Before Running, I Never Developed Positive Coping Strategies for Anxiety
I discovered in my Facebook Memories yesterday a post from 2014, which said “I’ve started running. What a wholly pleasurable experience.”
Looking at the original post, I saw the first comments were from a friend that said, “Is this for real” and “who are you?”
Now, there are a few things you have to know about me for this to make sense.
First, I was easily smoking a pack a day at the time, and I’d been smoking since I was in 8th grade. I swore like a sailor (and I still do,) and I was the typical chaotic New Yorker. I drank, and not just a “glass of wine here and there.”
I worked in a restaurant, and I would get out of work at 2:00 a.m. Then I’d go to the bar across the street and drink until 4:00 a.m. I never left before then.
And, let me tell you, I was wed to my drinks. I always had a beer and whiskey setup which I liked to enjoy alone, and if some man would try to interrupt me with a slurry attempt to hit on me, I would harshly put him in his place.
I was an aggressive woman, and the smoking, the drinking, the swearing, and the sometimes “beatnik” qualities to my life were my identity.
But I had a problem… My best friend was an abusive alcoholic.
Actually, we both were alcoholics, but I was much more in control of my drinking at the time. He was less so.
He would drink until 8:00 or 9:00 a.m. most “nights.” He would berate me when he got drunk. Once he slapped me across the face. And then, there was always psychological neediness that had him crying, needing my attention, draining my emotional resources.
At the time, we were in our 20’s, and at that age, I didn’t realize that protecting a friend’s reputation and concealing their drinking was actually doing harm to them. So, I pretty much just lived with it.
I lived with it, and I started running to deal with the horrible emotions I was internalizing. In the past, I used drinking to do this, but it no longer worked. I feared if I did not find a way to deal with these horrible emotions, I would end up throwing myself in front of a train.
I started running at Planet Fitness on the treadmill. I was a smoker, so it was hard. My chest burned. My legs hurt. Yet, every time I got on the treadmill, I thought about how much I wanted to beat the fuck out of my friend. And every time I got off the treadmill, I didn’t want to any longer.
The endorphins that running provided for me were enough for me to pull myself out of that negative headspace.
Before that, I had never developed any positive coping strategies for problems in life.
I was not taught them from young, and it wasn’t until my 30’s that I realized how much of a child I was for so long. I always had “anxiety,” but I never was taught the proper, non-medical ways to deal with anxiety. I watched people in my life smoke and drink to deal with anxiety, so that’s what I learned the solution to it was.
I didn’t have role models that were athletic. I didn’t really play team sports, save for a year of basketball in junior high school. I also wasn’t really encouraged to “join groups.”
And, maybe the most important part of all of this was, I wasn’t raised with religion. My parents were staunch Atheists. I felt nothing in the universe but hard matter I could touch.
All of these things were a recipe for a life of chaos.
I wore the life of chaos as a badge of honor, though. I genuinely thought that proudly exclaiming how terrible life was, drinking my way through it, and fucking deviant men here and there, was a way to display myself as a badass motherfucker, and a force to be reckoned with.
And truth be told, none of those things made me strong. Running did.
I fell into it by accident because I was unable to cope with life, and when I watched my brain begin to change, I understood why people did it.
That was seven years ago.
I re-shared the post on my Facebook yesterday, along with what some of the original comments were. Seven years ago, people found it highly entertaining that someone like me would be running. Yesterday, people found it entertaining that anyone wouldn’t know me as a runner.
The point to this isn’t to tell you all about the deviance or destructive nature of my life, but to show you that people really are capable of changing their identities.
It isn’t a common thing, because we are very wed to who we are as people. But being able to change is the way you grow.
I feel for people who truly want to get in shape, but don’t realize that the psychological component to it is so much bigger than the physical one.
People know in their minds about “diet and exercise,” but they don’t feel like they are “the sort of person that does that,” and it fucks them over.
They are wed to their “identity,” or the type of person they believe they are. They don’t think that sort of person should be doing those sorts of things, nor do they believe they will be accepted for trying to do them.
It’s all bullshit, made up in their minds.
If you don’t see yourself as an athlete, or as a person who takes care of themselves and loves their body, you won’t be healthy, never mind “thin.” It’s just not going to happen for you.
Were my friends shocked that I was running? Absolutely. My friends and my family never saw me as an athlete. It was very much an “aww that’s cute” sort of situation until it wasn’t. The important thing was, I saw myself that way.
I knew that running was the one thing that settled my inner upset, and I needed very much to have it.
Years later, I continue to follow a path that running has unfolded for me.
I no longer smoke or drink. I’m healthy and happy. I never want to harm myself. I don’t find life annoying, or a hassle. I very rarely have anxiety, and when I do, I never need to use a substance to manage it. I have developed healthy coping strategies to take care of it. I connect with my inner voice. I’m filled with love. I never want to be rude or hateful for the sake of it.
Life is finally calm, after decades of it not being so.
Your identity is fluid.
You don’t have to be the person tomorrow that you are today.
Don’t think that something isn’t for you. If it’s for your greatest and highest good, how could it not be for you?
A friend of mine once told me I was motivating her “just to get off the couch.” I started formally coaching her a few months ago. Last week, she ran her first 13.1 miles, as opposed to a year ago, when she could only run two or three.
You can do it. A person like you DOES do these things.
It isn’t just “those people.” It’s you too. You deserve to feel good every single day. Don’t let who you believe you are get in the way of that.
Originally published at https://www.getthefuckoff.com on March 5, 2021.