My Dark Passenger

I’ve been binge watching Dexter…hence the theme here.

I’m continuously fascinated by Type A individuals, those compelled by seemingly insane goals, or simply drawn to extremes in all interests. I’m fascinated because I see myself in them and constantly seek to understand my motives, my own excesses. Over the years, I’ve come to understand that it’s not so much the specific interests that draw me to them, but rather the nature of my personality that seeks the extremes. This dynamic has offered me an endless string of exciting experiences, as I find myself engaging in things that most people ignore or shy away from. From a young age I was always drawn to the fringes of culture, discovering breakdancing as a 2nd grader, comfortably suburban white kid. From there I transitioned to metal music, falling asleep to Iron Maiden every night. Soon after I was listening to punk and hardcore on the college radio station while still in seventh grade, unaware of the style of music I was personally enjoying and which was thoroughly confusing my sisters and parents. Then I was skateboarding, growing my hair long, wearing the most odd combination of clothes, discovering bands that would soon break into the mainstream, and yet always seeking the next fringe culture, the next abnormality, the next unknown. Without making deliberate attempts, I seemed to always be on the outside looking in, or at the edge of the inside looking out. Admittedly, being in this unique position also had me at continuous odds with the world, defending my positions and sometimes even my physical self as the local rednecks took offense to my stylistic expressions (“get out of here you faggot”), but as I remained committed to my extreme interests I created a protective shell of ego and bulletproof worldview that deflected all the insecurities of those threatened by my break from the norm.

And as they say, “it gets better”, so when I grew further and further into adulthood, these experiences developed an untouchable confidence within me, to pursue the compulsions of my personality and experience a life outside traditional parameters.

Then somehow…this brought me to running. It’s a weird leap, I know, but when you come to understand your personality of extremes, it doesn’t so much matter what you do, you’ll find that you throw yourself into it and find it difficult to let go. For many others, the idea of running is an enjoyable act, but one they can entertain as the motivation comes, in smaller increments, without finding their lives consumed by the act. They can run 5 miles and call it a day. They can run a few times a week and be fulfilled. They can run simply for the fun of it and nothing else. They can stop running and think nothing of it.

I’m not that person.

I’m the person that started running, then started training, then within a month raced, won my age group, and from then on couldn’t stop. My extreme personality had found an outlet that fired all it’s cylinders, from the physical to the emotional to the psychological. To reiterate, it wasn’t so much the activity itself as it was the merging of running’s benefits with my personality type. They are, I have come to deeply understand, a dangerous combination.

In a way, that part of my personality that is ignited by running and it’s potential extremes is less a dangerous combination and maybe more a WHOLE NOTHER PERSON. At times it feels like I’m watching someone else, something else.

When I wake in the morning and know I have a run on my schedule (because when do I NOT have a run on my schedule?) the fatigue I sometimes feel makes me wonder how it will get done, how I’ll make it to the gym, how I’ll ever even start. I wonder who this person is that HAS to go to the gym to change, to start a strenuous workout, to finish completely exhausted. I wonder where they came from, how we met, and why we keep hanging out…except I know why they are. They are me, and I know I can’t get away from them.

They are my own dark passenger.

They are the part of me that compels me to wake before the sun does, to enter all manners of weather, and to run into various states of depletion and exhaustion. I would be lying to say I hate this person, of course, but sometimes I wish I could lose them from time to time. I know they aren’t always the healthiest expression of my being. And yet, I can’t. I can’t lose them. They are a passenger that is as much a part of me as something I wish I could turn down from time to time, when I know it’s best for me….but…I can’t.

In part, I can’t, because I don’t want to. Because I know this part of me drives me to amazing experiences, compels me to keep going when the difficulty of any objective persuades me to back off, and really adds immeasurable value to my life. On the other hand, I can’t, for reasons I can’t always articulate. Sometimes, the drive of my own motivation even eludes my own personal considerations. I try to understand why I feel so unfulfilled sometimes, while overall living such an incredibly full and rewarding life. I struggle to shake the drive to push to new and new extremes, like the high of a drug that suddenly never becomes enough, until it is, suddenly, too much.

For so many runners, this is our reality, and explains why endurance events are riddled with ex-drug users, who have channeled their obsessive personalities into a more sustainable, healthy alternative. The dark passenger within them, that drove them towards a precariously dangerous high, is now funneled towards a precariously, but admittedly less dangerous, new boundary.

And that boundary, that elusive, shifting, undefined boundary is a drug for a dark passenger. It is a high that never ends, if only because the promise of a finish line is only met with a following attempt to reach yet another. 5 miles becomes 10 becomes 20 becomes 100. 17:00 minutes becomes 16:00 becomes 15:00. One 50 miler becomes 2 becomes 3 becomes a trans-state run.

The dark passenger sits next to us as we finish our work for the day, fidgeting, poking us, whispering about our need to reach that next finish line, that next high. It shakes it’s head in frustration at every sedentary moment. It wakes up telling us to run NOW, IMMEDIATELY, BEFORE ANYTHING ELSE. Don’t eat breakfast. Don’t go to work. Don’t do anything but reach for that next high.

It is there with us, in every moment, until we feed it with an attempt at the extreme. With every training run, with every effort, it needs to be fulfilled, because it is ceaseless hunger, while our bodies are defined physical limitations. And that’s where the next problem begins, when the dark passenger whispers us past our safest levels of exertion, and we run ourselves right into injury.

The dark passenger speaks to us only of the promise of fulfillment, of reaching a new running goal, of a new PR, of a new distance run, of an epic experience, while ignoring the limitations of our physical selves. It is the overdose. But it would be one thing if our bodies simply broke and we were left to repair the damage until we could try again. It is something else entirely that when our bodies break, the dark passenger remains. And it remains unfulfilled.

Being injured is awful, but it’s not the injury so much as it is the waiting that really kills us. While the body works to repair itself, the dark passenger shames us, whispering about how weak we are getting, how strong everyone else is getting, how much we are missing out on, continuously scolding us for NOT DOING ANYTHING. And so we often find ourselves trying to quiet their admonishments, going for a run, testing the waters, and frequently doing further damage. Because they won’t SHUT UP.

This other part of us becomes less someone we admire and more of an annoying enemy, a bad influence…and yet, we so want their favor all the same. They are the other person that embodies our extreme personality, that brought us to new PR’s, new frontiers, new experiences. They created the life we continuously seek and try to expand. They are the peak we climb to reach, getting a better vantage point to find the next one even higher.

As much as they are a voice that drives us to dangerous extremes, they are the same voice that brings us to unparalleled accomplishments.

Somehow, we must come to terms with this dark passenger, using them to push us towards new heights of experience, yet resisting when we find ourselves looking over the edge, teetering towards a fall onto jagged rocks. Because should we lose our balance, crashing to the unforgiving ground, the dark passenger doesn’t break along with us. They stand above telling us to get back up and keep going, which does no good for anyone.

From the first understandings of my extreme personality and the interests and experiences it affords me, I’ve come to appreciate that part of my being. I’ve come to see it in others and understand and appreciate their dark passenger as well. At some point though, we must have the awareness and maturity to drive it more than it drives us. In doing so, maybe it can be less of a dark passenger and more a partner in crime.

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