Codependent Comfort won’t help me finish the race!
Comfort: a state of physical ease and freedom from pain. The easing or alleviation of a person’s feelings of grief or distress. To ease the distress of; console.
Many years ago I suffered a dislocated shoulder in a minor car accident. A paramedic pushed it back into place but it was never quite the same. Over time the damage done and the pain it caused became excruciating. I was advised by a doctor to have the shoulder repaired with surgery. However, I tend to have a strong tolerance for pain and delayed that for as long as possible. But when my shoulder joint began going in and out of socket regularly and the ache from that became too unbearable, I decided I had to go through with it.
Pain left unhealed may lay dormant temporarily, but it will inevitably return and usually with a vengeance. Eventually comfort will become your only focus.
I went through shoulder surgery, titanium anchors were inserted to repair my labarum and I was advised by the doctor to rest for eight weeks. But not being one who can stay down for long, I was determined to return to my love of running as soon as possible. However, the injury, the surgery and time off had taken some toll (and added some weight!). Stubbornly, I signed up for my favorite 5k race anyway and set my resolve to finish strong. I had two weeks to prepare!
The day of the race my son, Elliot a junior in high school at the time, drove me to the starting line, gave me a quick pep talk, said “See ya at the finish!” and off he went. Nerves immediately hit, worse than previous races. I knew I was not in the physical condition to do well. Discovering I was late for the starting line didn’t help. Being that it was a large, community event I had to make my way through thousands of people chatting excitedly. Some wore bright costumes, hats and ribbons, some were running in place, others stretching against one another. Some wore shirts proudly displaying previous races, signs of experience and love for the sport. These were always my favorite familiar sights. Yet in the midst of it all, I found myself feeling alone and insecure.
I realized I wouldn’t be on time to make my way to the runner’s starting line so I decided I would line up with the walkers and weave my way forward to reach those who were running. The race started and we were off, I stumbled forward with groups of women pushing strollers. Realizing I was surrounded as far as the eye could see by those who were walking while I wanted to sprint, I made my way to the side to run around slower paced folks. Jumping curbs, dodging dogs and yelling “Sorry! Excuse me!” over my shoulders. As I neared the end of mile one I realized how out of breath, out of energy and exactly how out of shape I was! I stopped to walk a few times, hating myself for it.
Finally, accepting that this whole thing was a mistake I began believing the voice in my head screaming “This race was too soon! You only trained for 2 weeks! You’ll never finish! Your running days are over.” I stepped away from the crowd and called Elliot from my cell phone that was tucked safely in my pocket for such a moment as this. “No.” He answered immediately. “You are not calling me to quit. Are you kidding me?! No. Mom you’ve run a marathon…the year after you lost your Dad! You raised me by yourself, you made a life for yourself out of nothing. Alone! You’re not quitting. This is nothing for you, you can do this! I’ll see you at the finish line even if you don’t get there until midnight! Keep going.” He hung up.
My mouth fell open and tears tugged my lower eyelids threatening to spill over. I stood there holding the phone to my ear as the crowd moved on in front of me.
But something resident inside of me, a familiar strength began to rise up and I realized he was right. I had been through worse and kept going! I would try to finish. Besides, I had no choice! Elliot wasn’t coming. I wouldn’t see him until I did finish! I took Elliot’s words to heart and told myself to keep going. Slowly I jogged back in with the crowd making their way forward.
As I continued winding my way through the throngs of people, a woman came running alongside me, she was moving right along with my own slightly quicker pace. “Oh you are running this too?” I asked, striking up a conversation. Runners are some of the friendliest people! “I got a later start myself. I’m trying to find the runners; do you have any idea how far we are from the first wave of runners? It seems like a sea of walkers to get through!”
“Oh I already finished the race today. I decided to run it again so I started the route over.” She said, barely out of breath as I struggled along next to her. Shame hit me like a gut punch. “Well, I ran all the time before this injury.” I said pointing to my shoulder. “I recently had surgery and I’m just getting back to it.” I caught myself overcompensating to explain my deficiencies. Never being one who cared to create an illusion of who I am, I quickly dropped the first instinct to have a defense mechanism and got real. Real is where the magic happens. Real is when the breakthroughs come. “To be honest with you, I’ve been a runner for quite a few years, I’ve run a marathon. But I had this injury and it brought me to a standstill. I’m so out of it lately and today just feels like one big failure. This 5k feels like pushing a bus up a mountain. Barefoot.”
She pulled me aside and stopped running, facing me she said “Listen you are a runner. That means you have heart and you know how to push through. That’s still in you. I was injured a few years ago myself. I lost my home, I went through a divorce, depression, weight gain…I wanted to give up. But I didn’t let myself. I started again and day by day, because I didn’t give up and here I am. Back to it, stronger than before. You’ve got this. You can do it. I know it for a fact, I’ve been there. You can do this. Just don’t give up, don’t ever give up. Keep going.”
She lightly tapped me on my injured shoulder, nodded in the direction of the runners, turned and ran off. “Don’t quit!” She yelled back as she disappeared into the crowd. I was so moved by her compassion and comfort that I stepped up my pace, smiling to myself through most of the next mile.
It’s been almost 9 years since that race. I have added many more 5 and 10k’s along with half marathons to my running resume since. I even ran another full marathon. But none of them compare to that 5k race. That memory still speaks into my life. I learned a lot about what comfort really means that day. I’m so thankful for the tough, “suck it up” pep talk from my son when I called him determined to quit. Had he said “You’re right, Mom. You can’t do it. You poor thing, you shouldn’t have to, it’s too hard! I’ll be right there.” I would have sat down on the curb waiting for him to come for me, climbed in the car and most likely continued on down a path of defeat and easy resignation. I didn’t need the codependent kind of comfort that coddles me into giving up. Not if there was any chance I could do it.
And my fellow runner, what an amazing picture of comfort, empathy and true human connection. I don’t remember what she looked like, I forgot the color of her clothing and what type of running shoes she preferred. I didn’t even catch her name. But that moment with her will be with me forever. People truly do not forget how you make them feel. The kind words of a stranger telling me “I’ve been there; I know you can do this. Just don’t give up, don’t ever give up.” fill my mind every time I am tempted to quit. Someone who can say “I’ve been there. I know this path by heart. I know you can do it.” has weight in their words. Whatever hard thing I’m facing, that memory powerfully comforts and encourages me to take a few more steps, to not give up but instead…to just keep going.
I’ve had many adversities to persevere through in my life. Mental illness and addiction run rampant within my family. I’ve struggled through many a defeat, failure and tragedies I never saw coming. I have had my heart so broken that there were times I wore sunglasses in the grocery store to hide my red, swollen eyes. I’ve lived through excruciating loss. It’s not been a cake walk by any means. I know myself that not just anyone can spur you on through the hard times. You have to be careful who your encouragers are. Well-intending friends or family may say flippant, unhelpful things that may wound you further and hinder your progress. Someone, however who has been through it, who has run the same race, who knows the pain of the struggle telling me I can handle it if I just keep going, makes me believe I can. Coming alongside me with comfort like changes the trajectory of my thinking. Before I know it, I’m past the moment of giving up and heading toward the finish line.
Had my kind stranger not decided to run her race again, coming back through to run alongside those of us enduring it for the first time she wouldn’t have been there to encourage a weak, insecure runner needing fresh hope. Reaching back to those coming through what you have endured to say “You can do this” is a picture of comfort at its best.
I pulled it together and finished my race that day. Though more labored than usual and slower than ever. I finished. I give credit to the inspiration of my son Elliot who spoke to the fighter within me as well as to the kindness of a stranger who took a moment to ease another’s distress. When I finally reached my finish line, seeing the proud face of my son was an incredible moment, one I will always cherish. But more than that, proving to myself that I could keep going was worth every hard, heavy step it took.
“Surround yourself with people who are rooting for your rise.” ~Brene Brown