Winter Walk, a little early…
Happy Thanksgiving – Unplugged
It’s been a long, long time since I’ve turned off the electronics, so I’m giving my family me for the Holiday.
Blessings and happiness,
56 miles to a new personal best…
In January I set a goal of 5,000 miles for the year. Last year I hit 5,364 but spent a lot of time on the bike to do it. Also, I was going 13-14 days in a row without a day off and by the time winter had rolled around, I was tired. I figured trying to beat that would be too much two years in a row and I wanted to work in at least one day off a week – but I didn’t want to short-change myself either so I settled on the even 5,000 with the caveat that it was quite okay to fall short of the goal if I had fun and increased my average speed…
Well, after my ride on the training wheels today I’ve only got 56 miles to go to pass up last year’s total mileage and I managed to stick to my one, even two days off a week. With my work, this is nothing short of amazing as I see it.
In the last three seasons, since I started tracking my mileage, I’ve managed to ride the equivalent of just over halfway around the world and burned off the equivalent of almost 1,260 burgers off of my gut – translated that’s 678,970 calories or roughly 193 pounds. 32 pounds more than I currently weigh.
And just in time for Thanksgiving!
To all of my American cyber-friends, have a safe and wonderful (and long) Thanksgiving Weekend.
Recovery from Alcoholism is Anything but Boring…
Before I even get going, I won’t even blow smoke in the vicinity of anyone’s butt: If you like feeling like you’re dying a little each day, if you like the fact that the people you love run the other way when they see you coming (or hide), if you like feeling like a loser… Don’t get sober. Sadly following a program of recovery not only fixes all of those things, it fixes most financial woes as well – you’ll be amazed at how much money you’ve got when you’re not paying for court costs and fines, drunk driving lawyers, the alcohol and the rest of the general mayhem. In the last five years I could have saved enough to pay for a Ferrari, cash. Now, if you find that kind of misery fun and enjoyable, well have at it.
That said, the thought of a boring life is a distinct fear of many drunks on the edge of recovery – myself included, all those years ago.
The truth is, being a drunk fogs the thinking. I simply wasn’t capable of thinking my way out of the box I’d locked myself into, including the notion that a sober life is somehow boring. Unless, of course, you consider paying for the stuff you want with cash rather than having to finance a TV boring… Unless, of course, you consider having to wake up in the morning wondering how in the hell you got home last night and what you hit to cause that dent in your car “fun“. If you think fearing the moment when the other shoe drops to squash you enjoyable… You get the point. For alcoholics like me, at some point drinking changes. What was once fun becomes a cement weight chained to the neck. Worse, once you realize the weight, what comes next really sucks: Alcohol stops working. All of a sudden, it ceases to be the escape that it once was. That feeling it used to give you, that you were okay, ends. At this point I absolutely freaked out. Once the escape was rendered useless, all I had left was the misery. Shortly thereafter came hell on earth – and I started picking out trees…
That was the point I gave up the fight to keep drinking. I simply ran out of gas and I really didn’t care whether or not being sober was going to be fun or not. Whatever it was, it had to be better than what I’d become.
Fortunately, the last 21 years have been anything but boring. It has not been easy, but it ain’t dull either. All of the emotional pain that used to be a part of being on the right side of the grass, pumping air, is gone. I got into Twelve Step groups and have so many good friendships that it’s really quite hard to describe. Starting out, especially at such a young age, I hung out at clubs for recovering kids (they’re all over the place – dancing, DJ’s – everything you’d get in a night out, minus booze). Girlfriends came and went in that first year, then I wised up and took a year and a half off from dating until I could get myself fixed. I ended up rooming with a couple of sober guys and we helped each other stay focused on sobriety. Then I finally met a girl I could see settling down with. Four months later we were engaged. We moved in together and took our time putting our wedding together. We married, settled down (eventually), bought a bigger house, had kids, went through some marriage difficulties, and came out of that shining… I’m fortunate to love my wife more today than when we went through the honeymoon period. We put together one heck of a fun life together.
When I sobered up I never would have guessed that it would turn out like this. There have been ups and downs but the ups were never too high and the downs were never lower than the “ups” while I was drinking. Sobriety has been a lot of things but boring isn’t one of them.
One thing is certain though: Misery is refundable. All I have to do to stroll through hell again is take that first drink – it won’t be long after that.
Why I Chose Cycling Over Running…
I read a post, written by a guy who I’ve been following for quite a while now who is quite fast – a good twelve mile pace for him is around 7:30… I can’t hold that for more than four. That said, he had a tough run a while back and wrote that he always has a tough time finding motivation after a tough run – and I could relate, been through it at least twenty times in the decade that I ran exclusively, before cycling.
I’ve been cycling for a little over two years – three seasons now. I’ve had one ride that I might be able to call a bad ride. One. I’ve ridden in pouring rain, snow, sleet and oppressive heat – over 780 different rides and I had one bad one…and that one was “bad” because I bonked – but that was my own dumb fault for not eating enough and I rode with the wind on the way out.
On one hand, this is why I ride (and now run in the winter to stay fit for riding).
On the other I am not foolish enough to believe that this would be the same for everyone, it’s quite obvious that cycling is simply my thing“. There are several reasons I prefer cycling over any other kind of cardio-fitness activities.
First would be, without a doubt, recovery time. I can ride a century and be back to something that resembles normal the very next day. Anything shy of a metric century and I’m in good shape after a nap and some dinner. Try running even a half marathon and you’re out of commission for at least a day or even two. There were some weeks where I’d have a tough time chasing around after my kids in the back yard because I was recovering from a run… That simply wasn’t okay with me.
I’d have to put the speed of cycling at second. I love going fast, and there’s no arguing the fact that cycling feeds the speed demon better than running. Even going around a simple corner at speed provides a level of excitement that simply can’t be had with running, or (God forbid) walking.
The camaraderie would be on my short list but you get that in running as well so I’d probably call that square. I do get along well with the cycling community though. Nice folks, both sports.
Next is the bikes themselves. I love the bikes themselves. Mountain bikes, road bikes, they’re all good. Before I picked up cycling 2-1/2 years ago, the only bike that I had real miles on was an ’80’s suspension-less Murray 10-speed mountain bike – that I quit riding when I got my driver’s license in ’86… I think my Venge weighs less than the Murray’s wheels did (of course the Venge cost about 30 times more too, but please don’t misunderstand my pointing this out as a complaint). The things they do with the composite bike frames are simply amazing – and the way the newer bikes handle and the way the components work is nothing short of spectacular in comparison.
Heck while we’re at it, I like the shorts and bright jerseys too…and the jackets, gloves, leg warmers, arm warmers…
In a nutshell, I pretty much like every aspect of cycling. Given an afternoon, a day off, a weekend or a vacation, I can’t think of much I’d rather do than go for a ride.
Should A Driver Convicted of a DUI Be Allowed to Drive…
New Hampshire is currently debating whether or not to allow first-time convicted drunk drivers to drive on a restricted license with a ‘blow-and- go’ device in their car. Current law suspends their license for nine months but it can be reduced to 90 days after a treatment (assuming outpatient) program is completed. A suspended license means driving privileges are revoked while a restricted license allows driving at certain pre-determined times for work and treatment.
I’ve been through two outpatient treatment stints, the first I drank through (after the class let out, not during or before because that would have been stupid). The second, I was entirely sober throughout (I did the second after inpatient to satisfy the court – long story). To the best of my knowledge, I was the only sober person in that class. Without providing tech secrets to would-be cheaters, cheating that system is easy, if you’re smart about it.
Now, some are for the change and others are opposed.
As is usual, the debate is framed improperly in the news because reality won’t fit in a two sentence answer. Those opposed say they are because it sends would-be drunk drivers the message that consequences will be loosened or made less severe.
After my post yesterday that dealt specifically with consequences, you might think that I would then be opposed to letting convicted drunk drivers drive on a restricted license – that the nine month suspension should stay. You would be wrong and not because I’m for a lighter sentence. I’m for tougher sentences that work.
Assuming that once the nine month suspension is over a driver can get his or her license back free and clear, this means a person is done. What happens in reality is that a real drunk, one normal drivers have to worry about, will drive to and from work on the suspended license. Far fewer tickets are given during rush hour and if you obey the speed limit in Michigan and wear your seatbelt, your chances of being pulled over drop to zero or close to it. Eventually the cheater will decide that he (or she) has to get out for a night so they’ll go to a bar for a night out and leave early, hitting the party store on the way home… Or worse, switch times at the bar to weekend mornings because police presence is much more concentrated on a Saturday night than a Saturday afternoon. You end up with a drunk behind the wheel on a heavy-traffic time when families are out having fun. The main point is this: You end up with a drunk on the road because a suspended license doesn’t mean a person can’t drive – it means a person can get in a bit more trouble if they are caught driving.
On the other hand, with a “blow-and-go” (a breathalyzer device that will keep a vehicle from starting if the operator has been drinking – and presumably keep a record of the attempt) in the vehicle, the people are assured that a driver will not be loaded behind the wheel. There are ways around a blow-and-go, of course, and without giving secrets away to miscreants, know that those methods are highly unreliable. In addition, with a blow-and-go, I assume that a time-stamp is recorded – when the data is downloaded from the unit, you have a record of whether or not a driver stuck to his or her restriction… The point is, though, under current law, you rely on a drunk to stick to his or her sentence. With a blow-and-go in the car, your are ensured that the drunk will have no choice but stick to their sentence.
In other words, the blow-and-go, with a restricted rather than a suspended license, is the harsher sentence. On top of that, you allow the offender to continue making a living so they can still support their family while serving out their sentence.
This is from the perspective of an ex-drunk who had an operating under the influence conviction or two in his distant past (more than 22 years ago, before they even had blow-and-go’s). I know what the hell I’m talking about here. Thinking as I once did, as a criminal, I’d much rather the suspended license – I’d still be free to do as I wish, as long as I’m careful about it. With a blow-and-go, you’ve got me.
Just food for thought – and a chance to look at things from a different perspective.
Self-Worth Is A Matter of Perspective
The other night I received my 21 year coin – clean and sober for 21 years. Two other people celebrated anniversaries that night – a two and a four month. Back when I got straight we celebrated the quarters for the first year and we got grief for that from some of the old-timers. They used to complain that a recovering drunk shouldn’t be rewarded that early on. Well today we’re celebrating the first six months, one at a time and then nine months and a year. This makes no never mind to me – I say we need something to celebrate when we first come in, might as well be with a coin and a chuck on the shoulder.
The big story though, was a friend of mine who has been around for a long time. About the same amount of time as I’ve got. When he first got sober, this friend of mine was bat-shit crazy. I mean gnawing on a dog’s leg crazy, I’m not using the term “crazy” artistically. He liked to think of himself, back then, as a tough guy. I used to hear his stories and rather than roll my eyes, though I did do that on occasion, I set about trying to help the brother in what little capacity I could. Here we are coming up on two decades later and he still likes to tell the story of the day I offered him the chance to look at things from a different perspective…
At the time, hell more than a decade later, I didn’t think what I said was such a big deal, but he talks about that day often. He’d gone through one of his usual rants about the fact that he was doing everything the way he should but it wasn’t working. He wasn’t getting any better. After most of the crowd had left for home I walked up to him and said something to the effect of: Look, have you ever considered the idea that you’re not doing this right?
He talks about that challenge today as if I were taking my own life in my hands, and I may have been – there’s no strong like crazy… But the reality is this: “If I didn’t give a shit I’d have kept my mouth shut, brother”.
Today this man is square. He’s married and has built a good life for himself, but he still deals with negativity poorly. Unlike most drunks, myself included, who are egomaniacs with inferiority complexes, he skips the egomaniac part – he only has the inferiority complex. He comes at life through the lens that he’s a worthless piece of shit and unworthy of saving. Where I have to take an inventory of what’s spoiled “on my shelf”, he is acutely aware at every moment of what’s wrong with him… His inventory had to look more closely at what was good.
To make a very long story readable, he has to come at sobriety from a very rare angle – so rare that I’d never have been able to help him get to where he is today (he asked me just the other day if I thought I could have and I had to answer no – back then I just didn’t have the grasp that I do today). He stuck with it though. He dealt with shrinks and sponsors and steps and through all that he did wrong in muddling through it, he did one thing perfectly: He kept coming back and didn’t quit quitting. So we’re talking the other night about his self-worth issue and I asked him if he realized what a blessing he’d been given… Now here’s the perspective and I may have missed it had I not written a post just twelve hours earlier about helping others (funny how that works).
My once bat-shit crazy friend learned a completely different way to get sober because his needs were different than most. I explained, “Brother, one of these days a complete nut is going to walk through those doors and you’re going to help save his life, you’re going to be his wrench. That is your gift”.
The difficult part in recognizing this, of course, is that when we’re sitting in our own stew it’s difficult to see something like struggling like hell as a gift. A gift it is, nonetheless.
There’s so much more though. Seeing this guy normal now , and knowing that I was able to play a very small but important part in it, simply by being myself and telling it like I saw it rather than pussyfooting around a tough subject with a tougher person is a huge blessing.
The trick, of course, was keeping my mouth shut until I could approach the brother because I cared about him. I must be mindful of my motives.
What can you say to a drunk in the madness to get them to quit…
Thank you to Fat Guy 2 Tri Guy for the inspiration for this post. This is going to be a very heated and emotional post so know two things going in… 1) I’m no doctor or shrink, I’m just a normal everyday guy. I reserve the right to be wrong – there may very well be a better way that came out in the last 20 years. 2) I am a recovering alcoholic/addict – while I’m no professional, I know what the hell I’m writing about. This post is from the context of a person who knows what it’s like to be in the madness, and to recover from it…
My friend left this comment on my last post, I Am Living Proof that God Doesn’t Keep Score:
Jim, you need to call Rob Ford in Toronto. That man does not realize he has a problem. You saw the problem and took action. Very inspiring.
First of all, the well-known fact that he has stated, on numerous occasions, his disdain for cyclists would preclude me pissing on his gums if his teeth were on fire. Second, while I appreciate the compliment, I did have a lot of help recognizing the problem from The People of the State of Michigan (that’s short for legal trouble folks). Here’s the rub: I had to realize I had a problem and that the problem was not that the People of Michigan were picking on me. In Ford’s case, he acts as though the problem is that people are just picking on him for smoking crack. The meat of the issue is this: Until I was ready to quit, there was nothing anyone could say that would have changed my mind. In other words, you could have talked to me till you were blue in the face and it wouldn’t have mattered. Folks, I had a doctor tell me that I was dying and I still drank for another year. The sad fact is, the pain wasn’t great enough to quit, I wasn’t ready to quit until everything was gone and I was laying awake, shivering and sweating from the DT’s in the top bunk of my bed in the treatment center. Until that moment, there was nothing anyone could say that would have changed me – and believe me, they tried.
Rob Ford, as I see it, simply isn’t ready yet. It seems to me that he’s where I was, sitting on the doctor’s table getting the news that my liver had less than a decade left on it (again I reserve the right to be wrong, I am writing about this from a place of sheer ignorance – I know nothing about the man away from the camera).
There was a commercial that ran here in Michigan several years ago that featured a young girl whining that she was “screaming for your help” when her parents found her drug paraphernalia. I tore that commercial apart here. The notion that people, take Rob for instance, are asking for help when they get busted, is stupid. It’s worse than untrue, it gives hope where there is none. Alcoholics and addicts are not asking, crying or screaming for help when they get busted. They’d just as soon you forget about what they did and let them go about their using.
In fact, let’s do a little thought experiment… You discover your daughter’s crack pipe and confront her. After you explain that this behavior is not wise you tell her you are there to help and offer to take her to an “NA” meeting if she would like to go – then you give her the crack pipe back and let her know that there will be no consequences for her smoking crack, that things will immediately go back to normal. Out of 100 people, how many will quit? If your answer is anywhere between 1 and 100, you’re a fool. The answer is zero.
This imperviousness to intelligence and logic is what makes dealing with an alcoholic so difficult. We don’t recognize the damage that we leave in our wake. The only things I know of that we respond to are pain and loss. Period. End of discussion.
Now, if you’ve made it this far, you’ve got to be wondering, well what the heck can I do. If you want to help, the trick is to make consequences as painful and costly as reasonable and possible. The idea is to stop enabling the behavior. If you’re someone’s boss but need the employee, try an unpaid leave of absence (though allow the medical insurance to keep going so they can get into treatment). If you’re a parent, kicking them out on their ear works (the mere threat did for me – but I knew they weren’t kidding around either… One more screw-up and I was out). A spouse? Consequences folks, we respond to pain and loss. If you’re a policy maker, and I’m a little out of the loop here, I haven’t even gotten a parking ticket in more than a decade, increasing penalties isn’t necessary, they’re stiff enough already. Probation, pee tests, blow-and-go’s in cars are excellent deterrents for first timer’s. Jail and eventually prison for second and third offenders are great… For those close to an addict or alcoholic, family or spouses, there are meetings for you as well if you so choose. For many, they prove invaluable. The delicate balance is this: Make it painful enough to elicit the proper reaction, treatment and recovery… If you get the mix right and your loved one recovers, you’ll get to save a life and see a truly changed person, devoted to being a better them.
By the way, if you’re a friend of a drunk or an addict, run for the hills. You know the difference between a drunk and an addict? A drunk will steal your wallet. An addict will steal your wallet, then help you look for it.
I Am Living Proof that God Doesn’t Keep Score…
A good friend of mine, one of my best friends, reminded me of something last night. Thanks Dennis.
In a handful of very short years I left a swath of wreckage in my wake that was enough to make my parents cut me off entirely. This is saying something too. My mom, before she became a nurse in the 60’s, was just one month away from taking vows – as a nun. I am not kidding. I pissed off a nun enough to turn her back.
Now that we’ve established that my past contains some monumentally stupid decisions, please allow me to bring this back…
December 1, 1992 1:30 am. Dawn Farm In-patient Treatment Center – top bunk of my sleeping quarters:
I hadn’t slept well in days. No more than a few hours a night. The shaking that had set in shortly after the alcohol worked its way out of my system two weeks ago was unbearable. Looking back 20 years later, imagine that you’re shivering like you’re freezing but you can’t stop sweating – that’s what DT’s (Delirium Tremens) are like. Now we’re not talking about sitting out by a campfire in the early fall type of “freezing”. We’re talking about laying out in the snow for the last hour or two, 15 degrees below freezing, 30 mile an hour winds, naked – that’s freezing. The shaking was so bad that I had to resort to drinking a Coke in a glass, through a straw. The hamster wheel in my head was going a mile a minute…
“What if I’m dying, what if this is the end, God am I really that bad? Fuck! What can I do, will it be this bad when I leave and go back to drinking (yeah, even in the midst of this I still planned on drinking again once I’d gotten my ass out of the frying pan)”.
Over, and over and over again these thoughts would circulate. My heart was pounding… I couldn’t stop them.
“Is this what it’s like when the DT’s kill you? I can’t keep living like this. I don’t want to die”…
“God, please… I know I’ve been a loser and I’ve pretty much wasted a great life, but I’ll make you a deal: I’ll give sobriety a chance, not a bullshit half-hearted attempt, I’ll give it the best that I’ve got, if you’ll just help me. Please”!
I was in tears at this point, exhausted, beat up. Spent… And that’s when my miracle happened. The hamster wheel screeched to a halt and I drifted off to sleep. The next four and a half hours of sleep were the best I had in years. When I woke up in the morning, when I sat up in bed, a smile crept across my face. I knew God said, “Okay”. I could feel it down to my baby toes – and I was going to live up to my end of the bargain.
I didn’t know how big a deal this was back then, how much that restless night would change me forever. It wasn’t until I was standing at a podium in front of a group of friends about to give my first “Open Talk” rubbing my “1 Year” coin with my thumb that I began to look back on that night as the night everything changed. That was the night. On the top bunk in a room in Dawn Farm, shivering and sweating like I’d run a Death Valley marathon from the DT’s, was the night that I was saved.
My name is Jim, and I am an alcoholic. 20 years and 355 days ago I made a promise to God that I’d give sobriety my best shot if He’d just help me… After all of the shit that I’d pulled; after all of the lying, cheating, stealing, manipulation and deception – enough to turn the back of my own once “almost nun” mother… God still saved me. Sure I did the work. I worked the Steps, I cleaned up the past and made my amends, but God carved the new path. I just went for a walk.
You may believe in a Fire and Brimstone kind of God, and that’s perfectly okay with me, but where I run we’re allowed our own conception of God…and from where I’m sitting, He’s just like my dad, only the love is perfect.
Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see…
From where I’m standing, those are the sweetest words ever written, said or sung. They’re my life in a nutshell.
Have an awesome day.