On April 18, I finished my 20th marathon. My time—4 hours and 16 minutes—was the slowest I’d ever run. But that didn’t matter—because this was the Boston Marathon, a dream of mine ever since I started running marathons in 1981. Now at 63 years old, I can check this off my bucket list. But why this is so special to me is not that it is my high point as a runner, instead it is the gift this has been for me as a recovering alcoholic.
Ten years ago, running a marathon, let alone running the Boston Marathon, was incomprehensible. My life was in shambles. I was awaiting transport to a regional prison in Glendive, Mont., where I would spend the next six months in a very intense alcohol and drug rehab program. Physically, my six-year binge had taken its toll on my legs; peripheral neuropathy was affecting my ability to walk. Somewhere in the middle of that prison stretch, I had a turning point. I thought about the classic line from the movie Shawshank Redemption when Andy DeFrain says to Red “It comes down to a choice really, get busy living, or get busy dying.”
My best thinking had gotten me into prison so maybe it was time to make a choice to live and go all in for the recovery program this place was offering. Once committed, I found the hope I so desperately needed, on page 152 of the AA Big Book: “The most satisfactory years of your existence lie ahead.”
There is another line in the AA Big Book that is also true. “Yes, there is a long period of reconstruction ahead.” I never liked that line because it reminded me of how difficult the process is after a person gets sober. Recovery is not about stopping drinking; it is about staying stopped and even more, about learning to live in sobriety. Recovery is truly a marathon. But I have discovered in the 10 years of working my recovery program that this can be the best marathon a person ever runs.
The most satisfactory years of your existence lie ahead! You can get all of your life back and more, much more than you ever imagined. And I am not alone. My wife went with me to Boston to cheer me on, as did a friend in recovery from my home group. Boston is where she grew up, and it was a chance to both see her daughter and celebrate how life can become so good in recovery. She camped out at the bottom of Heartbreak Hill, just before I had to start that climb at mile 20.5. She’d made a sign—in Bronco Orange of course, and had the others in my AA group sign it to cheer me on. That encouragement was what I needed to make that climb and finish strong.
I don’t know if I’ll ever run Boston again, or even another full marathon, but I do know that the marathon of recovery I am in now is worth every step. And the full life I’m experiencing now… I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
If you find yourself facing alcohol addiction rehab with trepidation and dread, I hope my message can offer some hope and inspiration. And if you join The Foundry, I hope I am able to talk with you about the vibrancy of life that comes with recovery.
-R.J. Koerper, Life Recovery Therapist Consultant with The Foundry