It’s August, 2005, and I had just finished 60 days of in-patient rehab at a facility in Santa Ana, Ca. I knew I was an alcoholic for the first time, and I was still coming to grips with my “disease.” My world had been turned upside down.
The re-hab consisted of three after-care houses in surrounding neighborhoods, and a main house (which doubled as a second rate detox) where clients would stay in their initial 30 days. I had no place to go after completing my own treatment so asked the facility staff for a job; their singular response was, “do you cook? We need a cook.” Glaring straight at the Director, my only response: “Oh yeah…I cook. You need a cook, no problem.” My internal response: “Oh shit..I don’t cook!” I believe they knew that, but I was on survival mode, on fire for sobriety and would do whatever it took to stay the course. I didn’t feel ready to leave. Deep down, I was fascinated by it all….this new environment, these new friends, these AA meetings. Intuitively, I also felt great things might be possible. There was a definite fire burning inside.
I lived in one of the transitional re-hab houses and my job everyday was to serve breakfast, lunch and dinner to the 20+ primary re-hab patients. My house held the “garage” where all the food for the program was kept. I practically lived in there, trying to course and map out the next meal; pick it, bike it over one mile on a broken down beach cruiser, cook it, serve it, do the dishes. Three times a day. That was my schedule. I got by – barely – on reading directions for recipes & pretending to be confident in the kitchen. I hung a sign, “Do Not Enter” so no one could see the panic.
When I was in phase II of the re-hab program (my second 30 days) the powers-that-be let me begin “running” for an hour everyday in the afternoon. I had run track/cross-country in college and had run approximately 6 marathons in years previous. I just felt this incredible pull to begin running again. I found a nearby grassy park and did endless laps around the camps of homeless in the middle. They got used to seeing me there and as the weeks progressed, I was getting my running form back. The environment itself was depressed, but the actual act of running, and the endorphins it produced, was paradise. Running became my daily calming mechanism and helped me get out of my own head – a sometimes difficult task for alcoholics. That’s putting it lightly.
Those daily runs gave me a mind-altering serenity that had been lost at the bottom of a bottle for some time. I would drink to forget. Now, I was running to remember – so I could live again. This was the time my mind began shifting gears, and thoughts of “what’s possible” replaced the treadmill of negative tapes and days gone by. My wall was beginning to come down. My running opened a flood-gate of thought and contemplation I never thought possible.
Pre-rehab, my father had found me in a motel in Orange County, Vodka bottles strewn everywhere and suicide not far off. On a 4 day binge, I didn’t know what time it was, let alone whether the sun was coming up or going down. Dates and time were worthless to me. Within two hours of his arrival, he had me in re-hab in Santa Ana; a collaborative effort between him and my Mother. Regardless of how I got to that dark place (that is a book in its own), my alcohol abuse had been progressive and now – in that motel room….it had me hand in hand with the devil. I literally thought it was over, my soul was empty; it was just a matter of how I was going to get my body to shut down. But, 30 days later, I was running laps in that park in Santa Ana. I felt like a walking/running miracle.
That first re-hab gave me 4 primary gifts: An introduction to the 12-steps, a small but new beginning in a relationship with a God of my own understanding, a solid work-ethic and it uncovered, from beneath a rock, a passion I had left behind – my running. That passion would grow, but not without a few more self-induced, incredibly harsh life-lessons.
One year and two months later, I was back in re-hab for a second time. I had made the lethal mistake of dumping my sponsor, not going to meetings and truly believing I could “handle” a pint or two, here and there. Ironically, this thought process came right after I had completed my first “post-rehab” marathon (6 mo. after Santa Ana). This was my first experience with the “I deserve it” attitude so many alcoholics display after getting some time under their belt and a few successes. We forget quickly and lie to ourselves – as we buy into our own undisputable bullshit as re-lapse takes its shape. As I would find out, many of us believe we’re too intelligent to have any kind of addiction or “disease” that controls our self-destructive ways. Of the many, I was one.
Once again, my running suffered and I ended up the same way and in the same place I began this journey, but worse: sitting in a dark room, Vodka bottles littering the floor and closet. This time though, I had introduced a knife to the fray; I wanted to make sure I bled out this time, just kind of disappearing into black, not to wake up.
An intervention by my parents at 3am got me to an appointment the next day with a man named Ron Israel, an addictions counselor (who, to this day, continues to be my mentor, life-coach and example in sobriety). I was fascinated by this man. There was a spirituality to him that just drew me in. I was shaking and baking badly, bobbing back and forth – arms crossed, legs together, trying to muster enough energy to even talk while my tremors amplified. I was in full withdrawal, down to 130lbs from a norm of one-sixty. In a 6ft. frame, I was a skeleton. He stayed on topic with God – and how he saw great things for me if I’d just “let go”, accept my disease of alcoholism and learn to deal with the shame and grief I had buried deep down. I ate his words up like I was starving emotionally (and I was). Ron asked me one question at the end of our session, “so, what do you want?” I replied simply, “I want what you have.” That was enough.
With that, my second go-around was at an excellent re-hab in South Orange County, called Able to Change Recovery (ATC), based in Laguna Beach and Dana Point. The counselors there (including Ron Israel and Billy Grow – both have amazing talents to inspire!) challenged me in ways I had never been challenged. They also made me realize that living sober and “in recovery” is a full-time job that never ends. It doesn’t have an on/off switch. The disease of alcoholism is not “cure-able” and is always with us. Baffling….cunning…powerful. The positive note is, we can all have lives that are way, way beyond what we ever imagined. With a personal, self-defined and educated program of recovery, we create our own mental and philosophical armor – one that is personal to each and helps, rather than hinders, when life gets tough. Down the road, when service calls, newcomers benefit from the experience of your armor; as you do from helping them fit their own. In our weekly sessions, Ron continued to hammer this point home – and I was absorbing it. Spirituality and faith in God were also regular topics and my personal convictions grew stronger.
I ended up working for ATC Recovery for four years after my treatment; and no, not as a cook! I began as a house manager at one of their “re-hab” houses in Laguna Beach. Located on Coast Highway, directly across from Thousand Steps Beach, I was able to work with (on a daily basis) newcomers in their first 30 days of sobriety. It was here I realized that alcoholism and drug addiction do not discriminate. One day, a major corporate CEO might check in, the next day a police officer, the next a broken down 19 year old who had been sleeping on park benches. Some work days I would be picking a heroin or meth addict up at the airport or visiting future clients in the local detox – the hospital just one block from our house. AA meetings were every morning, one block away, 7-days a week. I was there.
I literally met thousands of people at those AA meetings over the years. I was on the quiet side the first year, still finding myself, but I was learning – and learning a lot; observing more than talking. How recovering alcoholics interpret what AA “is” in their lives, is as varied as a fingerprint. It’s unique to the alcoholic himself. Don’t get recruited into another’s footnote of meanings & interpretations; make your own, and mold those meanings to fit your life in sobriety. AA is an amazing community, unlike any-other on the planet. Is it spiritualy based? For me….absolutely. For a fellow alcoholic who’s agnostic? Perhaps not; but what other organization could have those two people come together and agree on the same underlying goal (staying sober)? Pretty amazing if you really think about it. Different paths to the same goal…in unity.
Eventually, ATC Recovery moved me into the office as an “Insurance Manager” and “Phone Lead” helping alcoholics and addicts who were reaching out; giving guidance on matters of education, detox, travel plans – but most importantly, I could – and would – listen and relate. I was dealing with callers who needed help and didn’t have answers. We were a 24/7/365 re-hab, so being on-call late at night and on holidays wasn’t uncommon. My cell phone went everywhere I did and work never really shut down. I may get a call from a meth user in Montana at 3am, or an intravenous heroin user from North Dakota at midnight, or perhaps a suffering drunk (like I once was) from Lynchburg, Tennessee. I learned to remain patient in dealing with people and situations that went way beyond the scope of “everyday” normality. That said, those situations became my “normal.” I was beginning to relate to this “disease” on a whole new level.
After transitioning to the office 9am to 5pm for phone and insurance work, I remained a “house manager.” Work hours never really stopped. Phone work never stopped. Dealing with confused and angry clients in their first 30 days….never stopped. It takes a certain “type” to do this work for a long period. Somehow, I knew I was that “type.” So did the company & they kept me moving. I was a “grinder” and that trait parallels how I train and run. In a high-functioning inpatient re-hab, everday is a storm; a wind-tunnel of constant change, unpredictability and “perceived” urgency. Long runs in the mountains were a key ingredient in coping with the personal stress.
Sometime in my first year, the owner of the company, Saralyn (also a runner/marathoner), took me under her wing and signed me up for the San Diego Marathon. I trained hard, putting in 60 to 70 mile weeks (running in the morning and at night) and we ran the event together, June 1st, 2008. I was hooked on running again – and grateful to be back doing what I loved. Memories of running around that landscape challenged park in Santa Ana – a few years back now – always stayed with me. I felt as if I had made it though a true hurricane to get back to this point – to be given another chance. Grateful in a true meaning.
The following year, (2009), I ran marathons at Orange County, Long Beach & Catalina Island. My training had increased and I began running nearly every night, in the hills above Laguna Beach. It wasn’t unusual to come back from training runs at 11:30pm or 12:00 at night; drenched in sweat, thoughts flowing, analyzing new & unique ideas that weren’t there a few hours before. My night runs in the mountains were almost spiritual in orientation (and well-known by now) but the perspective I gained from them cannot be rightly described. My co-workers thought I was a little “skewed” up-stairs, no question. My views on sobriety, spirituality and what’s possible were now taking shape.
Ron Israel continued working with me and his guidance involving how God works in our live’s was taking hold. “Everything is as it should be” was a philosophy I would value more than gold. I began studying metaphysics, too, and took a wide interest in exploring the explanations of the fundamental nature of “being”, necessity and possibility. I had two years of sobriety now, after my second trip to re-hab, and my mental landscape was changing; expanding into unexplored and unique territory. I continually kept my mind’s eye focused on “what’s possible” in sobriety and recovery. I saw few limits.
I ran my first “Ultra-Marathon” in November 2009, at Montano De Oro, on the Central Coast of California, not far from San Luis Obispo, where I had gone to college and worked as an editor for 7 years. It was a 50K (32miles) and I had a new “love” – Ultra Marathons and trail running. I was passionate and fascinated by the longer distances in the mountains. They required a “survival mode” mechanism, a lot of detailed planning and a level of persistence that goes way beyond “ordinary.” My training turned from “hard” to borderline “extreme.” But, it paid off. In March 2010, I ran the Old Goat 50 miler in Southern Cal., and followed that up with another 50K at Montano De Oro; then another 50 miler, in July 2010, at the Tahoe Rim Trail Endurance Run. Three weeks later, in August 2010, I traveled to the Bay Area and ran my first 100 mile Ultra, at the Headlands, across from the Golden Gate Bridge and S.F. An incredible setting to run in! A life-long dream, I had finally done something that I thought was “impossible” in my own life. The race had taken me just over 28 hours to complete, non-stop. My sister, Laurie and good buddy, Dave, had “crewed” for me and I couldn’t have done it without them. I now had 3 1/2 years of sobriety.
When I crossed the finish line to complete my first 100 Mile Ultra (finishing in the top 40), I knew my life was on yet another course. I knew I would make a major change, and soon. I felt it immediately and I was smiling wide at the finish line, even though my body was a complete wreck and I was hallucinating almost non-stop from sleep deprivation.
During my time at the Tahoe Rim Trail 50 Mile Ultra, just one month previous – in July 2010 – I heard an inner voice telling me to move here – to Tahoe. I wanted to run the trails full time. I felt like I belonged in the mountains, sky overhead, quiet in the forest like I’ve never experienced. My time in Tahoe had truly been spiritually uplifting; the experiences multiplied on my long runs in the mountains and Lake Tahoe itself simply drew me in. Money didn’t matter, “things” didn’t matter. Becoming a gypsy “minimalist” was what I was craving deep inside. I felt ready to leave the constant demands of 24/7 inpatient re-hab work. I was ready for transition and I felt strong and proud in my program of recovery. My mentor and counselor, Ron, would reiterate, “our darkest memories hold the keys to opening new doors to the brightest of futures.” As alcoholics, we shouldn’t strive to “forget”; but instead, we “remember” so we can live. I believe that to be true.
Coming back from the Headlands 100 miler (the greatest personal athletic accomplishment of my life), I gave 6 weeks notice at work and sold everything I had. I was moving to Truckee to stay with friends and re-charge emotionally. I was spent, in every department, but ever cautious to protect and nurture a program that helped me to 4 years of sobriety.
In October, 2010, I got my entire life down to one full backpack and a few thousand in the bank from the sale of all my possessions. I left for Truckee to take some “life” inventory and get as much mountain running in as possible before winter. When I left ATC Recovery, I owned nothing of physical worth….but I felt like the world had been lifted from my shoulders. I was “light” again. I was a “minimalist” in every aspect. I felt better than I ever had! The most expensive possession I owned upon arrival to Truckee were my running shoes. One of my all time best friends, Roger, who I grew up with in Sunnyvale, Ca., took me in and gave me a place to stay. With four years of sobriety, January 7th 2011, “what’s possible” was still evolving! I had cleared the table and was starting over. Sobriety allowed me the option to do that.
My new mission – one that I truly feel called to – is to begin “giving back” through my running. Charity work is part of that, but providing inspiration to others battling alcoholism and addiction; that is the nucleus of how we pull others along and back into a life of meaning and purpose. My sister, Laurie, recently said to me, “This is what it’s all about – right here. Giving back, with whatever talents you were given.” She’s right and I was thankful for that reminder.
As adults, we often lose sight of what truly “inspires” us as we buy into societies definition of what “success” really is. Our daily “grind” often blinds us to what really matters. Alcoholics and addicts in recovery are some of the smartest, most creative people I’ve ever met and had the honor of being around and working with. On a collaborative level, there’s very little we can’t do together. The recovery communities in Placer and Nevada Counties are powerful, powerful resources of giving, education and direction.
On June 18th and 19th 2011, I will be running a solo 144 mile event 2x around Lake Tahoe, which will raise money for CoRR’s Alumni Fund, helping the children of mother’s in recovery. I hope you’ll pledge (per mile) and be a part of making this event a success for the kids, their mothers and those in addiction and recovery seeking a little inspiration along their own path.
My next sanctioned Ultramarathon will be the Tahoe Rim Trail 100 Mile RRCA National Championships, which I qualified for and will be running this summer, July 16th and 17th! CoRR supporters, family and friends are always welcome to visit my personal blog on the web: http://xxxrunning5150.blogspot.com/
Summer 2011 should be an epic adventure and certainly a sober one to remember!
Thanks to my family for believing in me, your endless patience, faith and positive energy: Lou, Margaret, Laurie, Jean, Jerry, Steve – and to all my friends who have stuck by me, especially Dave, Roger and Andy! Laurie – my sister – you’ve always been there. Amazing. My rock.
Thanks for reading and I hope you’ll pledge to this important and inspiring “collaborative” effort! God bless…