If you follow me on twitter on Instagram then you know I’ve transformed myself from a relatively sedentary guy to a relatively passionate runner. In a little over a year, I’ve gone from barely being able to run for 90 seconds to running between 10 and 15 miles per week. Running has become a form of self care for me and I love it. I’m grateful that my body continues to heal from the damage I did when I was drinking.
Running is also a way for me to get out of the past and future thinking modes for which my brain is so hard wired and to get into the present. I tend to count off my footfalls in fours. I notice when my heart rate is higher than I want it to be (thanks to my watch) and I slow down and focus on my breath to bring it back into the zone that I am targeting. I notice others in the road or trail. I am delighted when I see friends in the trail, especially if they are friends from the rooms, as I did yesterday.
Because I am present and aware I notice my environment and what’s going on around me. And this is where the story of this post comes into focus.
Yesterday, I was out on a long training run, planning to run 8 miles as I train up for a 10 mile race in August. I’d been out on a tempo paced run for about an hour and a half and was closing in on the last mile when I noticed a man who I’m going to call Sam to protect his identity.
This was the longest run I’ve ever done and my motivation to complete it was very high. I wanted the little hit if dopamine that comes with the realization of a goal and a virtual trophy on Strava. I wanted to prove to myself that I could go the distance. I didn’t want to stop along my route.
Sam was underneath a picnic table which was underneath a pagoda on the side of the B&A trail in my town. He was on his back and looked to be writhing around a bit. The situation did not look good.
At first I kept running. I thought to myself, “that poor bastard is really in bad shape. Best not to engage. You’re so close to the end of your run. Keep moving.”
But then, because I’m in recovery and acutely aware of the epidemic of opioid addiction, I started to get concerned. “What if that guy is ODing? What if he needs help? If I don’t stop, who will?” I’d like to claim that the AA responsibility clause was ringing in my ears but it wasn’t. I just knew that I needed to check on Sam.
And so, about 25 yards after passing him I turned around.
I’ll be honest, I was a bit afraid of what I might be getting into. If he was ODing, I knew that I didn’t have Narcan and even if I did I’ve not been trained to administer it. I knew that I would need to dial 911 and stay for a bit. I knew that I might witness a man dying before my eyes. And I knew that if none of those things came true I could be in for a tongue lashing from a homeless drunk who didn’t want to be bothered.
I also knew that even though the trail was crowded in the glorious mid-day sun of June 2, 2019, not a single other soul was going to check on Sam.
And so, I approached cautiously. “Hey man, are you alright?” Something barely audible came out of Sam’s mouth and for a moment I was more concerned. “What’s that? Do you need help?”
“No, I’m okay,” his tired voice said. “I’m okay.”
“I saw you on the ground and wanted to make sure. I was afraid you might be ODing.”
“No,” Sam said. “I don’t do opioids — I drink a lot. Are you an EMT?”
I told Sam that I was not an EMT but that I am in long term recovery. I told him that I used to drink every day and that I’d been sober for three and a half years. I told him that there were a lot of people like us who would help him if he wanted to get better. I offered to call someone if he needed me to or to get him an ambulance.
Sam talked to me about his experiences with my old home group and mentioned a local legend from the AA community known for his drum circle meetings. I had to tell him that BR had passed about a year ago and that he’d died sober. Sam was sorry to hear this.
While Sam was clearly drunk and slurring his words he was able to hold a relatively coherent conversation and I felt that he wasn’t in immediate danger. He commented repeatedly about how I looked good and in shape and that he couldn’t believe that I used to have a problem with the drink. But I assure him that it was indeed true, that I’d worked hard to change and that he could have what I have if he wanted it.
I shook his hand and told him that he should make sure to get some water and eat something and that if I had any money with me I’d be taking him to get those things. He appreciated that.
And the I was off to complete my run. When I got to the cool down part of my workout I called my sponsor and another friend in recovery. Both told me what I already knew, that I can’t save everyone and that I’d done the right things. My sponsor reminded me that my stopping and talking might just be a little light in Sam’s world, perhaps the nudge he needs to find sobriety.
I’ll probably never know.
Later in the day, while doing errands with my son I drove by the spot just to see if Sam was still there. My son tiled me I’d missed our turn and I told him I just needed to see something. Sam wasn’t there and I don’t know what happed.
What I do know is that this small act of kindness took less that 10 minutes of my day and that if I hadn’t stopped it’s likely that no one else would have checked on Sam.
Maybe even a small act of kindness makes a difference when we live in such a disconnected world where others look past their present surroundings and ignore the plight of their fellow human beings.
Be kind to yourself and to your fellow beings. We are all just walking each other home.