On Alcoholism, Sobriety, and Running Toward a Future

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In this moving essay at Broadly, Robyn Kanner reflects on achieving 90 days of sobriety at the end of 2018. After realizing that alcohol was not helping her cope with her personal sadnesses and professional disappointments and that everything wasn’t at all fine, she decided to make a change and went for a run. Seeing the beautiful minutia of others’ lives helped inspire her to get to AA, get a sponsor, and above all, stay sober.

On these first head-clearing runs, I started to understand how everything got so bad: Every drink that I had was a result of a resentment paired with the fear it stemmed from: I have resentment at my father because I fear that one day, I’ll also die from multiple sclerosis. I fear that he never got the chance to teach me the things he needed to. I fear that I’ll always push people away when life gets too hard, like he did. I resent my design work because I fear that it doesn’t have a huge impact on the world—that I could have made something better. I’m tethered to my emotions in sobriety now, all of the time. All the bad parts of me are crystal-clear, and the shame makes me grimace in frustration, but I know I owe it to myself to move forward. I do my best to do that keeping a strict routine of running and 12-step meetings.

On a celebratory post-run call with my sponsor, I was quick to share all the gold I feel. She appreciated my enthusiasm, but reminded me that I’m an alcoholic with an incurable disease. My euphoria shifted as I told her all the little secrets I used to keep—how I handled my hangovers by hanging my head low to avoid eye contact, how I still miss the way bourbon burned down my throat on winter nights, and how I’m afraid I won’t stay sober forever. There was a quiet moment. She understood. She told me how she misses the way wine swirled around a long-stemmed glass at dinner with friends—that no one sober knows if they’re going to be sober forever. It was a forgiving moment, and it humbled me.

Kids were playing outside on a frigid December morning when I took my last run of 2018. My father visited me on that run, as he sometimes does now. Long before any drink, I was a kid who wanted to hang out with her dad. He’s been gone a long while, but our relationship continues to evolve. He’s my higher power now, and I call upon him to help me. I drank to keep the sadness of his death away. In sobriety, he’s here to keep me grounded. Thoughts of him move my life forward instead of back. I sleep better—more gently. His presence keeps me sober, alive, and running.

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