I don’t know much about Johnny Manziel. The Cleveland Browns’ quarterback has been in the news for a lot of bad reasons lately. Earlier this fall he was involved in a domestic assault incident, though I don’t see that he was arrested. He was in some kind of treatment facility of an unspecified sort earlier this year. And after finally seeming to get his shit together enough to be given a starting shot, he then went out and got bombed a couple of times, posted videos of it, and was demoted to third string.
A lot of people are commenting about the domestic assault. I’ll leave the commentary on that to others. I don’t know what happened, but I hope that it is appropriately investigated and adjudicated. A lot of people are talking about the NFL’s response to that incident and to the apparent substance abuse problems. I’ll leave that commentary to others as well. I don’t know the NFL’s rules nor do I have a relevant opinion as to what they should be.
I want to talk about drinking at perplexing times. I’m not here to diagnose Manziel as anything. But the behavior he exhibited this past weekend is a behavior that is familiar to a lot of alcoholics. After getting his shot to be starting quarterback, he performed very well on the field, and his coach announced that he would start the remainder of the season. Everyone seemed to think that he’d turned a corner and was ready to go be a force in the league. Instead, he went out and got drunk and made a public ass of himself.
This is a behavior both familiar and maddening to many of us who are alcoholics (And again, for the record, I am not saying Manziel is an alcoholic. I can’t possibly know. But this recent behavior reminds me of alcoholic behavior.) We get drunk at the worst possible times. We don’t seem to mean to. It isn’t malicious. Often times we are celebrating. But we don’t, or can’t, stop after a drink or two. We imbibe copiously and end up in desperate trouble. We sabotage our lives just when everything seems perfect. Or at least, on the upswing.
But there’s a real calculation behind it, even if we are not aware of it ourselves. When alcoholics are active in their drinking, our entire lives revolve around getting more alcohol, in the short term. We cannot risk lack of access to booze, for anything. And so when our lives seem to be slotting into order, we have to disrupt it. Because if we have responsibility and accountability and stature, we can’t be drunk all the time. It doesn’t work. And no matter how much we think we ant those things, we know we can’t have them because they interfere with our ability to drink the way we need to.
And so we get really destructively drunk at precisely the worst time. In order to prevent all that responsibility and accountability from happening. If our families or employers don’t trust us with real responsibility, then it doesn’t matter if we’re drunk. We don’t get in trouble for fucking things up if we have nothing to do. Our disease isn’t threatened by sloth and indolence. Only by accountability and industry.
Seen through this lens, behavior that is baffling to outsiders makes perfect sense to the alcoholic. And to the recovered alcoholic. When a person self-sabotages by getting drunk at the “worst possible time”, it is utterly obvious to me what’s happening, most of the time. The disease is protecting itself. The alcoholic is protecting their ability to drink from anything that threatens it. It is an existential assertion against the terror of being unable to drink as we please. Unable to satisfy what feels like a necessary ingredient of life: intoxication.
If this is what’s happening with Manziel, I hope he gets help. And regardless of what’s happening with him, I hope he owns up to his behavior and takes responsibility for what seem to be, from the outside, some pretty inexcusable acts.
But I get it. I get all of it. The disease protects itself, and we act out whatever theatrical charades are necessary to preserve its access to the only thing that matters. Alcohol. And if that means we have to destroy our lives, and the lives of others? So what. Nothing else matters.
This year, I set out to run 52.4 competitive miles. Either two half marathons and a full marathon, or four half marathons. I have now run all the competitive miles I’m going to run this year, and I surpassed that goal by quite a wide margin. I ran:
- The Virginia Beach Half Marathon
- The Providence Half Marathon
- The Philly 10K
- The Navy/Air Force Half Marathon (Washington DC)
- The Marine Corps Marathon (Washington DC)
- The Philadelphia Half Marathon
That’s a total of 84.8 competitive miles. To train for all that, starting January 1, 2015, I ran a total of 1057.7 training miles. Well, probably closer to 1025, considering my GPS usually reads about 2-3% far.
I don’t know how much further I’ll run this year. I’m tired. I have my gym plans, and I have my bike. I’ll certainly run a little bit more. But I am going to lay off the road miles for a bit. I liked having my streak of 100 mile months. But it’s over now. I’m not going to run 36.7 miles in the next week. And I’m ok with that.
My feet are beginning to bicker with me about running. My right foot is starting to give me some nerve-zaps from time to time, just like my left. And it also features some plantar fasciitis-like tightness in the arch. So I’m going to give them a rest. They’ve done their fair duty this year. I owe them.
Emotionally, it feels a bit weird to be planning a break from running. Like I’m grieving a bit. But I’m not taking a break from fitness. And I want to be ready to hit Virginia Beach hard and try to break two hours in the spring. I think it’s in reach, and I’d like to do it one time, maybe. I’ll never be fast. I’ll never be great. But I showed myself this weekend that I remain capable of being better than I was before. And that’s thrilling.
And I have a collection of medals on the wall. And while they’re all just for finishers, not winners, for me, I feel like a winner every time I cross the finish line. I don’t win races. I win health and life and freedom and joy and accomplishment and satisfaction and pride. I’d bet no one in the world has exactly the same collection of little medals as I do. My running is in no way extraordinary. But it is mine. And I am extraordinary to me. And that’s what matters. I’m proud of doing the things that only two years ago I could not possibly imagine. And I think I’ll keep going.
Well, updated stats edged me out of the top half of men. But I’m still *just* in the top half of men 40-44. So, compared with my closest peers, I’m better than average.
Yesterday was perfect running weather. It was about 50 degrees when we woke up at 5am, but it quickly dropped to 45. A little windy, but not too bad. Crisp. And 25,000-ish of us lined up to run the Philadelphia Marathon and Half-Marathon. I was a half-marathon runner. As always, BB was right beside me.
We took off at a pretty good clip. Fast for me, anyway. We were running about 9:30 miles according to the marathon clock, which really means a little faster because we don’t run tangents perfectly and we have to weave around slower runners. People like us, in the pack, not elites, always end up running about 1-2% further than the actual course distance that’s laid out.
We passed the 10K mark at 58:51, which is a pretty damn good pace for me. I felt good, and the weather was holding perfectly. It was cool enough that I was sweating a lot less, and that meant I didn’t have to stop for water as much. Though this might’ve been a mistake, strategically. At the 9 mile mark, BB suddenly felt awful, because she hadn’t been taking in enough calories.
She slammed down a package of Skratch chews, about 200 calories of sugar, and then took Gatorade and water at the next station. Feeling better, she turned up the speed. I accelerated with her, and thought about asking her to dial it back a bit, but decided to give it everything I had for as long as I could before easing up.
I had it until the end. We accelerated through the rest of the race. I was watching the time on my wrist, and felt like a personal record was in play. Just running harder and harder for the last mile I felt really good, even though it was a lot of work (My heart rate was well above what the American Heart Association uses as the rough age-guideline max. I hit 190, the “max” is 179.)
We crossed the finish line at 2:02:15. Well BB did. I was 1 second later, despite the fact that we were holding hands. But that’s a new personal record by a minute and twenty-seven seconds. Or six seconds per mile. I know that six seconds per mile doesn’t sound like a lot, but a 10-second difference in pace feels enormous to me. And so I could easily feel the difference in speed between this race and the Navy/Air Force half we ran two months ago.
So far, every race BB and I have run – with the exception of Providence, when we were deliberately running easy with a friend – we’ve set a personal records. The margin keeps getting narrower, but we’re doing it. I think there’s a good chance that we’ll be able to break the two-hour mark when we lace up for Virginia Beach. If we don’t, that’s ok.
But the really cool thing about this result, in Philly, is that for the first time I placed in the top half of both men, and men my age. I finished faster than 52% of men, and 51% of men 40-44. I cannot begin to write about the pride that gives me. After so long, so much work. So many deep sloughs in my life. After being obese, and a pack-a-day smoker, and an embittered, suicide drunk for 12 years. Now, sober nearly 8 years, finally basically fit and healthy, I am finally better than average.
I am better than average. Compared against my peers, at this thing I’ve chosen to invest myself in. For thousands of miles run and tons of weights lifted. Hundreds and hundreds of hours put in. Years of effort. Going from some days unable to get out of bed to face the world. Unable to make it from sun up to sun down without a bottle of liquor. Unable to go an hour without a cigarette. Going from there, to running 13.1 miles in just over two hours, faster than half the men who tried that day.
I’m proud of myself. I don’t know how proud one should be for finally being ever-so-slightly better than average at something. But for this, for now, for me, it’s a lot. And that’s tinged with a peculiar shame and sadness that I can’t quite put my finger on or wrap any words around. But that’s where I am.
Well, I have the Philadelphia half-marathon Sunday. BB and I signed up for it six months ago as insurance against finishing our full marathon and then just falling down and quitting. Marathon training is so exhausting mentally, as well as physically, that we were worried we’d burn out if we didn’t have something else to plan for shortly after the Marine Corps Marathon. So we signed up for the Philly half, which we ran last year as well.
Last year we ran Philly in 2:14 and change. It’s a good race with a few hills, including a big one at mile 9. Really a runner’s race. Not much in the way of silly costumes and large groups of people walking and chatting. It’s a race that seems to be attended mostly by people who are there to put their foot down and run like hell. I like that, though I’m certainly glad there are races for all comers. Last year we ran the Philadelphia Rock and Roll half marathon, and that was much more of a party atmosphere, and it was a lot of fun as well.
We don’t have a time goal for this race. We didn’t have a time goal for our last half marathon either, back in September when we ran the Navy/Air Force half marathon in Washington DC, and set our personal record at 2:03 and change. But I’m really not planning on running this race hard. As usual, I’ll let BB set the pace, because she’s better at it. And lately we’ve found that we tend to run negative splits and push hard at the end. I suspect we’ll end up doing that again.
I haven’t been training for this one much. I’ve only run about 50 miles in November so far, which means that my streak of 100 mile months will come to an end at 8. But we’ve done 10 mile runs each of the last two Sundays, and we did some hill training and some regular weekday runs. In addition, I’ve been in the gym about two days a week. I’ve dropped about 6 pounds and feel good with my plan for that moving forward.
I’m eager to put another medal on my wall. I like collecting things. I really like that this way of collecting things helps me stay healthy and sober.
Today, my house in St. Louis was broken into. My tenant was robbed, and several doors and windows were damaged. She’s shaken up, but ok. She wasn’t home at the time of the robbery. She called me crying and apologetic, though for the life of me I can’t imagine what she’s apologizing for. But I know that often when we’re violated, we feel sorry for something, even when we’re not sure what.
I have never been robbed as an adult. When I was a kid, our house was robbed, but my mom handled it the way my mom handles everything. Somehow, things were cleaned up, repairs were made, and it was all fixed in a day or two it seems. So I don’t really know what to do. It’s my house, but it’s my tenant’s home.
But when I took the call, I figured immediately what I should do. Tell her it’ll be taken care of. Call the cops. Call my insurance company. I did those things. The neighbors are assisting in boarding up the broken doors and windows. The adjuster will call tomorrow, schedule a visit. Contractors will be called and paid. I will be reimbursed.
I know how to handle these things now. It’s a pain in the ass but it comes intuitively. That’s one of the promises of AA. That we will intuitively know how to handle situations that used to baffle us. If I lived in a house that was robbed while I was a drunk, I’d have probably done a shit job boarding up the doors and windows and left them like that until the city issued me a citation.
Now, as a sober person, I have the faculty to manage these things. I know what to do and I know how to behave and I don’t need to drink at it. I’m an alcoholic, but I’m not a drinker anymore. I’m basically a useful member of society. I can figure out how to go forward. And I get the added bonus of congratulating myself as if I’ve done something exceptional. Because as a drunk, I get to feel effective for fulfilling the least of my obligations.
The promises have come true, and I am leading an enviable life. I am a sober member of Alcoholics Anonymous. And I know how to do things that used to baffle me. Ordinary things. I have the privilege of leading an ordinary life, in a way that feels extraordinary to me. The mere act of living sober is a source of daily gratitude. Because even in all the difficulty of the past couple of weeks, the lowest I can get is nowhere near the sloughs I’ve risen from.
I find myself with little to write about at the moment. My job proceeds. I’ve talked to my boss about my fuck-ups last week and she was positive and – while agreeing that my performance was substandard – asserts that she has confidence I’ll improve. We talked about the amount and type of work being a little overwhelming for me now, and we’re going to make a couple of little tweaks that will enable me to address my issues better.
Mostly, I feel like I need some time off. I want to rest. I last took some vacation back in August, and complaining about not having had a vacation for three whole months is pretty goddamn entitled, even for me. But I am taking a four day weekend over Thanksgiving, and that will be nice. My plan is to take the week between Christmas and the New Year off as well. That works out to a 10-day vacation for 4 days of leave the way the holidays work this year. I’ll be spending the New Year in Virginia with BB’s family, which will be nice.
I’ve been much better about my eating for the past two weeks, and I’ve lost about four pounds. It’s hard work to maintain a normal eating habit for me, but I’m succeeding at the moment and feeling better about my weight. I’d like to drop 15-20 pounds, but I don’t know that I can keep up the discipline for that kind of time. I’m exercising a little less, and eating a lot fewer calories. That’s made me tireder.
I’m just feeling out of sorts and vaguely… I don’t know. Some people warned me about an emotional drop after the marathon. The goal is accomplished, the exercise drops, endorphins recede. Now I’m trying to put together a plan for the winter. For continuing to move forward in the new year. I’m tired and kind of sad and feeling slow and stupid and alienated. So, par for the course.
I have a lot of work to do and I’m having trouble getting myself up for it. Such is life. Whatever’s next will be next.