Don’t Fake It — You Might Not Make It

“This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.”

— Polonius, Hamlet, Act 1, Scene III

Polonius’s advice to his son Laertes comes in the context of finances and very likely was received by an Elizabethan audience as the recommendation to take care of one’s self first and foremost — Polonius being one of the villains of the story. Just two lines earlier, Polonius advises, “Neither a borrower nor a lender be; For loan oft loses both itself and friend.”

And yet, our modern reading of these words has become gentler — these words serve as a guiding moral principle advising us of the power of being true to our own codes of morality, often in terms of presenting ourselves as we are rather than as others might like us to be to the world, rather than as a selfish conceit about putting ourselves first in business dealings.

To be fair, I prefer the modern interpretation of these words, even if it may be out of context in the play.


This past Sunday was Easter — the day upon which Jesus Christ is said to have risen from the dead, a miracle, and opened the gates of heaven to the believers. In Christian churches around the world jubilant cries of “He is Risen” could be heard along with “Alleluia” and “Hosanna in the Highest.”

I did not partake.

I did attend our church service via Zoom and listened as our ministers spoke about the realities of Jesus Christ’s death. That he was a political agitator. That he was put to death by a Roman Empire that who saw him as a threat. That while the narrative is that he was not in the tomb when Mary Magdalene and Jesus’s mother came on the third day because he’d risen from the dead, it is very probable that his body was removed and desecrated by the Romans.

We know that powerful people do awful things a to their enemies and there is little reason to believe that the Romans simply let his body be buried. They were, to be sure, a bloodthirsty lot. They fed people to lions for sport for goodness sake. And we know this happens to the bodies of dissidents in our modern world, witness Jamal Khashoggi’s brutal murder at the hands of the Saudi government.

I do not wish to belittle or betray anyone’s belief here. If you believe the story of the Resurrection and it provides you with faith and comfort, it is wonderful. We all need comfort in this chaotic world. And a little faith goes a long way.

If I’m honest, though, I never believed it.

But I tried. I tried to believe it for a long time.


Fake it ‘til you make it.

This well meaning turn of phrase, employed so often when someone struggles, grates on me. Particularly in the context of addiction recovery, I find this advice highly problematic. Just think about it for a moment. Addiction leads so many of us to a life masked in half-truths, denials, and outright lies.

We hid our addiction, out of shame and fear. We lied about how often we drank, or where the money came from, or what happened the night before. Even if we didn’t lie to others, we lied to ourselves denying that the problem was as big as it was as we hid the bottles, empty or otherwise.

Faking it until we make it, is just another lie. We can’t fake sobriety. We can’t fake recovery. We have to do the work.

Now, there is something to be said for modeling good behaviors. There is something to be said for setting intention and how intention can be a strong predictor of success. But “acting as if” is different than “faking it.”


I know what it means to fake it.

For nearly half a century I faked it. I did what others told me I should. I went to confession for the first time in 5th grade and took first communion later that year after a well meaning teacher in my school asked me if I’d like to receive the sacraments. Never once did I believe that saying 10 “Hail Mary’s” would relieve me of my sins, or that the stale wafer had transmuted into the flesh of Christ — and thank God for that, I mean, can you say cannibalism? — Later in high school, I got confirmed, because it was what I was supposed to do — even though I was a few years late to the party.

In my twenties, I attended a Catholic Church on and off with friends, but slowly drifted away. I broke up with a wonderful woman largely because I could not accept her interest in an evangelical faith — I still owe an amends there. Throughout those years, I would go to church for the big days — Christmas and Easter — and if I’m honest, I always wanted to believe. I felt that believing might relieve some of the pain. I found myself jealous of the certainty that others had about the hereafter.

This big ball of chaos and confusion that we call earth just might make a little more sense if there was an afterlife of bliss. I mean, it’s a great fucking story, but my life experience runs counter to it at every turn.

When I met my wife, she was an Elder in the Presbyterian Church. I still don’t really know what that means, but I do know that she was invested in it — that it carried meaning for her. And I’d learned, by way of the aforementioned break up, that perhaps I needed to be sensitive to her faith even if I wasn’t all in. I attended church with her, because frankly, I’d have walked through a bed of hot coals to be with her.

It was uncomfortable. Not only was I not a true believer, but I’d been so thoroughly indoctrinated by the Catholic Church that I believed I was somehow committing a sin by attending another denomination’s services. They did a great job telling me that there was only one true church. To be honest, I still struggle with this from time to time even though I’ve all but renounced my Catholicism by burning the Pope in effigy.

This sense of betrayal was so strong in me that I struggled with the idea that we would be married in the Presbyterian Church — even though I loved the pastor of the church. He hooked me on the first day I attended his service which a sermon about how Liberals and Conservatives needed each other.

And yet, I overcame that sense of betrayal and actually became a member of not one, but two different Presbyterian churches. With time, I actually enjoyed the services. Those churches provided me with good people, good community.

But I still didn’t believe in the Resurrection.

And then I got sober.


I’ve written ad-nauseam about my challenges with religion versus spirituality and how I came to a sense of peace when I finally let go of the God of my childhood. It was only after doing so that I felt I could approach the 12 steps in a meaningful way. And it was only after letting go of that God, that I was able to seek out a church community where it was okay for me to have my doubts.

I tried to fake it until I made it for so many years, and never actually made it. Or at least, I didn’t make it in a way that looked like I thought it would. I had always thought that given enough time, I might eventually will myself into believing. That if I went to church and heard the message again and again, that it might some day actually be true for me. But that truth never crystallized.

This past Sunday was a glorious day in many ways. We had beautiful weather and I saw my family. Many of the adults in the family have been vaccinated and it feels like we might actually turn the corner in this god forsaken pandemic. I enjoyed our church service and felt connected to the universe. And I felt liberated because I didn’t need to pretend to believe in the Resurrection.

In the end, if I allow myself to believe that I’ve come to the end of this journey, which is probably another misconception, faking it until I made it did more harm than good. I struggled and suffered trying to reconcile a disjointed belief with my own life experience. It never fit and it was always uncomfortable. That certainty and the peace that I thought it might bring was never going to happen. I’d have been far better if I’d taken Polonius’ advice and been true to myself from the beginning.

It’s not that I have no faith, nor that there is no God — it’s that it doesn’t look like what I thought it would. Maybe, just maybe, that’s what making it looks like.

Day-Dates, Reclamation, & Courage and Strength

On Saturday, my wife and I took a drive over to Easton, MD and had lunch at one of our favorite Italian restaurants, Scossa. We ate lunch outside, despite it being 48 degrees. Admittedly, it is a bit odd to eat lunch outside in January wearing our winter coats, but it’s as close as we are coming to normal right now.

Yesterday, we met my brother and his wife and son for a walk at Cromwell Valley Park, north of Baltimore. We did a two mile walk and found an old rusted out car chassis. The engine block was an in-line six. The markings on the block suggest that it was a Chevrolet built in 1948 or 1948. Nature is at work reclaiming the natural materials that were used to build that car. It may take hundreds of years but nature always wins.

Today, I’m thinking about Martin Luther King, Jr. Our own African American pastor spoke about Dr. King eloquently yesterday and shard a recording of Dr. King speaking about his kitchen table experience in 1956, in which he talks about receiving a call around midnight with an ugly death threat, and finding the strength and courage to continue with his mission by calling on his God. My heart aches at the fact that we are still wrestling with white supremacy in this country, but I know that “the arc of the moral universe is long and bends toward justice.”

I am grateful for the day-date with my wife on Saturday, it was time together that was much needed. I’m grateful for the time with my brother on our walk yesterday, and nature’s gentle reminder that she always wins. And I’m grateful for the courage and strength of leaders which inspires me to be brave and strong.

It’s Hard Not To Doomscroll

It’s been difficult to keep up the gratitude posts over the last week. My heart is heavy and my monkey mind is in full gear. What happened on Jan 06, 2021 in Washington, DC is not supposed to happen in the United States. The President of the United States is not supposed to incite an angry mob to storm the Capitol building seeking to murder the Vice President and members of Congress while also over turning an election that has been certified by every state, the Presidents Lackey Lap Dog of an Attorney General who quit in an effort to save his own ass shortly before Christmas, and the US Supreme Court which has been filled with three justices by the President who lost the election. There are no doubts that the election was legitimate except in the minds of people who have lost their ability to reason.

I am trying. Trying to find things to be grateful about. And they are there. I’m grateful for the bike ride I got on Saturday. I’m grateful for the short outside visit with the family on Sunday. I am grateful for the time spent with my book club on Sunday afternoon. I’m grateful that we still have a marginally functioning democracy.

But I’m having trouble writing about these things. I’m having trouble concentrating on my work. I’m having difficulty not looking at every article that gets published about what happened last week. It is consuming. In the same way that 9/11 was consuming, except worse because we weren’t attacked by foreign terrorists — we were attacked by our own.

My son is fearful that other students will enact revenge on him because he supported Biden. It is not an unfounded fear. There are students who speak openly of their support for Trump and what happened at the Capitol. While I do not think this is a serious possibility and it would be easy to dismiss this as kids being kids we have a 25 year history of school shootings which stoke the fires of fear in my heart.

I reassure him that everything will be okay. That we will be okay. But secretly, I harbor my own fears. Fears that our country is falling apart. Fears there will be more violence. Living as close as I do to the US and Maryland Capitols, the most recent news of the FBI’s anticipated civil unrest at all 50 state capitols is disturbing.

It’s hard not to doomscroll right now.

A Sober Agnostic’s Crisis of Faith

Things are really hard right now. Every day, I feel overwhelmed. Like so many others, I’m navigating uncharted waters without so much as a compass. The uncertainty of the moment weighs heavily on my mind and the challenges we face as a family feel insurmountable. It’s a game of wack-a-mole.

My company has been highly supportive of all employees during this pandemic and for that I’m grateful. There have been many opportunities to connect with the feelings and trials of the pandemic presented to us by management in the form of webinars and talks. The People Team has brought in many guest speakers and has worked diligently to help employees make sense of things that are hard to comprehend.

And yet, I still feel isolated and alone. My job has been reduced to a series of video conferences and fire fighting. I spend my days in a subterranean room that has been my office for 10 years and at the end of the day I spend some time in other rooms of the house, only to go to bed and get up and do it again.

While the company is doing well, my fiscal Q1 was miserable, perhaps the worst performance numbers wise in my career. I know it will get better, but I don’t know when. Underperformance and I don’t make good bed fellows. It saps my energy and I see it as a reflection of myself even if I know that it is not necessarily an indication of my efforts. Even when I know things are not in my control.

My son has been extraordinarily challenging since school started. I won’t say much more than that I’ve really struggled with what the next right thing should be for him, for us, as we try to navigate his seventh grade year. He started the school year in person, which was a small blessing as it gave us a sense of normalcy that we’d not had in months. But he is now doing remote school, and that is an added stress to our days.

I am trying to take time for self care, going for walks, runs, and bike rides, but at 48 there are only so many miles I can grind out on a daily basis to keep myself slightly sane. I’m making meetings. I’m eating well. But there is a lot on the plate. I’m practicing gratitude (you may have noticed based on my posts). All these things help, but to be honest, I’m struggling.

Struggling to make sense of things. Struggling to do the right things. Struggling to keep my cool. Struggling to get on task and to stay on task. Struggling to connect with others. Struggling in so many ways. Struggling to trust that the universe has my back. Struggling to believe that even if things are not okay, I will be okay.

I’ve long held this belief — the belief that no matter what, things will get better. That no matter what, nothing lasts forever. That I’ll be okay. I am clinging to these beliefs right now. I’m holding on. But it’s hard to keep the perspective. Hard to know it in my core the way I’ve known it all my life.

This sober agnostic is having a crisis of faith.

1827 — Five Years, One Day at a Time

One thousand, eight hundred, twenty-seven days without a drink — one day at a time. But who’s counting?

Well, I am.

Five years is a long-ass time without taking a drink, considering that I drank daily for seven years, and at least weekly for 25 years, leading up to September 23, 2015.

It has been a rough road, especially in the first year and in the last two years. The first year was, well, the first year. I spent months walking around in a fog. I sometimes forgot what I was saying mid-sentence. I craved booze, especially in the first six months. Everything was a trigger. Having a good day, I wanted to drink. Having a bad day, I wanted to drink. The weather was cold, the weather was warm…you get the picture.

The last two years have included family and societal trauma. I went through some things that no parent should ever go through. I watched my son suffer and he showed me what resilience looks like. I’ve been living in the same pandemic as you are and 2020 has been a shit-show with one hit after another. But I’ve always held on to hope and faith that things will get better. And I’ve stayed sober through it all.

These last five years have also been a time of self reflection, rediscovery, growth, and joy. I uncovered the root of my addiction. I discovered that I could let go of the God of my childhood and embrace an understanding of the universe that made room for the mystery without subscribing to a particular dogma. I began running at the young age of 45.

I am grateful that I am now living a life that I couldn’t have imagined back in 2015. I am safe, secure in who I am, have a loving family and a wide circle of friends. I’ve traveled and enjoyed making new friends. I’ve been a better dad and a better husband. I have truly discovered a new freedom and a new happiness. I don’t regret my past; I can look at it honestly and openly. I’ve found peace and I know that my experience can help others. I do not fear people or economic insecurity. My whole outlook on life has changed. These are only a few of the AA Promises, and I am here to tell you that they do come true.

I couldn’t have gotten here without help and hope. Hope and faith that things would be better. Nietzsche wrote, “He who has a why to live can bear with almost any how.” I came into the rooms with only a grain of a mustard seed of hope but I had a why. My reason to live was for my son and may family, quite simply, I wasn’t ready to die and I knew that dying was on the agenda.

I often think about the darkness and despair that I felt as I walked into that 6:00 AM meeting in 2015. I think about the newcomer, and all those out there who are struggling, often in silence — our stories may be different, but we have a kinship of common suffering. We also have a kinship of a common solution.

And so I want to leave you with this as I celebrate my fifth anniversary of choosing to live —

If you are struggling,
If your world feels dark and lonely,
If you look in the mirror and hate the person you see there,
If you can’t imagine living without alcohol or drugs,
If you can’t imagine another day of drinking or using,
If you know that you’re killing yourself with your addiction,
Know that this is how I felt,
Know that others have been right where you are,
Know that you are not alone,
Know that there are ways out,
Know that people want to help,
Know that they can help,
Know that you can accept their help,
Know that you are worthy,
Know that you can overcome this,
Know that you can not only make it, but thrive.

It all starts by surrendering, accepting the fact that you can’t continue to live like you have been, and asking for help.

Step 12: Give Others Hope

Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

Fundamentally, the 12 Steps are a roadmap for change as well as a guide for living a rich and full life. Whether one calls it a spiritual awakening or something else is immaterial. Some folks do feel that they have undergone a monumental psychic shift as the result of working through the steps. Others feel that the change is more subtle.

I personally suspect that the degree to which one feels a change is highly dependent upon how circumstances of their active addiction. For an addict who found himself or herself living on the street, steeling to survive, and living in constant fear, the shift is undoubtedly monumental. But for others who managed to keep their outward lives together while they suffered existential dread internally the shift may seem less dramatic, at least from outward appearances.

Personally, it took more than the 12 Steps for me to feel a fundamental shift in my outlook on life. Specifically it has taken the support of friends and family as well as trauma therapy. I began trauma therapy about nine months ago and as I’ve learned what triggers me, how to recognize with these triggers, and how to be with these triggers in the moment, I have felt a calmness that I’ve never known before in my life.

Many people do find this calmness through the 12 Steps. I didn’t. I felt just the opposite for a long time because the 12 Steps tripped my triggers. I am triggered by the word God. I am triggered by the the notion of an omniscient, omnipresent, and benevolent deity. The root of these triggers are in my life experience. I suffered spiritual trauma when I was told that my birth father could never go to heaven because he died of suicide. Additionally, my life experience is at odds with the idea that there is a benevolent deity directing the world — my direct experience is the opposite. The universe is chaos.

And yet, I’ve learned to accept this. I’ve learned that even if the universe is chaotic, it can still be a power greater than myself. I’ve learned that the mystery of the universe shows me that there is something more out there. Something that deeply connects us to all other things in the universe.

Recently, I was reminded of the scientific Law of Conservation of Mass, which states that matter can not be created or destroyed. When I consume food, that matter gets converted into either cells in my body or waste. For my rational brain, this is proof enough of the interconnectedness of everything in the universe.

For the past few months, I’ve been attending a Unitarian Universalist church and have found in this church a welcoming of my skepticism. It’s as if I suddenly found a bunch of people who think like me. Who suspect that there is something out there but who may not always be sure. The church is welcoming of theists, non-theists, atheists and agnostics. There is very little dogma. They don’t tell me how to believe. And that’s what I needed. This is my spiritual tribe, at least for now.

Importantly, I couldn’t have considered attending this church without going through the therapy process. I needed to deprogram old thinking and old patterns of behavior that no longer served me.

In the 12th step, we are asked to carry the message to other alcoholics. I believe the message is simple. There is a way out of the horrors of addiction and we can have a happy, healthy, and full life without the bondage of addiction. In short, it is a message of hope.

That is what I felt when I came into the rooms in 2015, a great sense of hope. Hope that I could turn things around. Hope that I could feel better. Hope that I could get the monkey off my back. Hope that I could be free. Hope that I might live past fifty years old.

Interestingly, when I was in high school I knew the importance of hope. In a very dark time I scrawled out a short poem that likened life to a matchstick. It shines bright and strong. Intense and dramatic after being lit. And then it’s over. The poem asked the question, if there’s nothing more than this life “why even spark the match?” Years later, one of my teachers found this poem tucked inside my old social studies book and got it to my mother.

And so, when I was confronted in therapy with the question, “what does a God provide to people who believe?” I knew the answer even if I wasn’t ready to accept it. The answer is hope and meaning.

And hope was vital. Without hope, my recovery would not have been possible. And so, even if I don’t like the words, I’ve had what one might call a spiritual awakening.

We need to be able to see that there is a way out of the things that we struggle with. We need to see that our struggles are part of the human condition. All humans struggle with “character defects.” All humans have problems with their egos. All humans have thoughts that if given voice might cause others to pause, to be taken aback. There is nothing unique or special about alcoholics and addicts that predisposes us to these things. The difference is how we have attempted to cope. Alcoholics and addicts have attempted to numb the pain of being human. But numbing the pain doesn’t make it go away.

What helps in times of struggle is the belief that the present reality won’t always be the reality. That things can and will get better. It doesn’t matter what the struggle is — it may be addiction but it may be something else — the message of hope is the answer.

I carry the message of hope with me in my daily life. Through my words and actions, I share it with others who are struggling. Sometimes in one on one conversations, sometimes in tweets with the RecoveryPosse on Twitter, and sometimes here on this blog.

Step 11: This Too Is Prayer

Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.

“Seriously? We haven’t talked about God for a while so we better bring Him back into the picture.” This was how I felt when I looked at Step 11 for a long time. The only saving grace for me was that the payer recommended in the Twelve and Twelve was the Prayer of Saint Francis, which despite being a Catholic prayer, has always been a personal favorite and that peculiar word “meditation” in the step.

I really couldn’t imagine myself praying. Certainly not to an omniscient, interventionist deity who had fixed me and now had a plan for me. I struggled with this step. As a way to make this work, I tried to get comfortable with ignoring all the theistic overtones and focusing on meditation.

I’ll be honest, my success with meditation has been less than stellar. I have tried doing it in my own. I’ve tried to do it with the help of apps. I’ve read about it to the point of recognizing that reading about it isn’t actually doing it.

Where I struggle with meditation is making it a ritual. I’m just not a very ritualistic person. The only ritual that I adhere to is the ritual of making coffee in the morning. That happens every day, right after getting up.

But when I do make time to meditate, something happens to my monkey mind that is hard to explain. It never stops. The thoughts keep coming. But I’ve learned that this is not actually the point of meditation. By recognizing the thoughts, noting the thinking and not judging it, over and over and over again, I come to a more peaceful state of mind.

I do a fair amount of walking, running, and in the past cycling. I’ve always found that cycling by myself is meditative, and the same is true of walking and running. It’s time for me to slow down the thoughts, focus on one thing, get moving, and just be in a state of flow. Time passes effortlessly.

Still, I wondered if I was doin this step wrong since I was so adverse to praying. I worried that I needed to actually be praying — on my knees, hands folded, eyes closed, saying some rote words to a deity that I knew in my bones does not exist. And so I did a lot of reading. One book that really helped me is Waiting: A Nonbeliever’s Higher Power, by Marya Hornbacher.

In the chapter on Step 11, I came across some words that would totally change my perception of prayer on page 114:

“November morning. The sky turning from indigo to violet blue, the curly oak sketched in black on the sky. Steam rising off the lake. I sat in absolute stillness, absolute peace.

This, too, is prayer.”

These words encapsulate what I’d sensed all along in my life every time I’d stood in awe of the natural world. The sense of finiteness in the infinite that I feel when I’m alone on the beach looking at the ocean. The feeling that everything would be okay when I’d hike up to the top of the ridge at Shingletown Gap and look down in the campus of Penn State when things felt overwhelming. The sense of peace that comes when I can no longer hear the sounds of cars as I walk down a trail in the woods.

Those words also showed me that prayer need not be directed to a specific deity. That you could simply send prayers out to the great mysterious universe. My uncle gave us a small Buddhist prayer bowl for Christmas. The bowl came with the instructions to write our prayers on a small piece of paper, to put them in the bowl, and to set it near a window. When the suns rays hit the papers the prayers are carried out to the universe. This gift reinforced the notion that prayers need not be directed to a specific deity.

Today I think of many things as prayer. My silent walks in the woods can be prayerful. My time writing these words can be prayerful. Simply closing my eyes and noticing the breath is prayer. There is something centering about prayer. Something contemplative. Something quieting.

It all comes down to intentionally making time to refocus, to find a small amount of peace in an otherwise chaotic world.

That’s what prayer is for me.

Step 2: It’s Not What I Thought

Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

I cringed when I first read this step. In my mind, that capitalization of the word power clearly meant something. And that something was an interventionist God that was going to fix me. I was having none of it.

I’ve written extensively about my struggles with the God Talk in AA. It all comes down to a spiritual trauma inflicted upon me by a person in authority in the Roman Catholic Church. Quite simply God is a trigger for me. How could I possibly work through a step that triggers me?

Not very well is the answer. I spent months, wrestling with this step. I read countless books about alternate takes on the steps. I read about Buddhism and the steps. I read about secular versions of the steps. I read and talked and tried to reframe it in a way that would work for me. And I failed. Nothing satisfied my angst.

Then one day I was re-reading a journal entry that I wrote shortly before getting sober. If there ever been a moment of clarity captured in words in my life this was it.

‌September 21, 2015
Severna Park, MD / 65F, Cloudy

I cannot keep living like this. This is not living. This is a slow, painful suicide. What else can I call it, but that. Night after night of not quite enough booze to kill me has to be taking it’s toll.

I am terrified of the thought of AA. Terrified of not having a drink ever again. Terrified of the stigma that society puts on people like me. The ones who can’t drink within reason.

The first few gulps at the end of the day seem to put my world back on it’s axis. Level things out — but it almost always ends in guilt and shame. Deep senses of depression.

So, I have to make a choice. I have to stand like a warrior and fight against this foe who is trying to and eventually will kill me. It’s time to stop this madness.

It’s time for AA.

It literally jumped off the page at me. There was, in fact, a power greater than me that restored me to sanity. That power was my own mortality. I knew that if I were to continue drinking I was going to die a slow and painful death. I knew that I was not ready to die. I knew that I needed help and that I would find that help in AA. And that gave me hope.

Today I firmly believe that the power greater than ourselves referenced in step two need not be the same as the God of our understanding that makes its first appearance in step 3. The power greater than ourselves is what ever makes us seek help. It’s whatever gives us the hope that there is a way out of the mess we find ourselves in. For many people, that power is the God of their understanding, but it doesn’t have to be.

Step two is all about hope. Hope is so important in early recovery. Without the hope that things would get better, that I would get better, I could never have achieved a week, let alone a month, or even years of continuous sobriety.

Hope and Faith are sisters. My wife has told me that I have a strong faith. At first I thought she must be joking. How could an agnostic like me have a great deal of faith? But she pointed out that I always believe that things will get better, that things will work out, even in the most horrific and tragic of situations. I believe that because my life experience has shown me that it’s true. That’s resilience.

When I look back now, I can see that I’d already taken step 2 when I walked through the doors of AA. I just didn’t know it at the time. What I did know was that I had hope and even faith that things would get better. With time I came to understand that with support I would be able to stop drinking and live a rich and full life.

False Narratives: Overcoming the Internal Voice that says, “You Can’t”

“I only run if someone is chasing me, like you know, the cops.”

I’ve said that thousands of times, perhaps hundreds of thousands of times. Usually, I said it either when someone suggested that I go for a run with them, or when they were bragging about their latest extraordinary run. Fitting that I’d move to a running town, made famous by some fool who runs in all sorts of weather wearing nothing but a Speedo. One of the few successful shops on Main Street in Annapolis is a running store. It’s been there as long as I can remember. You can’t take a drive for more than 30 minutes without seeing at least 25 of those obnoxious 26.2 euro style stickers on cars. I’ve always enjoyed seeing the occasional 0.0 sticker, thinking to myself “I’m not the only one who doesn’t run.”

Except now I do.

Perhaps it’s peer pressure. Perhaps, I’ve just finally succumbed to the influences of the area. Perhaps it’s another case of ego getting the best of me. Or perhaps, it’s just that I’ve learned a few things about myself over the past two years and eight months without a drink. While it’s quite conceivable that I have indeed let my ego take over and given into peer pressure, I prefer to believe that I’ve learned to believe in myself.

For years, I told myself that I couldn’t do things. Running was only one of them. I told myself that I couldn’t lose weight, couldn’t eat the right foods, couldn’t leave jobs, couldn’t get the girl, couldn’t stop drinking, couldn’t be an alcoholic. My faith in the fact that I wasn’t capable of doing things or of being things was perhaps the strongest faith I’ve ever known. I was sure that I couldn’t run.

But I secretly wanted to. Just as I secretly wanted to stop drinking, and secretly wanted my wife to tell me I was an alcoholic. As if I needed someone to tell me that I could be.

External affirmation and confirmation is something that I’ve sought my entire life. When I was a kid, I needed desperately for other kids to like me. Perhaps that started because I moved around so much after my birth father committed suicide. By the time I was in fourth grade, I’d lived in six different apartments or houses and been to five different schools. I was already different from all the other kids because my dad had died. I was different in other ways too, ways that I didn’t know at the time, and am grateful for today. But it was not easy being the new kid all the time.

In addition to that, by the time I settled into a private school in fourth grade, I was living in a neighborhood in the country which had two other kids my age. And all my friends from school lived 5, 10, 15 miles away from me. During the summers, we would go to the pool, and I would know who the other kids at the pool were by their reputations as bad kids. They were easy to spot. They were the bullies who would dunk younger kids in the pool. But I didn’t know many of the other local kids, because I didn’t go to school with them.

Today I know that my near constant need for external affirmation was driven by the deep rooted feelings of abandonment that arose from my father’s suicide. I still struggle with wanting things that I can’t have or don’t need to this day. It’s as if I’m trying to fill a void with material things. Only those things don’t fill the void, they just collect dust in the house when they are no longer exciting and new.

I suspect that many people who suffer from addictions have similar stories. And by that I mean, I know they do, because I’ve heard them. Like many others in recovery, I suffer from a deep sense of not being worthy. And for me that deep sense of unworthiness has manifest as a voice that tells me that I can’t do things.

But I’ve learned that I can do things that I once thought were impossible. I’ve learned that I am worthy. And I’ve made it through the day today without taking a drink — one day at a time, 978 times in a row and counting.

So I got to thinking about this running thing a few months ago. Maybe, just maybe, the idea that I can’t run was another lie that I’d told myself. Maybe it was another story I’d made up to cover up a sense of shame I felt for not being athletic, for not being fit, for being overweight. And maybe, like so many other narratives, it was false.

I started reading a few sites about running. I started thinking about it more and more. I did the walking version of the Beaver Stadium 5K run event over Blue White Weekend. And I saw most of my friends doing the run. Dudes in their forties just like me, running a 5K. Some of them, still heavier than they should be, and some recently slimmed down smaller than I’d ever known them to be. And I wanted to be like them.

I thought to myself, what’s stopping you?

And I answered: “My ankles are fucked. I did a lot of damage to them as a young skate rat. Same with my knees. You don’t have it in you to run, your body just isn’t built for it.”

Except I suspected that maybe I didn’t know these things to be true as much as I suspected them to be excuses. I have been an avid cyclist. I walk a lot and I love to hike. Sure, I’ve had some problems with the left knee, but maybe I was letting that get the best of me.

It was about 5 weeks ago that I had a conversation with a long time friend who happens to be a runner over a bowl of pho where I confided that I’d been thinking of giving it a try. Dave told me that many people start out by trying to run for a given period of time or a given distance and find that it’s painful and end up hurting themselves. This sounded familiar, in fact I sounded like what I expected to happen. But he went on to say that the best way to start would be to essentially sprinkle short distances of running into my walks. He suggested that I look into an app called Couch to 5K that would help me to time the intervals.

Suddenly this made sense. I could try this, even if it didn’t sound like running. Because, really, it didn’t sound like running. It sounded a lot like walking. And it also sounded very different than how I’d gotten back into cycling. See with cycling, you get on the bike and ride. Sure you go short distances, and maybe you ride intervals at different speeds, but you ride the bike. You don’t ride for a bit, and then push the bike, and then ride again. You get on the bike and you ride it. I’d always figured that starting running meant, well, running.

Dave also suggested that I look into some plans that Jeff Galloway had published. Now, I had no idea who the hell Galloway was, but I figured if Dave said I should look into him, then I should. And of course I found out that he’s a famous Olympian who advocates a walk/run program for people who are starting out. Suddenly, this running thing seemed less like something that I coulnd’t do, and more like something that I maybe I could do. And so I started on the C25K program.

The first run was horrible. And by that I mean the 8 minutes of running that were sprinkled in between 22 other minutes of walking were awful. My knee hurt. My calves hurt. I was winded. I wasn’t dressed appropriately so I was fucking hot. But I did it. And after I did it, I had sense of accomplishment. The next day, I went for a bike ride, and promptly had my hip flexors and hamstrings tighten up like a guitar string tuned an octave too high. I could barely walk was I got out of the car and headed to my customer appointments that day.

I learned that ice, and stretching were my friend. I got new shoes that were properly fitted at a running shop. And I followed the guidance of the app religiously. If it told me to walk, I walked — and if it said to run, I ran. I put a day between each run, and took two days off after three runs. In short, I followed a plan. And soon enough, I found that I could run pretty comfortably for five minutes at a time, and recover quickly as I was walking. And the knee pain disappeared.

Suddenly, I’d started to feel like I was actually running, because I was spending more time on a 30 minute session actually running than walking. And then, yesterday, I opened the app and it said, “your’e gonna run for 20 minutes straight today, but you’re ready for it.” I didn’t believe that. I was sure that I’d collapse. I was sure that my virtual trainer, Constance, was smoking some serious crack.

But then, I did it. I ran for 20 minutes straight, and I felt good doing it. And even better after it was done. I am amazed how far I’ve come in 5 weeks. And I know now that the narrative that I can’t run is a false narrative.

I also know that there are other false narratives that I have told myself that I need to address. But they will have to wait. Just as I learned when I first started my journey in recovery that I couldn’t stop drinking, start exercising, and eat right all at the same time, some things are conquered best one thing at a time.