I consider myself an optimist, yet at times, I might be guilty of blind willfulness, or even pigheadedness. I was so excited earlier today when I stumbled upon a quote from one of my favorite writers, the American Buddhist nun Pema Chodron. “Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible in us be found.” Pema has an incredible ability to distill her ideas into such digestible bites of wisdom that can easily be applied to whatever I might be working through in my life.
I’ve made no secret of the fact that I’ve struggled with my share of demons and trauma. I spent many years battling drug and alcohol addiction, which at its height was further complicated by a diagnosis of manic depression. It really is a chicken or egg scenario as to what came first—the depression or the addiction, but what I am certain of is that had I not sought professional help, I would not be alive today. Those closest to me were relegated to the sidelines as I self-destructed before their eyes. An outsider would look in and see that I had a fantastic partner, a beautiful healthy son, and all the trappings to make a wonderful life, yet I continued to throw it all away. What they didn't know at the time, and what I didn’t acknowledge either, was that the sexual abuse I experienced as a child lay festering and untreated, reverberating throughout my adult life in addiction, depression, and eventually suicidal ideation.
Everything I’ve read about the issues I’ve dealt with in terms of addiction and depression has touched upon the idea of “brokenness”, or at its most humbling, “soul affliction”. I’m not sure if I have the words to express how when you’re a person coming to terms with these issues, reading that you are in some way “broken” can be counterproductive because it either gives you an excuse to perpetuate the self-destructive behaviour or places an insurmountable obstacle in front of you that delays recovery or treatment. It’s coming from this mindset that I am ecstatic to have found the quote from Pema this morning. It’s almost liberating for me to hear that I was never “broken” in the first place, and that being exposed to “annihilation” “over and over” has only made me stronger. I had always believed that the pain I experienced made me somehow terminally unique, but I couldn’t have been further from the truth—suffering is universal. What makes us “unique” is that “indestructible” part of us that remains. I would even argue that this unearthed part in each of us is our most beautiful and authentic self.
As runner, I tap into this each and every day. For me, running is a pure sport because we always reap what we sow. Running is all about pushing our limits in terms of training load, distance, and speed. It doesn’t matter if you’re training for your first 5k or a marathon, you discover who you really are at your point of destruction. Lining up for a race, each of us has discovered his/her “superhero power” in the process of “exposing ourselves over and over to annihilation.” I reason this is why there has been an explosion in the number of people participating in extreme endurance sports. There is no better allegory of life than burning through all of our defences and frailties to be left with that piece of us that can’t be destroyed. I’ll sleep easier tonight in the comfort of knowing that I was never “broken”—I just hadn’t been “found” yet.