Running Man

Photo by Joshua Ness from StockSnap

I respect runners. I admire how they feel pain and push through it. A runner may dream about the finish line, but every stride is a jolt back to the present moment.

I’ve been running my entire life. But instead of connecting to the present moment, I was escaping from it. Instead of the exuberant flood of endorphins that a hard run releases, I flooded my brain with alcohol. Instead of feeling vigorously alive, I slowly destroyed my humanity.

For 25 years, I sprinted through my life, fueled by alcohol. I ran from the guilt and shame of my past. I ran toward the promise of a better future. I ran from myself.

I hate running. This is how I stopped.

Growing up, I agonized in silence, trying to be perfect. I constructed a persona that met the expectations of my parents and society, but I buried my true self in the process. That included the bewildering understanding that I was probably gay.

In my teens, I struggled with loneliness, depression and anger. My thoughts and emotions boiled inside me, but I lacked healthy ways to release them. I seethed with agitation and discomfort.

Despite this inner turmoil, I maintained my shell, my mask, my self-styled persona of perfection. I met the various external markers of success that were set out for me, while a soul-sickness festered within.

What did this mean for my development into adulthood? What were the consequences of my chronic self-denial?

1. I feared Truth, so I created a version of reality designed to protect my fragile ego. My façade concealed my true self and helped trick the world into believing I was a whole and functioning person. I learned how to perfect the illusions of happiness, confidence, stability. The façade was exhausting to maintain.

2. I rejected all sources of wisdom, authority and power. I believed I was the arbiter of truth and power in the universe. My brain alone held the answers. My will was my way. I lacked Faith in anything but my own mind.

3. By denying my true identity, I never loved myself. I rejected, buried and attempted to destroy who I was. I also eschewed any real connection with others lest my truth and twisted mind be discovered. Self-denial and self-loathing undermined the foundation for genuine Love in my life.

During my first semester of college, I began binge drinking and discovered a panacea for my many ills. It didn’t make me honest or allow me to love myself. But somehow it gave me Power that I lacked.

I was an outsider; alcohol helped me fit in and feel cool!

I was nervous and tightly-wound; alcohol loosened me up!

I was consumed by racing thoughts; alcohol shut them down!

I was afraid my intense feelings would break through and expose my shameful truths; alcohol numbed me and made me forget!

Once I realized I could escape from myself with alcohol, I started to run.

I stopped living in the Present, where I was forced to deal with pain. I rejected myself once and for all. I was finally able to get out of my head and set my sights on the rosy tomorrows that I’d been promised as a child (if only I would shut up and be perfect.)

I took the messy, visceral emotions and high-speed thinking that had always made my life so difficult to bear, and I transformed their energy into fuel for the “perfect” future. Happiness was the objective and I would achieve it through careful planning: controlling and manipulating people, places and things. I would always maintain forward momentum. I wouldn’t (couldn’t) stop.

I worked hard. I ran through my 30s, hardly living. I built a career [running], found a wife [running], had children [running], bought a house [running].

Having achieved most of the things that were supposed to make me happy (and finding myself increasingly miserable), I spent most of my time and energy running to the next drink. I thought about alcohol constantly and planned my life around it. For the most part, I was able to maintain the façade of successful, happily married family man…but cracks were forming. The weight of the charade was becoming unbearable. So I escaped by consuming copious amounts of alcohol: the slow-motion numbing…the destruction of self…the blackout.

Eventually I couldn’t be sure if I was running toward ever-elusive happiness or away from the guilt and shame of the wreckage I was causing (mostly to myself and the people I loved). My demons were never more than a few steps behind me, panting their icy breath on my sweaty neck.

At age 42, I realized I wasn’t living, I was only running. I was ashamed of what I’d become. No matter how convincing I may have been in presenting my picture-perfect life, I knew I was an empty and absent man, husband and father.

With much help and support, I stopped drinking. From that first mind-alteringly delicious sip to the final blackout, I had been using alcohol to fill the void that had always been inside me. It was certainly in the little boy who tried to be invisible. It was in the sensitive adolescent whose feelings were so intense. And it grew wide and cavernous in the alcoholic man who built a life in complete denial of who he really was.

When I stopped drinking, I stopped running. I no longer obsessed about where and when I would consume my next drink.

But without alcohol in my life, the void inside me rumbled and convulsed; it’s gnawing hunger wore on my nerves and challenged my sanity (and sobriety). I had to displace the emptiness inside me with something else.

I discovered Truth, Faith and Love: the building blocks of a peaceful and satisfying life lived in the Present.

TRUTH

When I decided to get sober, I also decided to finally come out as gay. Despite being married for 15 years to an incredible, loving woman and having three beautiful children, I am an alcoholic and I am gay. These truths are irrefutable and always have been.

If I want to live a sane, serene and sober life then there is no other option but to accept the Truth. It may not be popular. It may be difficult and uncomfortable. It will quite likely fly in the face of the ideals and expectations laid out for us, or that we have for ourselves.

None of this matters. The Truth isn’t going anywhere. The Truth is not your mortal foe. In fact, the old adage is true: the Truth will set you free.

I am freer than I have ever been.

I am transitioning out of a career I hated, which forced me to feign interest, passion and dedication when all I felt each day was contempt.

I am divorcing from my wife — who I will always love, and who loved me more than I ever loved myself. We are navigating this difficult process with loving-kindness, taking whatever time is needed for the painful, painstaking unraveling of the beautiful life we lived together. It is sadly ironic that loving myself means letting her go.

My children now have a “broken home,” as it is called. I am keenly aware of the difficulties this presents in their lives, but I also focus on the positives. There are many. Mostly I believe they would rather have a broken home than a broken dad, committing slow-motion suicide before their eyes.

Truth can be ugly. Truth can be beautiful. Many of us who live in fear, denial or addiction find ways to manipulate the Truth to protect our egos. But more often than not, the Truth catches up to us. If we stop running long enough to discover our Truth, and learn how to live with it, then we can finally be free.

FAITH

Faith didn’t come easily for me. I was raised Catholic but once I was old enough to make my own choice, I rejected religion outright. Too much hypocrisy from its practitioners, I thought. Too much worldly pain in the name of God.

I don’t regret turning my back on organized religion but I regret what I lost in the process. I “threw the baby out with the bath water” in that I lumped spirituality with religion, and rejected them both.

My “faith” was based within myself. I was the supreme being, which led me to cultivate skills designed to control and manipulate the people, places and things in my environment. Why would I ever pray to a pretend God, when I could strategically manage the levers in my life to get what I wanted?

When bad things happened, they were “meant to be.” When good things happened, they were just a fluke.

A cornerstone of 12-Step recovery is accepting that there is a Higher Power in our lives. We must learn to accept and abandon ourselves to this Power. Non-addicts who have not slammed into the bottom depths of hopeless desperation, will find this difficult. They may say everything else about this program of recovery is inspirational and amazing…where can I sign up?

But adopting a belief in a Higher Power goes against the grain for many people. It did for me. Yet, I was desperate and alone. If believing in something beyond myself was required to begin the healing process and find peace, then I had to do it. I abandoned doubt and found Faith.

For a controlling alcoholic, this is a tall order. But I’ve found that Faith is an incredible gift. It allows me to accept the way things are without constantly fighting. When I just let go (check out: “The Fallacy of Perfection and the Value of Letting Go”), then I am absolved of some of life’s burdens and responsibilities. God has a plan.

There is tremendous freedom in this belief — and it begins by acknowledging that despite my spiritual rejection, God was always with me. God made me who I am. All those years living in the closet of shame and denial about my sexuality was a perversion of God’s will. I was exercising my own twisted will, and slavishly bending to the expectations of others and society.

Today, Faith means I let go of the iron grasp I held on life. I relax and take it easy, knowing God’s plan will unfold before me. I pray. I meditate. When I feel alone, I commune with my Higher Power. He loves me and always has.

LOVE

The greatest love is love of self (check out: “Coming out in Middle Age: Self-love freed my heart”). This love is the foundation for all others. The phrase that closes out every episode of the drag show competition, RuPaul’s Drag Race, is: “If you don’t love yourself, how in the Hell you gonna love somebody else?” Amen to that!

I want to be a source of love. To do this, I am learning to accept and love myself, despite my flaws. I am learning how to unlock my heart, to love others more genuinely and accept love without doubt. My soul is awakening from its dormancy! My senses are coming alive! Reclaiming the ability to feel and experience emotion is one of the most precious gifts of recovery.

Love unites us all because it is the most basic form of nourishment that we all seek once our bellies are full. Love has many faces.

Love is connection to other people. As an alcoholic in denial of myself, I shunned human connection, choosing instead to hide behind a façade, lest I get too close or careless, and expose my Truth. This is a terribly lonely way to go through life. Today, the love I share with my family, friends, fellows, neighbors — even strangers — brings tremendous warmth and light into my life. It reveals so much beauty I never knew existed.

Parental love is, by nature, simple. If I am sober and present, I can give freely of my time and energy to nourish and love my kids. I’ve always told my kids that I love them. But love is an action and today, fueled by a new inner strength and unencumbered by a false façade, I can love my children actively with all of my being.

Liberated at last, I am learning how to navigate sexual and romantic love. I loved my wife, and always will. However, nothing compares to the experience of giving and receiving authentic love in the context of loving oneself.

The notion of true love finally makes sense.

I ran so hard for so long. It nearly killed me. Eventually I stumbled. I fell hard and was knocked into the Present just long enough to grab the lifeline that is 12-Step Recovery.

Through recovery, I found the light in Truth, Faith and Love — the gifts of living in the present.

I am not running away from my past; I’ve accepted it. I’m not running into the future; it will unfold as God wills it. I step slowly and carefully from this moment to the next. My path is built on the solid footing of Truth. Each step is filled with tenuous excitement and hope: Faith. And the Love within and around me lightens my heart and makes every tiny step happy, joyous and free.

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Newly Liberated Seeker. Father of 3. Expat in Europe. Reformed Mad Man. Determined Writer. One day at a time. Truth will set us free.

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RJS

RJS

Newly Liberated Seeker. Father of 3. Expat in Europe. Reformed Mad Man. Determined Writer. One day at a time. Truth will set us free.

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