I suppose each life is full of addictions. We find something we like, it improves our quality of life and has a considerable impact on our physical and emotional well-being. And when we find this something (or somethings), it’s only natural to do it again and again and again.
There are many things in this meager little existence of mine that improve the quality of life and boost my emotional and physical well-being. Things like internet access, hot water, cake, bike racks, caffeine, sunshine, snowstorms, books and itty-bitty moleskin notebooks.
But of all the well-being uppers, Running, trumps them all.
I went to bed each day with hopes and dreams of the next morning’s run. The anticipation of each morning run was alarm clock enough – no further motivation or stimulus was needed. Each run started slowly, to work out and stiffness or fatigue, but then, after a mile or two, the methodical thump-thump of both feet and heart produced a “YES! I am alive!” euphoria. Each run was five (or six or eight or ten or twenty) miles of pure, clean crystalline dopamine, which, after finishing, guaranteed a cool, calm collection and an amped brain.
Nothing compares to the post-run high. Nothing. The post-run high is emotional and physical bliss. My skin and all major organs, cells and bones would buzz with a gooey sort of electric current. I had more patience. I had more energy. I liked me more.
What’s wrong with that?! Nothing! Unless you can’t do it anymore.
The trouble with dopamine or other feel-good brain chemicals is this thing called tolerance. The more you use it, the more you need. So one might be able to run five miles, five days a week and be great for a while. But soon that won’t be enough and you’ll need six miles, then seven, then ten, then twenty, then... you’ll run until your body can’t run anymore.
There’s a lot of talk about “healthy addictions.” About how, “If you’re going to be addicted to something, it might as well be exercise. It’s good for you!” Or there’s also “As far as addictions go, it’s not a bad one.” All of that addiction justification works really well, when you are able to run. But when you can’t run? The world crashes and it crashes hard.
I have spent the last two years in a vicious cycle of run-injured-crash-run-injured-crash. Each crash sidelines me for days. I cry, I mope, I feel like shit and my confidence and self-worth are shot. After a few weeks, I feel okay again as my brain finally adapts. But then a few more weeks will go by and I’ll think “I can run again, but this time I’ll stretch more…” or warm up more, or eat more broccoli, or blah-more-blah-more-blah.
They (the folks who wrote that one article that I looked at in my school library) say that running is similar to heroin in a lot of ways. It utilizes opiate receptors in the brain and causes an intense withdrawal when one stops cold turkey. You get the fidigets, you sweat some, you bark at people for no reason and you want to remove every square inch of your skin with a dull cheese grater. I have stopped running cold turkey several times. I know what this is like. It’s horrible. And after you do it a few times, a little fairy shows up and says, “Girl? Yer addicted.”
But it’s a healthy addiction! If you’re going to be addicted to something, it might as well be running! As far as addictions go, running is not a bad one!
Running doesn’t get in the way (not counting the thousands of times in your life that you scheduled the family Saturdays ‘n vacations ‘n everything else around it) unless you can’t run any more. And then when it stops suddenly, and you feel as if your first born pet was strung up and shot before your eyes, you begin to think seriously about hangin’ at the high school to see if you can score some smack.
So here’s my question for today: Is there such a thing as a healthy addiction?