Posted by: innerpilgrimage | March 24, 2014

A Sole-Weary Woman’s Instep with A Barefoot Wanderer

      I read today’s entry from Beyond Belief: Agnostic Musings for 12 Step Life by Joe C. Today’s entry is about the story of runner Christopher McDougall, who wrote the book, Born to Run. It questions pain aversion through manufactured comfort and the curious paradox that avoiding pain can lead to worse harm in the long run. The entry asks three questions at the end: What am I running to? What am I running from? When was the last time I ran just for fun?
      I don’t run, myself, but I walk. I walk as an action plan, though I don’t walk every day. When I feel deeply anxious and triggered to act out any of my compulsive behaviors–overconsumption or over-restriction–the walking helps. It also helps me keep that promise to myself when I first entered Overeaters Anonymous, that I want to be healthy more than I want to be thin. I’m imperfect, so how I am healthy is imperfect.

Moving Myself Instead of Mountains
      However, I’m not self-destructing any more with the compulsive eating of nutritionless binge foods . . . which curiously led me to be as malnourished as an anorexic. Yup, I was an obese anorexic, bingeing on the sweet-salty-fatty foods that my ancestors craved in order to expand their diets and keep humanity moving forward. In modern times and where I live, I have access to non-nutritious options those ancestors did not. I can get the distilled drug, the sweet-salt-fat in quantity without the benefits that rode along with the sweet and salt and fat when humanity was adapting into what we are today. I didn’t choose the nutritious fruit my ancestors found and gathered to sate their sweet tooths; the craving for fruit allowed humanity a more balanced diet and encouraged human thrival over human survival. Refined and processed sugar doesn’t.
      I didn’t limit my fat intake when I craved it, either. The dense fats my ancestors consumed kept humanity functioning a little longer in the leaner times and allowed for a new generation to be conceived and born into the world; I expect the moderation my ancestors had wasn’t of themselved. Societal pressure because of the limited resource made moderation part of life, though the craving was likely endless in order to keep the pursuit of fats a going concern. With the low-hanging fruit of fat being in every processed food I can think of, indulging in the fluffy comfort of fatty foods became dangerous in my own life as I climbed the scale like a rock climber intent on making a speed record to the top of El Capitan or Half Dome.
      I didn’t look within, either, to moderate my salt intake only to keep my internal ocean functioning properly. The salt which keeps animal cells functioning properly and kept my ancestors adapting on a day-to-day basis was also once a limited resource. I do use a lot of salt and salt-laden spices. Salt is a near-transcendent experience for me, that food seems so ho-hum without it. That things taste too sweet without the tang and bite of salt to back it up. I may love sweet and fat, but salt together with both makes the trifecta work when it comes to wanting to binge. Sweet-salt-and-fat together is like a roller coaster to me, a thrill ride come and gone far too quickly. The result, unfortunately, was the accumulation of stored fat which kept me from doing things I wanted to do. When I lost the weight in OA, it was like the meeting room door I entered before meeting and exited after meeting sent me out into a different world sometimes . . . a world where I could fit through narrow passages and run when I wanted to without worry the force exerted on the fat on my body would make me fall over because the fat blocked the rhythmic motion needed to run efficiently. I moved the fat; the fat moved back with its own force and direction. It won until one day, I ran and kept running and my own body didn’t stop me from running. I ran a lot for a little while, for the sheer joy of being able to do it. Not a dedicated run with a destination or purpose. Just giddyap, and I’m off to run until I slow down and feel alive for having been able to run at all.
      The cravings which helped humanity survive to create a new generation of humans have become dangerous to my personal survival, because I have easy and cheap access to all three in modern society. I and humanity crave sweet-salt-and-fat in order to function at the best of physical ability (especially in the face of stress); my need to consume those while burdened by intense stressors interrupted what I think is also part of evolution–to conscientiously choose my health over my cravings. I became a slave to my cravings because I wanted to run from the pain. I wanted to be ignorant that the pain existed at all, that I had to change if I wanted to survive instead of long and dream and hope for the world to change around me.
      The mountain is unable to come to me because of the nature of mountains; I have the ability to travel to the mountain. Well, unless some great natural upheaval makes the mountain start moving in my direction. Then I want to hope I’m moving faster away from that mountain coming at me. Survival is survival, even if I want to self-delude that the world needs to change around me and for my benefit. Having the world beat a path to my door may sound like a nice idea . . . until the success metaphor becomes a mob so massive and energized that it is using force to move things out if its way to get to me.
      No, I don’t believe there’s a mob looking to chase me down for heresy. I’m just trying to point out that what I think I need is rarely what I need in practice. I suppose if I am running from something today, it’s that I’m running from the physical and mental rules and regulations I built as supports to survive childhood trauma. Those supports keep me from thriving because they, well, support the childhood trauma. They maintain the pain; they don’t alleviate it even if I really want them to lift me out of that pain. I have a limited time in the world, and I have a lot of world to experience in whatever time is left. Maintaining a temple to addiction seems pointless to me, especially since it’s invisible and exists nowhere except in my own mind.
Must We Only Be Angels with Clipped Wings and Dirty Faces?
      Cynicism isn’t what I think it is today. It was a Greek philosophy which led a few philosophers and others to, well, decide that dogs possess all of the greatest attributes humanity can aspire to. In essence, “Be Like Barky”. The problem, like any other dogmatic philosophy (hehe . . . dog-matic) is that it ignores the less savory and natural dog behaviors. Be noble like Rex, but don’t eat your own refuse. Be loyal like Fido, but don’t lick your genitals. And, well, when the dreamy Good-Doggy philosophy in practice broke down, the philosophers Antisthenes and Diogenes were reported to have growled at and to have bitten people. Idealism sounds good until it bumps into reality, and the harshness of survival brings out the animal natures in all animals.
      Of course, that’s where I personally see the gift of simply being human. With a reasoning mind which has led to adaptibility as humanity’s most amazing asset, human beings bred into humanity the ability to innately adapt, even as our natural human survival and adaptability gifts have given rise to religion as a natural by-product of healthy functioning. What our brains and bodies do to survive in this sensory-rich world puts us into a position to become religious and tribal communities which thrive on repeated behavior and encourage the individual to seek group survival over individual survival at times. The belief in the invisible is my favorite, in that humanity is more likely to jump to assume intent and danger before benign natural forces. My brain wants to have answers to everything, and it’s keeping me aware of my surroundings so I can take part in the process of breeding into humanity those beneficial attributes . . . which still have use today, even as humanity has become its own most dangerous predator and the wilderness has been replaced with the concrete jungle. Like William Allman wrote, “We are risen apes, not fallen angels.”
      A lot of non-theist/non-deist writers seem to take heart in that idea. Is there really nobility in wishing ignorance on one’s self in order to feel special? Is the cure for discontent with one’s “modern” life to romanticize the life of a person who lives closer to sustenance and survival in the wilderness? Is wilderness savagery truly more noble and childlike and “blessed” than metropolitan and suburban savagery? Is it really the external that caused this, a banishment from some sempiternal paradise into a lifetime of hard labor imprisoned in a hairless ape suit? Is this how love is expressed by the supernatural and transcendent deity which I’m supposed to turn toward in program? Is this what’s supposed to keep me food abstinent, keep me from being socially and emotionally and sometimes sexually anorectic, keep me from enmeshing with others in order to give or take authority, keep me from living as a mental and emotional child in a middle-aged adult’s body? I keep thinking about how being cast out of here or driven out of there or even being martyred is supposed to be some great badge of honor. Suffering is enough a part of reality that seeking it out to validate my existence makes no sense to me any more. I have been cast out, driven out, and I’ve sacrificed my wants and needs (and sometimes others’ wants and needs) to try to get people to validate me. The burden of being a fallen angel is so heavy that I can’t imagine how anyone who is reaching up and away for answers can ever feel joy again. Mania, yes. Joy, no.
      Being a risen ape’s pretty cool to me. As a one-time student of primatology (before I sabotaged my education), I learned that apes are not big, dumb beasts that humans share a few phenotypic similarities with. The animals I share my world with are not separate from me. Things once believed exclusively human are still being proved scientifically to be traits which humans share with many animals–apes especially. And before people go running around screaming about the damned dirty apes taking over the world? A quick list of ape and monkey populations around the world prove humanity won first prize for “Most Adaptable Primate”. There needs not be a higher and sacred purpose to it; a race was run. Humanity just was able to breed with the changes. Yay humanity.
      I appreciate that, as humanity has reached here and now on our evolutionary journey, humankind has been given an opportunity to question and communicate and share ideas and even debate based on our personal experiences of the world. Humanity’s adaptations have elevated us to consider the immaterial qualities which can be expressed through thought and action and communicated through speech and writing. Metaphor and mythology has its place in the human experience, just as facts and figures do. We are a full and vibrant species which is gifted with–through natural selection of thrival-over-survival traits by our ancestors–those traits of fullness and vibrance. There’s no need to delegate the evolution of humanity’s development of ethics as a thrival-over-survival trait to an unseen force. Well, okay. No one can take a photo of the natural pressures which worked on (and worked over) humanity. However, those natural pressures have created our success and our problems–overpopulation. No need to despair, however. Humans can use those evolved thrival-over-survival assets to act upon the world in cooperative and compassionate ways, too. We have the ability to know joy and to live it both as individuals and as part of a world community. We can celebrate that we are a pretty nifty example of the forces of nature, itself, adapting life. Humanity has reached a level of success which has led us to our greatest challenge yet: We are responsible to preserve the world’s resources to ensure humankind’s survival. Fallen angels have a sempiternal otherworld to return and don’t have to be concerned with social and environmental responsibility; risen apes have a social and environmental responsibility to preserve the world for the future of the adaptable and evolving human being.
      I personally find depressing that I am supposed to be a fallen angel; I’m enheartened at the idea I’m a risen ape. Some people believe the opposite; I appreciate that they do. If we’re biologically predisposed to want to be fallen angels, we will try to define ourselves as fallen angels and act in accordance with the rituals and mythologies associated with angels which purportedly have not fallen to return to the graces of some unseen supernatural transcendent (and punitive!) force. I also think on the mythology I know about fallen angels, that to be a fallen angel is to rebel against God and be punished for that rebellion. I think there’s a distinct difference between rebelling against God and rebelling against the neurological adaptations which encourage belief in supernatural and transcendent beings in how we act on our beliefs. One uses faith to appease that supernatural transcendence to get a reward elsewhere and in the future; the other uses reason to study the purpose for those neurological adaptations to ensure humanity’s survival tomorrow by learning about it here and now.
      This is just how I am learning to see the world. Again, others believe differently. It’s part of the diversity of human experience, one which can be embraced or rejected. In essence, I think I am running toward thriving in the world for as long as I have left to enjoy it.
The Tao of Unstructured Play and the Art of Being Here Now at the Playground
      So, I’m not a runner. I’m a walker because I just can’t seem to get into running regularly for pleasure. Yes, I can run; I think I’ve mentioned here before the elation I felt being able to run a flight of stairs without getting in my own way. I ran a lot more in that first year, because I wasn’t imprisoned in a body which just would not function how I thought it should.
      Though I expect athlete runners find satiety and joy in running as a way of life, my personal running pleasure doesn’t involve challenging myself to achieve speed or distance goals. When I run, it’s with the abandon of a child at play. There’s something about running without any purpose but to run, and sometimes that enthusiasm–that “possession by a god”–takes over. When it does, I am swept away by the delight of simply running. It’s not running for running’s sake. It’s not running to arrive at a destination. It’s just me using my body to essentially ride the breeze like a leaf on the wind and be nothing more than what I am in that moment: esprit in a human body manifesting velocity . . . motion in constantly changing direction.
      That’s probably the biggest thing I miss about having small children around. The freedom to laugh without reason, to run without purpose, to simply delight in what is and revel in existing at all. I can believe that Heaven was inspired by adults longing to return to their childish joyful abandon. I can also believe, because of my personal experience, that dogma guides adults away from simply choosing the childish joyful abandon here and now. I can’t see how one can feel at peace when one’s deity demands a lot of tedious and miserable work instead of joyful and unstructured play. Of course, some people find intense satiety and joy in tedious and miserable work. Do what you love, and the rewards will follow, I suppose.
      So, when was the last time I ran just for fun? I don’t remember.
      I guess that would be a good thing to do today, to run and laugh and let go of thinking I have to hold up the sky for the titan, Atlas. No giant or pillar holds up the sky, even if the myth was once a super-truthy religious belief for a whole lot of people. While I do understand that brain biology is why faith and ritual and metaphor soothe me at times. It’s hard to ask, “What’s my purpose, the purpose of human being?” I feel sad when I acknowledge the most reasonable response: “There is none.” Of course, I feel liberated, too. I don’t have to go searching for some greater meaning to my life. I can live simply and simply live, and no divine judge is scoring my performance as a human being.
      I want to have a reason to hold onto, as well. I want to turn to others for answers when I have none, like I did as a child toward adults. I want life to be fair (in everyone’s favor, ie. unfair), and I want people to be genuinely happy and content with their lives–whatever path they travel. I also want them not to decide that their path needs to be my path, so I get anxious. So, I guess I want what I wanted as a little kid, but it’s not really realistic. I want people to live-and-let-live, to be compassionate, to be generous, to be empathetic.
      I guess the problem may be that humanity did such a great job succeeding that we have too many people, now, and life isn’t really terribly vaulable because we’re essentially an infestation on the planet. It’s sad to grow up and realize nothing about being an adult means I got the answer book to life’s mysteries simply because I survived to eighteen. That said, having no answer book means I have to find the answers, myself. That’s both exciting and scary.
      Hunh. A lot like the times I would run down hills at speed until I felt out of control of the process of running, itself. That I wasn’t me running, but I was the act of running, itself. Even better? I felt more alive doing it, simply because I was taking a risk. No, it wasn’t a huge risk; the consequence of running down that hill until gravity took hold was that I might take a tumble and bounce or roll the rest of the way down the hill. Maybe even sprain something. But when the grass smells sweet and the sky is blue and the breeze is cool but the sun is warm? Sometimes running barefoot down a grassy hill while laughing the laugh of a child who has abandoned survival for thrival is the solution right then.
      Even for a forty-four-year-old recovering addict.


  1. I love this old article. Fabulously written. You have an constant uphill battle in front of you but keep walking up that hill and once in a while run up that hill when you feel like it. You are doing great!!

    • Thank you, Barb. Well, I did take a tumble, but I see it as an opportunity to return with a whole new attitude toward program. I knew before that OA was the only way I was going to live healthy on all levels. Sometimes to truly appreciate the gift of recovery, it takes seeing life outside of recovery after living within it for so long. I’m deeply grateful that the principles of program brought me back into a room.

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