Recovery

Badassery: a guest post by Dennis Meeks

I’m thrilled to introduce Dennis Meeks to you all. Dennis is a very kind and supportive reader of Running on Sober, and when he mentioned in a comment that he was in the midst of running thirteen marathons in twelve months . . . and doing it to get and stay sober . . . and doing it in his early-60’s, well I practically begged him to share his story with us. And I couldn’t be happier that he said yes. Reading his story of endurance, triumph and lessons learned moved me to tears; then it moved me off of my ass and got me out the door for a run. I hope you’ll enjoy Dennis’s story as much as I did, runner or not. Ladies and gentlemen, I offer you one helluva sober running badass, Mr. Dennis Meeks:

BADASSERY

When I tell non-runners that I run marathons (26.2 miles), 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.

Photo via Pixabay, Public Domain.

Photo via Pixabay, Public Domain.

At the tender age of 63, after finally (hopefully) getting off the crazy-go-round of serial relapses that had been ongoing for three years, I decided I would run six marathons in six months. The first two or three went well, so I upped my goal to 12. But then I thought, what if I get injured and need some time off?, so I added one more, #13, just in case I had to skip one, so 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 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, 2013. 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 with my self-confidence dimly reflected in the sweat of my contorted face at the finish line of every marathon. It’s difficult to drink (like I did) and exceed at anything other than resolute failure and regret. Running was helping me change all that.

So, my first marathon time this year was a 4:23, not bad for the aged among us. I was stoked. And six 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 was put one foot in front of the other. I ran when I didn’t like myself. And I have kept running now that I have discovered that, hey, I’m not so bad after all. I’m stronger, tougher, more disciplined than I thought. I have endured. By god, that’s what I do, I endure.

Marathons are hard. 13 marathons in 12 months is harder: I ran on beastly hills; I ran in the ugly parts of strange towns; I ran in the glorious Utah Canyon in Provo, Utah; I ran a marathon that was stopped because of an impending ice storm in Little Rock, Arkansas (I was at mile 18–I wasn’t going to stop because of some inclement weather–and I finished anyway with an official time); I ran in Tupelo, Mississippi on the last day of August where the heat is oppressive and the humidity worse (like running with a hot blanket wrapped around your head); I ran a midnight marathon in rain-soaked darkness that consisted of five 5-mile boring loops and then 1.2 miles to make it an official marathon distance of 26.2 miles; I ran the Flying Monkey Marathon in Nashville, Tennessee 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 7,200 feet of total elevation change, up and down, up and down; and, finally, I ran in the desert at the Tucson (Arizona) Marathon — I could have been on the moon, the landscape so different, but breathtaking, from that which I am familiar; the only forests there consist of cacti and shrubs. I plodded, I lumbered, I shuffled, but I always finished. Every freaking one of them. I fucking endured.

Each and every medal, earned through endurance and badassery. (Walker courtesy of a bone spur earned from 13 marathons in 12 months. Speedy recovery, Dennis!) Photo courtesy of Adalyn Meeks.

Each and every medal earned through endurance and badassery. (Walker courtesy of a bone spur earned from 13 marathons in 12 months. Speedy recovery, Dennis!) ~RoS
Photo courtesy of Adalyn Meeks.

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, friending 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 delight 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 I actually did some math . . . and it was sobering, no pun intended.

Now, 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.

Dennis Meeks, badass, with one of his first medals from the Navy Nautical Miler. Photo courtesy of Adalyn Meeks.

Dennis Meeks, badass, with one of his first medals from The Navy Nautical Miler.
Photo courtesy of Adalyn Meeks.

Special thanks to LifeRing and the friends I have made there. Without their support my marathon year would never have happened. (Note from RoS: You may learn more about LifeRing Secular Recovery at LifeRing.org)

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Thanks for guest posting Dennis, not only are you a badass, you’re my hero. This one’s for you:

 

Thank you everyone for reading. Jennie, Michelle and I wish you and your loved ones a happy holiday season and peaceful new year. We’ll be back in January, but until then, please say hi to Dennis in the comments. What did you think of his story? Pretty awesome accomplishment, don’t you think? Would you ever consider running 12 marathons in 12 months? If not marathoning, what helps you stay sober and/or (semi-) sane? ~ Christy

Holiday Sobriety and Sanity Savers

(This was originally posted November 2013, but I am making it a sticky post for the ’14 holiday season. I hope it helps someone. I wish you all happy and healthy holidays. -ros)

I was standing in a deserted church parking, freezing my ass off, wailing like a crazy woman, a couple of days after Christmas in 2010. Oh yeah, I was also talking on the phone to my ex-boyfriend from eighteen years ago (hey, his phone number was on Facebook), and oh yeah, I was drunk. Not just drunk, but “sobbing, snotty, hyperventilating, drunk-dial-your-ex-from-high-school” drunk. I knew I needed help though, which is what had led me to the church parking lot to begin with–I was trying to go to a recovery meeting (my first), except it had been canceled–and it’s also what led me to call someone else to say, “please help me.”

"Country Church" by Mark Duffy via FineArtAmerica

“Country Church” by Mark Duffy via FineArtAmerica

I’m not even sure what else I said. But you know what? He listened, and I felt better afterward. I didn’t do anything stupid that night (much), and the next day, the world spun on and life continued.

In a way, it was my first recovery meeting.

I needed help, I didn’t know where to get it, and talking to him for ten freezing minutes in a parking lot may have saved my life.

So why am I telling you this? I’m supposed to be taking a break, I’m supposed to be on hiatus, right? Well, I am, but… Bloody hell the holidays are stressful. For everyone! You don’t have to be an addict or alcoholic or co-dependent to feel the stress and anxiety–just human. And if even just one of you needs to read this, then I need to write it. 

Here’s what follows:

  • General crisis support options and resources
  • My specific sobriety-saving ideas from this year and last
  • Links to UnPickled and Mr. Sponsorpants’s “Holiday Survival Guides”

Crisis control and support options:

First, if you need to talk to someone, about anything, and you don’t know who to call (and you don’t have your ex’s phone number), write one or both of these numbers down or program them in your phone:

1-800-273-TALK (8255) — it can be about ANYTHING. If you are stressed out and in a meltdown or crisis, call them 24/7. It’s Lifeline’s crisis hotline open to anyone.

1-800-662-HELP (4357) — this is more about Substance Abuse & Mental Health crisis, but if you’re in mini-meltdown, I’d say that qualifies as mental health, wouldn’t you? It is the number to SAMHSA’s National Helpline.

If you are outside of the US, you can look up a phone number here.

If you’d rather chat on-line, Lifeline offers instant chat from 2 pm – 2 am eastern. Learn more here–don’t worry, I promise it won’t open a chat window, it’s just the information page. Bookmark it.

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A few ideas to help you stay sober:

Holidays can be stressful. Stress can be triggering for alcoholics and addicts. Therefore, holidays can be triggering for us addicts. Right? Well, DUH. (My philosophy and logic professors would be so proud of me.) This time of year can get to anyone. It doesn’t take a college professor to know that the holidays can make Mother Theresa herself want to go postal or get smashed on spiked eggnog. It might be human nature, but it ain’t rocket science.

So how do we survive with our sobriety in tact? We do whatever we have to do. Blogger October0Nine and I wrote about this last year in our shared post “Sobriety During the Holidays.” But since then, I’ve come up with five more ideas that I haven’t seen anywhere else:

  • If it’s a choice between pumpkin pie / cookies / candy / stuffing / cheese balls / Schweddy Balls / gingerbread cake / the entire gingerbread cake / an entire bag of jelly beans (the huge bag, not the tiny Jelly Belly bags) / an entire pint of Ben & Jerry’s / two entire pints of Ben & Jerry’s / three entire (well, you know), _______ (insert ANYTHING here) . . . or drinking, choose the first option. ALWAYS, EVERY TIME. DRINKING IS NOT AN OPTION. Eat the sugar, it’ll be okay.
  • Don’t keep alcohol in your house, if at all possible. (Yes, I know spouses and partners and roommates may make this difficult.) But if you host a holiday party or dinner and you buy a couple of bottles of wine or a case of beer for your guests, send it home with them. Or–ugh, I can’t even believe I’m going to say this–pour the left-over wine down the kitchen sink. If you don’t have it in the house, you can’t drink it.
  • There is no such thing as “this is a special occasion so I guess I can have just one drink” for an alcoholic. Go eat a cookie instead. Every day of your sobriety is a special occasion, don’t reset your sobriety-counter back to zero just because you think you can handle one or two. If you could handle one or two drinks, you wouldn’t have quit drinking in the first place.
  • At holiday dinners I know you don’t want to feel awkward or different, and I know those wine glasses are so pretty, but please don’t drink out of one. This way you won’t accidentally pick up someone else’s glass of wine or vice versa, the hostess won’t top off your glass of grape juice with Merlot, an over-zealous waiter won’t keep asking you, “white or red?” Chances are you would be fine, but why leave it up to chance?
  • You don’t have to be sobriety’s golden child or poster boy. You don’t have to defend your sobriety, or anybody else’s for that matter. You don’t even have to say you’re sober, you can say, “No thanks, I’m not drinking tonight.” You don’t have to speak up if someone makes a tasteless joke about addiction–which, hey, Rob Ford, it could happen–or about drinking too much. This goes against much of what I write day-to-day (be the change; silence is deadly; if nothing changes, nothing changes; etc. . .) but that’s okay. Your mission is to stay sober. That’s all. Not to be nice, not to eat like a rabbit, not to be the smiling hostess, not to be a golden child. JUST TO STAY SOBER.

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From October O Nine and RoS:

Sobriety During the Holidays (a Shared Post With “October O Nine”) via RunningOnSober:

Mark Twain (or The Bible or Abe Lincoln or somebody) once said, “It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.”

I change this around during trigger situations when I need a time-out to: “It is better to be thought rude and sober than to be undoubtedly rude and drunk.” My sobriety has to come first. It’s not rude. It’s not selfish. It is life-saving. If I do not put my sobriety first, then nothing at all can come second. . . .

(Some helpful hints:) Have an exit strategy; bring your own car if possible, don’t be dependent on another if you need to extract yourself from a stressful situation. Bring your own fancy non-alcoholic beverage. The bathroom makes an excellent escape room! Have at least one person who knows that you are not drinking; give them a nod or a look if you are “having a moment.” . . .

(From October O Nine:) If this is your first sober Thanksgiving, protect your sobriety. Remember it is better to understand than to be understood. People don’t understand why you are not drinking? F `em. Don’t feel the need to explain yourself; don’t feel the obsession to be understood.

From UnPickled

Survival Strategies for Holidays and Vacations, via UnPickled (Seven outstanding suggestions for keeping your sobriety in tact over the holidays; She always has excellent comments too, so check them out and add your own ideas):

Practice Some Lines – This sounds super corny but it is helpful: write out some ways to say “no thanks, I’m not drinking” and practice them before the event. Generally, as long as you have a glass in your hand no one will care what is in it. Still, there’s always someone who just insists on getting you something in which case you can say, “Ohhhh, I’ll have some of that delicious-looking San Pelligrino that someone [YOU] brought. Yum! Thank you!!”. If you are really pressed, just accept the drink offered and quietly set it aside and calmy WALK THE EFF AWAY. If this leaves you overly shaky, refer to items 6, 3, or 2.

From Mr. Sponsorpants

Mr. SponsorPants 6th Annual Holiday Survival Guide, via Mr. Sponsorpants (I first read Mr. SP’s “Survival Guide” facing my first sober Thanksgiving and holiday season–and I didn’t drink. I read it the next year before my second sober Thanksgiving–and I didn’t drink. I’m reading–and sharing!–this year before my third sober Thanksgiving, and I don’t have any plans to drink. I’m not superstitious (much) but, hey, read it–follow it–and maybe it can work for you too. Some of it is 12-Step based, but don’t let that detract you from reading.

Here are a couple of my favorites from his guide of eighteen:

#8 – Remember, “Please pass the gravy” is not code for “Please, now that you’re sober, unload all of your pent up anger and frustration you’ve been stuffing for the past X years, right here right now, during dinner.” . . .

#12 – Remember, you may not have been such a winner yourself on past occasions — it may take a while for people to “see” who you are today. Be patient, show who you are now rather than tell who you are now, and things will eventually change.

I also love #1, #6, #10, and #13.

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If you have holiday survival tips, or know of other survival-type guides, please feel free to share or self-promote in the comments.

Advice Too Good to Not Share (on quitting drinking)

You know how sometimes you read a blog comment that blows you away? You think to yourself, Dude, this comment is awesome, I hope everyone reads this. But then you know that while lots of folks read comments, not everyone does, especially not if they’ve already read or commented on the post. And then you get kind of bummed out. But then you remember, hey, this is my blog and I can post (almost) anything I want; I can let my readers know how awesome the comment was, and then you’re happy. And then you realize, duh, you can even share the actual comments in a totally new post, and you get even happier.

You see where I’m going with this, right?

In last week’s post on “Advice to Someone Quitting Drinking,” I asked if you had any advice or suggestions for someone giving up alcohol. And your responses were–yes, I know I overuse this word–awesome. I hope you’ll to stop by to read all the comments, but in case you get busy or only read via email, I wanted to spotlight a few of them for you here. (A special thank you to Thirsty Still whose brilliant comment inspired this post. I encourage you to check out her blog; she’s one of my favorite sobriety bloggers.)

I’m still working on that upcoming “Tough Love/Angry” piece. It’s coming along. I’m trying to balance “raw and authentic” with “compassionate and mindfully–yet not overly–edited” without losing any of its original intent. (I may just say f-it and post the “shitty first draft” (want more Anne Lamott? and more?) with a disclaimer and be done with it if I feel I’m losing too much in the editing process.)

And . . . I’m seriously considering setting up a new page (like my about page or resources page) specifically for all of your shared advice and ideas. So if you have some advice on quitting drinking, feel free to add it here or on last week’s post.

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From TS at Thirsty Still:

I also get angry around some of the oh so gentle relapse talk. Not that I want to scold someone who relapses. That would be pointless. But when it happens and there are no hard questions, then it starts to look like, “Oh well it’s hard and sometimes being sober just doesn’t happen.” But I think being sober is something you do. It never ‘just happens.’ When people relapse, often from just reading their posts you can see that it’s coming. They have changed their minds about being sober, or lost their commitment. I know last year, before I started drinking again, I had started to find all the “sober bullshit” really irritating. Instead I fell into “booze bullshit.” Having quit again, calling myself on my own bullshit is important. Recently I got bored with blogs and sober stuff again, but I have seen myself doing it and I thought: No! You keep doing this, or you go to AA or find some way to keep this sober gig going. Or you will drink again. And one thing I do not want to do is drink again.

So my advice is, first, get some help. Blogs can be helpful, but for me, that only worked when they helped me make a personal connection with a real person. Like [SL at] Sober Learning, I kept going sometimes because I’d said to someone else that I would, and they believed even if I didn’t. Belle’s 100 day challenge was a huge help to me, not because of her advice, but simply because she was there and emailed me back and she seemed to care, even when I wasn’t sure I did. And blogs were helpful when I jumped in and commented and made connections with people, who were helpful and kind when I needed that. I might still try AA. But whatever I do, I need people. If you’re quitting drinking, my guess is you’ll need people, too.

And my other advice is this: forget motivation. Motivation is a myth. Motivation is just a word that describes continuing hard effort. There is no ‘magic motivation juice’ that gives you the energy you need to do the hard work of quitting. Yes, you have to want to quit. But that’s all you need. That, and some help.

(full comment)

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From SL at Sober Learning:

I then needed human contact, and got up enough nerve to go to AA. I love my home group. Not all of the AA stuff fits for me, but I like being with people who are the same as me. People who can’t drink, can’t moderate, and who are willing to work every day of their life to remain sober.

The blogging world, the numerous websites devoted to being sober, the Twitter world, the Facebook groups, all of it helps me to stay focused on my sobriety.

If someone had told me last year that I would be comfortable sober, and not want to jump out of my skin at the thought of NEVER drinking again, I would have told them they were nuts. It is hard work, and you really have to want it, but I believe that anyone can do it. Like running up a hill, put your head down, and lean into it.

[. . .]

Sober really isn’t a hard concept, it just means DON’T DRINK, you really have to want it though, you really, really do.

(full comment)

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From Karen at Mended Musings:

There is a cost for every piece of armor we put on and for every numbing behavior we make a part of our lives. Alcohol, drugs, buying things you can’t afford, toxic relationships – you name it – there’s a cost to it all. The problem is that when we’re fully armored up and numbed, we lose our ability to think for ourselves. We lose our imagination, our creativity and our confidence. There’s even a cost for recovery because when we fully accept responsibility for our choices, thoughts and behaviors, we lose the comfort of believing that a substance or thing can make our lives better. Personally, I think the cost is worth it. I drink occasionally but I needed to stop completely for almost 3 years in order to even be able to recognize what I needed to heal. No one, whether they’re an alcoholic or not, can see clearly if they’re constantly numb and armored.

If there’s a voice in your head that tells you to stop drinking, listen to it. It’s the only voice you can trust and it will never, ever go away until you listen to it or you’re dead. Don’t worry about tomorrow or forever because when you learn to listen to what your heart tells you, it tells you more and more of what you need to hear.

(full comment)

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From Liz at Living With Autism:

For me, quitting involved changing ALL my routines; I had to create an entirely different life for myself to avoid the associations. That’s probably the key thing I did. It was tough, especially with an autistic son who loves routine. But I think that was part of my problem – like Dylan I had routines to manage anxiety but mine were way more damaging than his.

(full comment)

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From Josie at The Miracle is Around the Corner:

Here’s my best piece of advice for the person who is starting on day 1 of sobriety: forget any timelines beyond the very day you are living. Can you make it through the rest of this very day without picking up a drink? If not, why not? What people, places, or things are preventing this? Then solve those problems, and don’t drink. Go to bed, wake up, and repeat this process, and I promise you, it will get easier over time.

(full comment)

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Thank you to everyone who took the time to comment last week (read all the comments). Feel free to politely add your own suggestions or experiences below. Hopefully I’ll get the new “advice” page up by the end of this month and before the holiday season kicks into full swing. -christy

* Note: Although AA is mentioned, RoS does not endorse one recovery program or process over another. I believe there is no single right or wrong program, as long as it works for you. Other programs include (but are not limited to) SMART Recovery, WFS, LifeRing, SOS, and EATS: Eat ALL the Sugar (ok, so I made that last one up). Feel free to share what worked for you in the comments. If you’re looking for help, check out my resources page.