The Twelve Steps

The trail is completely covered in tufts of fluffy white snow that sparkle in the morning sunlight. As I maneuver the slippery cracks and ruts of the route, I notice the trees are still blanketed in heavy snow but that the sun is doing its hard work to lessen the weighted down branches. Snow plops from the branches of every tree I run past. It’s very cold.  But, I feel euphoric. This is just the shot I needed to feel present and alive again.


Running is not the drug. Running is the recovery.

People often ask me if I feel like I’m an addict.  Maybe it’s because they know my past or maybe because they see my present. But, it’s usually triggered by mornings like these when they see me running. “You just have to go, don’t you? You just have to get your fix. Running is your drug of choice.” My response is usually an awkward giggle and half-hearted nod. But today, as I breathe in the very cold air and squint from the sun’s glare, I realize that running isn’t the drug. It’s actually the recovery.

Running is the recovery. From the time I was a little girl, I’ve known – and deeply loved – alcoholics and drug addicts. I have seen their demons and have often been in the trenches alongside of them. It’s tragic. I’ve been there, which is why I would never presume to compare my life to theirs. While I have compassion and profound empathy, I cannot begin to fathom their pain, their heartache, their constant struggle, their desperation associated with this type of substance abuse. But I do know what it’s like to feel all of those emotions – because my struggle is with shame.

I’m running almost directly into the sun now and it’s as if these rays are playing the role of the lightbulb illuminating the filmstrip of my mind. I see the frames that show Brené Brown on stage during a TED Talk and I remember that she was my first conscious introduction to shame and what it really is. What it really does.  During her talk, she admitted that, “Shame is the intensely painful feeling that we are unworthy of love and belonging. It is an unspoken epidemic. It is the secret behind many forms of broken behavior.”

Shame is not “I am sorry I made a mistake.”  Shame is, “I’m sorry I am a mistake.” Often, shame is what causes addicts to become addicts – whether it’s drugs, alcohol, or abuse.

It was “The Day of Brené” when I was finally liberated. Alone with my laptop and her voice filling the room, it finally became so crystal clear to me. Why do I behave the way I do? Why do I always feel responsible for everyone else’s brokenness? Why do I always feel the need to apologize? Or fix? Or try harder? Or mourn? I’ve never had a problem recognizing my brokenness. I’ve had a problem living with it because it all feels so futile.  No matter what, I believe I will never be good enough. Brene answered it all with one word: shame.

At this point, I’m deliberately running slowly – being careful to watch my footing in the deep, slippery snow as I soak in the frozen beauty. My mind gets hung up on the word ‘frozen,’ as I’m reminded of why I run. If I keep moving, I can’t freeze. “Take the first step because that’s all you need to get started in the right direction.”

So, like the addict I am, I follow 12 wobbly steps in my makeshift 12-Step Program. The biggest difference between my program and the Alcoholics Anonymous 12-Step Program is that my program was not designed for recovery – it was designed for coping. It enables me to organize my thoughts and tame the wild voices that try to wrestle control from me – especially when I’m exhausted from trying to validate my existence by doing more, faster, better, perfectly.  When I’m feeling especially vulnerable, I run through this 12-Step Program – over and over:

  1. I try hard to admit I am powerless over the past – and try extremely hard to believe it.
  2. I thank God every day for being there – for being the one and only who really loves me despite my flaws and my mistakes. Who makes me feel worthy.
  3. I try to remember that not everyone is spending their time thinking about what a mistake and screw up I am.
  4. I try to take an honest inventory of myself and who I am – not based on my warped view of myself but based on what I hope others might see on my good days.
  5. I try to resist admitting to others, almost too readily, the nature of my brokenness.
  6. I try to control the urge to reach out to all of the people I believe I’ve hurt and ask for their forgiveness – because often my shameful perception is not their reality.
  7. I try to stop myself before apologizing for things that I couldn’t possibly be responsible for.
  8. I do my best to look at the world more logically – using facts to determine the truth about me and the way I influence the world around me.
  9. I try to have hope – because without hope there really is nothing.
  10. I work hard to believe that other people are broken too. Their behavior is not always and entirely the result of my interaction, presence, or behavior.
  11. I pray for God’s grace and thank Him for the grace He’s already shown me.
  12. I run every day – and every day I work through these twelve steps.

According to Brené, “Shame cannot survive being spoken…and being met with empathy.” For this is why I write. [And why I run.] Thanks for being alongside of me in my recovery.

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