I was really struck by the way you discuss and handle AA in this book, and you said that it’s kind of not for you–but it seems like running gives you the same daily commitment and milestones and, as you just said, the same spirituality. Do you think there will be a time when there’s an AA alternative that’s exercise-based?
I think there are. I’ve heard that there are AA groups that are comprised of runners. I know in Boston there’s a group called Runners in Recovery, and they’re very much a running group, but they’re also mostly former addicts who continue to go to meetings.
The two can work together very well. I don’t have a problem with AA, and I wouldn’t discourage anyone from going. It’s a personal thing, and you can go check it out and try it out and, for a lot of people, it offers a sense of community, and a place to share your stories and get support, and that’s really good. I don’t necessarily think that a strictly fitness regimen could replace AA, but I do think that they very much compliment each other.
But AA is not part of my recovery, or part of my life at all. And running does, like you said, does satisfy and touch upon a lot of the same things that AA tries to impart.
What would you tell someone who is currently struggling with addiction and maybe hasn’t found that thing that helps them get the wake-up call or make that change?
That’s a hard one, because quitting is such a personal moment, and it often does come when you’ve hit some sort of bottom. I think there’s a void that’s left behind when you’ve been drinking for a long time and you quit, or when you’ve been doing drugs for a long time and you quit. You know, nature can’t stand a void, and the human psyche can’t stand a void. I was able to fill it with fitness and running.
So I think you have to recognize that it’s not like slapping on a nicotine patch and stepping down over three months. There’s work that has to be done and, like I wrote in the book, drinking became my central rhythm, and the only fact of my life. And all of that stuff has to be replaced. You might replace it with art or music, and a lot of people replace it with food, which I did. There’s this filing of a hole that happens.
I think I would tell someone to pay attention to that void, and figure out a way to fill it. But also to figure out a way to reach out to anyone, safely, that you’ve know in the past that you may have harmed, and try to make things right, if you’re able to.
Is this book a little bit of that for you? Like, touching base with people in your life who you may have harmed?
It is, in a way. I did reach out to most of the people in the book to apologize. Some I was able to do in person, many were done through letters. But it is. The book isn’t necessarily a way to tell them I’m sorry, because I feel like I’ve gone through that process. But it’s a lifelong process, making amends. There’s always someone else you could apologize to.
You noted that a fitness tracker, like a Garmin watch, can get a little addictive, which I thought was really interesting, and I’ve found that to be very true, too. Do you use a fitness tracker at all now?
I don’t. I haven’t used a watch in a long time. And I feel much more liberated! Not only not having that big thing on my wrist but, as I’m sure you know, you’re constantly looking at it. It’s harder to get lost in the run when you’re constantly checking your wrist. I found it to be distracting, and there was a little too much of this sort of slave-driving thing.
You know, I’d get upset if my time started going like, half a minute above my normal pace. I became very consumed by the numbers. I don’t run with a watch anymore. Sometimes I make a note about when I leave the house and then when I get back, and sort of do an estimation, but I find greater joy when I run without a watch.
Agreed. I’m currently testing multiple fitness trackers and I had them on on my run yesterday, and it made it a lot more excruciating. It made it drag on so much longer.
They can be good if you’re training for a marathon and you want to hit a certain time, though.
They’re also good weight-loss tools, I’m finding. What do you hope readers get from this book?
No matter how bad things are, they’re not that bad. You can always extricate yourself from these situations. I don’t think it’s too late to change your life if you want to. I do think that running is much more than just a sport. It’s even more than a lifestyle.
For a lot of people, it’s like religion. I’ll often say that, for me, running is religion, Prozac, and therapy all rolled into one. So I think running can have a life-changing effect if you’re open to it. In the beginning it can be kind of hard, but once you hit your stride and you can do five miles a pop, or seven miles a pop, it becomes very liberating and emotionally and psychologically satisfying.
The running community is also a very supportive community, too. And one of the things that I like about it is that it can be such an individual activity, such a solo activity, but it is also very conducive to groups, if you’d like to be part of that. It really can be life-changing either way.
Running Ransom Road comes out October 9, 2012. You can find out more about Caleb Daniloff by checking out his website, or following him on Twitter. You can also “Like” the book on Facebook to get updates about it and Caleb.
Images via Houghton Mifflin Harcourt