People have asked me if I’ve 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. But I know one—Travis Muehleisen—a former opiate addict now addicted to running, who is also a Freedom’s Run marathon finisher.
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 six miles to get the substitute—he’s 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’re getting a paycheck and insurance not to work. But Travis needs to work to keep his brain and body highly engaged. And a desk job? No way—Travis is a steel worker, and builds bridges.
Travis shared this with me in 2012—at the beginning of his running journey:
In 1997, I had my first back surgery for spinal stenosis. In 2004, my second surgery. In 2007, I was disabled and couldn’t work. In 2008, I had my third and fourth back surgeries for two levels of fusions. From 1997–2008, I was severely depressed and obese (330 lbs.), developed high blood pressure, high cholesterol, coronary artery disease, and became dependent on pain medications.
After living this way for 13 years, I knew I had to change or I wasn’t going to be alive much longer. I started walking on a treadmill in the winter of 2010. Within a month, I was up to three miles. In the summer of 2011, I ran a lap around the Martinsburg High School track. A month later, I ran a mile. In October of 2011, I ran my first half-marathon. I recently completed my first full marathon. I’ve lost over 100 pounds; I’m eating right; I no longer take medications; I’m in the best shape of my life; and I’m back to working full-time.
Travis is now six years opiate-free. He’s run 14 marathons in four years. He’ll do the JFK 50 miler this year. He added:
Running has showed me that there is a productive life after addiction, if you want it bad enough. It’s up to you to take control of it. Running is my substitute for addiction—because it never goes away. Addiction recovery is a long journey, but you have to find a substitute that challenges you mentally and physically—and dive in.
For more on Travis’s story, CLICK HERE.
— Dr. Mark is a Professor of Family Medicine at West Virginia University School of Medicine, and owner of Shepherdstown’s Two Rivers Treads, the nation’s first minimalist footwear store.