From Bend to Corvallis


One Saturday night, in the fall of 2011, I sat in my dark living room alone, waiting for Jeff to get off of work so that we could run around downtown Bend looking for trouble.  On my coffee table sat a big old 22oz’er of Ninkasi along with a plate covered with chopped up adderall, which I had stolen from a friend earlier in the week.  It was 8 o’clock in the evening and I had another hour to burn before Jeff was off for the night.  I distinctly remember feeling that the town of Bend and I had reached our limit together, I had been there, done that, it had been 10 solid years.  I was lonely that night and had upped the ante on my addiction by slowing implementing various uppers like prescription drugs, as well as cocaine, into the mix.  Based on the scene that was unfolding in my living room that evening I knew that a change was inevitable, I just didn’t know what.  So, as tears of loneliness streamed down my face I rolled up a dollar bill, snorted the remainder of the adderall, chugged the remaining IPA and headed downtown to find Jeff.

To me, Bend is paradise, or at least it started out that way.  The friendships that I developed there will always be close to my heart, I will never forget the amazing group of people who became my extended family.  At some point down the road I see myself back there, in fact I think it would be an amazing place to start a family.  But that fall of 2011 my addictions had taken over and turned Bend into a dark and lonely place that I needed to leave.  So, in December of that year, I ran away, to Corvallis.

Fortunately Davis had come to Corvallis for a job a few months earlier and I was able to jump on board with the hotel that he was working with.  On paper the transition was seamless, I had a place to live, I had a bike, I had a car, I had the Smith’s, and I had a little bit of money to get started.  The first six months of living in my new town was a whirlwind, I rarely took a moment to look around at my surroundings and soak in the new scenery.  Once things became to settle down and I started to get in a groove I realized that I had not MOVED to Corvallis, I had RAN from Bend.  I could’ve moved to any Podunk town and it would have been better than Bend.  The fact that I didn’t have the toxic crowd and prevalent drinking spots in Bend any longer helped curve my heaviest drinking for the time being, as well as my new-found love of uppers.  For the first year of my tenure in Corvallis I dealt with the reality that I was going through a messy breakup with Bend.  Once I got over the breakup I realized that I was even more lonely.  My methodology of escaping Bend to be “happy” had not worked, as I was more depressed and lonely as ever.  So, for that first year in Corvallis, I hated myself and hated my new town.  To be clear, this hatred had nothing to do with Corvallis, it had to do with my mindset.  Like I said before I could’ve been in any town and I would have had the same mentality.

Up until the time that I sobered up the feeling of discontent for Corvallis lingered.  I went back and forth as to whether I should run away again.  Then a funny thing happened, I quit drinking, and the reality of my new surroundings began to take shape.  As the haze of alcohol and drugs lifted I started to see Corvallis for what it was.  Fast forward a year and I have come to the conclusion that Corvallis is actually the perfect town to learn about sobriety.  In fact, as I was explaining to a friend the other day, Corvallis has become a home to me.  I feel like I have a team of people from friends, to training partners, to therapists, to work colleagues and beyond, that I feel comfortable being around.  To a degree I have learned to be myself in Corvallis, and in some ways I have learned what it’s like to try to think like an adult here.  Yes, I’ve got tons of work to do in this regard, but here, in Corvallis, I feel safe, I feel at home.  I see things about life that I didn’t know existed.  I love it here.

There are no doubt certain things about Bend that I miss.  The mountains, the snow, the sun, the people, and the culture surrounding endurance sports.  Again, I see myself moving back at some point.  That point however, is not now.  The things that I have here like the Beavs, the trails, the friends, and the support system, are extremely valuable in countless regards. In fact, I can’t imagine living anywhere else other than this comfy little town mid-valley town.  With that, I’ve gotta get going for I’m meeting a friend to run in one of my favorite spots, Willamette Park.  Then it’s off to the Beavs game and a weekend filled with coffee, more running, a little fog, all amongst the comforts of a town that is now my home.  Thank you Corvallis.


Shut Up, Spence


The Alvord desert in Eastern Oregon. My kind of simplicity.


I need to get this one out in writing to actualize the experience, to make it real.  My thoughts and brain seem to be operating like a giant pinball machine lately.  Perhaps this is because the holidays are still fresh in my memory, or because I’m coming up on my one-year anniversary in sobriety.  This ultimately begs the question, and reinforces the fact, that simplicity is a virtue that I just can’t get a hold of, relatively of course.  So, what is simple?  I suppose the definition is different for everyone.  Maybe it’s taking a walk in the woods, maybe it’s doing a mundane task like washing the dishes, or maybe it’s sitting in silence.  This morning I think I caught a short whiff of simplicity while running, and in the process, dare I say, I was almost able to let something go.  Almost.

I ran for 30 minutes this morning.  During the first 5 minutes I was relatively calm, focusing on breathing through my nose, out through my mouth, staying relaxed, and keeping the experience simple, I was just trying to run.  Then the synapses started firing on all cylinders.  Regardless of their content I witnessed a ridiculous progression of crazy and insane thoughts.  First I got pissed at someone, then I tried to justify why I was pissed, then I thought about what the repercussions would be for being pissed, then I felt sorry for the person I was pissed at, then I got even more pissed and built up a scene in my head where I was actually being attacked by this person.  Finally after two minutes of  an insane steam of conscience I yelled out, in the middle of a dark and foggy Willamette Park, “shut-up Spence!”  Saying that helped me to snap out of it.  The stream of thought that I had just witnessed in my own head was completely irrational.  What’s frustrating is that looking from the outside into my own head I know, conceptually, that the stories I tell myself in my head are false, perhaps fabrications of old resentments that I have not let go of yet.  But inside my head there is a part of me that cannot understand the notion that I’m largely just making all of this shit up, this stream of self-told stories is baseless.  We’re our own worst enemies at times,  I know it and I own it.

This mental behavior didn’t just start when I stopped drinking.  It has always been there.  The difference with having a crazy stream of sober conscience is that I do not actually react to the stories I tell myself, for the most part that is.  When I was drinking I would react all of the time, and it got me in a ton of trouble physically, financially, and emotionally.  Hell, I even got in a relationship a while ago, for several months, because of a stupid story I told myself about this person, all thought up when I was hammered.  Simply put, drinking made the squirrel cage rattle much louder, and more often, which led me down a road of reaction as opposed to standing idle and allow myself to mentally process certain situations.

As I was describing to someone just the other day, the mental re-wiring process with my new-found sobriety seems to be a constant process of improvement.  Focusing on the process of recovery, as opposed to the end result, is an idea that I am reminded of on a daily basis.  The experience that I had this morning served as a good reminder that despite the challenges I have in serenity, and keeping shit simple, the streams of completely irrational thought have diminished.  Now, rather than being completely irrational, my squirrel cage of a mind is only somewhat irrational.  I’ll take that as progress for now.  When my mind fires back up and starts to spiral out of control my new technique for coping is to simply say to myself, “shut up Spence.”




Drinking in Airports

Yesterday I spent the day flying from Eugene to Orlando, FL, for a work conference. Given the coast to coast flight it actually wasn’t too bad, it went by quick, however it did serve as a reminder of one of my bigger challenges in sobriety.   My issue doesn’t have to do with the flights themselves, it has to do with airports, and the consequence-free drinking environment that airport bars can afford.  Hell, I’m not driving anywhere, so let’s party!

Last month I flew with a crew down to San Francisco.  Betsy, who was with our contingent, got to witness a “what if Spence was drinking” stream of thoughts as we spent time in making our way through PDX and OAK, down the coast.  First there’s PDX and the damn piano bar.  In the expanse of the main lobby after you get through security, there’s a bar that overlooks the tarmac, where if you’re there at the right hours, you get to enjoy a little mood music in the form of live piano keys before boarding your flight.  But I wasn’t there for the music, I bellied up regardless if it was 10AM, or 7:45PM (to catch the jumper flight to Bend) or 10PM ( to get a quick party in before taking a red-eye back east) and promptly ordered the local flavor of IPA with a shot of Crown Royal to chase it down, sometimes 4-5 times over depending on my layover.  Yes, I chased beers with Crown, what a back-ass-wards way of drinking.  Then again, that’s how my mind worked.  Another good spot at PDX was the Laurelwood Brewing Company spot in the gate with the more local flights.  I had my fair share of cocktails there as well.  I had some “time” to blow before heading home so why not get shitfaced and check my Facebook account a few dozen times in an hour while chugging beers.

Moving up the coast to SEA-TAC, another popular spot for connector flights, there were plenty of hours logged at the Anthony’s Seafood bar for clam chowder and Crown Royal.  Heading south, at EUG, where I was normally there in the early morning hours to catch flights back east, or wherever I was going, I distinctly remember chasing my morning cup of Dutch Bros coffee with several pints of whatever was on tap. In OAK, where we were flying through last month, there is a bar that I distinctly remember getting plastered at a few years ago, only to wake up in Redmond, OR several hours later, not knowing how I even got on the plane, or how I even made my connector through PDX.  Heading over the bay to SFO, I blacked out at 5AM after a bad wedding experience on a Sunday morning a few years ago, to wake up in EUG two hours later.  I was in such rough shape that I had to sleep in the Eugene airport for several hours before I sobered up enough to make the drive back home to Corvallis.  Then there was RDM (Redmond).  There was a year or two where the airport was undergoing a big renovation which meant that the hotel bar was not open.  Not to worry, before I arrived at the airport I would pull over at a Chevron station in Bend, pick up a couple of IPA’s, and slug them down on my way to the airport.  It was such a calculated move, making sure that I was good and buzzed when I arrived at the airport.  And my justification for all of this, apart from being an alcoholic?  I didn’t have to drive anywhere (apart from my apartment to Bend up to Redmond when I lived in Central Oregon), so I would use the time to get out of my mind, by myself.  And I didn’t think I was doing anything wrong.

The occurrences didn’t just stop there.  DEN, SLC, LAX, PHX, McCarren, O’hare, BDL, Dulles, Philly, Newark.  Last year after New Years I convinced some poor woman at an airport bar in Newark to open early (before 6AM) so I could get a dose of whiskey before I headed back West.  I tipped her double, if my memory serves me correctly I’m pretty sure that I spent $50 on 3 shots of Crown that morning.  Nice little start to the morning huh?

Traveling through airports is getting more manageable as I have flown a half-dozen times since sobering up.  That’s not to say that when we walked through the Orlando terminal last night I definitely took notice as to where the bottle of Crown was located on the bar shelf as we made our way to baggage claim, it’s a habit and it’s one that I may never break. That being said, the temptation to drink in airports isn’t there like it used to be.  Yes, I still notice that stuff, and will continue to be careful whenever I travel not to slip up.  Ever since I can remember I’ve had these thoughts while strolling from gate to gate, constantly seeking out which bar had what IPA. My way of dealing with airports now is to keep moving and have handy a Rich Roll Podcast, among other things, to listen to as a reminder of what I am striving for in terms of sobriety.  Yesterday, it felt good to walk through the gate knowing that I would remember the experience, as subtle as the experience was.


New Years Eve…the hardest test yet

New Years Eve of 2014 was the hardest day yet in the process of recovery.  In a year of sober first’s, weddings, college football games, birthdays, social gatherings, and travel (airports are the hardest places to be), this past New Years Eve was the toughest test yet in my quest to maintain sobriety.  To me, this holiday was a time to hit it hard, an excuse to get out of my mind, and drink my ass off.  It was an excuse to behave in a manner that was consequence free, and my justification for such behavior was the fact that everyone else I surrounded myself with was doing the same thing.

My history with NYE includes several trips to New York City to spend time with my college buddies who still lived in the city.  Being in that sensory overloaded environment elevated my desire to go hard and experience the life that I was not used to, as I had grown accustomed to living in laid back country towns like Bend and Corvallis.  Just last year I remember saying to myself before I headed to NYC that I should rest hard over Christmas (which I spent in my hometown of Worthington, MA) because I had the intent to break myself with excessive behavior when I arrived to the city later that week.  Having just completed my first 50 miler a couple of weeks prior to the holidays I should have been resting my legs over that time but instead I ran every day, too hard, to justify the impending damage that I was about to do.  It was my justification for the bad behavior that I was about to partake in, without consequence (or so I thought).

As last Wednesday evening approached, and the notifications of the parties all over the country that my friends were to be attending reached it’s high, my level of anxiety went through the roof.  I wouldn’t say that I was ever in danger of stopping by the local 7-11 for a Ninkasi or swinging by Murphy’s for a shot of Crown Royal, but I was vulnerable.  My solution to was to ask for help, and to ask for the company of folks that I knew would be safe to be around.  I called a friend of mine, also in recovery, and asked if she wanted to hit the evening AA meeting in town…we went, and I’m glad we did, as I was able to speak in an open forum about how hard it was to get through this particular evening.  That helped tremendously.  Also, in the ultra race-registration world, many of the upcoming years’ races became available to sign up for.  So, I was called another set of friends and asked to come over just to be in good company, and to talk about all of the cool shit we were going to do on the trails in 2015.  By 10pm that evening I was exhausted, mentally, physically, and emotionally.  I was asleep by 10:15.

Looking back at NYE last week I was reminded that I place way too much pressure on myself to be and act in a certain way.  Hell, I had roughly 14 years of treating NYE as my excuse to get obliterated, so it would make sense as to why I was conditioned, on this particular evening, to be so abusive to myself.  Another important take away from the evening was that it is OK to ask for help, to go to friends and family and ask for their support, to be around people that share in the same process of recovery.  White knuckling such an evening in solitude might have been dangerous, I am thankful of the support that I received because I simply asked for help.  Now that NYE and the holidays are in my rear view mirror I feel like I’ve got a bit of a weight off my shoulders…bring on 2015.