“The beautiful thing about fear is when you run to it, it runs away.” ~Robin Sharma
When I was eighteen, i started running. To get home faster from the gym on a rainy evening, I started running. I decided to go around the park instead of going home as I was approaching it.
It wasn’t a conscious decision but felt natural and necessary.
The rain had gotten a bit heavier, but I wasn’t worried. As I ran, all I could think about was the lack internal heaviness. With each step, the lack of weight began to transform into lightness. I was carrying a walkman, so I played a tape. My pace increased even more.
I saw possibilities in my mind. Simple solutions appeared. The newness of opening my mind flooded my body.
My pace accelerated even more on my third loop and I started to sing (out loud) along to the tapes in my Walkman. It was pitch black, and I was soaked. I felt the rain pouring down on my head and enjoyed the feeling.
As I walked the mile back to my home, I stopped at the third loop and stuck my tongue out to taste the food. My clothes were soaked and I was elated. The fact that I was walking so slowly in the rain and feeling so relaxed, at ease and elated was striking.
Running was my escape from myself on this dark and rainy night.
Yesterday, I began to feel nauseated, weak and with a throbbing headache. I was sitting on my floor, crying and vomiting for my mother. The thought underlying all of this was “I have to get out of here.” I had not felt these symptoms in two years since healing from chronic issues, but here I was, suddenly in a relapse, with one thought running through my mind: “I have to leave.”
“Leaving” was a pattern I knew well.
When I was young, I couldn’t escape from situations that I wanted to, so instead I did it in my head. In school and in daily life, I found that daydreaming and being quiet were my escape mechanisms.
I “ran” from bullies, from friends, from friends I was afraid were turning into bullies, from teachers, and I “ran” from family.
My only option was to withdraw internally or avoid.
Lunchtime at my all-girls school was stressful because I didn’t have a set group of girlfriends. The girls sat in the same place and at the same time every day. It was with a group they had something in common with—the jocks, the rebels, the popular girls, the artists, etc.
I floated wherever the table would allow me. But I didn’t stay long. I’d find a table the next day and only expose myself minimally. After I exhausted this cycle, I began to eat my lunch by myself near my locker.
I only started running outside after highschool. The first time I experienced the freedom of running outside, it was love at first sight. I made running my number one priority and everything else (including time spent with family or friends) came in second.
I have completed half-marathons, marathons and even ultramarathons. It not only satisfied my need to escape, but it also allowed me to access emotions such as joy and calmness that I couldn’t reach otherwise.
When I started having intimate relationships, whenever I felt something was wrong, or whenever I felt uneasy because of a perception, I would withdraw. It was easier to hide than to express my fears. It was easier to run rather than acknowledge my fears.
I would sometimes run after the person but it was me who fled.
I began my workday with a group and we would have lunch together. But it wasn’t long before I found myself “running” from group to group. I began to run alone outside when no one felt safe.
After I began to experience overwhelming symptoms due to chronic conditions, I stopped running and slept at my desk. Even after work, I experienced the same symptoms.
Running became like a state where I could not move. I slept increasingly more. I was still “getting out of here” in a different way.
Traveling whenever I could made me feel better. I ran as much as possible. Like daydreaming or avoiding, traveling was another way of escaping.
In 2018, when I was finally unable to walk, there was no other way. I spent most of my time in bed, unable to move. In the years that I spent healing, the desire to flee came up a lot. I would drag myself out of bed, in pain and exhausted, to try to satisfy this part of me.
The walk would be slow, but I felt a sense of relief.
It was now my duty to be aware of the thoughts that ran through my head and to feel the sensations I felt.
Even though I enjoyed running, and how it helped me, the time had come to learn to walk.
I learned to listen to this part longing to flee to see what she needed. Close my eyes and observe the sensations. I started a dialogue with an aspect of myself that I had never really heard. She asked repeatedly for safety.
During my illness, I found a way to reconnect with myself by being aware of the inner feelings and thoughts that run behind them.
I would send messages of safety each day to the part of me that was scared. This fear began long ago, and now, as I could no longer run away, I began “running” to it. I learned to love and treat this fear with compassion.
This part of me was shown real evidence that I had done my best to ensure our safety. I also promised to do everything I could to maintain this. This is how my conversation went with this part of myself:
“I understand, and I am sorry that you are scared, and you have every reason to feel this way. It was hard; it wasn’t your fault. You shouldn’t have been treated as you were. You are an extremely special little girl. You deserved better. You are my love and I will protect us now. I’ve kept us safe. Take a look at the many times I’ve made good choices for us. We live in an extremely safe home. This morning I made breakfast for my family. I earn a lot of money and I have taken a break from the things that you are afraid of. I am proud of your courage for letting some of those fears go. You are safe and loved.”
The physical reactions were of release and an increased sense of ease. Previously, this feeling was only available through running.
Slowly, I exposed my fears to me. I let go of those who didn’t want to stay. I made amends with those I’d wronged, as much as I was ready to. I only forgave as much of what I was willing. I learned to nurture the child within me who wanted to move forward and not always give in to her. As much as it felt right, I caved in.
I learned how to reframe thinking, and I decided in the future that I would not run from but only run towards.
When I could I walked slowly with awareness, paying attention to each step. I talked to the flowers on my way. I watched the clouds move across the sky just before it started to rain. I watched the sunsets. I spent some time in silence.
I acknowledged and validated all of the emotions and beliefs that were a part of me.
I allowed myself to be graced.
After that brief relapse I woke this morning feeling fine. It was pouring rain. Memories flooded me, and I heard this part of me whispering, “Let’s go, I have to get out of here” again. In that moment I reminded this part of myself who still wants to run away when things get difficult.
And I reframed: “We are not running away, but sure, let’s run to…“
I decided to put on some sneakers and run clothes, and then head out. Every now and then, I would stop and walk slowly and take note of the flowers. The clouds were moving above me, and it was a beautiful experience.
Maria spent years looking for relief from the suffering she experienced due to the toxic “stories” she received as a child. The stories and medications prescribed to alleviate them led to physical and mental dis-ease. She eventually reconnected to her authentic self, and began to see a lighter side to life. She strives to improve herself every day and to learn new ways to help others. You can find more of her story here.
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