Catharsis was a metaphor used by Aristotle in Poetics. Today we often use the word to talk about a cleansing of sorts. Usually we have an emotional breakthrough that results in a refreshed lifeview. Whether or not that is really currently happening to me or if I'm just full of shit remains to be seen, but at this point I'm hoping the casual tourists to this blog have logged off in boredom because the subject matter is going to be a little deep and uncomfortable.
About a year ago my friend Alfredo developed ALS and quickly passed away. You can read about him, our adventures and his struggles with the disease elsewhere on the blog. As you can guess, I had a very strong reaction to his passing and it changed my life in a number of ways.
I think before Alfredo got sick my life was really at the top of an arc. I don't recall a time when I had it together as much as I did then. My running was really going well, my career and marriage were starting to fire on all cylinders, the Flatlander Ultrarunners were growing exponentially into a huge happy trail running family and I had just started our podcast, Ten Junk Miles. I felt like everything I was doing went well.
I didn't deal with Alfredo's death or sickness very well. In a lot of ways he was the person that made me feel like I could do anything. Seeing him slowly fall apart and ultimately die, I suddenly felt like I couldn't do anything. I couldn't finish races. I felt like a fraud and failure to my running family and the ultra community. I mean, here I am, talking in a podcast, giving people advice, and I can't even finish a race, I didn't even want to run, and to make matters worse, I was being destructive to myself. I would go see Alfredo and then sit in the Culvers parking lot down the street from his house, eat burgers and cry.
I think I started to feel like all of this diminished me as a person to some extent to my friends and the running community. It was very hard to see them being inspired by Alfredo while I was having the opposite effect. I felt like they pitied me for failing at everything and getting out of shape. People didn't ask me for advice as much. People didn't like being around me as much. And really, in retrospect, I wasn't being a very good person or friend. I let all of this effect me and I never sought help. I think talking to a professional might have done me a world of good. I feel like in some ways I really started to be a shitty friend and a shitty ultra runner.
The only major race I accomplished over the last year was the Comrades, basically fueled by the love and support of my friends, many of which I didn't really deserve. Prior to the race they started a social media campaign with #IRunWithKummer. It got me through. But something else happened in South Africa. Something that really threw me for a loop.
One night, out of the blue I received an email from a couple that have no love for me. The email advised me that they knew about "Jerry and Troop 16" and that I should leave them alone and they would leave me alone. I was stunned. "Jerry" is my father who sexually abused most of my Boy Scout Troop (16), including myself. Being attacked and threatened with this information out of the blue was, to say the least, shocking. On my trip I found myself unable to sleep, breaking down in tears, hostile, angry and filled with extreme feelings of fear.
I really was surprised that I was so affected, because I've spoken publicly about being a victim of childhood sexual abuse and an incest survivor. I think it's important. I've even given podcast interviews about it. But there was something about the way this info was used that felt different. I sought and obtained treatment for my feelings and thought I was good to go.
In retrospect I wasn't done. I will always regret not getting more help, because the events that followed changed my life forever. I became hostile and angry. I was downright mean, mostly to the people that I love. I withdrew and then resented them for not trying to help. Which made me feel alone and isolated. I spiraled. I pushed people away. This is going to sound impossible to comprehend, but I felt like I was re-living that feeling I had as a little kid when I was screaming on the closet floor. For what? Just for someone to notice that something was wrong. And no one ever did. And I know this is super confusing and must sound bizarre, but inside I was screaming as loud as I could for my ultra family to notice how bad I was hurting and it felt like they weren't there. Even though they were.
This summer I hurt a lot of people. I alienated people. I pushed them away and ruined their activities. I stepped down from Flatlanders, ruined re-taste, disappointed people, didn't tell them how important they were to me and took everything I have had the good fortune to obtain for granted. I was simply a mess. Sadly, I've also lost the closest friend I had. I really screwed things up.
All this being said, I think there is a certain catharsis that I am undergoing. I have had several emotional breakthroughs (as well as breakdowns). I've tried to make amends to many people. I've been so emotionally raw that I've been able to say some things to people that i never said before. I'm telling people that I love them. I'm telling people how important they are to my life. I'm trying to be a better me on the other side of this. I'm also working with a therapist again on my issues so that this doesn't happen again. I really hope this is the beginning of the end of a year of emotional upheaval. I'm ready to fly again.
Nonetheless, I want to take a minute to apologize to you. The things I have been through are not an excuse for being an asshole or hurting people. I am responsible. And I am sorry. I can't say I won't fuck up again. All I can say is I hope never to fuck up in this way again. And I will always have the best intentions.
You meet a lot of interesting people running ultras. One of them is you.