NO, DON’T! This is something I really hate about myself; this first thought that comes into my mind from origins unknown. Whether invited to grab a burger with friends or join a backcountry mission or seemingly anything really, this self-doubting, negative reaction slides in like Sandburg’s fog on little cat feet, sits on silent haunches, and tells me to stay away. I typically fight it off, join in, and have a great time. But that NO is sure to arise again when I am invited to any form of adventure. And I despise that.
I suppose I know in part where it comes from. I am attached to outcomes and, as much as I hate to admit it, I am still lead by the many, many forms of fear. The desire to know what will happen and the fear of trying something new, which is really the fear of inadequacy, of looking stupid, has kept me on the couch for far too many things in my life. I’ve blamed it on sore legs or having to work or weather or this or that, but what is truly behind the NO is meagerness. I am afraid of physical pain, emotional and spiritual pain, and I live with a fear of vulnerability, of trying and failing, of not being good enough as I am.
Just last month, I celebrated my 33rd birthday on the same day I celebrated four years in recovery from drug addiction and alcoholism. I went back to Telluride, Colorado, to ski powder (birthday face shots are amazing) and eat great meals while laughing with some of my oldest, dearest friends. I spent the last year of my use in Telluride. It was the darkest year of my life and it nearly killed me. Telluride is one of the most beautiful ski towns in North America. But that was completely lost on me as my life deteriorated faster than I could lower my standards. Every time I return, the more time I spend in the San Juan Mountains or any mountains really, I take back what was stolen from me.
Just days before I drove down to Telluride, due to a mixture of disgust at aging (how dare I?!), a nagging I wonder if I can?, and a desire to crush the NO, I signed up for the Dead Horse Ultra. It’s a 50-miler. To be clear, I am not rad. And I am not a runner. The only race I have ever participated in was a Turkey Trot 5K in Chicago. I was hungover and it was not awesome. I’m a pretty normal guy who has an abnormal love affair with the mountains, mostly with my deep love of skiing…which is just a smile and laughter delivery system. I think I signed up for the ultra because my lingering Irish Catholic upbringing is using 50 grueling miles as penance for mountain time wasted. And my tolerance for pain is only surpassed by my propensity for stupidity.
I’ve started to train. I’ve got some awesome Salomon trail runners and sweet little red jogging shorts and one of those cool guy vests, which I have been referring to as my training bra. This past weekend, I decided to push myself, to see where my physical-mental breaking point was. I ran 15 miles. I felt great for most of the run. But the last three miles was a series of curse words, shocking pain, and “come on, Paddy, c’mon, Paddy.” My mind drifted to different scenes from my life, most involved my family. I thought about May 19, 2013, when I broke down on my parents’ couch, asked for help while I wept, and slumped into my brother Sean’s lap. He held me, and then my brother Brendan and sister Kitty joined, and then my parents. I started to cry during my run but the memory kept my feet moving.
As part of my daily carry, a small notebook always sits in the back right pocket of my jeans. On the inside fold, I always write what is arguably the most perfect short free verse poem ever penned.
And the days are not full enough
And the nights are not full enough
And life slips by like a field mouse
Not shaking the grass
Some say this is a melancholy poem, but I disagree. I find it to be a beautiful reminder that life is short, moments are fleeting, and, all too easily, POOF, it’s gone before we notice. I read the poem often and remind myself to squeeze moments for all their juice and to show up mindfully.
I wish I could tell you that I will accomplish my goal of finishing the 50 miles. But I can’t say for certain that I will. And I wish I could tell you that I will never again, ever in my life, have booze or drugs in my body. But I can’t say that is certain either. I’ve arrived here in pursuit of these goals not by virtue or radness, but by consequence and circumstance and the ever-present NO. But there is something in staying, in fighting and investigating, and in the quality of willingness.
What I can say for certain is that I have faith in the doing of things, hope in the process of using YES to combat NO, and that today I feel it a worthy and necessary pursuit. And I think I will feel the same way tomorrow and hopefully the day after that as well. Problems, struggles of any kind, cannot be overcome or crushed by an impetuous individual assault fueled by anger and regret. More will be revealed in the act of doing, and more will be required. Chief among the essential ingredients is YES and love. And in order to keep moving forward on this trudge, I will have to call upon much more than myself in the fight through pain, through fear, and the NO. I will surely run by myself, but just like in recovery, I will definitely not be alone. And I’m going to shake every blade of grass I can and find a way to smile through the agony. Because on the other side of pain is triumph.