Addicted to joy?

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Trailrunnermag.com recently posed the following question: Can Trail Running Develop into an Unhealthy Addiction? In order to accurately answer this question, we first must define “addiction”. Merriam-Webster defines addiction as “the compulsive need for and use of a habit-forming substance characterized by tolerance and by well-defined physiological symptoms upon withdrawal”. Reading this definition may stir up different emotions in different people. Some devoted trail and ultra runners may deny that they are ‘addicted’ to running, describing their devotion to the sport as a healthy obsession that enhances and adds joy to their life. While this may be true, I know from experience, that this ‘healthy obsession’ can be the flipside of an unhealthy addiction. When things are going well, and we are able to log in the miles, experience the natural high and feel our feet lead us to peace as we journey down the trail, then we reap the joy of trail running in its purest form. This is what we live for. This is what makes this sport so ‘addicting’. For once you experience the joy it brings, you crave more. And if joy is what it gives you, then doing more of it must bring more joy and thus it must be a healthy obsession, right? Well, not quite. There is a fine line when it comes to balancing the gains and pitfalls of this natural drug.
Running to increase the joy and peace you experience in life is a positive thing. These by-products of running are amazing and have the power to enhance our lives in many ways. Yet, in order to really benefit from their rewards, I believe you must first have peace and joy without running. If you do, than I believe that your running ‘obsession’ can be a healthy facet to a balanced life. When you run to escape pain or to find peace or joy due to the absence of it in your own life, you may very well find it…but you also plant the seeds of addiction. For me, I found that when everything was going well and I was running strong, long and often, the addictive aspect of trail/ultra running was not noticeable. It wasn’t until I couldn’t run that I realized I had become addicted. For, addiction cannot always be seen until the thing you are addicted to is taken away…and you cannot cope without it. This is what happened to me. I became injured and I couldn’t run. I had placed everything I loved in running. I WAS my running. In my mind, I was “Shannon the Ultrarunner”. The two were inseparable. And so, without running, I lost the identity I had created for myself. I lost my joy. I lost my peace. Because I loved running so much I did not find it necessary to seek these things elsewhere. I did not learn to race the journey within, relying rather on the soiled trails to fill my heart with joy. But, without these trails I crumbled. I could not cope. It was at this point that I found out that trail/ultra running had become my addiction.
This realization forced me to re-evaluate my running. I had to learn to view it as just one facet of who I am and ask myself what it really was about trail/ultra running that I could not live without. At the core, I realized what made it so amazing was that it took me back to nature. It taught me truths that came in unspoken lessons and through painful, yet invaluable trials. But, the demands of this sport on your body and time are great. And the risk of injury or other obligation is always there. I knew that if I were to really find true joy in this sport, I had to make sure that I first had true joy without it. Running will always add to my joy, but I now know that I can’t let the absence of it, for whatever reason, lead to the loss of joy in my life. I see my inner joy as a baseline now. When I can run I experience more peace and more of this inner joy. But when I can’t run, it doesn’t take away from the joy and peace I have stored up inside of me. This is when you know that your running has a healthy place in your life. It is not a weight loss tool or an attention-seeking statement. It is not your identity nor is it a band-aid for some deeper pain. The purity of trail running is what makes it so healing. When you use it for no other purpose than to feed your soul you will find joy both on and off the trail.

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