MY STORY: RUN­NING FROM AD­DIC­TION

Tanya Lund on how run­ning saved her from her ad­dic­tion to hard drugs

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My co­caine ad­dic­tion pro­gressed over three years un­til, like ev­ery­thing else, it even­tu­ally stopped work­ing. I re­gressed to the next deadly street drug avail­able: tik.

Imissed my first Com­rades medal by only nine min­utes. But it didn’t mat­ter that I hadn’t beaten the gun – cross­ing that fin­ish line was the most in­cred­i­ble feel­ing of my life. I was phys­i­cally bro­ken, but my mind was serene. Nine min­utes is noth­ing, con­sid­er­ing that it’s taken nine years to break a cy­cle of ad­dic­tion that started in child­hood. That’s how long it’s been since I first checked my­self into re­hab – high. I had to fin­ish my stash of tik first.

Stand­ing at the start­ing line of a ma­jor ul­tra­ma­rathon, it felt like me against the world. Like it al­ways is. The sin­gle-mind­ed­ness that had fu­elled my ad­dic­tion over the years had also brought me, a 34-year-old sin­gle mother of an 11-year-old girl, here in just a mat­ter of weeks.

I hadn’t re­ally thought about the im­pact of what I was do­ing un­til that point. Eigh­teen months ear­lier I’d weighed more than 100kg; my re­la­tion­ship was fall­ing apart, and it felt like I’d hit an­other rock bot­tom. I knew I’d reached a point where I needed to do some­thing

My ad­dic­tive per­son­al­ity is un­doubt­edly the driv­ing force be­hind my new­found love of run­ning.

dras­tic. As an ad­dict, I’d been there be­fore, many times.

Ad­dic­tion is in my genes. For as long as I can re­mem­ber, I looked for ways to numb my feel­ings of in­ad­e­quacy and quash my fear of re­jec­tion. As a child, I over­ate; as an adult, I turned to al­co­hol and hard drugs like co­caine and tik to block out my feel­ings. In my mind I was the vic­tim, and I was al­lowed to feel this way.

A LIFE OF AD­DIC­TION

After my first en­counter with al­co­hol, I got fall-over drunk through­out high school. Then came mar­i­juana. Be­fore long, I started try­ing chem­i­cal drugs and LSD. At 30, I dis­cov­ered co­caine. I re­mem­ber think­ing I’d found the an­swer – an in­stant fix to the un­easy feel­ings of in­ad­e­quacy.

My co­caine ad­dic­tion pro­gressed over three years un­til, like ev­ery­thing else, it even­tu­ally stopped work­ing. I re­gressed to the next deadly street drug avail­able: tik. It took six months for my tik ad­dic­tion to bring me to my knees. I felt to­tally empty – de­pleted of my will to live, spir­i­tu­ally bank­rupt. After hours of binge­ing on co­caine and tik, I over­dosed one morn­ing, fall­ing to the ground in the kitchen. As I lay there con­vuls­ing, I prayed that my daugh­ter, who was nine at the time, wouldn’t wake up to see her mother in a pile of noth­ing­ness on the floor. I’d been the same age when I wit­nessed a sim­i­lar scene: my dad weep­ing as he rocked my al­co­holic mother like a baby. It changed my life for­ever, and I knew my baby girl would be scarred for life if she saw me in this state. I re­gained com­po­sure – and called my dealer for a quick fix.

This insanity con­tin­ued un­til I lost my house, my re­la­tion­ship and very nearly my busi­ness. Worst of all, I al­most lost my daugh­ter. I re­mem­ber look­ing into her eyes many times and not see­ing her at all. She longed to make me happy. She would call my mother when I was low and com­ing down from a binge, and say: ‘Granny, I need your help. Mommy is very sad.’ I was rob­bing my daugh­ter of her child­hood. Her fa­ther had al­ready left, and was also us­ing drugs.

It took a fam­ily in­ter­ven­tion to get me on the road to re­cov­ery. Sur­ren­der­ing to my ad­dic­tion took nearly three years. I re­lapsed twice as an out­pa­tient, after con­vinc­ing my fam­ily I could man­age my life with­out check­ing into a re­hab.

LONG-DIS­TANCE LOVE AF­FAIR

It’s said that ad­dicts re­place a bad ad­dic­tion with a less de­struc­tive one. My ad­dic­tive per­son­al­ity is un­doubt­edly the driv­ing force be­hind my new­found love of run­ning. My sib­lings en­cour­aged me to start run­ning with them in 2017, and I started a 12-step re­cov­ery eat­ing plan. Run­ning was some­thing I’d never done be­fore. We set the goal of do­ing the Knysna Half Marathon that July. Within six months, I’d lost 30kg. Com­plet­ing my first half-marathon was amaz­ing. I thought: ‘I can re­ally do this.’

The high I was get­ting from run­ning beat any other high I’d ex­pe­ri­enced. Un­like drugs, run­ning doesn’t numb any­thing: I have to feel. And when I run, I have to face my­self. Ac­com­plish­ing what I have since I started run­ning has made me feel so good about my­self, in a way I’ve never felt be­fore. I’ve even stopped tak­ing the an­tide­pres­sants I’ve been re­liant on for so many years. Within six months of run­ning my first 21km race, I de­cided to run a marathon. I re­ally didn’t think I could do it. A client promised me her en­try if I did, and I crossed the fin­ish line of the Cape Penin­sula Marathon [the qual­i­fy­ing event] with less than a minute to spare.

With the Ul­tra just a month away, I didn’t have much time to think about what I was let­ting my­self in for. I just kept go­ing.

I com­pleted the Ul­tra in 6 hours, 50 min­utes, tears stream­ing down my face. Three days later, I said: ‘I’m go­ing to run the Com­rades.’

Many non-run­ners said I was go­ing too fast and was go­ing to hurt my­self. Peo­ple who know me, how­ever, know that once I’ve made a de­ci­sion, there’s no turn­ing back. Again, I just kept mov­ing.

Stand­ing way at the back on race day, I soaked up the re­al­i­sa­tion that I’d made it this far. When my watch bat­tery died a lit­tle over half­way, I told my­self: ‘Run when you can, to the best of your abil­ity. And when you have to walk, you have to walk. Just don’t stop.’

When I passed through the fi­nal cut-off point, I knew noth­ing could stop me. I also knew that there wouldn’t be a medal wait­ing for me. But I knew I’d done my very best. I didn’t need a medal to val­i­date my vic­tory – I could feel it in my heart. I cried – not be­cause I hadn’t made it, but be­cause I had.

Ad­dic­tion has been the pat­tern of my life and I don’t deny that I’m now ad­dicted to run­ning. But it’s an ad­dic­tion that isn’t de­struc­tive. In just 18 months, it’s helped me find my true and beau­ti­ful self in­stead of hid­ing away – and that’s the dif­fer­ence.

Tanya al­most lost her daugh­ter be­cause of her ad­dic­tion.

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