I started running because I could not understand addiction. I watched my sister get up and start over every day. I said once that life for her was like getting up everyday and running a marathon. And I tried to picture that, the idea of having to roll out of bed every day and put one foot in front of the other, through rain or snow, or pain, or exhaustion or sometimes with no shoes…
Sometimes my sister has no shoes. Sometimes she has no home. And I am certain she feels often, that she has no family. But still, she is tasked each day with a marathon to live.
I started running because it was the closest thing I could do to understand her life. I find running incredibly difficult. I tear every km out of my body. No matter how long I have run or what new techniques I try or what shoes I wear…it has never settled into me as “easy”. In truth, running was a self imposed “punishment” on myself at first. I wanted to feel as horrible on the outside as I did on the inside – and being out of breath and blisters and aching hips really fit the bill at first. I felt horrible.
I also wanted to give up as soon as I began. It was just too hard. I didn’t want to run every day. It was frustrating and seemed impossible to be good at. Every day that passed would lead to another and another that I did not run. It was so easy to give up. It was so easy to fall back into old ways.
You see where I’m going with this don’t you? Running and addiction were about to be married in my life. If I wanted to know what it felt like to get up every day and battle addiction, I was going to have to get up and run. Oh man…what had I gotten myself into?
I’ll admit it…I truly thought if I got out of bed every day and ran, it would magically make my sister get up and want to live. I did. I really did. I’m not dim and I understand the laws of people having to make choices for themselves – but I was desperate. I had done everything else – I had coddled and caved to her addiction time and time again. I forgave her all the unforgivable things. I even put a down payment on a house for her once. A safe haven. I would have done anything to get her back. Then I realized I was becoming a part of the problem. As a social worker, I could get her out of almost any situation. I was a crutch. And it was killing me. My anxiety was out of control. My guilt was crushing – how can a social worker not know how to fix her own sister? I had this one last option – to run it all better. I truly believed it would make a difference.
It did. It started to help me manage my anxiety. My body got stronger. I slept better. I started to take care of myself again. It gave me something healthy to obsess over instead of obsessing over my sister. I started to understand that I can’t take care of anyone unless I am well. And slowly, I started to realize that I could not take care of my sister, I could not fix her. I could just love her. And sometimes it would be from very far away.
I had to untangle myself from my sister’s addiction. It was making me just as sick as she was. I have gotten very good at boundaries – she would probably tell you that I’m cold and unfeeling. She would probably tell you that I don’t love her at all. Choosing to step out of her addiction left me feeling lost and helpless. I have read all the literature on co-dependency and logically understand the value and the non-negotiable process of separating but my heart mourns the loss of her, even the addicted her, because it claimed my identity for so long too. Who was I if I wasn’t my sister’s keeper?
So I kept running, long ago giving up the illusion it would cure her, now bent on curing myself. But there’s something about running aimlessly that darkens the experience for me. I felt I no longer had a goal. So I started running with friends. I started running races. I loved it. But there was always something missing. I started this journey to send out all of this running love energy to my sister. I have never failed to think of her every time I lace up my shoes. I wanted my running to feel purposeful again. I needed more than just a distance to cover.
I came upon a website called moonjoggers.com and they had an online race called The Smile Race 2015 – a suicide prevention run. My dad had died by suicide 19 years ago so I eagerly joined and I picked a night to go run 10km for my dad. I had a calf injury and I was tired but something was so pulling about the run. The first few km were so hard and I cried. Let me tell you, crying does not make running easier. But I dug down and I focused on my Dad. I just started talking to him in my mind. I told him about my sister and the running and I told him I was running for him that night. We just hung out and it was cool. And just like that, running had a purpose again.
I started to think about the other people in my life who were struggling so I called my friend and said, “I’m running for you today. I just wanted you to know that”. And she burst into tears and almost inaudibly said, “thank you”. That was all we needed to say to each other.
That’s how Love Laps was born. It’s simple, I run laps in honor of others. I believe that people have a deep need to be acknowledged, to be seen. There is certain energy between people with a positive intention. Just try it on the street – smile at someone. People are always looking down or away when I run past them. When I say Hello or Good morning – I see people transform. I know it has happened to me on days when others could have never known what I was dealing with. A simple gesture can be life changing.
Here’s the thing…this life changing stuff, sometimes it isn’t what you think it’s going to be. My sister is still an addict. I hardly see her and I still feel bouts of rage and despair when I think about it. The running didn’t cure me, it sustained me. It made me strong enough to fight another day. It made me want to. I am still not good at running! I’m usually one of the last few stragglers coming through the finish line and I have soaked my sore and aching body in a bath of Epsom salts more times than I care to mention, but it has helped to re-define me. It gives me energy, it manages my anxiety and it makes me feel useful again. It really gives a new angle to running for your life! I take a moment before every run and I pay homage to my sister, to myself and someone else I know is struggling and I just send them all I’ve got when I run. This simple act of intention has changed my life and I believe it can change others too.