That’s what Dru Pratt-Otto says she’s experienced. A youthful-looking 60-year-old member of the Boston Bulldogs wearing a club singlet and a running watch, Pratt-Otto has gone from an unhealthy dependence on alcohol to running half marathons. “Here we’re in community with each other,” she says. Running “gives you something else on which to focus your obsessive thinking.”
A thought or two to add here. While I have never been dependent upon drugs or alcohol, I spent plenty of time addicted to sugar and in the grip of eating disorders. I switched to exercise, and became just as compulsive, just as addicted to exercise as I ever was to donuts.
It took me many years to realize that exercise per se wasn’t the answer. While I am still a very serious exerciser, I no longer do it as a way to dissipate energy, anxiety and self-hate. While this clearly is nothing more than anecdotal information and one woman’s story, the point here is that anything done to an extreme, be it alcohol abuse, opioid abuse or exercise abuse (name your poison of choice) is still by definition, self-inflicted abuse.
My first cousin has a daughter, who married a Cuban guy with a cocaine problem. A bad one. Eventually, faced with never seeing his young sons again if he didn’t clean up, he did. He morphed into a supremely obsessive Jehovah’s Witness, and now he drags his kids all over very dangerous neighborhoods trying to convert the nonconvertible, being met at the door with a gun in the face. Both are monumentally stupid. Many of his friends and family members wish he’d go back to drugs, he is so extreme now.
A compulsion — it doesn’t matter what it is- is a dysfunctional reaction to the stresses of life. I will argue, as someone who writes about fitness, for the benefits of exercise. I am a fan and a practitioner.
By the same token, done to extremes, as so many midlife and older folks are doing with endurance sports, ends up tearing the body apart, leading to depression, loss of muscle mass and a host of later-in-life problems that may well lead someone back to alcohol.
Exercise in and of itself isn’t the answer. Nor is it a panacea. It helps a great deal, but unless you and I and everyone else who is afflicted with serious anxiety and inner pain, and we all carry those rocks in our backpacks, deal with said rocks, we are still running full tilt away from what truly ails us. That’s not always the healthiest response to stress.
Perhaps the healthier response is to take a serious look at what is driving us in the first place. Deal with that, then the compulsion to dissipate the anxiety through activity is softened. Exercise- YES by all means. But to switch running to the bottle or the pills for running yourself into the ground as too many of us do isn’t a great idea.
This of course doesn’t apply across the board. However it does to enough of us, and my hand is up here- that it’s worth the question.
The real work, the hardest possible work, is to face the Night Terrors that drive us in the first place, Jon. At 66, and an adventure athlete, I have done enough of that work to be able to slow myself down and enjoy the journey. I still exercise like a banshee, but not to injury. Not to pain. Not beyond pain, which is little more than self-flagellation, which is similar to drug use. Chasing endorphins is no different than chasing a drug high IF exercise is simply another way to avoid dealing with what drives us.
Thanks for your article.