Get in the Van

Are you in pain, frustrated with your progress and about everyone around you, including you, is telling you to quit? Do you feel like you are on mile 4 with another 5 miles to go?

By the time I chose a sober life path, I had many party friends and 2 sober friends, one of whom I met while running relay races. We created a solid friendship through the common interests of running, living in the same neighborhood and business. Looking back, I believe that our friendship was a huge factor in the desire to change. I never had a friend like Karen. She runs a very successful business, is an author, runs upwards of 20 races per year, has a family, travels around the world speaking and inspiring women to participate in STEM careers. Even more important than these accomplishments are the facts that she is one of the kindest, generous and non-judgmental people I have ever met. It seems that unconsciously, for the first time in my life, I had a concrete example of just how cool a sober life (and person) could be.

My first day of sobriety, hungover, sick and embarrassed, I spent with Karen and her family watching the Super Bowl. I felt some measure of comfort in the presence of such kindness and normality.

I was three weeks sober when we headed out to Arizona to run another 200-mile relay race. I was doing fairly well at the time, as this sobriety thing felt like just another “cleanse” or “sober month,” although, I knew I wasn’t going back to my old ways.

The thing was, I was heart sick, a mental mess and physically wrecked. I just didn’t know quite how bad off my condition was, until the middle of the second leg of running. I felt like I hurt everywhere, first my feet, then my hips and then my knees. I finished that run and told myself that I would be ok to run the third and final 9 miles (!) in a few hours. I’ll rest, ice and take Advil.

That 9 (!) miles became a metaphor for life and a driving force in the success of my sobriety. The first 2 miles were straight uphill (!) and the pain in my body returned right out the gate. I was limping before I even got to the top of the hill.

Thinking that downhill and then the straight road ahead would be easier was cruel joke. I began to walk for a few minutes, then run for a few minutes…repeat.

For those of you not familiar with 200-mile relay races, typically, there are 2 vans, each with 6 runners. The runners and the vans leapfrog throughout the course, taking turns running and driving. Part of the team runs while the other half rests and waits their turn to run. Our teams have always been out there for the fun of the race, the camaraderie, and the challenge. We don’t much get hung up on winning or the time. Still…it’s not fun for anyone to wait and wait on a super slow runner. As for that runner, in this case me, I felt terrible about being the source of the holdup.

The shame and guilt of the past 35 years came barreling at me, from the road ahead, from the dust of the past and every cell of my being, now compounded by the guilt of slowing down my team. This was a whole new level of excruciating pain, and “’oh hell no thoughts!” I was going to have to give up on this one. I was too sick and too newly sober and a million other thoughts and reasons to quit were trampling around my mind and wringing out my tattered heart. 

In the distance, I hear voices, “Get in the van, just get in the van.” I look up, and there is my team, waiting with water and the side door of the van open. “Just get in the van, its ok.” I don’t know for sure if Karen was the only person not telling me to get in the van, but I looked in her eyes, and I saw understanding and encouragement.

Suddenly, a new voice surfaced. “I’ve given up on myself for the last 35 years, I cannot give up on myself today. If I can do this, I can do anything. This is the start of my new life, and it hurts, and I want to crawl in a hole and give up, yet, I will not, not again, not one more day.”

I said, “Tell the other van, I’m sorry, they’re going to have to wait. I’m not getting in the van.”

It was mile 4, with another 5 miles to go.

The day that I made the choice to stop drinking and drugging, I turned a corner. This day, the day I determined to keep going, no matter what, to not get in the van, was also a huge turning point. No longer, would I give up on myself.  Not even when it got hard, not when I hurt, not when I wanted to crumble, lie down and quit. I could rest and walk, but I wouldn’t give up on my life.

It’s been 6 years since I ran, well, to be honest, stumbled through that race. I have tripped and fallen more times than I can count in the last 6 years. I’ve been supported and carried and confused and broken. I’ve actually “gotten in the van” a few times as well. And, I’m ok with that, because I have not given up on that core strength, that jewel that I carry inside of me; if I don’t accomplish one more thing in this lifetime, I accomplished the clarity and wisdom of sobriety on my terms.

Whether its building a business or sending a piece of art to orbit the earth to reflect the stars**, raising a family or deciding to live a better life, the road is long and fraught with the temptation to “get in the van.” Don’t do it. It’s ok to rest, and to redirect your course. Look in the eyes of your friend, drink some water. Reach out to others that you know for sure have gone through hardships and created great things in spite of those hardships.

It’s mile 4 again in my life. Building a new business is hard. Dammit, I want to get in the van. Instead, I remember that race, for it is symbolic of the foundation upon which I stand. I call Karen and I listen to her wisdom. We laugh and somehow, that memory, that support, shifts the energy and I remember, that even though this story is “all about me,” I do what I do so that others have the guidance, support and the stories, so they know, we understand, we don’t have to say a word. We just gaze into our souls, 5 miles to go. Don’t get in the van.

**Find more information on Trevor Paglen and the Orbital Reflector.

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