Gratitude for Sobriety and Running

(This is a long-ish post and It does have something to do with running, if you’re willing to stick with all the AA talk at the start)

IMG_3414.PNGMaking a point of having gratitude is something frequently encouraged by Alcoholics Anonymous. And it’s something I seldom dwell on. I’m not a fan of “fake it until you make it” or gratitude lists. Somehow, I end up feeling worse than ever when I focus on these sorts of things. I think much of my problem lies in my familial history and the fact that I am still trying to convince myself I deserve to be happy or have a nice life, that it’s not all going to be taken away from me the second I acknowledge it.

Which is not to say I am not tremendously grateful for the wonderful things in my life. I have quite a bit to be glad about. But even just sitting here typing this, I get a sense of doom thinking about it. Obviously, I still have psychological work to do. But I’m also not convinced that covering up bad feelings by forcing good ones to the fore is anything other than a bandaid. Part of the human experience is feeling all the things, the bad ones too. I’m very good at covering up the bad ones, so I think, for me, faking it until I make it is a bad idea. It just perpetuates me burying stuff instead of examining it.

In the past couple weeks, I’ve had a few incidents that reminded me how much better my life is since I quit drinking, and reading something that fellow sober blogger Furtheron of Guitars & Life wrote made me think to share.

I don’t still attend AA meetings for a number of reasons, none of which are such that I am closed to the idea of going back to AA. My last meeting was at Christmastime last year with my sister-in-law, mostly to support her new sobriety. One thing that bothered me a lot about the AA meetings I attended was the attitude that if a person was not constantly in a meeting, they must be drunk or a dry drunk. I feel this attitude is very much based in fear and that AA can be too much of a crutch for actually living life for some people.

For the first two years of sobriety, I went to an AA meeting every day. For the first year, I went to two or three a day. I didn’t know what to do with myself in early sobriety, and frankly, I was afraid of myself and my addiction. It really helped me to sit in a safe place for an hour in the morning, lunchtime and night. I spent a lot of time mulling over what I believed about myself, the words in the AA Big Book and marveled at the resilience of the other drunks in the room. I truly believe AA works and was key to saving my sorry ass.

After two years, I decided to cut back my meetings to a couple times a week. I was getting bored with hearing the same things over and over, often the same people sharing the same stuff. Perhaps that is a flaw in myself, but I also felt I had gotten to a point where I didn’t need the daily meetings because the messages had become a part of me.

My sponsor, however, did not like this. At all. And when I saw her at the meetings I did attend, she shunned me. I mean, turned her shoulder and pretended I wasn’t there when I said hello shunned. This hurt me, and even worse, reminded me of a behavior my mother would employ, a behavior my sponsor knew about because I had confided in her. I tried getting in touch with her so that we could talk because it bothered me, but she didn’t return my calls.

I also had a few people come up to me in meetings and say my reduced attendance was me isolating myself and that I needed to get back to daily meetings because my next step would be drinking again. This all irked me a great deal, especially since I was, in fact, still regularly attending meetings. Eventually, I stopped going to meetings, in part because I didn’t think the attitude of the overall group was terribly healthy. (An aside, the number of smokers in AA and rehab is completely ridiculous and I don’t understand how that isn’t frowned on more than it is. /rant)

I won’t claim I was super-duper on my own or that I might not have been better served if I’d tried to find a new meeting, but I chose not to. I was, however, still in therapy and continued to do so for a few years after I left AA until my therapist and I decided that I was done needing therapy. Personally, I think moving on from AA can be healthy, but I know this is a controversial statement for many alcoholics in AA.

Just before I started running, I had a period of about two years where I was entangled with my parents and my three remaining grandparents died. I was in a very bad place then and probably should have gone back to AA. I think I partly decided not to do that was because I didn’t want people telling me to let my anger at my parents go and to forgive them. I’d tried that, and it just made things worse for me. My mother is a narcissist who tends to take advantage of forgiveness. Right about when I decided to cut my parents from my life, I started to feel better. I wanted to take care of myself. I started walking on the treadmill to begin my journey towards my goal of running a half marathon in Philadelphia.

Fast forward to last week, I ran into my former sponsor at the Wal-Mart. It’s been about five years since I’d last seen her. We hugged, which was cool. I half expected the stink eye when I called out her name and she recognized me. One of the first things she asked me was if I was still sober. And, man, was I glad I was able to say “yes.” I also added that I couldn’t be running the way I am if I were drinking. Which is true — alcohol messed up my nervous system and elevated my blood pressure something awful. When I was in rehab, the doctors had to give me heart medication to shock my heart back into a normal rhythm because it was trying to pick up the slack that my liver was unable to process. Scary shit. (I was told I probably had only a few years to live, if that, if I’d continued at the level of drinking I had been. Less if I increased my consumption, which as an alcoholic, was likely to happen.)

My former sponsor said she thought about me often, and my guess is that she was thinking I was passed out drunk somewhere. Which is perhaps not a fair assumption, but I had run into other AA members over the years and a several of them told me that people in the group assumed I was back off the wagon and were genuinely surprised (and a few, perplexed) to see me out and about and healthy. I’m sure there are other sober alcoholics out there like me — we just are out living our lives outside the AA rooms, not disappeared into our addictions.

I also had a recent ugly reminder of the neurological affect of alcohol on me. One morning, I drank waaaayyyy too much coffee before going to meet my personal trainer, and I was wired. I was shaking like crazy and it reminded me of when I had alcohol withdrawal. My heart was racing and I felt miserable and mortified. Luckily I have told my trainer about my alcoholism and was able to laugh it off a bit. And I’ve cut back on the caffeine. As far as I can tell, I don’t have an addiction to caffeine since cutting back and switching to decaf seems to have had no ill effects. Now when I shake when working out, it’s because I’m working hard.

But can I tell you how much I hated shaking and feeling so out of control of my physical body? It was terrible. It also made my workout and my run that day suck until I sweated the stuff out of my system.

Both of these incidents made me so grateful that I am sober — and that running is in my life. Blogger Jim of Fit Recovery just wrote a post on his 22 years of sobriety and how fitness has improved his life, and I agree. Not shockingly, alcohol is not good for physical fitness for a variety of reasons, including impeding the repair of muscles as well as the the effects I mentioned earlier and those mentioned in this article on RunnersConnect. As a runner in her mid-40s, I need all the muscle repair I can get.

Without alcohol in my life, I have a chance to become a better person and a better runner. I’m glad I had a couple reminders recently about what it was like before I stopped drinking. Because while I am building my life and fitness, my alcoholism sits in the background waiting to take me down for good. I don’t want to give it that chance again.

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30 thoughts on “Gratitude for Sobriety and Running

  1. What an amazing post! Thank you for sharing that story. Can I say that I’m surprised that there is so much judgement/rigidity in AA? Had I been in AA and had a person treat me like that (a person who should care about me!), I think I would have been devastated. Congrats to you and your journey…you are a special person!

    • I can’t deny Judy’s experience of AA however I’ve been a member for 10 years and that is not my experience in general. Only love, help, encouragement and support for me to find my way in recovery is what I’ve found. There are a lot of flavours out there – I’m lucky I’m in an area where there are many meetings every day – I feel comfortable in some compared with others

      • I’ve heard this as well. The town I live in is pretty small so the people at the meetings all tend to be the same folk. When I lived in NJ for the first 6 months of sobriety, it felt a little less rigid and I had more meetibg choices. I do not want to discourage people from AA because it was a life saver.

  2. What an awesome post! And congratulations on your continued sobriety! It is great reading your story and also the view of ‘always recovering’.

    It is a view I share with you, though mine is about food and weight … I strongly believe that you are never ‘cured’, just always in recovery.

    And you are right – sometimes it is great to have something to remind us of why this battle to stay recovered is SO important to maintain!

  3. Great post – as you know I’m sorry for your experience in AA – it doesn’t reflect mine. However I do know groups in my local area where it is very “our way or the highway” and what I call “the cult of sponsorship” where I hear people say “I didn’t know to date this girl or not. My sponsor gave me guidance. I didn’t know about this job offer. My sponsor gave me guidance. I wanted to invest my money … my sponsor….” I once cut across (I don’t condone this it was bad behaviour) and said to one of these people “Streuth your sponsor is a genius, relationship counsellor, careers advisor, qualified financial advisor…”

    So I know my group people go away they come back and they are welcome. One guy came back after 6 years in which he never drank. Just glad he didn’t and glad he came back his experience is a huge asset to all members.

    • I really would like an AA group like you described. It’s funny, but I live in a fairly liberal area, but the AA meetings do feel rather rigid and fearful here. I have met a lot of great people in sobriety, but certain individuals seem to take over meetings and it’s not really a good thing for anyone.

      • I have seen that at times where some people think they know your programme. I gently printout to all. “Only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking ” does say you have to divide steps or pray or anything. Aldosterone programme is only “suggested” the big book is very clear in that both in chapter five where the steps are detailed and in Vision for You at the end of the book before the stories.
        Sorry to bleat on but it is important to me

  4. Some people are stuck in one-size-fits-all mode. I left an abuse survivors group not because it was unsupportive but because I grew weary of being dragged back into the past. I was beginning to feel like the abuse was all I was. Glad you had the strength and the courage to choose your own way. Go you!

    • I was drinking at least two bottles of chardonnay a day, often more. Towards the end I was trying to manage my consumption, but I’d have bad withdrawal tremors if I didn’t keep a steady flow of alcohol in me. I usually woke up multiple times at night to have a few swallows. I had horrific nightmares, sweats and shakes if I didn’t.

      I’m small and my body does not process alcohol well, so my drink of choice and amount may not seem like much (or it seems like a lot), but it was literally killing me. It made me angry that I was so dependent on it, basically serving my addiction 24/7 and having to plan everything around it.

      I was in rehab for six weeks. My son was 10 at the time, but it was hands down the best decision I’ve ever made. I was sooooo relieved once I made the decision. Rehab was actually not bad at all — I really embraced it.

      I’m always glad to talk about my alcoholism and recovery because I hope it helps someone else realize they don’t have to continue to live in the clutches of addiction. Almost no one knew how sick I was because I kept it hidden. So I try not to hide it now. πŸ™‚

  5. Oh, sister, I so feel you… First, waiting for that other shoe to drop is something I can relate with as I used to do the same. So often when I was drinking, there was a shoe waiting to kick me in the pants. Not so in sobriety. I quit waiting for it long ago.

    As far as meetings, in How it Works; “many of us exclaimed, what an order, I cannot go through with it…” My buddy Dennis always shouts in its place, “Don’t tell me what to do”! Going to meetings is only the half of it. I only go to one a week but I’m immersed in the life. I’m surrounded with sober people who aid and support me in living a sober (and happy) life. That’s the point of “going to meetings”, to stay connected with the program. It’s also to share your experience with newcomers… I don’t know how AA is in your neck of the woods but there aren’t many strong women for the newcomer around here. Chances are, you’re needed. Just a thought. Now I have to get back to the rest of your post (I had to comment on those first two points so I didn’t forget later in the post). πŸ˜‰

  6. Other’s messages… Yes, they do get old but mine don’t. I don’t look for what I can get out of a meeting, I look at what I can add to it. Doing this is a completely different way of going to meetings. You’re an AA adult, you can bring more than you can pull from it now. Congratulations are in order!

    P.S. Your sponsor is an ass. What a dope. I haven’t been to more than two meetings a week in probably fifteen years. AA is not supposed to be my new addiction.

  7. Sorry for taking so long to get back to this… I had a fifth step with a sponsee last night after dinner. Excellent post and nice work getting all of this down on, uh, ether.

    We don’t do AA where I grew up like you do. To cut back on meetings after a year or two is quite normal. In fact, if I still need five meetings a week after two years my sponsor is terrible and I’d trade up. Think about that for a second. Ironic isn’t it?

    • I think I would like a different group. I’m not sure how some groups end up with less than healthy mindsets while others are more like yours. I did have a great deal of trouble with the overall “group-think” of the particular meetings I attended. I laughed about your friend yelling, “don’t tell me what to do!” because it was part of my struggle — trying to figure out what really was necessary for me to follow and what was really people trying to control the group-think, if thst makes any sense.

      You have a great point about thinking of it as what I have to contribute to help the newcomer. I know I would’ve been lost thise first years without AA.

  8. Great post and thanks for sharing! Sounds like you’ve matured and grown so well. What is it with waiting for bad things to happen when life is really good? I don’t get it but sometimes I feel the same way. Congratulations to you and I am thankful I found your blog.

  9. Oh Judith – loved this.

    I am in agreement – that sponsor was an ass. Sorry. Sponsors are human too. I am sure I pissed off a sponsee or two in my day. We are all seekers and on our journeys and above all, make mistakes. She didn’t seem to be living spiritual principles in how she acted towards you. At least the hug was nice.

    I have 3 1/2 yrs myself. I recently got back to meetings. I didn’t go for two months, and while I wasn’t chomping at the bit, I realized I did miss the fellowship in terms of just being there and feeling the energy in the room. Was I ready to drink? not at all. I have worked the steps and continue to work them daily. I would love to sponsor again, but that means I need to hit meetings and talk to newcomers. But to say that stopping meetings = getting drunk or being a dry drink is ridiculous. Now, if meetings was all I had and I was whiteknuckling in between, then yeah, meetings are important. But for many of us who have had the mental obsession kicked to the curb…meetings aren’t as vital.

    I guess I am lucky to live in a big city and have many groups / meetings to choose from. Not all groups are like the one you described. But you know that. Having online support in the blogs (and Twitter) also bolster my chance to talk to and keep in contact with other recovered /ing alcoholics and addicts.

    I am grateful that you came through this all and see where things could have gone and how things have changed dramatically in recovery. As I am. Running has become an important part of my life now and helps me to keep me in balance. I believe strongly in the mind-body-spirit connection and that is certainly the “body” part, which helps to get the others going.

    Thank you for this.

    Paul

    • The fellowship and energy really was a great thing. And the laughter. Who knew that alcoholics could have such great senses of humor?

      I think the particular group fostered a lot of fear of what was outside the AA rooms, and hence when someone else tried to go to fewer meetings, it made them agraid for themselves. I remember before I took that step being told by several members that alcoholics not attending enough meetings would be poison for me to be hanging around. Insert goggled eyes here. So, basically I think my former sponsor thought I’d become poisonous. Not healthy.

      It’s been about five years since I left those meetings, so maybe there has been some turnover and the tone may have changed.

      Thank you for your comment. I have stayed in touch with the sober world via the internet, which I think has helped a lot. Ergo, you have contributed to my sobriety too, so thanks πŸ™‚ !!!

  10. It humbles me to think of all the stuff you all seem to have gone through and how strong you must be to be able to kick against it. How any of you can be judged in that way when you’ve got the guts to be able to get out for that run or go for that faster ride saddens me.

    I used to teach Outdoor Education and tried to keep in mind the idea of helping folk to enhance their positive self concept if I felt it was appropriate. For me being in the outdoors with them, active & sharing experiences was a great way to help that process along for some.

    All the best with all your progresses.

  11. Syd says:

    Judith, this was a great post. I understand and agree that everyone’s journey is different. I go to two meetings a week, sometimes three. But I think that the two I attend are healthy and keep the traditions.

    I prefer to live life and enjoy what I do. I am sponsoring a few fellows right now but have been through the steps with them. I like that in Al-Anon we don’t have any “musts”. I don’t tell others what to do because that is what I am trying to get away from doing–the controlling stuff.

    All of us have character defects. I know that my first sponsor was great for me as a new comer and to take me through the steps. Now that he is dead, I realize how much I miss our conversations. My new sponsor is more hands off. And that is okay for where I am in program.

    Thank you again for this post. It reminds me of how far we both have come in our respective programs.

  12. Such a great post. I’m grateful you did get sober and start running, because I get to enjoy your blog and your insights about both. I’m grateful for how open and willing you are to share your experiences with us. Thank you and, as always, keep it up!

  13. TR says:

    That is a part of the process, knowing what is right for us and understanding we see our options when we are ready to see them. Part of sticking in any group or deciding to leave is knowing when to do either. It is like flight or fight response, both are relevant, staying in one situation may be relevant but walking away is also the ‘right’ decision. I think you handled the situation with your sponsor really well. And when it comes to gratitude, whether someone makes a list or not (both are okay), there is a way of living and practicing gratitude that doesn’t have to be ‘shout it from the rooftops’. I find gratitude to be a really deep and personal practice. Great post. xxTR

  14. Thank you for sharing your story with us… I have a little over 18 months of sobriety under my belt. And I have never gone to a single AA meeting… It’s not that I didn’t want to try it out. I just honestly couldn’t find the time, between dropping my kids off at daycare, work, picking kids back up, dinner/bedtime routine, spend an hour with my husband before bed, rinse and repeat. The weekends are for chores, household errands. etc. I don’t get a whole lot of “me” time and that’s ok.

    I go through periods where I feel so strong, and there are times when I feel so weak. I can’t believe how much alcohol had a hold of me. I don’t even want to begin to explain how bad it used to be, because I’m sure you know where i’m coming from.

    We are different when it comes to positivity. I am an upbeat person, and a glass is always full kind of person. But, I know that it is a coping mechanism. If I wallow and seek the dark side of things, Then my self destructive side comes out- and that is not a good thing at all for my family.

    I know it’s sound cliche’ but, I have to stay sober for myself and my kids. Anytime I feel like drinking, I try to remember the lowest of the lows- and that usually snaps me back into reality.

    Thank you for sharing.

    • Thank you so much for commenting. 18 months is awesome and I’m in awe you did it without AA.

      I’m actually an extremely positive person… just not when it comes to how I view myself. I tend to believe that there are many ways to approach a problem and that I can usually get there. But I also berate myself when I don’t get it right, if that makes any sense. I’m an optimist except when it comes to believing I me. It’s something I’m working on.

      I don’t want to come off sounding like I’m negative because the feeling of hope is what gets me through the darkness. πŸ™‚

      Anyway, I’m really glad you stopped by and hope you continued success in sobriety!

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