In West Virginia and around the nation opiate addiction and the effects on lives and families is a catastrophe and no answer is in sight. People have asked me if I have ever met anyone who has come off opiates successfully without substituting another opiate or drug. In over twenty years of medicine the list is short, really short. I know one. Travis Muehleisen is a former opiate addict now running addict. He is a Freedom’s Run marathon finisher. He did not chose to take pain meds, he was given them by physicians for real conditions.
As an opiate user Travis knew only one way to enter running- “all in” and often to excess. This is critical to understand. If Travis does not run and run hard he literally feels pain. It takes him 6 miles to get the substitute. He has run through pain and injury but he knows he must run. Travis is also the only person I know who has come off disability as there is almost no incentive to work when you are getting a paycheck and insurance not to work. But Travis needs to work to keep his brain and body highly engaged. Desk job? No way, Travis is a steel worker and builds bridges.
Here is a something Travis shared with me in 2012 at the beginning of his running journey.
1997- 1st back surgery for spinal stenosis. 2004- 2nd back surgery for spinal stenosis. 2007- disabled and couldn’t work. 2008- 3rd and 4th back surgeries for 2 levels of fusions. From 1997- 2008, I was severely depressed, obese (330 lbs to be exact), developed high blood pressure, high cholesterol, coronary artery disease, and dependent on pain medications. I didn’t particularly care for this way of life, but knew no other way. After living this way for 13 years, I knew I had to change or I was not going to be alive much longer. Winter 2010- started walking on the treadmill in my sister’s basement, for just a mile. Within a month, I was up to 3 miles. Summer 2010- ran 1 lap around the track at Martinsburg High School. Within a month I was up to 4 laps equal to 1 mile. Slowly I kept increasing my distance and in October 2011, I ran my first half marathon (13.1 miles). I have lost over 100 lbs from exercise and eating right, no longer take any medications; which I am proud of, in the best shape of my life, and back to working full time. This past Saturday I competed in an 8K in VA Beach and placed within the top 10% of my age group. On Sunday, I ran my first full marathon (26.2 miles). I finished the entire marathon without stopping and that was my one and only goal.
What got me through it was this:
Mile 1- I ran for God for giving me the strength and another chance at life.
Mile 2- for my 2 children, Jordan and Jessica who I love so very much.
Mile 3- for my parents, my father in heaven who always believed in me and my abilities to do anything I wanted to do. For my mother, for always being there for me through the good and the bad.
Mile 4- for my sole mate and best friend, T for instilling confidence in me and for supporting me.
Mile 5- for all of those disabled and can’t run.
Mile 6- for those children being bullied.
Mile 7- for my family, for believing in me.
Mile 8- for people fighting cancer.
Mile 9- for the US troops for fighting for my freedom.
Mile 10- for all the victims affected by an act of mother nature.
Mile 11- for those who are homeless.
Mile 12- for all my medical doctors, especially for my neurosurgeon.
Mile 13- for all abused animals.
Mile 14- for those struggling with addiction.
Mile 15- for all who are battling depression.
Mile 16- for all my true friends.
Mile 17- for all my coworkers.
Mile 18- for all my teachers and coaches.
Mile 19- for those suffering from hunger.
Mile 20- for children battling obesity.
Mile 21- for those who are missing loved ones.
Mile 22- for abused women and children.
Mile 23- for babies “born too soon”.
Mile 24- for Chandler (my boxer) and Mallory (my Maltese) for accompanying me on several runs.
Mile 25- for my health and happiness.
Mile 26- I ran for me, for having the guts and courage. And the last .2 I ran for chili and cheese nachos.
Next up…a 50 miler!
Travis at Two Rivers Treads May 2016
Now it is 2016
Travis is 6 years opiate free. He has run 14 marathons in 4 years. He will do the JFK 50 miler this year. He shares these insights:
What have you learned about running’s role in treatment of opiate addiction?
TM: Running has showed me that there is a productive life after addiction, if you want a good life bad enough it’s up to you to take control of it.
Do you think the symptoms of addiction ever go away?
TM: Just speaking for myself, I don’t think the addiction ever goes away, just learn to cope with it.
How do you feel if you miss running?
TM: if I miss running, I find myself experiencing pain and depression
Any other activity substitute in the same way?
TM: I haven’t found anything to substitute this addiction with besides running and the challenge of it
What advice would you give someone of pain medication now who wishes to get off them?
TM: Stay strong. It’s a long journey but it’s very rewarding once you have it under control. Find something that challenges you physically and mentally and just dive in.
What do you think are the biggest barriers to people coming off the meds?
TM: Believing in yourself, getting your self esteem back, trusting that there is a life after addiction, and mending the damage you have caused to family and friends.