Photo by Nick Muzik
Photo by Marzelle van der Merwe
A few days ago I had the privilege of sharing at the treatment centre that I was at a two years ago. I was asked to please share my story; my experience of recovery; what it was like; what happened and what it is like today. Sitting at the front with all the patients staring at me intensely, hanging onto every word I said in anticipation for some hope that they too could change their lives. I remember being in that position, I remember someone saying to me 2 and half a years ago that I too could do great things one day and receiving that beautiful gift of hope, that slight light that illuminated that dark room which I had imprisoned myself into for so many years.
After my share; leaving the treatment centre; I began reflecting on my life over the past few years; as well as the run I had just completed a few days prior. The Ultra Trail Drakensburg 100 miler – so not just any run (oh yes this was actually 167km and not 160 which distressed me at the time but in hindsight its quite funny to get upset about 7 km when you’re running 160km!).
Being acutely aware that I am one of the very few that have managed to stay clean and sober (2 years 2 months); I know that I will always be in recovery and never really recovered. The success rate of people like me getting clean and sober is 3% – that is it! So yes I do consider myself lucky but also believe that its what you put in – which is service, constant thought of others and my primary purpose is to help the still suffering addict/ alcoholic. This led me to the idea of starting a blog where I could give people hope that they too can change their lives as well as share my personal experiences in the hope that it will resonate with those going through similar struggles.
I was standing on the start line with my wonderful and talented coach Linda Doke beside me, her presence giving me a warm sense of security. I started crying at the start, to which someone asked “why are you crying at the start, you should cry at the end”. I thought about this question for some time and about 4 hours into the run I realised that I was crying because for someone like me to get to the start of a race such as UTD is nothing short of a miracle.
Thirty months prior, standing at that start line, I was having seizures, I was weighing 47kgs and had pneumonia every two months. In and out of hospital, in and out of institutions desperate to get better. I was hoping to die at the age of 30 as the pain became unbearable and the thought of living life on life’s terms was just too hard to even consider let alone attempt. By the grace of my higher power; against the odds; I was running UTD160. That is why I was crying because I made it – Even if I may not have finished; making it to that start line was amazing in and of itself.
…. But there was no way I was not going to finish. If I could go through 3 months of treatment coming off drugs including prescription, then I could do this, no matter what.
I met some wonderful people along the way and had a plan to run alongside another runner throughout the Lesotho side. If there is something I have learnt in this life its that the plan always deviates from what you had in mind and that’s where faith steps in, faith that everything in this moment is happening exactly the way it needs to. So…..I ran Lesotho by myself from about 50kms in, feeling like a warrior woman from Vikings running down Thabana until….boom….I jumped off a rock and landed on the side of my ankle. It swelled up immediately and I knew that I was in trouble. The intense pain, however, was nothing close to the pain I had experienced when using and drinking continuously; hating the way I felt and yet not being able to stop. Scared of what life would be like clean and sober; fearful of finding out exactly who I am. Drowning out my conscious being was at the forefront of my priorities.
I got to Sani Pass Back Packers where I saw my husband. I felt a sense of relief as though seeing him was this force that gave me the power to move forward. Once inside; the man who made the fires at Sani Mountain Lodge (Peter) welcomed me with the biggest smile and hug. The look of pride that spread across his face gave me a feeling of fortitude. This is a man who works all day carrying wood; making fires for the guests. We chatted occasionally while staying in the lodge prior to the run. He did not know too much about me other than I was running and there he stood at 11pm at night with the energy of a force that carries people when they cannot carry themselves. This is the beauty of humanity and unity of all human beings. Love can move mountains. With my strapped-up ankle and a kinda “ok” from the phenomenal medic Kate Quinn; off I went down that Sani Pass with a hobble but a heart full of gratitude.
Photo by Simon Pocock
At about the 85km mark I fell on my arm and thought I dislocated it. Collapsing on the path; throwing my jacket dramatically over my crumbled body; I reached for my phone to call for help, adamant that I would need to be air lifted out of the valley (drama queen). I put my phone away after the initial pain diminished. I got up and thought to myself “ok I just need to get to 100km mark and if I’m still broken then I can get help there”.
As I was running a song came on that my son Leo and I often sing along to in the car, I burst out crying and was reminded of the journey I have walked with this boy of mine. I recall what his journey must have been like having to look after me from a young age; constantly worried about what state mom would be in to the point of just being angry that I had let him down. His Mom running 100 miles in the wild mountains – I couldn’t give up, I had to finish.
At “Waterfall” I saw my mom and dad who came at 3 am to see me. We have been through so much and they have seen the worst parts of me in the hope that maybe somehow, one day they would get their daughter back. That I would stop renting my body out to the poison of drugs and alcohol and become the girl they always dreamt I would be.
At this point I met up with a fellow 100 miler runner, Armand du Plesis. I was feeling so disorientated ; my batteries died on my GPS and I felt like the stars were changing direction. So I followed this man with blind faith unaware that this would be the person I would finish the run with – I do believe that my batteries died for a reason at that moment because again, as with Peter at Sani Back Packers, people are put into our lives at certain points and specific times to show us the path we need to take.
Spiritual progress for me is opening up to others; listening to others, connecting with others. Towards the end of my addiction I isolated; I hid from the world so that I could die in peace and quiet; yet through the love of someone else I was given grace.
After that Cobham Road crossing I saw my son, Leo. He was so happy to see me and all he wanted to do was run with us. I could see the excitement in his face and sense the pride. He kept on telling me how far ahead the next lady was and what place I was in, saying “mom you got this”. My husband Dave and our dear friend Travis who recently had his leg amputated after a motor bike accident were back in SA from Lesotho and doing everything in their power to keep us motivated and encouraged. Dave has the biggest heart and can care for others beyond the capacity of most people. He is also in recovery and finds serenity in being of service to others. He has witnessed me wanting to die and not being able to carry on with life to becoming a strong woman who now runs. I never ran before recovery so this was all new to him. He has jumped on board with both feet and I couldn’t imagine a better person to second me. Travis has gone through so much over the past few months having to make the decision to get his leg amputated yet there he was at the race only two months after his operation supporting my run. Now that is strength and courage. I will never forget that Trav and will be there for you for your first ULTRA!
The last 20kms were difficult. I was skip running behind Armand’s super-fast power walk. I think I may have been crying a bit but told him I had sun cream in my eyes. Armand and I were trying to get a sub 30 hour. Those last 6km we kicked into 7th gear (you can’t see it but its made from adrenaline haha) and gave it everything we had to get to that finish line.
We made it in 30 hours and 6 minutes. I was still delighted with the result… The result of being able to make connections with people on a level that was deeper than I ever wanted to even consider because I believed life was temporary. I believed my life was temporary.
The result of physically being able to run 167km after the trauma I had put my body through for so many years; the result of having a loving family support me along the way and be at the finish line. After the passed pain I had put them through by my selfish behaviour. The result of knowing that there were so many people supporting me because there are those too who just need a bit of hope that they can change their lives. The result of being all that I have become this far without trying to run and escape from myself. The result of being clean and sober, being conscious and being grateful every day of my life.
……..and then a by product of all this was the result of being placed 2nd in the woman and 9th overall.