Recovery, sexuality, and marathons—all of these have taught me that by moving through my discomfort, I can come to a place of acceptance and joy.
I was standing in the Javitz Center in New York City on a rainy Saturday morning. The center was full of hopeful athletes collecting free tokens and connecting with expensive merchandise. It was twenty-four hours before the start of the world’s largest marathon, and there would be no competition; we were all winners who moved through different lives with the same blood in our veins.
Bright lights, bold fonts, and the smell of new rubber overwhelmed the senses. The entire space was a rehabilitation—you went in one way, and you came out another. You were checked in but never checked out.
Katherine Switzer led the way
To ground myself, I decided to scan the ceiling where giant cards of inspiration hung from the rafters, lazily swinging to grab and hold the attention. One stood out from the others, and I stopped.
I’d seen her a thousand times before. She was legendary; she was Katherine Switzer, the first woman to unofficially run the Boston Marathon to protest gender discrimination in competition. As she ran, race organizers assaulted her, tearing at her shirt in an attempt to take her bib. She kept going forward, with her number and dignity intact. Here, she was captured mid-stride in black and white against the New York Road Runners signature blue, the text of her quote made clear by obscuring the details of her physical frame:
“If you are losing faith in human nature, go out and watch a marathon.”
I grabbed my phone, took a picture, and pulled away from the crowds. I wouldn’t understand the reality of a marathon—in the standard “twenty-six-point-two miles” kind of way—until the next day. However, I was more than familiar with the metaphorical version. Before this event, I had spent the last year chasing the unending finish line of my recovery, the shifting course complete with the best and worst of what any long game has to offer.
Moving on, I scanned the walls covered in the names of registered runners and found mine. I ran my fingertips over the smooth letters and imagined sending photographic evidence of my arrival and commitment to my father. He had died a few months previous, and I wasn’t sure I could finish my training and complete this race while so full of grief.
Leaving the expo that day, I was never more confident that this was the right decision. I was used to making tough calls and enduring self-inflicted pain; I signed myself up for the marathon, I stopped drinking when it got dangerous on my terms, and I stepped into the inconvenience of coming out. For me, for us all, things generally hurt before they get better. I chose all three of these endurance exercises over comfort and safety, and to be honest; it wasn’t hard.
The decisions in and of themselves were not a challenge. I went forward, confidently embracing the adaptability in my human nature. It wasn’t until I was in the company of others that I found resistance.
Recovery taught me to sit with my discomfort
There is an undue burden to sobriety that involves hearing others explain their relationship with alcohol as soon as you assert yours. For every club soda, seltzer, or empty hand I had at a gathering where others imbibed, there were unsolicited explanations of drinking behavior two-fold. I would leave such gatherings unsure whether what hung around my shoulders was my coat or others’ discomfort. Living in a drinking culture, the opportunities to make others uncomfortable with your choices while examining theirs are frequent. My struggle in recovery isn’t about me; it’s the way it revolves around everyone else. There is no denying I was in absolute pain as I thawed from the tundra of liquor, lies, and blackouts. However, it became manageable day by day and night by night. What discomfort remains lives in the spaces I take up while others look down. Faith in my human nature is reaffirmed every time I choose patience, and in each moment I choose to sit in discomfort.
I applied the same healing mechanisms of my sobriety to the disconnect I felt in finding a complementary partner.
Discovering my sexuality and learning to never settle
Learning to sit in the discomfort made it abundantly clear that what I was searching for could not be found with men. All the nights I cried after sex were not me being over-emotional, but rather, they were me reacting to betraying myself.
I let the memories of my deeply buried attraction to women play out, using my breathing exercises and movement to survive the shame I had long attached to those feelings. In forcing myself to stay with the pricks in the replays, I eventually distinguished the joy I denied myself for so long.
This liberation honored the beautiful people in the buried archives of my mind, those who introduced me to the seedlings of relationships I now knew I deserved. Meghan showed me that intellectual curiosity was a must. Becca embodied the sensuality in the rejection of gender norms, and Kathleen’s beauty in trust. I built upon this short list of what I now refuse to go without. Making peace with my desires put my heart in the driver’s seat.
The next logical step in my discovery was to begin dating women. I switched my Match profile preferences from men to women. I counted on full weekends for the following year.
The roadblocks were immediate.
As connections trickled in, I discovered a common hesitance as the conversations began. Speculation met my confidence, the experiences of the past for those I wanted to get to know hindered the exploration of any mutual future. There is a fear that entering the LGBTQIA community this late in life signals an experiment or a phase. Women told me that it was risky and dangerous to begin a dialogue with someone in my position, that my lack of experience was not safe. I found the need for perseverance and patience, smaller steps leading to bigger ones. I met someone willing to stay within the unknowns of my intentions, and we built a foundation that eventually bore cracks. Undaunted, I sit in a place of discomfort every day, not because I am unhappy but because I refuse to settle. Love shouldn’t be easy; it should be worth it.
Symbolic and real—marathons inspire me
I snapped that picture of Switzer’s inspiration not as a reminder but as an affirmation. I know what she had in mind when she gave that quote about finding the best in humanity at a literal marathon. The connections to my recovery were symbolic but no less impactful.
For every painful running mile, there’s one that exhilarates you to the next. You can count on physical pain and immeasurable joy. When you get discouraged, strangers, memories, and resolve carry you to the finish line. It doesn’t get easier. You get stronger, and with practice, this becomes your ethos.
My life is uncomfortably human. There is no way out of discomfort, only through. The starting lines of all the challenges I face are altogether daunting and glorious. I wince with every step, met with pain and full of pride.