The Vulnerability of AA and Running

October 14, 2017

A recovered alcoholic who is an active member of a home group knows the pangs of vulnerability.  I did not know what expect when I came to AA.  I half expected that they would ask me to tell my story at the front of the room and then by some miracle of osmosis, I would be cured and maybe return for a couple of more weeks before going out into the world alone and sober…..not exactly as it unfolded, as any active member of AA knows.  When we walk through the doors of AA, we are terribly afraid, confused, angry, and vulnerable to the core.  Just by virtue of walking through the doors of our own free will, we have already surrendered to some extent and are at the mercy of the people who welcome us.  If it is a stable group that offers many years of quality sobriety and that follows the Traditions, the concepts of service and AA-approved literature, we will be walking into a place where we have a good chance of never having to drink again.  And if it is a relatively small group, we will usually be seated in a circular format where everyone has a chance to comment on the literature being read. Suddenly, we are forced into a vulnerable state again, though we always have the option of passing on reading or commenting.  As newcomers after a meeting, if we can’t slip out the door, there will be sober members there who want to make us feel welcome and encourage us to speak a little, if we can.  They might even ask if we could help do a little clean up and all the while, our vulnerability could nearly crack the walls as it reverberates in our minds.  After some time around the rooms, we are told to get sponsors, to chair meetings, to set up meetings, to do The Steps and to get involved in service work if possible, all of which expose our weaknesses and definitely our fears.  We are forced to grow if we stick around long enough and do what’s required to keep moving forward.  The Twelve and Twelve tells us, “A continuous look at our assets and liabilities, and a real desire to learn and grow by this means, are necessities for us (88)” – we become vulnerable daily, to keep growing despite the discomfort of the unknown. 


A life-long runner is no stranger to the pangs of vulnerability either.  We start out kind of awkward and we make mistakes that lead to injury and sub-par performances.  While racing, as in working The Steps and doing AA service work, our weaknesses are exposed and we must face those parts of ourselves that need improvement, or at least, acceptance.  We train daily and we line up at the start line, face the unknown and we grow despite the discomfort of physical pain and pre-conceived expectations that may not be met.  In this crazy sport, we need running heroes and coaches to show us that the daily grind can break unthinkable boundaries and limitations.  Practice, practice, practice, does not make perfection as the saying goes, but it does produce much needed progress.  “Progress not perfection” (Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions) echoes on the trails and in the rooms of AA – it is amazing that when we make ourselves vulnerable, we have the opportunity to accept our shortcomings and yet work to overcome them, thereby running distances we never thought possible and working to reach other alcoholics still suffering when there was a time when we believed sobriety an impossibility. 


In AA, we hopefully become the “elder statesmen” who pass along the message of hope with humility and dignity. In running too, there comes a time when we can pass the “trials of miles and miles of trials” on to the young runners.  We share our mistakes and triumphs with humility and dignity and we get to watch while the new ones make themselves vulnerable, jaws set, eyes piercing, open hearts, standing at yet another start line, waiting to grow, one step at a time, come what may.  It seems to me that on account of our vulnerability in AA, we come to love our brothers and sisters of the bottle very deeply.  So is it any wonder “Jam-Jam,” that all the hand holding in the ultrarunning world comes at the expense of much vulnerability?

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AA Grapevine’s “At Wit’s End” Joke of the Week:

A long time AA member named Joe R has lived to a very old age and one morning God appears to him, as Joe lies in bed.

Joe: What have you come for God?

God: Well Joe, I’ve come with some good news and some bad new, what do you want first?

Joe (being an optimist): I like to start the morning with good news

God: I have come to tell you that we have AA meetings in heaven

Joe: Alright – that’s great! So what’s the bad news?

God: You’re chairing tonights meeting….

New To The Site This Week:

  1. A super documentary about Yiannis Kouros, a legend in ultrarunning whom I have been recently fascinated with.  Dude ran 250 km’s in 21 hours in the Spartathalon in the 1980’s!  His no-nonsense approach to overcoming his body’s barriers is astounding.  Check it our under “Running in the 4th Dimension”
  2. “XA Speaker Picks” addition – Mari G. from Wasaga Beach, Ontario speaking at San Diego Spring Roundup in San Diego, CA, 2005

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