Part 2: What will be left to drink when the well runs dry?
“Grant me the serenity to accept that I can’t always run, the courage to say no when I should, and the wisdom to find joy in other things.” - I am a running addict. Despite being sober for over 15 years, I can still find it a great struggle on some days to not fall off the wagon and start indulging again.
In part 1, ‘Stupid is as stupid does’, I addressed some of the reasons I DON’T run. Ok, so why DO I run then? I have now consciously chosen, at least I’d like to think I have, to run because I believe it to be a legitimate method or path to finding true happiness. However, unlike when I was under the influence, I now simply find joy in it, rather than use it as a way to maybe self-medicate in order to avoid dealing with the things in my life that I don’t like. In other words, I no longer run because I’m trying to escape something, but because I am curious to see what lies beyond the horizon. To an outsider, there may be no visible change to my physical actions, but a critical change has nevertheless occurred on the inside, a change in the way that I deal with life’s issues. Instead of running away from the unpleasant things, I’m now trying to focus on consciously running towards new places, both physical and mental states that I’ve never visited before. I have somehow gained an every growing desire to explore the unknown without any expectations of what I might find. For me, just being on the journey and running in the moment is already more that enough for me.
While I feel that I’m finally on the right path, having largely been able to extricate myself from the negative influences of the environments I choose to move in, I have great concerns about a growing phenomenon in our society as a whole, which is that, more and more, being addicted is somehow being seen as a ‘cool’ or normal thing to be. Food, TV and entertainment, booze, cigarettes and drugs are the obvious forms of self-medication and escapism, at least in excess, and they are all being keenly promoted to current and new potential consumers by businesses eager to cash in big time on the destructive aspects of our human nature. The thing that really made me think about all this even more recently was when I started to see lots of other joggers wearing shirts that read - I’m addicted to running. Nike - almost like a badge of honour. Not surprisingly, many were also wearing the latest Nike running shorts or tights, Nike minimalist shoes, Nike drink belt and bottles, and also using the Nike+ running iPhone application to track their performance for later upload to the Nike+ website to earn virtual Nike achievement trophies. So, it seems that even Nike has caught on to the fact that people’s need to self-medicate and to find an escape can also be used very effectively to sell their products too! I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I actually applaud Nike for being so smart at finding such an effective way to advertise and move their products, after all, isn’t this is the kind of result a money making entity, as Nike certainly is, can only dream of achieving? I mean, you can’t do much better than having your own addicted customers happy to be out and about, day after day, willingly advertising their addiction, that is, your ‘drug’, to new potential users. Does it make great business sense? Absolutely, it’s just brilliant advertising and marketing. However, is it a good thing for people long term? Probably not, as it is still promoting addiction, which means the willing or unwilling handing over of control to someone or something else. Worst of all, it is doing so as if it’s something to be proud of.
Now, I’m sure many will say that if you’re going to be addicted to something, then running is not the worst thing out there, as at least you will be physically fit. Well, yes and no. I think that it is important to realise that their is a clear difference between being physically very fit and healthy. While the former is focused mainly around improving performance, the latter in contrast is revolves around the attainment of a state of well-being, both physical and mental. Over the last 20 years or so, I have known many well performing runners, and athletes in other sports as well, who have had fairly messed up emotional lives, despite performing at high levels in their sporting discipline, not to mention the negative effects their athletic addictions had on their personal relationships. Things then often became worse when they could no longer perform at the highest levels due to injury or they just weren’t improving anymore or seeing performs levels drop from simply getting older. It was as if they no longer had access to enough of their ‘drug’ in order to achieve the highs they once experienced. The worst withdrawal symptoms usually then came when their athletic careers were over, as now the only thing that made them feel good was gone completely. Unfortunately, as I have seem many times, these addicts were now left without their usual way to get their daily fix and had to find it elsewhere. Another way had to be found, and fast, to fill that huge gaping hole that was still present in their lives. It was also not uncommon for them to have to do so alone, as the key supportive relationships they once had with spouses and friends had already been quite often destroyed earlier. So, while a physically fit looking person may very well seem that they have everything under control and are doing well, the exact opposite could in fact be true. What is important to realise is that junkies come in all forms, and having an addict who outwardly looks very fit, even maybe healthy, can be very deceiving and deceptively attractive to the outsider. Don’t be fooled though, as mentally they could be in even a worse psychological state than a heroin addict with pushing a needle into their arm. Of course, and as I alluded to early, if you’re going to have an addiction then running is certainly better than being hooked on heroin! However, that doesn’t mean it’s good for you. Rather, it is just less bad.
So, what then do we need to do to ensure that our relationship with running, or anything else we look to in life to make us feel good, is a healthy one? I already mentioned that addicts have unhealthy one-way relationships with their drug of choice. A true relationship, which is not passive or destructive for one or both parties, needs to be a reciprocal and symbiotic one. Both are required to provide constructive input rather than simply make withdrawals that wear the other party down. What will be left to drink when the well runs dry? In the book, ‘Born to Run’, which revolves a lot around the Raramuri or running people, that is, the Tarahumara indians who reside in the Copper Canyons of Mexico, illustrated the findings of some research on what makes people become better runners, especially long distance ones. The answer was a very surprising one. While physiological factors like maximal oxygen update, anaerobic threshold and body fat percentage etc, are all related to running performance, when these physical performance markers were similar for any two given runners, the reason why one was better than the other was related to their ability to show compassion to others. Wow! How could that be? Well, I don’t know for sure, but I suspect it relates to the foundations that make up healthy relationships, as opposed to addictive ones. When a person shows compassion, they are making an effort to understand the needs of others, and are willing and able to help others with their challenges. In other words, they have a mind set of giving rather than taking, as the addict does.
So, in the end, what am I trying to say here? Well, it is simply this. True happiness, joy and satisfaction in life does not come from a state of addiction, but when we consciously choose to act compassionately and to willingly help others without expectation of reward. This is key to the attainment of true mental health and well-being, and which is really the only thing we can turn to when our physical bodies begin to let us down and we can no longer ourselves run. Fortunately, I have realised that there are many ways to run, and only one of them is with my legs.