Feet First

People in recovery often talk about having “sober feet”. The idea is that especially in early sobriety–but even later on–you’ve got to train your feet to be disciplined, to steer you in the right direction even when your head isn’t quite there yet. There’s so much stuff that flows through our minds on a daily basis–some of it is useful, some of it’s garbage. I remember just a month or two after I got sober a bunch of friends that I used to party with asked me to go out with them. They insisted no one was going to pressure me to drink, they just missed me and wanted to catch up. I knew they were being sincere. All morning and afternoon I thought about whether I would go. In the early AM, the answer was ‘No’, I knew it was a bad idea. Good intentions or not, if I was hanging out at a bar with these people, I would want to drink. By mid afternoon though, several hours of complaining customers and an empty belly had me sure a night out with friends was just what I needed. I compromised. I would stick to my routine. I would go to the meeting I had been going to every Thursday and maybe chat with someone there about my plans. If afterward it still felt like the right decision, I would go.

If you guessed that I never made it to the bar that night, you’d be correct. After getting some food in my stomach and chatting with a sober friend, it was suddenly clear that going out with those people was a horrible idea. In that clarity, I was stunned to recall how harmless my plan seemed just a few hours earlier. It was one of the first times I began to understand that I couldn’t always rely on what my mind was telling me–that sometimes I might have to act based on discipline and prior experiences. Feet first. Head to follow.

It occurred to me a couple days ago, as I struggled to complete a hill repeat workout, that this concept is still key to almost everything I do in life. I really hadn’t wanted to run at all that day, much less push myself. I’ve only recently started doing hill repeat workouts. Unlike mile repeats and tempos, which are still tough but I’ve grown more used to, hill repeats remain torturous. When I got out of bed that morning the run seemed impossible. My head was telling me that I was tired, that maybe I needed a rest day instead. Then I did a bit of surveying. My legs felt fine. I had done yoga the day before. I had a planned rest day two days later. I made a decision. Instead of reacting to my current feelings, I would act based on prior experiences of remaining disciplined and running when I didn’t want to.

I told myself I only had to complete the two mile warm-up to the park. If I still wasn’t feeling it, I could turn around and jog slowly home. Easy breezy. By the time I got there my attitude hadn’t really improved. In fact my legs, which had felt fine before, were now decidedly exhausted. Still, somehow, my feet carried my objecting head a quarter of a mile down the hill. I set my watch and busted my ass all the way back up. It was horrible. At about 1/10 of a mile, my legs were on fire. I decided this was going to be it–one and done today. Basically my head was like, fuck this. But then something else happened when I reached the quarter mile mark at the top of the hill. Instead of exiting the park, I turned around and jogged back down for the next repeat. I did this over and over again till the workout was complete. Each time while making my way up the hill my head convinced me that I should quit. But my feet–they were like trained soldiers. They had no connection to my feelings, they were working off of discipline and the memory of all the other times they had completed work when my head told them they couldn’t.

Sometimes when I finish a workout like this I’m elated, I feel like Superwoman. Yesterday was not one of those days. I felt kind of wiped. All I wanted to do was eat and lie on the couch. Still, I knew it was a victory, one that rippled through the rest of my day. While physically I felt tired, my head felt clear–it had finally caught up to my feet. I showered, I ate something healthy and nourishing, I lied on sofa for a bit, then I got to work studying and writing.

Of course it’s important that we listen to ourselves–that we take a rest day when we need it or even play hooky sometimes to have a bit of fun. But I also find it valuable to remember that my feelings are not always facts, and it almost never serves me to follow them blindly. Every time I get a workout in like yesterday’s, it gets added to my body memory and strengthens my discipline. I hear people asking other people who run and stay fit and eat healthily all the time how they do it–how they motivate themselves to get out there and put the work in and how they keep their diet consistently clean. The truth is–there’s no secret to it. Motivation comes and goes in everyone–it’s not something we can always rely upon. It’s also not something that comes from inaction. If you lie on the couch all day, you’ll want to lie on the couch all day. If you start going to the gym, you’ll start wanting to go to the gym. We’d all prefer the desire to come before the action. Unfortunately, it rarely works that way. But if we can get our feet out there first, regardless of our feelings–if we can just do it, our minds will inevitably follow.





header: gaelle marcel