Running a marathon was never something I particularly wanted to do, and was NOT something I envisioned doing when I got sober. Marathon runners are impressive and inspiring. They train, with dedication, are committed to their goal, have tenacity and strength of spirit and fierce determination. When I got sober, I wanted all of those things, but did not believe for one second that I had them.
The disease of addiction didn’t impact my life until well into adulthood. I started drinking in an unhealthy way when I was 35 years old. Prior to that, I had a pretty great life. I had built a successful career as a nonprofit development professional, I was married with two beautiful children. I had a lovely home and was fairly healthy. Things came pretty easily and were generally good.
And I’d had pretty normal experiences with drugs and alcohol up to that point—shenanigans in high school, experimentation in college—nothing crazy, nothing alarming. Nothing to indicate what was to come.
Divorce, Drinking and My Bottom …
When I was 35 everything changed. My marriage ended. I immediately entered into a long-term relationship with an alcoholic and addict, though I didn’t recognize that at the time. He had a couple drinks after work every day, drank at all social events, drank before all social events, drank after all social events…. He drank a lot. So I did too. It just became what we did, and it happened so naturally that I didn’t ever think too much about whether or not it was normal or healthy.
Over the course of the next six years—from 2009-2015—I went from drinking fewer than a dozen drinks in any given year to drinking every day, then drinking during the day, then drinking all day and all night, day in and day out. My life completely deteriorated. I lost my job in the fall of 2014, and the relationship with the alcoholic ended the following spring. I had no income, no relationship, and a house I could in no way afford on my own. I had lost everything—including my self-confidence and sense of self-worth.
Miserable, Alone, Wanting to Die …
I spent a year in and out of treatment, racking up fewer than a couple weeks of sobriety at any given time. I went through detox three times within four months, went to group therapy, tried 12-step programs, started working with the best addiction psychiatrist in the area. But I just couldn’t stay sober. I was miserable and alone and I wanted to die. Because I wanted to die, I drank. I drank to make the days disappear and to escape the reality of my life. I hit bottom and bounced up and down there a couple times before I finally got sober in January of 2017.
Sober Energy I Did Not Know What to Do With
I checked myself into a rehab facility in North Carolina for six long weeks. Once sober, I had all this energy that I didn’t quite know what to do with. I started walking a fast mile before and after every meal and spent my one free hour every day on the elliptical machine in the center’s basement gym. I did 10,000 meter endurance rows when we went as a group to an off-site gym twice each week.
When I got home I was terrified. I had no job and this huge hole in my resume that I had no earthly idea how I would explain to potential employers. I was still single and splitting custody with my kids’ father so I had all this time alone. I was facing this monumental task of rebuilding my entire life and I had no idea where to start or what to actually do and I felt incapable of doing anything…. So I started running.
I was so slow, and I ran a painfully boring street route, but I made myself do it every single day. Then a friend introduced me to trail running and I got hooked. I started running five miles in the woods three days each week, slowly building up my endurance for the elevation gains. These became my favorite hours of the week.
ROCovery Fitness and Finding Hope …
I’d been stalking this amazing nonprofit on Facebook called ROCovery Fitness. It’s a sober active community using fitness and wellness to promote recovery from addiction, and they were just about to open a new community outreach center in an old firehouse that had been gifted to the organization. I decided I’d look into volunteering… I had nonprofit experience which could be useful, but I was willing to do anything. I just wanted to be around other people in recovery, and I needed to be active.
I reached out to Yana Khashper, ROCovery’s co-founder and asked about volunteering. She checked out my resume and saw my experience and asked if I’d be interested in joining the board: “Absolutely” I said. I met with Yana and Sean Smith, the other co-founder, once or twice before my first board meeting, and knew right away that what they were doing was special and I wanted to be involved. It was just the two of them on staff, along with a small army of volunteers supporting their efforts. Within a week of joining the board I approached Yana about volunteering in a more official capacity—I wanted to volunteer like it was my job. They agreed, so I just started showing up every day.
The Rochester Marathon …
A couple of months in, there was talk in the office about a group from ROCovery that was going to run the marathon. Yana and Sean had signed up a young guy named Michael as a surprise to him. He’d never been a runner and he was very early in recovery, but he was motivated. He was showing up at ROCovery every day, working hard. This was a kid who had literally died TWICE from overdose. And they believed he could do it, so they signed him up. And he was excited—you could see how much it meant to him that they believed in him. It was inspiring.
So I signed up too. I was running every day and had been for a few months. I looked into crash training programs for running marathons and figured I’d give it a shot, knowing full-well and reminding myself often that I could always switch to the half marathon if I wanted to. Secretly I intended all along to switch to the half marathon, but that didn’t happen.
I’d been coaching a “Couch to 5K” running group to prepare people for a 5K for ROCovery, which was a week after the marathon, and Michael had come to a few runs. We’d agreed to stick together for the first half, which was all I intended to do, and agreed to go slow and walk as needed. I knew he could do the full marathon, and I knew he would. He had done a couple long training runs with a group from ROCovery, but at that point I still hadn’t run more than 8 miles in my life, so I was not at all sure that I could do it.
The Beast Unleashed!
The day before the race Michael told me he’d been bragging out his “running partner” with his friends. He referred to me as a “beast,” and I suddenly realized that he thought I could actually run the whole thing. Maybe even a little easily. I was stunned, and knew right then that I had to do it. I believed that Michael could do it, so why didn’t I believe that much in myself?
So I did it. Michael and I stuck together, along with Yana from ROCovery, for the first 13 miles, then we each kept to our own pace and got separated. There were six of us total running from ROCovery, and Michael was the last to finish. The whole ROCovery team crossed the finish line with him. Just thinking about it now makes me cry. He has said since that it was the best day of his life.
I could so easily see Michael’s strength of spirit, even when I couldn’t see my own. I needed to believe in myself, but I also needed to believe in other people, and I needed others to believe in me. THAT is the power of community in recovery, and it’s at the heart of everything at ROCovery Fitness.
Sharing The Gift With Others …
I now work as director of development at ROCovery and it’s the best job I’ve ever had. I’m nine months sober and going strong. For the first time in almost a decade, I believe in myself again, and in the power of the human spirit. I am living proof that recovery is possible, and I am one of thousands who realized that possibility through ROCovery Fitness.