Running Clean

Monday, April 29th, 2013. I’ll never forget that morning. I woke up hungover from the weekend’s drinking that always seemed to extend itself through Sunday night. I was defeated, broken, out of shape, and needed a change.

I wouldn’t find sobriety for another two years, but this day was the start of my path to positive change. I wasn’t ready to admit yet that I struggled with alcohol addiction, but I was ready to start taking better care of myself. I decided that morning to start eating better with the help of Weight Watchers and get in a more regular exercise routine. I chose the only exercise I really knew: running.

I immediately fell in love with running and, combined with a more health conscious diet, my drinking reduced to just a couple of times a week. I didn’t have enough “points” to drink the way I wanted. That, unfortunately, would change once I hit my goal weight which amounted to over 50 pounds of weight lost.

As the drinking increased, so did the running. I think I used it to sort of “justify” my habit. The two couldn’t harmonize forever and after a few short stints of sobriety, I finally was able to put down drinking on March 2nd, 2015. Now nothing could hold me back from running…or so I thought.

I ran so much that I started racking up marathons in different states and set a goal to run a marathon in every state. Everything was going great, but eventually all of the “pounding” caught up with me and I suffered a severe iliotibial band injury. When I went to physical therapy, the therapist told me I had the tightest IT band he had ever seen. I was completely sidelined and couldn’t even run a mile. I felt fine on an exercise bike, in the pool and even doing light strength training, but running was out. I was devastated.

Eventually, after months of therapy, I was able to get back to running, but it was never quite right. I had to completely cancel a race in Austin, Texas and the next couple of marathons after that were a real struggle. My times were high and the pain I felt in the last six to eight miles of each race was excruciating. I thought many times that I was running my last marathon.

After running through pain and enduring the best I could, one day my friend Elissa suggested I try this thing called Bikram Yoga. I’ll be honest, I knew nothing about yoga let alone this Bikram Yoga of which she spoke so highly. My vision of yoga was a group of people sitting around, stretching their pinky toes and lying on their backs for most of the class (ha ha). I had no clue just how amazing it actually is.

As it turned out, Bikram Yoga is one of the most challenging workouts I’ve ever done both mentally and physically. It was exactly what I needed.

I started out doing Bikram once a week as a stretch day. I felt absolutely amazing after every class. My body was healing, my mind was clear and I felt…longer. That’s the only way I can describe it!

One class a week soon turned into two and before I knew it, I was hooked. I now go to three to five classes each week. My body feels younger, cleansed, refreshed.

I just completed my eleventh marathon in eleven states two weeks ago. Not only did I complete it, but I broke my personal record by over two full minutes. That IT band injury? I don’t even notice it.

That Austin marathon I had to back out of? I ran it in February. It was #10. I even found a Bikram studio in Texas. And sobriety?

As I write this I am 811 days sober. I am so grateful for the life I have today.

Each and every day is a gift, and if I get to go to Bikram it’s even sweeter.

Before yoga, recovery from a marathon was a one to two week process. Now, I just go to class the next day and I’m pain free. It’s that simple.

Finally, I can’t say enough about Bikram Yoga Portsmouth. I absolutely love each and every teacher there. They all have an amazing gift for making me feel confident as I grow as a yoga student, yet making sure I continue to be challenged, pushing me just a little further at just the right time.

Each teacher is unique in their own way. I truly, honestly, don’t have a favorite. They all get a perfect ten in my book. Thank you Bikram Yoga Portsmouth for not only restoring me on this quest to run 50 marathons, but for giving me just one more reason to stay sober each and every day. For that, I am forever grateful.

PJ Donahue is a musician and drum teacher who lives in Seacoast New Hampshire with his wife and daughter, Molly. You can hear more of his sound here: sometimes there are moments that can inspire an entirely new artistic direction. That is the story of River Sister.

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Comfortable in My Skin

When I took my first Bikram Yoga Class, I was 22 years old. I was a landscaper by day and a heavy drinker by night. I paired my Budweisers each day with at least a dozen American Spirits, if not two. My job was hard on my body and my best friend and I relaxed at the end of the day with some well-deserved brews.

After my first class, I felt amazing. The class itself was hard and uncomfortable, but after I felt light and happy. At the time, I didn’t know anything about the “yoga high” or what was happening in my body.

I had the perfect excuse not to return. I was too young to need this type of yoga.  It was hard and I was uncomfortable for several hours out of the day.  Yes, it’s only a 90-minute class, but I suffered from severe anxiety. I was uncomfortable from the moment I agreed to go until I was leaving the parking lot.

I have lived my whole life uncomfortable in my own skin.

So I quit. It took me five years to get back on the mat again.  At this point in my life, was no longer drinking, but still smoked a pack a day.  I started out small, going to class a couple of times a week.  The classes were still as hard as I remembered, but I had lost the bloat that comes from drinking a six pack of tall boys a night and that made the classes more tolerable.  My lungs burned in class, but not enough to keep me from craving that all-too-welcoming post-yoga smoke.

When we got a positive pregnancy test, I finally gave up the smokes. My daughter wasn’t going to grow up in a house with a smoker. Unfortunately, I also gave up the yoga. I wish I had known then what I know now about how yoga eases the effects of withdrawals physiologically, emotionally, and mentally.

I spent six years without drinking before deciding when my second child was two that my earlier struggles with drinking were probably just from being young and immature. I couldn’t handle my drinking before, but now I’d be able to cope and limit myself and control the types of behaviors that led me to quit in my early twenties.

I was a social worker, stressed to the max. Within a year, I was back drinking another six  pack most days and taking my stress out on everyone around me. I was so stressed that I needed a beer to relax. The funny part is that the alcohol always made my anxiety worse.

I was right back to that old ingrained fight-or-flight behavior.  I knew something had to give. My wife had given up telling me that she knew something that really would help with my stress, but I wasn’t going to practice yoga when I couldn’t get to class every day.

I was miserable and the stakes only kept getting higher at my job. I made the choice to leave my high-stress, unpredictable job and attend yoga teacher training. This scared me to death. I couldn’t talk in front of two people, answer the phone at my house, or make an appointment for myself. Forget about standing on a podium and teaching yoga to a large group of people. Somewhere I found the courage to go anyway.

I went to training and the question that played in my mind over and over again throughout those 99 classes surprised me. The question wasn’t whether I’d be able to teach; it was whether I’d be strong enough to keep up the sobriety that I’d sustained for two months when I got out of yoga hell.  I had this underlying pull telling me it was time to give it all up, but I wasn’t ready.  I continued to drink for another two years after graduating from teacher training.

What would it take to give up my crutch that didn’t actually help me?  I’m ashamed to say it took getting drunk, acting belligerent, and having my little girl ask me over and over on a car ride home from a birthday party, “Daddy, are you okay?  What’s wrong, Daddy? Daddy, are you okay?”  I was scaring and confusing one of the most important people in my life.

I woke up the next morning and remembered everything that had happened the night before. I told her never ever would I act that way again. It has been my intention from that point forward that she would not grow up in a household where she was on edge, where life was unpredictable, where secrets were held, and shame was the underlying feeling for the person that was her role model.

I am sober. Sobriety has changed my life. 

I had gotten sober before, with the support of my wife. I thought I could do it on my own again and for the first year, I did.

When we started the Sober Yogis program, I had a nagging feeling that I was going to have to do it. As I listened to each person speak, I made the decision not just to be a teacher, but to be a participant. Sober Yogis was the support system I didn’t know I needed. It changed the way I view myself as a sober person.

My sobriety was enhanced by knowing that I’m not alone in this plight to be sober.  In fact, it doesn’t even feel like a plight any more. I’m sober. This is who I am and I’m so proud of it.  I have a life where I feel good in my skin. I’ve come to realize through yoga that life is lived when we can go through moments of discomfort great and small and not suppress them with drugs, food, or alcohol. I can feel extremely happy, down in the dumps, anxious as all hell and just ride the feeling through.

For me, being sober, just like being a drinker, it is a choice.  As a fellow sober yogi once said, “I can have that hell back any time I want it.” Sobriety is a choice to be strong, a choice to be okay with feeling uncomfortable, it’s a choice to be in control, and it’s a truly powerful decision.

My daughter says to me all of the time, “I saved your life, didn’t I, Daddy?”  She knows I quit smoking and drinking to be a better dad to her and Judah.  Yes, Bella did save my life, but Sara saved my soul by bringing Sober Yogis to me.  Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine I could live a life of happiness in my skin. Yet here I am: living the dream.

jaylon and kidsJaylon Curry is the father of two, avid yogi, chicken farmer, and co-owner of Bikram Yoga Portsmouth in New Hampshire.