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Monthly Archives: November 2013

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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.

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‘Tis The Season. Celebrate The Boys, Boys.

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.

To be of maximum usefulness…

I was inspired to start this blog by a fellow with whom I’ve run on a regular basis.  He’s an old-timer, ex-special forces, and is one tough old man.  He and his awesome wife have opened up their house every Saturday for years to a rag-tag bunch of ex-drunks so we can have a place to be ourselves – to feed off of each other’s passion to be clean, sober, decent, fit people.

My friend is being of maximum usefulness to his fellows.

My goal, from the start, wasn’t to reach so many “likes” or hits, though these are nice and well appreciated.  My goal is to be of maximum service to my fellows.  I am a part of the local speaking circuit and I like that just fine but the truth is, I like writing much more.  I don’t think on my feet as well as I’d like but put me in front of a keyboard and give me a half an hour to write a post and I’m much better.

A constant goal for recovering people is finding out how we can best serve others.  This can be in the form of simply opening a meeting and making coffee, it can be working with new people (some of us have more patience than others), the list of seemingly small items one can volunteer for is infinite but can make a huge difference in someone else’s life – but here’s the beautiful secret:  When I volunteer, the biggest difference I notice is in me.

There are three places that I know of where you won’t find a sad face in the bunch:
1.  At the starting line of a running race
2.  At the starting line of a cycling sportive
3.  On a volunteer at a soup kitchen

There is a reason that recovering people are pushed to service from the start and it’s quite simple:  When I’m helping others I can’t stay trapped in self-pity.  I can’t be self-centered.  Helping others gets me out of any rut I’m in when self-seeking goes out the door.  Just like running or cycling, when I get out of that little box, when I can stop that hamster wheel in my head from spinning and throw in a little bit of “feel good”, my attitude and outlook on life will improve.

This is one of those things that I highly recommend you don’t take my word on…  Give it a try, I’d be willing to bet my lunch that you come away feeling a lot better for it.

Why Fitness Works with Addiction Recovery

Of the 21 years I’ve been sober now, I’ve been physically active for probably 16 of them – I had a little break in the middle where finding something I liked to do to stay active proved elusive.  Within months of putting the plug in the jug I got into rollerblading, heavily and tried just about everything under the sun after that.

After rollerblading I dabbled in volleyball, softball, skiing and was heavy into golf. Mrs. Bgddy and I bought a couple of cheap bikes back in the early ’90’s but that never went anywhere. It wasn’t until I got into running that I found something that was relatively cheap (I was poor back then) and could do almost anywhere.

Getting to the point though, as I grew older and more fit, some interesting things became clear, especially through the running period:  I really did feel ‘better’ after a nice run. I could be struggling with something mentally, show up at the running club hang out with the fellas for a minute and as I rounded the corner on the home stretch, I had myself straightened around.  Running (and now cycling) does for me, to a small extent, what drinking did – running gives me a time to escape, or in less pejorative terms, running allows me to defocus for a short time.

All too often I take things way too seriously, a side-effect of living through hell and escaping its clutches.  In other words, I have a tendency to, as it’s often described, concentrate on the destination rather than the journey.  The other sports I took part in gave me the same escape only to a lesser extent, with the exception of rollerblading.  My rollerblading  kick began when I was very young and new in recovery and because I didn’t have anyone to explain why I was so drawn to it, I was incapable of understanding the changes I went through when I got my heart rate up.  What I learned when I picked up running to shed some unwanted weight is that the activity and the accompanying endorphins gave me a chance to reset, to use a political term.

When I have a problem, if I’m trying to think through that problem with the same thinking that landed me in that situation in the first place, I get stuck.  On the other hand, after taking an hour or two’s break from trying to figure things out (I rarely think about life’s “stuff” when I’m running – or now, cycling) and then get a nice little rush of endorphins which brings about an unmistakable feeling of wellbeing and calm, I can refocus on that problem with a new vigor and from a completely different angle.  The process of completing a physical activity allows me to look at a problem with a better thought process.

Now, while I would imagine that while this happens in everyone, it takes someone who is acutely aware of such changes to really feel it happen.  Call it one of the blessings of being a recovering alcoholic.  For years I built up a tolerance to mood and mind altering substances and it used to take a lot to have a little effect on me – having a blood alcohol level above 0.3 was not uncommon, I’m quite certain I’ve been over 0.4 on occasion – enough that a normal person would be poisoned and die – and I could function like that.  On the other hand, once that substance is removed, over time we become highly sensitive to any changes of a positive nature in our mood – so much so that we must make doctors aware of our recovery before being anesthetized.  The end result is this:  When endorphins are released post physical exercise and those dopamine receptors are tickled, that feeling of wellbeing washes over me like an ocean wave in paradise.

This, specifically, is why I choose to remain physically active.  When done properly, there are no drawbacks – only positive outcomes.

Unfortunately there is that one flaw:  “When done properly”.  I possess a proclivity to become addicted to anything that makes me feel good.  This includes exercise.  I must always be mindful that I don’t allow my addictive personality to take the reins and allow riding a bike to do the same thing that getting drunk did to me.  Everything must be in balance or I’m toast.

How much should a decent road bike weigh?

Now before I even get going, this is an opinion piece. The operative word in that sentence being “opinion”.

When I picked up my new bike, I was just a little more than nervous about the scale. I knew it was pretty light, definitely slimmer than my old Trek 5200 T and it weighs a lot less than my aluminum Cannondale SR400 – but what did it really weigh? The question, at least for me, was what weight is “cool enough” (read that “acceptable”) for a high-end road bike?

So I had my steed into the shop for a minor front derailleur index issue and the owner of the shop, who sold me the bike, asked what it weighed. Having never weighed it, I had no clue. Matt being the cool guy he is, pulled out his digital scale and we weighed it… With pedals and cages, she tipped the scales at 18-1/4 pounds.

I don’t really know why but I wasn’t happy with that. It just seemed too heavy for a bike that cost more than $3,500 – right or wrong, ignorant or not, I was bummed and I knew the wheels were the place to start. Fortunately enough, I was having some problems with the rear wheel (slop in the hub – completely fixable) so sinking some money on new wheels made sense. I settled on aluminum because I like to spend time biking in the mountains on vacation and the last thing I want to worry about is over cooking a set of rims on the way down one of the several passes that require heavy braking.  I found a nice set at a decent price on Nashbar, bought them and had them installed… And dropped almost a full pound. It’s now 17.3, dripping wet, and I am happy.

Back to the question at hand though: What is a respectable weight for a road bike?

This depends greatly on the price you’re willing to pay.  If you’re getting an entry-level aluminum bike 20 pounds is very respectable while 23 is close to the norm and 25 pounds isn’t out line.  For a full carbon road bike, depending again on how much you spend, you can range from 21 pounds all the way down to 14.  There are two key factors that drive weight on a carbon bike:  Type of carbon fiber used on the frame (mine is Specialized’s FACT 10r, 11r is quite a bit more expensive [the frame alone costs as much as my bike] but is lighter and more rigid from what I’ve read) and the components.  I have cheaper components on my bike, 105’s with a very heavy crank set (just under two pounds).  Bikes are built this way to keep the overall price down.  If I were to upgrade everything to SRAM Red or Dura Ace and opt for a carbon bar and stem, then buy a weight weenie set of wheels, I could conceivably get my bike down to 14-1/2 pounds (I’ve seen a post of one built this way on the scale).  The trick is I’d be looking at a few thousand dollars more to do it and I’m not willing to go there until things start wearing out on the bike – and that’ll be way down the road.

Now, there are ways around the cost issue.  You can buy component sets on eBay or online discount shops, the options are almost endless, but just know this – the cheaper you go, the more you’ll have to know what you’re doing – and maybe even install the stuff yourself.

Now, if you’re looking to shed weight, there’s an order to it.  Start with the wheels.  Anything more than 1,900 grams and you can easily knock a pound or more for $350-$700 for a decent set of light-weight aluminum wheels.  From there, look at the handlebar and stem – switch from aluminum to carbon – $200 and you can drop maybe a quarter to a half of a pound.  Look at your seat post and saddle next.  Another $200-$300 and a quarter pound or more.  So for roughly $800 you can shed 1-1/2 pounds (more if you have steel wheels and heavier components).  The question you have to ask yourself is simply, is it worth it?

To answer that question, here’s how I handle the thinking:  Is the bike frame aluminum?  Yes:  No upgrades – I won’t drop a lot of cash into a bike that feels like I’m riding a tank anyway.  No:  Do I love this bike?  No:  Enough said*  Yes:  Upgrade away.  *The only reason that I would have blown money on upgrading my 5200 rather than purchasing a new bike is if my wife didn’t support the purchase of the new bike.  In the case of the unsupportive spouse, pick away one part at a time as cash allows – however, take into account that as parts age, they must be replaced (including cranks, chain rings, derailleurs etc.) and replacing a component line and other weight upgrades generally end up costing more than buying a new bike.

Also remember the bike weight axiom:  It’s easier to peel weight off of the cyclist than the cycle.  If you’re at your target weight, then work on the bike.  And generally speaking, if you’re knocking a pound off of your bike, you will notice it on a climb.

For new bikes, I’d say a decent general price to weight guide would look something like this:

Entry level road bike ($800-$1,750):  19-25 pounds
Mid-range road bike ($1,800-$2,500):  18-21 pounds
High-end road bike ($2,600-$4,000):  16-19 pounds
High-end race bike ($4,100-$15,000+):  13-15 pounds

There will obviously be exceptions, my guide is only general.

Celebrating 21 Years Clean and Sober in Style

The big day is here:IMG_3378If the last couple of days of celebrating with my friends and my glorious wife weren’t enough, Amanda over Amanda’s COREner nominated me for the 2013 Blog of the Year Award!

Blog of the Year Award 1 star jpeg

When I was just six months sober an old timer gave me a coin to celebrate the event and as he presented it said, “I promise you, if you stick around long enough your life will be so good you’ll believe it just can’t get any better…  And if you just keep coming back, it will”.  I’ve been there more times than I can count and I’ve been enjoying one of those waves for quite some time now.

Humorously enough, recovery is a lot like cycling in one important respect:  In cycling, the saying goes:  “It doesn’t get any easier, you just go faster” (thank you Greg LeMond).  Well in recovery the saying is “It doesn’t get any easier, you just get better”.  When I quit drinking, despite all of the good intentions one can possess, I was a loser.  I had a horrible penchant for procrastination which meant I didn’t take care of my responsibilities and hoped that wreckage I was creating would just iron itself out.  Over time, one mess after another compounded creating such a personal hole I feared there was no chance of ever digging out.  I was sorely mistaken about the difficulty that lay before me for one simple reason:  I was trying to figure out how to repair the damage I’d created with the same thinking that created the problems in the first place – I simply wasn’t capable of anything greater at the time.

Enter a new way of looking at life.  Imagine a grocery or hardware store that simply flies by the seat of its pants – with a manager who doesn’t take stock of what’s on the shelves and what needs to be ordered.  To make a long story short, you end up with a mess.  Too much of certain items and not enough of others.  Before long you’ve got the upper management mad about the overages because you ran out of space to store the overages and the customers are angry that you never have what they need.  This was my life, in a nutshell.  The solution was to take an honest inventory of my personal stock.  As one could imagine, there was a lot in shortage and hardly anything of value in the overage column.  Once the inventory was done (my first decent one took me a full weekend, 8-10 hours Friday, Saturday and I finished Sunday evening) I shared it with a mentor, another recovering person who was well beyond my current predicament, and we set to putting together a plan to properly balance the shelves.

One problem at a time, one resentment at a time, one deficiency at a time, I cleared the wreckage and began to reorder my life.  Old habits die hard though and changing them took some time and lot of effort.  I stuck with it though, hoping that the old-timer was right and knowing that whatever happened, what little I did have was much better than what I left behind.  I can’t put an exact time on it, but sooner rather than later, I hit that point, where my life had become good enough that I couldn’t imagine it getting better and just like he’d promised – I kept at it and it did get better.

Now, going back to the cycling analogy:  While things did get better, as did I, they didn’t get any easier.  I have a rewarding and enjoyable life today because I chose to quit drinking and to clean up my act but with the betterment of my life came a lot more responsibility.  In other words, my life has grown vastly more complex requiring more effort to maintain everything – it’s gotten harder, but because I’ve continued with that inventory and stuck to doing the next right thing at any given moment, I have gotten better.

Finally, I’d like to pass this award on to five blogs written by people who inspire me:

Aaron West at steep climbs, who has been fighting his way through an unimaginable injury that’s kept him off of his bikes but is maintaining a great attitude throughout the process.

Aaron over at Chatter Gets Fit:  Even though Amanda gave him the award in her post, I’m re-upping him.

Fat Guy to Tri Guy…  Another fellow who’s fought his own adversity to make it.

Elisariva, a long time blog friend who is going through some serious trials of her own.

And Finally Sandra over at A Promise to Dad – because she deserves this one.  She’s helped me more than any blogger since I started writing.

The originator of the Award can be found here.

Thanks Amanda, Aaron, Aaron, FGtTG, Elisa and Sandra – and to everyone who keeps coming back to my blog.  Thank you.