by Tom Fitzsimons
We all remember moments of clarity in our lives, moments when we are awakened spiritually. Moments when we realise that our lives have different meaning, that our lives have purpose. That moment of clarity came for me when I was watching the Redbull Stratos team as they attempted to jump out of a balloon on the edge of space. I don’t know if you watched this but for me it was a truly magical moment. The mission was: Supported by a team of experts Felix Baumgartner ascended to 128,100 feet in a stratospheric balloon and made a free-fall jump rushing toward earth at supersonic speeds before parachuting to the ground.
I watched as Felix opened the door of the capsule at 128,100 feet and I gasped as I saw the world from a completely different angle. It looked beautiful beyond words. “The world is a magnificent place” I heard myself say. I had never viewed the world as beautiful.
I hated the world and all it had given me. Childhood poverty, parental addiction and violence, racism, parental death and eventually my own alcohol addiction. I had hated the world for as long as I could remember. During my five years of sobriety my views had slowly changed. I had started to get more out of life. I thought I was getting 100% until I saw Felix stand on the edge of the capsule and say the words: “I know the whole world is watching now. I wish you could see what I can see. Sometimes you have to be up really high to understand how small you are… I’m coming home now.”
I realised that I was operating at less than half my potential. I had to do more with my life. I had to achieve more and to help more people. I had to help change the stigma of my illness, something I feel has held me back for so long. I had to find a new challenge that would test me to my limits both mentally and physically so that I could have my “I know the world is watching” moment. It was that day that I began to realise my potential.
Over the next few months I planned Run4Sobriety. A not for profit run from San Francisco to New York City. 3100 miles on foot, averaging 31miles per day for 100 days. “Why run across the USA Tom?” was a question that I was asked quite often “why not run in the UK?” the simple answer is that the UK is not big enough. It is not big enough to reflect how hard it is to fight addiction. I needed something that would almost break me, somewhere that would bring me to my knees, somewhere that would have me crying out in pain and asking for it to end. You see that’s what it’s like fighting addiction. I also wanted to show people who are going through this pain that there is hope. The run was to symbolise the highs and lows of recovery.
If you imagine that your addiction lays in the Pacific Ocean. You make a decision to leave it behind so the only way to get away is to head east towards NYC. When you make the decision to leave your addiction people are super supportive. You get handshakes and slaps on the back and people genuinely look like they want to support you on your journey. The trouble is by the time you hit Sacramento or two weeks sober these people seem to thin out, they disappear. Understandable, as they have their lives to lead. This leaves you on your own, alone and afraid to carry on. The easy decision is to head back to San Francisco and to your addiction, but let’s takes a chance and keep moving east. Let’s see if we can survive a few days on our own. Wow how awesome is California, sunshine on your face feeling good about leaving things behind and then boom you hit your first mountain range. Again a decision to make, head back to San Fran or tackle the mountain. Put up with the pain of the climb. Will it be worth it? Who knows? Is going back to your addiction worth it? No? Then let’s keep moving east!
At the top of Echo Summit I can see Lake Tahoe one of the most beautiful sights I had ever seen. The journey is worth it. All the way across the USA I was faced with decisions of quit or continue as I am everyday with my addiction to alcohol. What I discovered in The USA is that when I think I’m ready to quit I find another level of determination to succeed. I found that the rewards for my hard work far outweighed returning to a life of addiction. I found that my potential was as far away from my addiction as I ever thought possible. 100 days on the road and I reached six years sober and New York City. My Run4Sobriety had ended but my battle against my illness continues.
I’m happy to fight now because I know that my courage and determination will be rewarded. I will see the smiles of my children and I will feel the love of my wife. This love will make my heart grow so strong that addiction will never again control me. As you enter your recovery keep focused on the goal. There will be mountains to climb and deserts to cross. You will have days when you feel that you cannot go on, but, you will also have days of extreme beauty and days of joyous laughter. You will make new friends and re-establish old ones. You will discover a new inner strength. You will grow and find that your life has finally got purpose. Keep the faith! Keep moving East! Every day I fight! Every day I win!
Live the life,