MY STORY: RUNNING FROM ADDICTION
Tanya Lund on how running saved her from her addiction to hard drugs
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.