June 2013 – 12th St & Maryland
It’s 2:00 a.m. I’m crouched under the awning of a neighborhood bar’s entryway and it’s pouring. Sheets of rain splatter against the asphalt, coating my face with a cold mist but I don’t notice because I’m high, again. I’ve given up shelter, community, food, and treatment for 2 grams of heroin, a small bag of meth and the pavement. I’m fumbling the canister in my pocket that holds my most prized possession, hand grazing a hypodermic needle and I breathe out a sigh of relief knowing that for at least a little while I don’t have to think about anything. I’m continuing to give pieces of me away for this and still convincing myself this is a reasonable transaction. I’m regularly finding myself with nowhere to go and experiencing serious medical issues because of my using but I continue to shrug it off like it’s nothing. I know there are solutions to this pain, this downtrodden and hard way of living but I’m not in a place to embrace that, so here I am: rain soaked, flip flops, heroin, meth and the gutter.
Chris is with me and he’s walking over to the Circle K next door for the 11th time this hour to steal honeybuns. I’ve spent the past hour trying to get high behind a dumpster in the storm and finally have a moment of respite. I’m feeling the edges of my intoxication wear down already and the meth grinding my psyche when, in an instant, reality is on me as a squad car’s flood light blinds me and I’m instantly running.
I’m running. Fast. Without hesitation. Running like I’m trying to win a gold medal and knowing that if I’m caught again the immeasurable gravity of my situation will confront me and that’s my greatest fear. I’m running so fast that my feet are slipping on the asphalt and in the chaos my sandals are flying off my feet into the darkness, but it doesn’t matter. I just need to be far away from here. Anywhere but here. I keep running, heart pounding in heavily labored breath. I pivot down an alley, climb a fence, fly into a Cul-de-sac, then a driveway, dive underneath a Toyota 4Runner and I lie still. Barefoot. I lie how I think a dead person would lie without breathing or twitching a muscle and I pray.
I pray in my mind and under my breath I ask God to rescue me for what feels like the millionth time from this fate and this life and situation I’ve found myself in, but it feels like he doesn’t hear me. It feels like no one hears me period even though they do. It feels like the weight of the truck I’m lying under is crushing my chest despite the clearance and I’m thinking about how stupid this is. How ridiculous this is. How ashamed I am of myself for being the person that I am in the early morning rain-soaked hours under a truck in some random person’s driveway. I’m the person I saw lying on the sidewalk downtown as I passed by in a car as a child; the person they talked about in D.A.R.E, the person nobody wants to be and I might as well be dead because for the life of me I can’t figure out how to get out from under this truck or these endless terrible circumstances. I’m shivering in fear, damp clothes sticking to my back, smell of motor oil in my mouth and I can’t move. I wait. I feel like I’ve escaped but I can’t convince myself they aren’t still searching for me. Hours pass. Perhaps it was only minutes, but I don’t know. All I do is wait and hope for something to change but it doesn’t, and it continues to rain, and I continue to exist here in the dark where no one can see me with no shoes on.
Dense humidity hangs over the afternoon. The air is thick with moisture, the sun’s rays heat the city to triple digit temperatures. I check my watch in between work calls and look out the back window. Grey skies on horizon – intermittent flashes of brilliant lightning gracing the edges of the city. I open the door and listen for thunder, but none reports. Baby and wife are napping. Daughter is at school. Opportunity is presenting itself. Not ideal with the temperature. Nonetheless, I close my computer, grab water, and lace up my shoes.
I walk onto the blacktop in the alley behind our house. The heat is relentless. I pour water onto my face and neck and start my watch. I warm up on the sidewalks in our neighborhood – intermittently rotating between dynamic stretch, light jog, and rapid walking.
After warming up the run begins properly. I set out onto Maryland via 18th Ave and head east at a steady pace being mindful to keep it even keeled. A visceral part of my brain wants to cut loose and pump everything I have into being as fast, but I’m after the long game – not the sprint. Consistency.
I think about why I do this as I pass Central and Maryland, the familiar dirt and gravel of the bridle path crunching satisfyingly beneath my feet. I think about the oppressive heat – the aches and pains, the injuries over the years. In the early days my mind could easily come up with a million excuses to do something else but here I am, every other day running whenever I can find the time even if it means I’m running at midnight when the rest of the city’s asleep. The important thing is doing it even when you really don’t feel like doing it – that’s when it’s most indicated that you should.
I think about my dad. About early memories of him consistently prioritizing physical fitness, health, and wellness. My seeming disregard for that lifestyle as I plunged into the depths of addiction. My inability to understand what he was saying back then. What he was modeling and my eventual discovery of the vast merits that lie within consistent physical activity in recovery. There were years of self-doubt, mental pain, addiction, illness, and loss – years I thought I threw away completely. Years I now see as finding my footing. Learning to run. I understand now what he understood back then.
Another mile and I’m rounding the corner of 12th Street and Maryland. The Feeny’s sign is glaring at me from my position on the sidewalk. I look at the sign as I pass and feel good about myself. I feel focused and quiet. Anxious, racing thoughts that used to bombard me with alarming intensity are quelled by the steady aerobic activity. Negative self-talk that historically overwhelmed me gets swallowed up by the mental energy required to keep up the pace. This is why I do this – for the freedom and alleviation it provides me like no other activity does. It gets easier the more I do it, and the further I go.
Another half mile and I’m on the long stretch home. Sprinklers are running over the verdant, groomed lawn of a nearby apartment complex. Without hesitation I veer from the sidewalk and run through them refreshed by crisp water. I’m soaked. The cooling effect lingers, reinvigorating me for several minutes. I don’t mind the wetness. I welcome it in the blazing Arizona sun and smile to myself. I continue as damp footprints are drying behind me on the pavement – the rhythm of my feet and the music in my ears are all that exists. Endorphins rushing, legs tingling, there’s nothing else now. I zone out. I live in the moment.
I think of all the running I did over the years as I head down the back alley toward home. From people, places, things, situations – from myself. And the way I run now, by choice, with purpose, in peace, healing – with my shoes on.
Sean – In Recovery