How I’ve Learned to Stop Running from Things That Scare Me

“The beautiful thing about fear is when you run to it, it runs away.” ~Robin Sharma

At the age of eighteen, I started running. It was a rainy night, and to get home quicker from the gym, I began to run. As I approached a park about a mile from my house, I decided to run around it rather than going straight home.

It wasn’t a conscious decision but felt natural and necessary.

The rain had gotten a bit heavier, but I wasn’t worried. All I could focus on was the lack of internal heaviness as I ran. That lack began to change to lightness with each stride. I had a walkman with me, so I put on a tape and my pace quickened even more.

The lightness became openness, and visions of possibilities entered my mind. Solutions seemed simple. And awe at the newness of my mind opening made its way into my body.

On my third loop, my pace quickened even more, and I began to sing along (out loud) to the tape in my walkman. It was dark, and I was soaked. I could feel the water pouring on my head, and I relished this feeling of being bathed by the sky.

I stuck out my tongue to taste it, and with heavy soaked clothes at the end of my third loop, I stopped and began walking the mile toward my house. Noticeable was how slowly I was walking in a downpour, and how completely at ease, open, and elated I felt.

On this dark, rainy night, I discovered a way out of myself: running. 

Yesterday my head began to ache, my body became weak, and nausea set in. I sat on my floor crying for my mother and vomiting. The thought underlying all of this was “I have to get out of here.” I had not felt these symptoms in two years since healing from chronic issues, but here I was, suddenly in a relapse, with one thought running through my mind: “I have to leave.”

“Leaving” was a pattern I knew well.

As a child, I could not get out of situations I wanted to flee, so I did so only in my mind. Daydreaming, being quiet, and withdrawing were all methods of escape for me both in school and daily life.

I “ran” from bullies, from friends, from friends I was afraid were turning into bullies, from teachers, and  I “ran” from family.

Running in an active way was not available to me, so, as I said, my escape was withdrawing internally, or avoiding.

In my all-girls high school, lunchtime was a source of angst because I did not have one set group of friends. Girls usually sat at the same table, same spot each day. It was with a group they had something in common with—the jocks, the rebels, the popular girls, the artists, etc.

I floated to whichever table allowed me to. But I didn’t stay long. The next day, I would find a different table, exposing myself only minimally. When I had exhausted the cycle, I started to eat lunch alone near my locker.

It was after high school that I started to physically run outside. From the first day of experiencing the ability to leave myself, I was hooked. Running became my top priority, and anything else, whether it was time with friends or family, came second.

I completed half marathons, marathons, and even ultramarathons. It satisfied my desire to flee, but also helped me access emotions like joy and a state of calm I could not reach otherwise.

As I began having intimate relationships, I withdrew anytime I sensed something was off, anytime I became uneasy based on a perception or reality. It was easier to run than to communicate my fears. It would be easier to run than to even acknowledge that there were fears.

Sometimes, I ran after the person, but eventually, it would be me fleeing.

At work, I started out with a group of friends and would spend lunch with them. But it wasn’t long before I found myself “running”  from group to group. When absolutely no one felt safe anymore, I started to take my sneakers to school and run outside by myself.

Eventually, because I started to get overwhelming symptoms from chronic issues, my running became shutting off the lights in my classroom and sleeping at my desk. The same occurred even after work.

Any movement I enjoyed began to dissipate, and my running turned into a state of freeze. I slept more and more. I was still  “getting out of here” in a different way.

I hung onto running as much as I could, traveling any time I could, because it felt better to be away. Traveling, like daydreaming and avoiding, was another way to flee.

When I finally completely crashed in 2018, there was no longer a way to run. I spent a lot of time in bed, sometimes unable to walk. The desire to flee showed up many times in the years I spent trying to heal, and once in a while I dragged myself outside, exhausted and in pain, and tried to run to satisfy the part of me needing this.

It would end with walking slowly, but a part of me felt relief.

I now had no choice but to listen to the sensations inside and notice the thoughts running in my mind.

As much as I loved running, as much as it helped me, it was time to learn how to walk.

I  learned to listen to this part longing to flee to see what she needed. Just closing my eyes and observing the sensations, I began a dialogue with a part of me I had not really listened to. Safety is what she asked for over and over.

During this time of illness, I learned a way back into myself, being present with my inner sensations and the thoughts running behind them.

Each day, I went inward and sent messages of safety to this very scared part of me. This fear began long ago, and now, as I could no longer run away, I began “running” to it. I met this trapped fear inside with love and compassion, or at least I slowly learned to.

Along with these messages of love, safety, and compassion, I provided real evidence to this part of myself to prove that we were indeed safe, and I would always do my best to keep us so. My conversation with this part of me went something like this:

“I understand, and I am sorry that you are scared, and you have every reason to feel this way. It was hard; it wasn’t your fault. You shouldn’t have been treated as you were. You are a very special little girl.  You deserved better. I love you and I will keep us safe now. I have kept us safe. Look at all the times I made good decisions for us. We live in a safe house. I cooked breakfast for us this morning. I make good money, I took a break from some things you are afraid of, and I am proud of you for letting go of some of that fear. You are safe and loved.”

The physical responses were of release and a deeper sense of ease. Before, these feelings were only accessible through running.

Slowly, I exposed myself to the things I was afraid of. I let go of those who didn’t want to stay. I made amends with those I’d wronged, as much as I was ready to. I forgave, as much as I was ready to. I faced the child inside asking me to keep moving and learned to nurture her instead of always giving into her. And I gave in to her, as much as I felt aligned with the desire.

I learned to reframe my thinking and decided that in the future I would no longer run from; I would only run to.

When I could, I walked slowly and mindfully, noticing each step. I spoke to flowers along the way. I watched clouds run across the sky before the rain. I watched sunsets. I spent time being still.

I spent time connecting to all the different parts of me, all speaking through emotions and beliefs, and acknowledged and validated them.

I gave myself grace.

This morning, after that momentary relapse, I woke up fine. It was raining.  Memories flooded me, and I heard this part of me whispering, “Let’s go, I have to get out of here” again. In that moment, I spoke to this part of me who still longs to run when things are difficult and reminded her we were safe.

And I reframed: “We are not running away, but sure, let’s run to…“

So I put on my sneakers and running clothes and headed out, stopping once in a while to walk slowly, notice the flowers, watch the clouds running above, and relish in being bathed by the sky.

About Maria Stefanie

Maria spent years looking for relief from the suffering she experienced due to the toxic "stories" she received as a child. These stories, and the medications prescribed to ease them, led to dis-ease physically and mentally. Eventually she reconnected with her authentic self and broke through to a lighter side of life. She works each day to be a better version of herself and learn different modalities to help others. You can find more of her story here.

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