This Most Important Mile arrived via email a few weeks ago. I checked in with the mother who wrote it, making sure she was ready to publically share the trials of her daughter and family. She was, she assured me, but asked to remain anonymous to protect her daughter, so we're honoring that wish. "One of the hardest parts of this whole experience is sharing," she wrote back, "We (the proverbial "we") live in nice areas, we have (generally speaking) happy, well-fed families. We have resources and good schools, etc. But drug abuse makes folks uncomfortable. As does mental health. It's hard to find that really good friend to listen and commiserate; it's a problem that's not in many families' repertoire for coping. And—and this is important—it's a problem a growing number of families are facing."
One Monday this fall, I opened my daughter’s desk drawer to quickly shove the desktop contents inside before the cleaning ladies came.
I found heroin.
Yes, I freaked out. But with all my might and reserve, I resisted the urge to drive to her school and pull her out by her ponytail. When when I picked her up after school, I resisted the urge to scream at her all the way home. I resisted the urge to break down in tears in front of her, to show her how terrified I was. Instead, we—my husband and I—were the face of calm. We explained to her what we knew. The course of action we researched and were going to take. And what we expected from her.
On Tuesday I ran my scheduled 7 mile tempo run. My last hard run before my taper for my goal race.
The 2-mile warm up went well. I went over and over in my head the list of appointments I had scheduled, the list of phone calls I still needed to make, the list of hard conversations I still needed to have.
Mile 3: the first mile of 3 at race pace. It’s a bit of an incline, but I got to my pace and tried to settle in. I started role-playing the tough conversations.
Mile 4: the straight-away. My pace slows slightly and I’m struggling to drop those last few seconds. The enormity of our situation sinks in.
Mile 5: This should be easy. I’ve trained for nearly 14 weeks, coming off a great spring training session. I should be hitting my race pace. But I can’t.
With every step, I’m thinking about my daughter, worried about the unknown, the implications this has for everyone in our family. My breathing becomes shallow and labored; my eyes well with tears. I stop with a half mile to go and just sit on the curb and sob.
I don’t know how long I sat there. Not that long, as I still had another child to see off to school that morning.
I’d like to say that I picked myself up, dusted myself off, and finished that run with the determination to make everything right.
But I didn’t. I ran home at a snail’s pace. Heavy heart, heavy feet.
Three years ago, when I started running, I thought that was hard. Getting myself back into shape. Waking up early regularly. Battling injuries and awful weather. Challenging myself to run that first mile, and then go further and further and further, to actually get to that half marathon distance. But I controlled that destiny.
Now I know, this is hard.
This—mile 7 and all the emotions that I'm carrying through it— is the most important mile of my life.
Turned out, it wasn’t.
My daughter attended an outpatient drug treatment program with ups and downs, but no relapses, and “graduated” after 9 weeks.
Amidst all this, I continued to train. I completed both my goal race and an extra—neither went well. It didn’t matter. We were finding our new normal.
Until we weren’t.
November 10, she called me from school in tears, afraid she might hurt herself. I can’t say I was surprised. Nothing at this point surprises me. Throughout her drug treatment program, I had wondered about underlying mental health issues, as her drug abuse seemed atypical of the other kids in the program.
Twelve hours later, she was admitted to a pediatric psych ward at one of the few hospitals that treats minors. She’s lucky she got a bed. It’s full of teenagers, and, so so sadly, a five-year-old.
Facebook is awash in pictures of kids in ERs with broken limbs and casts,; all with tons of “likes” and “oh-no” and “feel better soon” comments. But you can't post drug abuse and I-might-hurt-myself on Facebook.
Nothing equips you for the special psych ER room, empty save for one bed. Nothing equips you for the 10-hour wait for a transfer to another hospital, during which you can’t knit or write—needles and pens are dangerous—or even sit on the same bed with your hurting child. Nothing equips you for the scramble when you realize you’ll be stuck there for 10 hours, but your 10-year-old is waiting at home for dinner, your husband’s commuter train has been delayed, and you legally can not leave your troubled minor alone even though your house is .82 miles (via Garmin) from the ER. Nothing equips you for a diagnosis of major depression in your 16-year-old.
Nothing equips you for any of that. But you do what you have to do to move forward.
And for me, that meant waking up the next morning at 5 a.m., lacing up my shoes, and heading out. There was no scheduled tempo run this time around; I’m not in training for anything now. There were no tears either, as I think I’m completely dried out. But it’s important to run. To move forward. To take all those steps, as painful as they may be. I have no control over any of this, but running makes me the best parent I can be and puts me in the best position to help my daughter.
One by one I will take my steps, and make my mile. My most important mile.
The writer would be happy to connect with any other mother runners who are in similar circumstances; if you'd like to reach out to her, please email us at runmother [at] gmail [dot] com and we'll be sure she receives it.