Taking Care of My Mind: a BBC “Pause for Thought”

Here’s the text for the 11 May 2021 “Pause for Thought” I offered on the Early Breakfast Show with Vanessa Feltz on BBC Radio 2 for Mental Health Awareness Week – about running, sobriety, and faith. You can listen in here.

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I read recently that seven million Brits started running during this pandemic year.

I’m a long-time runner, so I totally get it. On a stressful day, before a run, I’m like: “Everything’s falling apart, how’s the world going to make it, am I having a panic attack?” But forty-five minutes later, after a run, I’m like: “Life is miraculous! There is hope! Together we can change the world!”

Running seems to give me direct access to free medicine from God. Whether I’m on city pavements or trails in the countryside, I feel this transfusion of peace flowing through my veins. I feel my soul loosen up.

Running has been a big part of how I take care of my mind since I got sober.

When I first stopped drinking, I felt amazing – fresh, detoxed, with a new lease on life. But soon after, I started to feel like rubbish. This is a normal rite of passage for folks healing from addiction. As someone’s said: Before the truth sets you free, it tends to make you miserable. When you stop using your drug of choice, all the problems you’ve been numbing start to come to the surface, and you get to choose whether you keep ignoring them or actually face them.

For me, to face that backlog of misery that was messing with my mental health, I needed a lot of help. I needed a community of recovery, I needed a practice of meditation and prayer, I needed counseling and a couple years of anti-depressants.

But running has been the healing thread through it all.

At the beginning of sobriety, I ran mostly to escape the temptation to drink again. Whenever I felt the desire to open a bottle, I’d put on my trainers and hit the streets. I’d trade the buzz of alcohol for the buzz of a runner’s high. And it worked: thanks be to God, I haven’t wanted a drink in over 11 years.

All these years later, running is not so much an escape from life but an adventure deeper into it. I joined a running club and made loads of new friends. I ran a marathon and felt embodied in a way I never had before.

I still take my problems with me on runs, but now I try to use the extra oxygen to work through the problems instead of repressing them. At least some of the time.

The Bible says “Let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.” For me, taking care of my mind – and my soul and spirit and body, for that matter – it’s about perseverance.

Day in, day out, whatever the weather outside, whatever the weather in my head, I’m learning that my job is to show up to life as it comes. And – sometimes quickly but usually very slowly – to welcome the healing that’s on offer.

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