Anxiety, Alcoholism, Recovery, and RUNNING!

By Ashley Kennedy

For as long as I can remember I have suffered with anxiety, self doubt, and self-limiting beliefs.  I experienced my first panic attack around the age of 10, and have battled anxiety and panic ever since.  I discovered alcohol around 15 and began my unhealthy relationship with it.  I only ever remember drinking to get drunk.  I quickly learned that alcohol numbed my anxiety and fear.  I spent the majority of my 20’s binge drinking, using alcohol as a tool to be the funny, and outgoing gal I really knew I was deep down inside. 

In that time, I got married.  My drinking was still a non issue to me at this point, and I remained sober through both my pregnancies.  It’s funny, looking back I remember asking the nurse the day I was leaving the hospital to bring home my new baby, if I could drink while breastfeeding…as if that should have even been a thought at that moment!  Fast forward about 3 years and I am into my early 30’s with a 2-year-old and a 6-month-old, and facing a separation and divorce. 

I was essentially on my own for the first time in my adult life with two small children, and no coping skills.  It was here where my active addiction took off.  The romanticized glass of wine in the bath became the bottle.  The cold beer after mowing the lawn became drunk on the deck with a 12 pack.  In a matter of a few years I was a still fully functioning addict in the grips of alcohol.  I went through my daily life, hungover, and completing all the tasks at hand.  I was still a good mom, a good employee, but a shell of a person.  I was physically there, but I wasn’t present.   It was my secret.  I hid it well.  I was miserable living in this fog, consumed by the obsession.  I would feel instant relief after leaving the liquor store with my case or bottle on the seat next to me.  I spent about 3 years in active addiction.

March 30, 2016. I woke up miserable as normal.  But something inside me was ready to not feel so empty anymore.  The despair and shame had become overwhelming.  The crippling anxiety I would wake up to at 3am, knowing I was hours away from facing yet another day had become a nightly occurrence.  I needed to make a change.  I somehow innately knew I deserved better.  That there was more in store for me.  I wanted to feel joy!  My kids deserved more.  I am still unsure of why that morning became what would be my last hangover.   I just knew I had hit my emotional rock bottom. I didn’t want to live this way anymore, just existing!  I had such difficulty picturing life without alcohol, but I just couldn’t ignore my insight, instinct, and intuition that morning.  It was time.  I got the kids off to daycare and school and called my mom.  I told her everything.  I sought help.  I began a program, and I haven’t had a drink since.  That was nearly 4 years ago.  There is a way out of the darkness.

About a year into recovery, out of the blue, my girlfriend asked me if I wanted to do the Blue Nose 10k.  I laughed out loud to her, and questioned her mental stability.  I had never run a day in my life!  Not even as a child.  I’ve been asthmatic my whole life, and running was just something I couldn’t do.  So, I said yes!  At that point I felt like I was ready for something more in my recovery as well!  I couldn’t run 2 consecutive minutes!  The first time I hit 20 consecutive minutes on the treadmill at the gym, I looked over at my running partner and my eyes welled up.  This running thing may actually be possible!  I started to notice the physical benefits immediately.  I was shedding the bloat and pounds from all the years of alcohol consumption!  Muscle and tone were developing!  I’d never seen that on my body.  Every run felt like I was detoxifying myself!  Seeing my body change made me become conscious of what I was putting in it to fuel.  I changed my eating habits.  I went gluten-free for starters, and got excited about researching a healthy lifestyle.  I had abused my body for so many years, and now the reverse was happening…I wanted to treat my body as a temple.   I had energy for the first time in years! 

My sleep improved.  It’s as though I was running out all the nervous energy.   My lungs were adjusting…conditioning I guess you could say!  My breathing while running got easier.

That spring we entered the first annual Shubie 5k.  It was a thrill completing that run and getting that medal. My first ever race.  I was gaining confidence in something!  The Blue Nose 10k followed, and we completed it.  I noticed my mental health improving with this new healthy outlet!  I was feeling so accomplished, and gaining strength I never knew I had!  Runner’s legs!  Muscle!  Over the last few years I have gained handfuls of 5k’s & 10k’s, a 15k, and this October that just passed I completed my first half marathon at Valley Harvest!

My running is a journey.  There’s been highs and lows, sweat, & real tears shed.  I’ve left a lot of emotional baggage on trails, and roads and become part of a community.  There’s been consistency and personal bests, as well as injuries and down time.  There are self doubts on my running abilities, and there are times where I kill a run and literally shout out in the middle of the woods, “I’M A RUNNER!” as I blow a snot rocket into the bushes! Being an asthmatic, I still have great difficulty running in high humidity, and cold temperatures.  I take my running to the indoor track or I use my buff if I’m really feeling like I need to be outdoors.

Running has given me something that is mine.  I can utilize it whenever I need to, for pleasure, stress relief, anxiety management, to organize thoughts & gain clarity, meditation, to catch up with my friend & running partner, to lose a couple pounds from indulging!  The rewards are endless.  The excitement that comes with getting new gear & spending endless amounts of money I don’t have on races! (I can laugh at it now…I traded spending money on alcohol for races!)  Hydration packs & new compression leggings!  Setting new goals and attaining them.

My kids have watched this journey unfold, and they understand how important running has become to me.  In this, I hope I am teaching them how important it is to have a healthy outlet.  This year I completed the 3rd annual Shubie 5k WITH my son!  In September, I stood at the start/finish line and watched him complete his first SOLO 5k at Maritime Race Weekend, in our home community.  Proud mom moment.  My daughter wants to tackle the Soul Sisters 2020 5k with me! (The medal is a unicorn!)  It’s an amazing feeling to be healthy and present.

Running came into my life exactly when I needed it.  Now, I can’t imagine life without it.  If I can become a runner, anyone can…truly.