothing had happened. Returning to life as though everything was fine. As though I was fine, but I was not. During that next year I lost my roommate in our apartment while I was there. I underwent treatment for a medical issue with side effects that wreaked havoc on my still recovering, fragile body and I began another downward spiral of complete despair with my life hanging by a cheaply made thread that quickly broke.
Thirty-three. It was still painfully obvious that two bottles of Unisom did not work, so I added four bottles to a half one that I already had waiting at home…for an approximate total of 150 sleeping pills…and of course that same Sauvignon Blanc. Out of fear of setting off red flags, I purchased them with other random items from various stores. It is funny how clearly methodical my thought process appears to be once I have made a decision about anything really…what to pursue in school, where to accept a job, what to eat for the day or how to commit suicide. Unfortunately, or fortunately (depending on who you ask), this time I was left in a coma followed by required psychiatric care that did nothing more than further traumatize me by their repeated attempts to threaten me into electroshock therapy. It is difficult to explain the damage that is done when you survive a serious suicide attempt…then to survive two. Overall, the physical damage is nothing in comparison to the emotional and no one can truly understand that feeling without having lived it. And yet others who believe suicide is the easy way out, unfortunately, lack any understanding of how physically and emotionally draining it is to proceed with a decision so final. Equally so, those who lack understanding of how one could leave family and loved ones with the aftermath also lack the necessary compassion to understand the entirety of the desperation one finds him or herself in. For me, I had reached my point of desperation. And whether it was accurate or not I truly believed that, while my friends would initially experience an undeniable pain, they would grow to understand how and why I came to my decision and I hoped that understanding would leave them with a peace that I had been chasing. Never did I imagine it would have resulted in the way it did…
Instead, in the wake of the aftermath I was not only left with another failed attempt, but now I was left unemployed and the “happy” recipient of a plethora of insurmountable medical bills that were quickly accumulating. The unbearable irony is how everyone performed their own miracles to keep me alive as others treated me like the lowest piece of trash on earth when I did survive, only then for them all to release me into the world in a worse state than when I attempted to leave all the while expecting me to be overjoyed with happiness for having survived. It was as though they were mocking me by saying “Here you go, I know this is not what you wanted, but I saved you so now you can return the favor by paying me a ridiculous fee that I will gladly accept as a thank you…oh, and you can return to the life you were trying to leave…just remember to smile.” In the meantime, I was left listening as each friend expressed happiness that I was still here and each day was another that my heart broke a little more with each smile I had to fake, while inside I could only be thankful that at least one of us was happy. I, however, could no longer control this overwhelmingly suffocating pain that had been inflicted upon my already aching heart, causing any purely loving excitement I once held to recede into a terrifying inability to breathe even one last shallow breath for fear that I would be unable to safely filter the toxic air that surrounded my soul. I had come to a point in which I was increasingly consumed by this longing to hold my head in my hands and cry. I was doing everything in my power to return this unbearable pain to that secret place that I had always kept it while putting on yet another empty smile in another hollow attempt at keeping it together for just one more day…if only I could make it through just another day…then maybe tomorrow would be better?
At the same time, when I was alone I felt nothing. I was unable to cry and I could only assume that my subconscious was attempting to protect itself as the idea of no longer being here was all too easy and comforting. The only thing that stood in my way was the realization that I no longer had the strength or energy to make it through yet another failed attempt…so here I was.
Wondering what to do with a wounded heart. What am I to do with a devastatingly broken soul?
And then I discovered running.
Upon leaving the hospital from my last failed attempt I cashed in my 401(k) and spent that summer free. Free of worries about a job or bills or what other people thought. Instead, I spent it worrying about me, getting to know me, taking care of me. I took the furball (my four-legged angel) backpacking, completed my first triathlon and began to run. I mean to really run because it was something I had already enjoyed for years before, but it changed as the overall effect it had on me somehow transitioned into something so unexpectedly beautiful and I became addicted.
Now just the simple act of putting on my running shoes causes a flutter in my heart that ignites this passion, this excitement, this hope deep within a soul that I had believed to have been dead long ago. Unbeknownst to me though, it was never dead as I had somehow managed to quietly tend to the fading embers as they continued gasping for air until the time had come that I was finally given the opportunity to breathe a new life on them while reigniting the fire. Now each moment I run is another moment my fire grows a little stronger, a little warmer, a little brighter. As I enter the road I lose myself in that first step and play that first song that whisks me away to another world, my world. And the music…Eminem, Moby, Glass Animals, B.B. King, Taylor Swift…oh the list could go on and on…and as my speed increases the wind begins to course through my veins as the music courses through my soul leaving me with a sudden awareness that an indescribable healing is beginning to take place. My mind becomes so entranced by the beating of my steps so perfectly in tune with the beating of my heart so perfectly in tune with the beating of the music that my surroundings become blurred, my reality becomes blurred, my pain begins to fade and like that one moment during my suicide attempts, my world is transformed to one of complete peace…complete serenity…and for once I am alive…truly alive. I know this because I can feel it through my legs with each step that is taken, through my lungs with each breath that is breathed, through my veins with each droplet of oxygenated blood that persistently pumps through a heart…my heart… that has somehow managed to survive while continuing to love the beauty of this world in spite of the pain…and I am left with a smile so true that it tickles my soul…a soul that now relishes in the warmth and safety of an undying fire. A soul that is quietly soothed by the sun’s rays as they finally win their battle with the oceans of dancing tree tops in repeated attempts to shine through, while I win my repeated battles with life as I attempt to shine through in my own way.
The fact that I continue to survive is something that I struggle with on a daily basis and I often wonder if I will ever come to accept it completely. However, running has managed to save my soul by not only providing me with a healthy way to escape what I had been trying to leave behind for so long, but also by providing me with an easily attainable peace and serenity that I so need. For I know when things become seemingly unbearable I only have to step into those shoes to slip into a moment of peace…which is sometimes all I really need…just a moment to make it through. I believe sometimes that is all anyone ever needs…I just happen to have been blessed to have found mine.
And that is why I am so in love with running.