Running Taught Me to Live

-An anonymous contribution to Running Our Truths

I have been told that I hide my emotions and my thoughts very well. Few can really see and know when something is bothering me and if I am as easy to read as a book then I am likely on the edge of a catastrophic breakdown.  Most people who “know” me really know very little about my life, I don’t share a lot about the deep and dark moments that haunt me day in and day out. Very few want to hear about the decades of physical and verbal abuse that I went through from my oldest brother. Many will downplay it and dismiss it as sibling rivalry. When people treat my circumstances as normal I stop talking. I have tried too many times to tell people of the horror of your brother holding his hands around your neck to the point where you are seeing black spots and are convinced that this is the end; or hearing every day for every day you can remember growing up that you were fat, selfish, worthless and unwanted. I have tried too hard to get people to understand the hell that I grew up in and how skewed my self image was just to have them just dismiss it as blowing sibling issues out of proportion. Even fewer people know about the sexual abuse that I went through also at the hands of the same brother. How do you tell people that your brother raped you and that he let a friend rape you and that countless times he crossed sexual boundaries that left you alone, confused, scared and devastated. People don’t like to hear about the reality of my life and so I stopped telling people. I put on a mask and smile and I got very good at looking like I was a healthy happy woman yet behind that frail smile my soul struggled desperately to survive.

 

Until recently I didn’t have people in my life who understood me or who could or wanted to hear the reality of my story and so I had to find ways to cope on my own. In high school I was a competitive swimmer. Swimming came naturally to me I didn’t have to work hard to be good and spending 3-4 hours a day in a pool at practice was 3-4 hours a day I was not home scared of what my brother would do next. My time in the pool was peaceful and quiet it was a moment in my day where my problems and my wounds slipped away and I was free. After high school I stopped swimming but I struggled to find something that felt as peaceful and free and though I had moved away from home my pain and my past was always nipping at my heels. My friendships suffered because I was convinced that no one wanted me around. Relationships suffered because men terrified me I am an extroverted person who was forced to live a lonely and isolated life because I could not handle being hurt again.

 

This is how I lived my life for a decade after high school. I got through college, I moved across the country to try and get away and make a new start, that didn’t help.  So I moved out of the country, which didn’t help either.  I ended up needing to move home for a short time (which turned into another decade and counting) and coming back to Seattle brought back the deep pain, anger, sadness and fear that I had tried to leave behind. Not to mention that in the first two years I was back I dealt with 8 friends dying one of whom I found him shortly before his death. It was like I came home and every day felt heavy and overwhelming and then I would get hit with more sadness and heaviness, I almost didn’t survive those first couple of years back. In order to look for a healthy way to deal with all of this I began to run. I hated running but it was the only thing that was easy and accessible for me. So I put on my running shoes and I slowly and awkwardly began to put one foot in front of the other. Very slowly something I had always dreaded started to become something I looked forward to. I got married and after my son was born I began to train for my first half marathon. It was almost like a joke to me, the idea that I could run 13.1 miles was hilarious and impossible but I decided to try it. My goal was to just run the whole race and finish under two and a half hours as my mileage increased and my stamina increased I slowly began to believe in myself which had never happened before.  Race day came and I ran the whole race and I finished in 2:15 minutes and something amazing happened the moment I crossed the finish line it was a moment that I will never feel in the same way again, a moment of clarity and healing and accomplishment. As I crossed that finish line tears welled up in my eyes and I almost fell to the ground, not because I was tired but because I was overwhelmed by the emotions that came up. Crossing that finish line was the first thing I had done in my life that I really had to invest myself in and work towards because it didn’t come easily or naturally. Crossing that finish line took blood, sweat and tears and it had required me to take the opportunity to do something that I might fail at. After that first half marathon I was hooked.

 

As I continued to run I continued to find peace and hope in my time on the trail, it was my alone time and my me time. It helped me think and make sense of the problems and issues in my life. I had gone from using self harm as a coping skill to using running as a coping skill and it brought so much more healing and strength to my life. Then one morning as me and my two kids were on our way to an appointment life changed drastically for me, we got into a car accident that ended up taking me out of running and pretty much all physical activity for 9 months. With in the first eight weeks as the physical pain started to subside suddenly the emotional pain that I had never dealt with in my life became suffocating. It was obvious to me very quickly that if I could not run then I had to start dealing with my abuse because my options were to deal with it or to kill myself.

 

I started into therapy and into the most difficult process I have ever gone through in my life. But lessons I had learned running helped me to keep pushing forward. There were so many moments that felt impossible and yet I was reminded of the many moments during races or training that felt impossible and my focus had to narrow in to each step. I was able to use that same focus when the whole of the abuse felt overwhelming but I could forget everything else and just focus in on one small experience. As I started to get back into running I began running with a group of local runners and that became my lifeline. Not because any of them had any idea of what I was going through but because they understood me as a runner and how important it was in my life. They understood the need to just get out and run and the freedom that came with that. No one that I run with knows my story, no one knows that running has saved and is saving my life, no one knows that I show up to some runs feeling like I can hardly hold on and the run and the encouragement from my friends as I struggle through a workout gets me through those hard days, not just through that hard workout.  It is very hard to feel so unknown and to be so afraid to share my story but it is amazing to have found my people. I am alive and moving towards a place of health and healing because of running. Swimming was easy, it felt simple for me to win and to excel, running has taken a lot of work and a lot of risk and the races I run and the goals I reach and the things I accomplish running are strengthening me as a person and teaching me that to truly live is to risk. It is incredible also to have a community who will rally around you when you succeed and when you fail. I have found that community for running and running has helped me to believe that I can find that community in healing also. I have a lot of work to do and a lot of miles to run but each day I am finding myself stronger and each step and each tear is healing me. I will and am finding the strength to share my story and to allow others to know the hell that I grew up in and believe that they actually do care about me as a person. Each day I am leaving behind that girl who was broken and alone and finding a woman who is strong, healthy, happy and wanted.

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3 thoughts on “Running Taught Me to Live

  1. Thank you so much for sharing. I haven’t dealt with the particular kind of abuse that you faced, but a lot of what you said resonated with me! “People don’t like to hear about the reality of my life and so I stopped telling people.” YES! So much this. Sometimes it feels like people only want the happy parts of you, and otherwise they panic. “Not because any of them had any idea of what I was going through but because they understood me as a runner and how important it was in my life.” That also resonates with me a lot–a lot of the runners I spend time with don’t know my story, but they have still help me immensely just by offering me a space to do what makes me happy and share that with me.

    Like

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