2/11/14: My sober date. The day that everything changed

On February 11th, 2014, I woke up hung over, depressed, tired, emotionally bankrupt, and sick of being sick.  I am beginning to realize that on that day, more than a year and a half ago, everything in my life changed.

I am still very much engulfed in a daily struggle to sort through all of these changes.  It is apparent that this struggle will continue as these changes continue to evolve and insert themselves into my daily routine of living in this world, in a state of sobriety.  Among the changes that occurred the day I decided to stop drinking include: The way I think, the way I sleep, the way I run, the way I ride a bike, the way I talk to women, the way I relate to my friends and family, the way I eat, the way I view money, the way I view politics, the way I view success, the way I drive, the way I relax, the way I entertain myself, the way I feel lonely, the way I feel sad, the way I cry, the way I feel happy, the way I work, the way I tolerate bullshit, the way I engage socially, the way I handle my introverted self, the way I feel and gain confidence, the way I read, the way I listen, the way I ask for advice, the way I race, the way I breathe, and the way that I sit still, among many other things.

I was 34 the day I got sober.  The reason that is significant is because on that day I began the journey of unravelling 34 years of conditioning.  That’s 34 years of doing things a certain way, my old way.  Now that I’m 36 I’m finding myself still in the midst of a struggle to adapting to this new way of life.  Alcohol wasn’t behind my methodology for everything I did, especially as a kid, it just served as a mask for dealing with the various challenges that I faced in life, and the attached baggage, that accumulated over time.

I find myself trying to explain to my non-alcoholic friends and family, on many an occasion, why I struggle with the things I do. Getting injured a few weeks ago was a good example of this as many people didn’t necessarily understand exactly where I was coming from when I tried to explain the root of my frustration.  Lots of people in my life are not used to seeing me in this new frame of mind.  They’re not used to seeing me seemingly down, withdrawn, calm, relaxed, in thought, or anti-social.  It’s a change for them, and people generally don’t like change.  So, something must be wrong then, right?  And when they ask what is wrong it generally puts me in an even worse place, if I let it or if I’m not present, because I can’t quite explain how I’m feeling with accuracy to someone who doesn’t suffer from the same disease that I suffer from.  In fact, someone I care for deeply asked me the other day what was “wrong” when I was just in a focused and thoughtful state of mind.  I had to explain that nothing was wrong, that I was just in thought.  See, this person was not used to seeing me in this state, they were used to seeing and experiencing the extroverted, gregarious, social, and out-going version of Spencer.  I just can’t summon that version of me any longer in a prolonged state.  It’s just too hard.  This challenge will persist as I move forward, I just need to be ready to be okay with their reactions, and god forbid, their judgements.  Sometimes it takes everything inside of me to not say to just “leave me alone.”  Deep down, I know that if I did say that every time that I felt it, the path to loneliness, as I define it, would get shorter.

I understand that people are worried about me, care about me, and want me to be happy.  I get that, I do.  The trouble I have is that I am still trying to be okay with asking for space when I need it.  I’d rather just disappear.  That is also a change, because lately, I’ve needed a lot of space and time on my own.  I need time, time to grow comfortable with all of these changes so that I can move forward to not only be good for the people around me, but to be good to myself.  That’s a really hard adjustment for me.  It’s terrifying in a sense because I don’t like to feel lonely, a state of mind that can come with the territory on occasion.

This whole process is ever-evolving.  Once I feel like I am beginning to get traction in this new skin a new challenge presents itself to test my sense of being.  I know there is a light at the end of the tunnel, I know it!  I’ve seen glimpses of it.  At the end of the day I just try to sit back and respect the process, for this moment, this feeling that I have today, is based on the past and future, both of which are illusions.  Get present Spence, get present.

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All or nothing and dealing with disappointment

The last couple of weeks have been a weird roller coaster. I have endured physical injury resulting in disappointment in myself and self-induced mind games followed by self-reflection which brought on peace of mind and ultimately necessary clarity.

Since injuring myself twelve days ago, I have not run a step.

Needless to say, I’ve gone through the gambit of emotions. When disappointment occurs for me, the alcoholic, unfortunately, there’s not a lot anyone can say really to help the situation; just having someone listen when I relate my difficulties helps me the most. I’ve had some great conversations with athletes and non-athletes. They have given me great perspectives about how I’m dealing with the physical let-down. I have sensed how to move forward. The real challenge has been to take in and listen to feedback from folks who don’t suffer from alcoholism like I do. I am resistant to advice. I would rather have compassion.

Leading in to Pine To Palm 100, I trained my ass off, harder and more aggressively than ever before.  I went all out because it was possible and I was in a place where I felt that I was training correctly.  No question, it was a risk to put in the excessive mileage I did over the last three months and, if I were to do it again, I wouldn’t change a thing.  Why would I? I was having a blast!  Stubbornness?  Sure, but when I set my mind to something my obsessive compulsive tendencies take over and it truly is all or nothing.  Do I have any regrets about how I trained?  Not one.  In fact, now that I’ve had some time to reflect a bit more, I’ve come to realize that over the last three months I’ve run some amazing trails and seen vistas across Oregon that I have never witnessed before.  That, in and of itself, is something I’ll always remember.  The scenery prevailed over the ‘all or nothing’ frame of mind.

Setting new standards for mileage and weekly training time was fulfilling. I was able to see my body positively adapt to a massive training load successfully.  Hell, I had my two best results on the ultra-running scene (6th overall at Mary’s Peak 50k and 9th overall at the SOB 50 miler) on completely un-tapered and trashed legs for both races.   In fact, at SOB, I took nearly forty-five minutes off of my previous best 50 mile time.  If I had let my ego speak, then I would have played the toxic game of “what if.”  What if I had tapered for those races?  How much faster would I have been?  Was it all about the results? No. It was about the process of improvement given a new method of training.  In fact, if I were to list the top five experiences that I witnessed in myself during the training leading up to Pine To Palm, those two races I mentioned wouldn’t crack the top five in terms of personally meaningful and enlightening moments.

The most important experience over the last three months, as I noted in a previous blog post, came on Maiden Peak just about a month ago. The sense of peace, presence, mindfulness and clarity that I felt descending that mountain is something that I will carry with me forever. Those thirty minutes set the bar in terms of how my mind and body work together in a state of Being. If I weren’t running out of areas to go explore and I hadn’t ventured out to that peak, that experience may have never happened.  I am grateful it did. It reminded me: Spence, get present.

Noteworthy also is that disappointment and let-down are relative.  Throughout my life I’ve been pretty fortunate, up to this point, to not have had many big life experiences that would fall into this category. The experiences that did were the breakup of my parents when I was eighteen and a traumatic and failed relationship when I was in my late twenties.  Both times, I was using alcohol as a coping mechanism.  Today, with the disappointment of not being able to compete in a race that I have trained so hard for, I don’t have the crutch of alcohol to lean on to deal with the frustration.  This is a new challenge and I am learning to deal with disappointment in a productive manner.  Perhaps, when and if something drastic does happen, I will be more ready to deal with it, knowing that alcohol is not the remedy.

Luckily, even though I am unable to run right now, I am still able to ride a road bike.  My mind and head need the activity and exposure to the outdoors. I’ve come to accept the fact that being active outside is one of the most important things in my life. My original plan was to recover from Pine To Palm and start up this fall to get fit on a bike again so that I could race in the first half of 2016. Since Pine To Palm is out of the picture, I can start up a month earlier (which is good because I just did an FTP test and I’ve got a ton of work to do).  Besides, it doesn’t get much better cycling in the fall in the Willamette Valley. Game on.

I’ll get another crack at training for a 100 miler one of these days… I know it.  Pine To Palm will happen again and before that race happens, undoubtedly, I will hit more bumps in the road. My injury trained me to be prepared for them physically and emotionally.

Edited by Lyn Horton

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Suffering injury from the perspective of an alcoholic

Last Thursday evening on a run I was descending down McCullough Peak with a group of friends.  At one point I had lost contact with the group and made a quick 2 minute surge to rejoin them.  The surge felt a little awkward at the time, I didn’t think much of it.  I woke up Friday morning and my left hip felt strange, I thought it was just general tightness.  After running that morning for a couple of hours it felt fine.  That night I drove over to Bend to spend the weekend running in the mountains.  A friend and I had a plan to get in an epic 35-40 miler around the 3 Sisters.  However, I woke up on Saturday and my hip had gotten worse.  Unfortunately I had to take Saturday and Sunday off from running just to see if a couple of days of rest would help.  It was the smart move at the time and instead of running I was able to catch up with some close friends.  I’m glad that I didn’t push it this past weekend because this morning I woke up to a searing pain that was more acute and intense than what I had felt in the days prior.  Last Thursday night I had suffered my first injury as a runner since my experience at TransRockies in 2012.

The timing is not ideal.  I’m attempting my first 100 miler next month at Pine to Palm.  Training-wise this week was supposed to be the last week of build before my taper into race day.  When I began training for this race back in late May I knew that I’d be taking a bit of a risk in attempting the volume that is required for such an effort.  I set out on a mission to train as hard as I had ever trained before.  But, things change, and this is unfamiliar territory for me as an athlete, to be sidelined with such an ailment so close to an event.  At this point I’m not throwing in the towel by any means, over the next couple of days I’ll be seeking help from professionals to determine how bad it is.  So, until I get a proper diagnosis I’m not going to react…too much.  That being said, the real battle doesn’t have to do with my hip.  The real battle is in my head.  From the perspective of an alcoholic here’s a look at where I’ve gone in the past 24 hours.

Lately I’ve been diligently working on having a sense of mindfulness, presence, and gratitude.  This morning when I woke up and my hip felt worse than it did this weekend that peace of mind when out the window and I reacted.  Immediately the worst case scenario began to play in my head as I was the victim.  How could I be injured at a time like this?  All perspective was lost, the very essence of what I hold dear to my heart was thrown in the trash.  I was pissed off, sad, depressed, lonely, you name it.  All of these negative feelings and emotions began to manifest themselves.  For what?  It’s just a race, it’s just running, that’s all.  We’re not talking about life and death here.  Try telling that to an alcoholic and see what happens.

Immediately I had visions of people coming at me saying “I told you so,” and that I was “training beyond my means.” I was already preparing to counter-attack those people and tell them exactly what I thought of their opinions.  I was fully prepared to react 100%, essentially going against every bit of personal growth that I have experienced over the last several months.  My punching gloves were glued on and I was ready to swing.  I was completely future tripping, living out situations that may or may not ever happen.  I was living completely out of the moment, in the future.

“The future is just an illusion” – My friend Jack

I have to remember to go easy on myself and not to get caught up in what has NOT happened yet, the toxic game of “what ifs.” I don’t truly even know how bad my hip really is.  As hard as it is to realize, regardless of the diagnosis, this experience uncovers an opportunity for me to assess my own personal growth in my head.  The experience of being injured is still fresh so I’m still very frustrated with it.  Why wouldn’t I be?  I’ve worked my ass off for this race.  What I have to remember is that regardless of all of the hours and miles that I have logged over the past several months, this race, this training cycle, does not change who I am, it does not define me. Race or not, it’s all a part of the process of growth as a human being.  I am not defined by the amount of vertical gain I put in over any given week.  Sure, I will always keep track of those kind of statistics, because it’s fun, but it does not change the person I am today.  Just the act of writing this entry helps me reconcile my place in the world, not as an athlete, but as a person.  I’ve got to remember the 6 simple sayings that are placed on the dashboard in my car: Keep it simple, don’t rush the process, let it go, future and past are illusory, get present, one thing at a time.

Day by day Spence, day by day.  Remember it, live it, feel it.  Move forward.

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Sageview Psychiatric Center: My Experience (the 2nd time)

Preface: Sageview is a mental hospital facility in Bend, OR.  I have visited Sageview twice in my life, both for week-long visits.  Some of the names (the patients) in this story are changed for the sake of anonymity. What follows are the details of my 2nd visit as told by the entries in my journal at the time.  It is a peek into my head during its lowest moments, at the onset of my first true attempt at sobriety in 2009.

1/29/08: 4:30AM –
Squirming in bed, half drunk from a binge on CAMO XXX 10.5 malt liquors.  Can’t sleep, this is the lowest I’ve ever been.  Call Dad, Call Mom…heading to the ER and back to Sageview. I cannot deal with this on my own any longer.

6:30AM – ER
Took blood, tried to sleep, nicest guy there was Bob the nurse who got me a breakfast burrito.  ER’s suck.

11:30 AM – Sageview Check-in
The Patients, my housemates:  Ricky (cutter), Chris (bald head, ex gang member), Chris (meth addict), Johnny (manic redhead, negotiating with parole), Candace (looked like she was pregnant), Susan (5-year-old girl stuck in the body of a 55-year-old woman), Rex (old guy, wouldn’t shut up), Luke (going through a divorce, tattoo’s), Sarah (psycho Asian), Bobby (quiet old woman), Tracy (sweet older lady), Jack (wears headphones and walks around laughing)

1/30/08
I am an adrenaline junky, can’t be mindful and enjoy the present moment.  Evidence for this is cycling, skiing, adderral, Ritalin, chew, coffee, red bull, alcohol, cocaine, partying, stimulation, trance, sales, and money.  I am always feeling anxious, what’s next?  I can’t be in the moment, stay in the moment.  Today Prozac is making me feel like climbing the walls.  Am I running from something with this need for adrenaline?

1/31/08
Things to work on…self – confidence, adrenaline junky, family issues, depression, my relationship, future of my job, be in the moment, obsession with athletics, my weight, mindfulness, acceptance, my ex-fiancee. 

Breathing, closing your eyes.  Start with 3 minutes a day and work it up to 20.

Men are depressed because they have a need to find the female within them, to receive things.  Why are we all at Sageview? ATTENTION.  I’m here to take accountability for my life.

Who is my shadow? What do I despise in other people: success, money, etc  This is not criticizing other people, it’s a matter of befriending your shadow.  Dream and be curious.  Figure out your mistaken belief about yourself and flip it.  No drinking for 60 days while the meds take effect. I will know if I’m BiPolar II after 4 to 6 weeks.  Can I nurture myself along with being in a relationship?

Distractions in my life include friends, work, money, my house, my boss, booze, chew, cycling, lifting, parents, radio, TV, iPod.  

I owe nothing to anybody!  Save yourself!  Do one thing at a time.  When I eat, I eat.  When I sleep, I sleep.  I am #1

1/1/09
Happy fucking New Year.  Fuck this.

Tackling issues with my past relationship:  why was I lied to? Why did we get engaged? Why did I feel guilty and sad? Why did she do the things she did? Can I ever rebound from this? Can I ever get my confidence back? 

Thinking is an ability.  All of your skills don’t mean anything unless I practice.  I have a lack of focus, I’m always switching it up: skiing, cycling, wanting to be a DJ, marriage, real estate, money, work.  I’ve always wanted to be on the cover of Bend Living.  Reality is relative.

Goals for 2009: Peace of mind (trim the adrenaline.  Do things for yourself in all scopes.  Work on my self-confidence.  Be in the moment, mindfulness.

1/2/09
Karen (nurse):
If one person doesn’t want the relationship then there is no relationship.  She has a concern with someone who does not want to be with me through and through, through the tough shit.  Depression is a disease, like cancer, it doesn’t go away.  What do I have left here in Bend?

Monica (Nurses aid, I have a huge crush on her)
Schedule 20 minutes a day to get pissed at the relationship.  Put myself first, no one else can change your attitude, that has to come from within.  Food fuels the mind.  Practice spirituality, mindfulness, and meditation.  

1/3/09
Number 1 goal is peeling back the issues, recognizing them and figuring out how to deal with them moving forward, for myself, by myself.  To cope be mindful, accepting, breathe, relax, read, exercise.  

Egocentric – kids thinking that they are the root and cause of the problems for their parents

Rational mind combined with emotional mind equals a wise mind. Wise mind has a balance of thinking and feeling

People to talk to about teaching: Hetz, Buffy, Matt

1/4/09
My critical voice – I can’t be in a successful relationship.  No girlfriends for me for a long time.  

Things I obsess about: Trance, cars, money, clothes, cycling, weight, fitness, music.  Are all of these MY values?  Probably not.  

Impulse ideas for a new job:  get into being a DJ to impress my NYC friends, drive around the west coast as a journeyman and get odd jobs, teach in Spain (because my angel nurse Monica said so), go get my MSW (fallback plan).

There is no need to tell everyone your plans for fear of rejection.  I am a work in progress, I am making decisions for myself, everyday. I am worth getting to know.  Was the goal to coming back to Bend from Baltimore to get back to Sageview?  Oregon might not be the place for me.

1/5/09 – Discharge Day
My heart is racing, I’m nervous, I want to stay here at Sageview because it feels safe, a home.  I am lonely, empty.  I am a new person but won’t realize it until I’m out of it.  “You don’t know you’re in a recession until you’re out of it.”

YOU CANNOT DRINK.  Not drinking is going to make this better, easier to handle.  

Just called my boy Tim to start scheduling spin times in the afternoons, it’ll be good to have a training schedule in place.  Also talked to my boy Uncle E and he said “do what you gotta do for yourself, no one else. Keep your head up.”

Looking back at this experience I’m amazed to see that many of the things that I am working on currently were actually brought to light back then at Sageview, over 6 years ago.  Mindfulness, presence, meditation, breathing.  Simple concepts that I forgot, that were buried deep within my journals.  I’m not exactly sure why I felt compelled to write about this tonight.  It just felt like the right thing to do, to pick up an old journal and read some of the teachings that were presented within the walls at Sageview, and to share them in the hopes that maybe someone out there has felt as low as I once did, and still feel on occasions even today.

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The Voices

A little reminder that goes with me wherever I go.

A little reminder that goes with me wherever I go.

The Voices

All day long, a voice in my head plagues me with an incessant litany of unsolicited advice and feedback.  It says to me: I am depressed; I will never be good at anything; I will never be successful; I am not fast enough as a runner; I’m no good at athletics; I will never be financially stable; I’ll never find a partner in life…  No one will ever like me because I am an alcoholic…  Corvallis is out to get me; my enemies are out to get me; I’m not good-looking enough and on and on and on.  The negative loop doesn’t seem to stop. The question is: are these things true?  My answer today is that I honestly don’t know.  Self-realization and actualization will help answer these questions and quell the voice, quiet it down and let me be me, Spencer.

I realize that my mind, as I understand it, has been conditioned to think as it does by the experiences of 36 years life. That’s 36 years of the same feedback loop playing over and over in my head.  It’s hard to say where many of these ideas that I created for myself came from.  It wasn’t from my parents, my friends, my mentors and teachers.  So where did this come from?  Perhaps it’s not a matter of understanding their origin, but rather letting go. I’m starting to believe it’s the latter.

When I drank, this voice began to silence itself, or so I thought.  When I drank, I built this confidence that shut off the negative stream of thinking.  When I drank, I was attractive, successful, a good athlete, a worthy life partner, full of life, and likable as a person.  I’m not going to lie; a part of me craves having this confidence back, even though the confidence was manufactured by a substance. However, the more time that I am sober, the more I appreciate the fact it was all just pretend.  Everything I was telling myself was just a story, my mind’s way of controlling my thoughts and emotions.  My ego was ultimately thriving off of my drinking habits. My ego parasitically used the substance to grow in size.  Maybe now, or so it feels, over the last eighteen months of sobriety, I have begun to become clear about what I was telling myself, strip it down and expose it for what it is: a story of who I thought I was.  That’s all.

This voice also does a good job of creating scenarios.  The voice appears to love shaping the situation I will be afforded in life if I do X, Y and Z.  My question is if I continue to let the voice direct me, what the hell am I going to be thinking about when I’m on my deathbed when there is no earthly “future?” My 401k? My next car? My next house?  That shit won’t matter any longer.  What an asinine thing to say right?  But, that’s where my mind is tending to go, if I understand myself correctly. Future tripping causes my anxiety about that “future” to become worse and worse.  The voice says if I want to be this, then I will have to do that.  Logically, that may be ok but, psychologically speaking, the anxiety created trumps the logic.  The anxiety is debilitating, stalling my accomplishment in the moment.  Sure, I need to take certain steps to get my new business off of the ground, but if I’m not in the moment, respecting the process, then I know for a fact that I will rush things…and I hate being rushed.  If I am rushed, then the quality of what I am trying to build is sacrificed.  That is not a sacrifice that I’m willing to make.

Even though this voice continues, I do believe I have seen a glimpse of how to cope with it.

Last Wednesday, I was descending down Maiden Peak, a 7,000 ft. peak in the heart of the Oregon Cascade Mountains.  During this thirty- minute fast descent, I was acutely aware of where my feet were landing, how my ankles were flexing, where my hips were in conjunction to my upper body. Being aware in this way was a profound experience.  I was so engrossed in the descent that it felt as if I was floating down the mountain.  When I reached the bottom, I stopped for a moment and reflected on what had just happened.  Something had changed, presence and being had made an appearance in my life for more than just a five-second interval.

During that time, I was at one with myself; I believed in myself; I trusted myself.  I had just witnessed something happen in my body that I had not felt so completely before. No voice changed my course.  This was a sweet feeling and I enjoyed every minute of it.

I know I can create a new way of life if I continue each and every day to remember that I must keep life simple; not rush the process; let whatever bothers me go; know that the future and past are illusory; always get present and do one thing at a time.

Practice. Practice. Practice.

Peace.

Quiet.

Edited by Lyn Horton

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