The feet of marathon runners with a rainbow overlay. Recovery, resistance, and pride

Recovery, Resistance, and Pride

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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.

It was a rainy Saturday morning, and I was standing in the Javitz Center in New York City. The center was crowded with 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 moving through different lives with the same blood in our veins.

Bright lights, bold fonts, and the smell of new rubber overwhelmed my senses. I thought of the entire space as 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 amongst the confusion, I scanned giant cards of inspiration hanging from the rafters, lazily swinging to grab and hold the attention of the people below. One stood out from the others, and I stopped. 

I’d seen her a thousand times before. She was legendary; Katherine Switzer was the first woman to unofficially run the Boston Marathon to protest gender discrimination in competition. Race organizers assaulted her as she ran, tearing at her shirt in an attempt to take her bib. She persisted forward, with her number and dignity intact. In the photo on this card, she’d been 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 truly understand the reality of a marathon—in the standard “twenty-six-point-two miles” kind of way—until the next day. I was, however, more than familiar with the metaphorical marathon. Before this event, I’d spent the previous year chasing the unending finish line of my recovery, a shifting course littered with the best and worst of what any long game has to offer. 

Moving on through the Javitz Center, I scanned walls covered in the names of registered runners until I found my own. I ran my fingertips over the smooth letters of my name and imagined sending photographic evidence of my arrival and commitment to my father. He’d died a few months earlier, and I hadn’t been sure I could finish my training and complete this race while so filled with 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 on my own terms when it got too dangerous, and I stepped up for the discomfort of coming out. For me … for us all … things generally hurt before they get better. I’d chosen all three of these endurance exercises over comfort and safety. 

These decisions in and of themselves were not challenges. I moved forward, confidently embracing the adaptability in my human nature. It wasn’t until I joined 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 handling others’ explanations of their relationship with alcohol as soon as you assert your own. For every club soda, seltzer, or empty hand I had at a gathering where others imbibed, I faced unsolicited explanations and excuses of drinking behavior two-fold. Sometimes I left such gatherings unsure whether the weight that hung around my shoulders was my coat or the burden of 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. That pain however, became manageable day by day and night by night. The discomfort that remains derives from 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’d 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 taught me the 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 anticipated 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

When I snapped that picture of Switzer’s inspiration, it was not a reminder but 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

Inspiration learned from moving through discomfort in recovery, sexuality, and running marathons

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Emily Green (she/her) is an educator, writer, and co-creator of The Outset. She combines movement and activism to inspire athletes who seek to liberate themselves from drinking culture. She’s working on a collection of essays, A Kaleidoscope of Discomfort, about grief, sobriety, sexuality, and running.

Twitter: @EmilyEmforshort
Instagram: @ehaswings

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