I’ve come to like running as an exercise discipline for the same reasons I liked doing P90X last year: I don’t have to join a gym to do it, and it requires only minimal equipment. It’s easier to fit into a busy and unpredictable schedule than, say, kickboxing, or Tae Kwon Do, or yoga classes at a studio.
The other day I had half an hour to squeeze in a run before taking my kid to soccer practice. I was running one of a couple of courses I’ve mapped out. The city where I live is hilly, and this course has moderate inclines. I run down the avenue, around the right side of the park behind a hospital, and up a sharp hill to the front of the children’s hospital, then I turn left and run back home through the town’s old Italian section.
I was keeping up a decent pace because I wanted to run as far as I could in a strictly limited amount of time (he couldn’t be late for practice, the coach had hollered at the kids a few weeks back for being late, I could hear my mother’s voice grating, calling me late, late, “consistently late”—the fact is, I’m always trying to jam one or two more things into small slots of time), and in the last five minutes of the workout something happened that pissed me off: I had trouble keeping up. My legs felt tired. I don’t get stitches in my side anymore, that’s gone, but as I kept an eye on the clock and ran to keep up my pace, I became more and more irritated: I was lagging. Even though I was running a shorter distance than I usually run, my body was tired.
Then I noticed that, for some time, I’d been running up a long grade.
In that moment it was as though I woke up. A bright scarlet male cardinal swooped in front of me and disappeared into a bush, like a stoplight changing to green.
The fact is, I was irritated because my struggle to run up the grade had dragged my attention away from a lot of other things I was thinking about instead of my run. Instead of where in the world I was, what I was doing.
It’s interesting how habitually I leave my body and retreat inside the walls, the lonely little castle of my mind. Even while exercising, while pushing my body to do something important to me, something beyond its limits, I may not strictly BE inside the body I’m driving; I might be going over lists of other things to do. Or things other people do better than I. Or people who do things I do better than I do them. Or things I should have done by now that I may never do because I fucked up was in my addiction for so long.
Meanwhile, I’m running uphill. I’m forcing my body to keep pace up a long grade and expecting myself to feel as if I were running on the level.
The point is not that I need to slow down. I’m allowed to run as fast as I want to. But however quickly or slowly I run, it’s better to be conscious about it. It’s OK to keep a steady pace up a long grade, as long as I know that’s what I’m doing. I mean, how I can I force myself to keep this steady pace up a hill AND expect myself to feel the same as though I were running a level road? How is that reasonable?
I have a whole scenario in my mind of Where G Should Be By Now that will never happen because I was in my addiction. I lost time. My life changed, I got older, things happened to me and I did things to others while I was in that slavery. I’m still making amends and people tell me I’m right where I need to be, they say it blithely the way they remind me I ought to live “one day at a time” and that I’m lucky to be alive.
“You shouldn’t even be here,” my first sponsor once told me soon after I detoxed in 2008.
“Damn right,” I said, thinking about all the things I should have been doing, the job I should have had, the money I should have been making, the independence I should have been enjoying. I shouldn’t have been sitting there with her, I should have been someplace much richer and more important. Then as she continued to stare at me I realized what she meant. She meant that the way I used drugs, I should have been dead.
Part of me accepts the idea that I’m just where I need to be as a truth self-evident; meanwhile another part wants proof; and yet another part continues to climb into some costume, draw the castle bridge, work on the mural, my Pretend Life, and try to get my “real” life to match that picture.