Running for Recovery


One man is giving new meaning to the term “12-step” as he hits the road to help him overcome addiction.

The Washington Post recently told the story of Walter Barrera, a 32-year-old Washington, DC resident who has turned to running to kick his addiction to cocaine and crystal meth. Just a few years ago, he was addicted to drugs, homeless for a time, and turned to petty crime to support his habit.

Then one morning in 2010 he went for a run.

After only one block, he realized that he could replace substance use with running. Three years later, he’s traded drugs’ negative effects for running’s positive ones. Waking up each morning, he feels that familiar urge to seek out a high, but this time the high he’s chasing is a natural one. As the miles pass, the endorphins kick in, providing a feeling that bears shades of the euphoria he used to get after using.

It’s an unorthodox approach to be sure. And in another parallel to drug use, he soon found that ne needed more. He began running marathons and then traded up to a 50-mile race, and is prepping for a 100-mile race in the mountains of Colorado.

Not that their haven’t been detours along the road to recovery, including a jail stay when a past crime caught up with him. But even in a cell, he dreamed of running. And he did participate in a drug rehab program. He was in treatment for six months. Today, he attends services at Capitol Hill Baptist Church, reads books that merge religion and running, and judges the success or failure of each day by how many miles he runs, the Post reported. He also continues to channel his urges into running. He even went so far as to sneak out of a shelter after hours to get in his daily run. In 2012, Barrera moved into an apartment of his own for the first time in more than two years.

Recently, a doctor advised Barrera to decrease his mileage, but that made him irritable and restless. “In the first three weeks of May, he totaled nearly 328 miles, including a 29-hour period in which he ran three times, logging 54.76 miles,” The Post says.

Some worry that Barrera is placing too much importance on running, forgoing meetings, and that if he were to get injured, it could jeopardize his sobriety. But he finds freedom in running. The beauty of nature inspires him and he’s able to take in details he never noticed when he was addicted.

“I’m a new person. I’m a new creation,” he tells The Post. “I don’t think I run to stay sober. I do it just to have fun, to feel like myself — something I didn’t do for so long.”

Each person’s road to recovery is personal and unique. What works for one, may not work for someone else. While there are tried and true treatment methods, and residential programs have great track records, it’s still a personal process.

If you or someone you love needs treatment for an addiction and co-occurring disorder, call The Canyon at the toll-free number on our homepage. Someone is there to take your call 24 hours a day and answer any questions you have about treatment, financing or insurance.

Wendy Lee Nentwig

By Wendy Lee Nentwig
Guest Contributor

One Response

  1. Hayden June 18, 2013

    everything that is written on the site about Suboxone is a complete lie….. I’ve been on them for about a year now and ive NEVER Had prescriptions fOR them…. I was a heroine addict for several years and then I went up **** creek for Possession of heroin…. I was 21 years clean in prison and tried suboxone when I got released it was just like getting high on heroin and I cannot go 24 hrs without having the same withdrawals as I did from heroine….. it’s basically just a scam to get money because all it does is give people the legal reason to get high I just can’t get the legal permission I know now when I do it and it only takes 1 milligrams to make me throw up and nod in n out for 12-15 hrs…..

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