I’m am addict and fully out with it. My license plate is ENDORFN. I never thought I would have a vanity plate, but in my later years I’ve embraced my demons and made peace with them enough to share them with the world. Some find the plate funny. Maybe I use it as a reminder of my darker moments. I’m a recovering athlete and my endorphin addiction is somewhat in remission.
It all started about 35 years ago when I was 21 and in the last of my hazy days of college. I was living in a house with my first husband, a house that had 3 apartments. In another apartment lived a friend, a woman a bit older and, I thought wiser. One day I saw her strap on a pair of ‘running’ shoes and go out for a jog. When she got back, she was flushed with the glow of rush of a decent workout. She said I should try it sometime with her! But I was over my ‘good’ weight at that time, lazy and intimidated by this gal. And yet…intrigued. I ended up getting some shoes myself and going out on my own eventually and could barely make it down the road without cramps and feeling like I was going to collapse. But by three weeks I was running three miles and hooked. That was the start of my addiction.
I should really clarify here though. If a drug addict starts with smoking pot and moves to heroin, the simple act of running wasn’t all that bad. My true main-lining phase began when I discovered racing. Competition! Complete with tachycardia, paranoia, hyperthermia, nausea, tachnypnea. And I was good at it, racing that is. The more I ran and trained, the better I got. And the better I got, the more I wanted to race and win. It was a very vicious cycle. This cycle began with my second husband, also and avid athlete. I had moved on from just running to triathlons at this point. So often I would train twice a day. My friends were mostly athletes. My husband and I founded a running club. Every weekend we raced. All social events revolved around racing. It was obsessive. The endorphins were running rampant in my veins and I was deep into my addictive phase.
I was training so much and so hard, I would often get injured. And then would come the crash. The withdrawal. And it was real! The bad mood. The feelings of guilt. The wanting, the needing of my fix. I couldn’t eat or sleep. My weight would fluctuate. And I just couldn’t wait till I could hit the pavement again, or the pool. Sometimes I would continue to workout on stress fractures! Pushing myself through this pain, knowing it was so bad for me. Workout junkie. I would hang around the track on my crutches. Like a crack addict with no money hanging around the crack house hoping for hit. And the minute I’d feel a little better, I’d be right back at it.
My demise came slowly, but it was fairly devastating. Little by little my running gait began to change. With this, my training began to fail, and then my racing. With my racing failing, it seemed like my world came crashing around me. I began to see all sorts of doctors and therapists, podiatrists, chiropractors, massage therapists! You name it. No-one could figure out what was going on with me. Slowly my first place finishes faded to barely being able to run three miles without struggling. It was devastating. Working out defined me. Like any addict, my addiction had been my life. I had created my whole life around when to do to my next workout,, what it would be, who I would do it with, what race I would run. And now I was lost. A friend of mine, who was also drug addict once told me in reference to getting clean: there’s only one thing you have to change and that’s everything. No truer words were said.
So for the next years and years I struggled to produce endorphins as best I could, but not running as much was so hard for me. My second marriage collapsed and with it that whole life which revolved around athletics. It wasn’t until one day (many, many years later), by chance I had this weird episode that turned out to be a seizure. I discovered that I had a mild seizure disorder. I was put on a seizure medication, but by some miracle, it cured the crazy running gait problem I had been having all those years! It took about a month of being on the medication, but I was saved/cured/healed. And now I had a choice to make. I had been given back a gift. Something I had been wanting back for years. I kept saying to myself: I will never race again, if only I could run.
Because working out can be a good thing if done in moderation. People always say to me, “Wow, you are in such good shape!” I look younger than my years. Using the endorphins to keep one’s arteries clean is a beautiful thing. Mine are so clean, my resting pulse is 45 and scared the RN’s when I was re-cooping from my appendectomy. Ah, but there was there other side, and here I was at the crossroads: could I come back to the world of endorphins again and not get lost?
The first year back I did compete a little. I did a few triathlons. And they were awful. The old dragons reared their ugly heads. At the starting line I felt all the old feelings again. It was like I had that needle ready to stick in my arm. I didn’t do too well either. Finished just fine, but no medals. But I was thrilled just to be running again with my body fully cooperating. And the more I was able to run, the more I realized some things. Working out had become my suboxone, my methadone. It wasn’t really the working out that was the bad thing. It wasn’t really the endorphins. It was the competition! That was the needle that took the endorphins and made them too potent for me. It was the hook. If I could just do it just enough, just for me, without that part, I would be fine. Another aha moment had come to me.
People invite me to join their running groups all the time. But I know that’s like asking an alcoholic to come on into a bar and hoping they will just order an O’douls. You get around a group of runners, and they will be racing. So I don’t join. They wonder why I don’t with all the working out I still do. Why don’t I join, or race. I’m a recovering athlete and I know it. I still need my fix, but it’s measured and on my terms. I’m fully aware of it and out with it too. I’m thankful my addication is legal and that it didn’t have long range detrimental effects on me. But it’s an addiction like any other. I still buy athletic clothing to support my habit. And if I meet up with another avid runner/triathlete, we can talk for hours. It still defines me.
The endorphins have carried me through my last 35 years. Through three marriages and divorces. The birth of my two daughters and my one adopted daughter. I ran with my two birth daughters in the baby jogger. It’s seen me through careers and friends, through lovers and pets and moves to many states. When I’ve been so depressed that I thought I couldn’t get out of bed I have thought, “I know if I do my workout today, I will be OK.” And I did and I was. I barely ever miss a day, because that’s the addiction. Because I think all my thoughts when I’m running or swimming. So many miles have passed under my feet. They say we only have so many breaths to breathe, well then maybe I will use mine up quicker. I’ve transitioned now to mostly swimming because it’s easier on these older bones-and I love it too. It’s a different world and I can still hammer hard and not get hurt. It’s a social sport, where I see all my swim buddies every day, but I’m a solitary swimmer. And it should carry well into my senior years.
For I hope to have the endorphins bring me into old age. My running will turn into walking, but I will walk as long as I can. I want to be outside, seeing seasons change, thinking my thoughts and moving down the road of life as long as I can. Who knew that back 35 years ago what started out as a challenge would turn out to be something that defines who I am. Having lost it for so many years, and then given it back keeps it in perspective. So I will run, bike, swim my way into the future and feel the high as long as my body lets me.