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Monthly Archives: December 2013

‘Tis the Season to Sober Up: Don’t Look at it as an Ending, It’s Just Beginning

This post is for anyone who may be in the unenviable position of having to quit drinking right after the holidays…  Either as a Christmas wish or New Year’s resolution…

This time of year gets a little more than hectic for those involved in addiction recovery.  With the Holidays, time off work and family gatherings, there are a lot of opportunities to get oneself in trouble, whether with the family or the law.  In addition, New Year’s resolutions provide a much-needed attack of conscience – or a good excuse to sober up.  This perfect storm of events, every year, swells the ranks of the newly recovering at meetings and in treatment facilities.  This is a fun time for we old-timers for nothing helps a recovering alcoholic stay sober like a noob – nervous but excited to finally put the wreckage in the rear-view where it belongs, ass kicked by reality,  sicker than shit in the head and scared.  Scared that their life will be boring from now till the day they die, scared that the fun is over, scared that their marriage or even their freedom will dissolve before their eyes.

These fears are real but the reality is misunderstood both in the last weeks before recovery begins and the first months after it commences:  The notion that all fun will cease once one chooses to put a cork in the jug is off.  I can relate, of course as I felt the same way when I quit and I did everything I could to hold on to drinking until I had nowhere left to turn.  It turned out that what I was really afraid of wasn’t that I’d never have fun again, it was that I’d never have an escape.  This is what being drunk was for me – an escape from how I felt about myself and the incessant, nagging knowledge that I was a screw-up, a loser.

Now it’s not easy to do, but when one boils down that fear of not having fun, the escape is often at the root.  That said, there is a solution, an answer to that worry:  The reality is that if you choose to sober up, as I did, your life will change – it has to, otherwise it wouldn’t be worth the effort (and there will be effort required).  What you’re missing as a drunk mired in the disease is that once you clean the wreckage of the past, and continually improve the person that you are, you won’t find it necessary to escape anymore.  This truth alone was worth sobering up for me.

What we tend to do as newly sober people, is to try to wrap our heads around concepts that we can’t possibly understand with the thinking that we are currently capable of.  When we do this we can’t see the big picture because we can’t see how we will change.  Implementing the changes that leading a sober life requires will change who you are to your core – including what is understood as fun.

What most find when they stick around long enough to change is that one of the first things to go is the misery of self-destruction and the anguish of waiting for the other shoe to drop.  Once I got to a place in life where I wasn’t worrying about how my already sucky life was going to get worse, my outlook on life changed and the act of living alone became “fun”.  Once I realized through living right there is no longer another shoe behind the last one, the anguish of being me ended.  On top of that, there’s the extra money that one isn’t throwing out the window at booze, lawyers, fines, etc. that allows one to do fun things.

I couldn’t possibly have grasped that in my first few months of sobriety.  Even better, the longer I’m sober and the more I work towards a good life, the happier I am, the more enjoyable life is.

In short, if you choose to sober up, only your drinking will end, but if you work for it, for the good life, it’s more accurate to call the death of your drinking a beginning.

2013 In Review: Fit as a Fiddle, Healthy as an Ox

I just got back from one of those checkups that you pray for…

Heart rate was a little elevated from running around a bit this morning at 59 but the blood pressure was perfect (112/66).  My overall cholesterol was just a touch elevated (193) but the LDL was high and the HDL was low and my triglycerides were perfect, so go figure.  From there, the “inflammation” measurement (I can’t remember what the technical term is) was awesome at 0.8 and my liver enzymes were slammin’.

So 2014, barring any unforeseen problems, will be another year without medications.  Zip, zero, nada and that’s the way, uh huh, uh huh, I like it.  Unfortunately, while my wife will be happy with this news, I packed on a pound or twelve over the last month.  Oops.  This is a contentious item between my wife and I.  I like 160 (while she prefers 170 and I’m currently at 171) because, pulling 160 pounds up a hill is preferable to 170 so I’ve got a little work to do.  Maybe I’ll split the difference and call it 165, who knows – my ideal weight is between 170 and 175 so I won’t put too much thought into this.

The main point is that between sobriety, running and cycling, I’m fit as a fiddle and healthy as an ox…

As far as fitness goes, my running mileage is way down but I’m going to pass over 5,600 miles today – something like 250 miles better than last year, and my goal for the year was less than last year’s.  Also, I had no time/speed improvement goals (I thought I was going just about as fast as I could at the level I was willing to train at) but I ended up making huge gains in both.  I knocked something like 30 minutes off of my best 100 mile time from last year and my average at the Tuesday night club ride jumped a full mile per hour (from 20.5 to 21.6) and in the process burned through about 80 pounds worth of calories – in one year.  In short, to sum everything up, this year was wildly successful.

Finally, to wrap this up, while there were daily trials and tribulations to deal with, 2013 was a fantastic year all the way around – very well-balanced.  I would say the biggest success had almost nothing to do with fitness.  This year was the best my wife and I have had together since the honeymoon ended.  Looking forward the goal will obviously be much more of the same.

UPDATE:  Imagine my horror when I hit publish and saw that I hit a 4 instead of a 3 in the title…  It would be rather difficult to review 2014 before it happened.  A thousand apologies, I know I messed up the space-time continuum by changing the title.

The Noob’s Guide: How to Photograph a Bike, the Proper Staging of a Bike…

I took a photo of the Venge for a post the other day.  Now, I know what I’m doing and it still took five photos to get it right…  I thought I’d share the progression of photos to demonstrate how I go about setting up my bike so it’s ready for a photo.

First there are a few holier than holy rules that simply should not be broken:
Rule number one (which I would have to work to break because I always ride in the big ring, ahem…):  Big ring up front, middle to small cog at the back.  Also, be careful not to photograph your bike on the big ring up front and the big cog in the back too – this is called “cross-chaining” – riding in this gear combination is not advisable and can speed up the wear and tear of your drivetrain…  The idea is to photograph the drivetrain in a rideable gear combination that says “I ride strong” (even if you don’t).  This is the only rule that cannot be broken – with one exception…  The summit or climbing photo.
Rule number two:  Drivetrain facing out toward the camera.  This rule is not quite as hard and fast as the big ring rule, especially if it’s a “spur of the moment” photo.  If you have the capacity to stage the photo though, this rule should be observed.  Rule number three:  That bike had better be cleanObviously, “I’m awesome because I am/was out riding in deplorable “tough guy” conditions” photos do not apply the same way – in those instances a mucked up bike is appropriate and cool.  Otherwise, give the baby a bath.

In any event, here is an illustrated progression of the photos (click to embiggen):

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Final photo as it appeared in my post

Final photo as it appeared in my post

 

Here are a couple more that didn’t make the cut for various reasons but  did turn out fairly well:

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Focus is just a bit off – too bad too, I like this one…

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The photo above is actually better than the one I used in the post in a few ways…  First, my saddle is perfectly level – you could shoot that with a laser and set your laser by it…  The angle to the camera was a bit lower, closer to the ground, so the optical illusion that my saddle is a little off goes away.  Also, I’ve got the crank arms in an “even more appropriate” position.  Finally, because of the lower angle again,  my handlebar looks snappy and aggressive, as it should.  There were three reasons I chose to scrap this one for the post – 1) I liked the brighter sunshine coming in the window 2) I didn’t like the way the focus was lost on the rear rim and top tube and 3) the knotty pine in that bedroom is very old and still looks quite amazing but there’s a bit of an age/moisture stain on the window jamb that isn’t quite so visible in the photo I used in the post.

While this much attention to detail isn’t always entirely necessary, it sure doesn’t hurt…  If you love your bike be sure to show her (or him) off properly (and if you don’t, you bought the wrong bike).

Buying Your First Road Bike: Don’t Do What I Did…

For the first time in my life I bought a big-ticket item that I a) didn’t regret buying and b) haven’t thought once about taking it back.  As far as I’m concerned, to my tastes, I have the perfect road bike.  I still look at it sitting in my spare bedroom and think about how lucky I am to have such a cool bike.

My third road bike (first new), I feel quite lucky that the owner of my local bike shop decided to display one above/behind the cash counter because that’s how I decided I “needed” a new bike:  I’d call it love at first sight but I wouldn’t want to diminish my relationship with my wife.  So let’s suffice it to say I was rather like one of Pavlov’s dogs (without the contraption hooked up to my salivation glands) when I saw it.  I still think it’s one of the coolest bikes evah and that I’m a lucky guy for being able to ride it.

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Gratuitous Venge Photo…

Now you might get the idea here that it would have been preferable to start with this bike rather than buy the others but that would not have been possible or even a practical for a few reasons.  When I bought my first road bike I was fairly certain that I’d really like cycling (as opposed to mountain biking) but I was hesitant because of the imagined cost – I’d have kicked my own ass for spending what I did on the Venge that early on and I hoped I could get away on the cheap.  After all, even though I only spent $400 on my ’90 Cannondale, that was still more than double the cost of every other bike I’d ever owned.

Cannondale - on the left, with my wife's Secteur

Cannondale – on the left, with my wife’s Secteur

My second road bike, the Trek 5200, was purchased out of necessity (the Cannondale was advertised as a 56 cm frame but it’s a 54 cm – too small for me) but I still didn’t think I had the money to drop on a new full carbon bike and I was more than happy with the used Trek – until that fateful day when I walked into the bike shop and saw that beautiful black and red, sleek, awesome Venge on display above the cash counter I was quite content with what I had…

OldGlory

Trek 5200

I did make an EPIC mistake though…  Now that I’ve got everything I want, including hindsight, I should have gotten the old-school bike with the down tube shift levers last, not first.  When I bought the Cannondale I figured there wouldn’t be much of a difference in the way the gears were shifted, that I’d get used to the older shifters and that I wouldn’t too disadvantaged – after all, they used the old style shifters for decadesI was naïve and mistaken.  The first bike I should have gotten was the Trek because while older, it had everything – 9 speed cassette, a triple chain-ring and modern brake/shift levers.  It isn’t the lightest bike around (it’s 3 pounds heavier than my Venge) but the carbon frame is much more comfortable than the aluminum bike.  Now some of the newer aluminum bikes, a few of the Specialized Allez (pronounced ah-lay) models for example, use thinner tubing and special welding techniques so that the frame is more forgiving and a composite fork to help dampen the stiffness inherent in an aluminum frame.  My wife loves her Secteur Elite so if you can’t afford a full carbon bike, don’t fret – technology has come a long way since 1990:

2010 Specialized Secteur Elite

The point here is now that I’ve got the old-school Cannondale, I still ride it from time to time because it’s a great poor weather bike but it’s ridiculously uncomfortable and inadequately geared compared to the 5200 or Venge.  In other words, I blew that initial $400 on a bike that won’t do what I want it to.  In the end, while I do find the Cannondale cool and I’ll still ride it every once in a while to tool around on, I broke a Cardinal Rule when I bought it:  With very little cycling experience (and no cycling knowledge) I took to Craigslist to buy a bike.  I would have been far wiser and $400 richer if I’d just gone to the bike shop first and picked up the Trek 5200.

Part of my problem is that I didn’t trust the shop to sell me the right bike (I didn’t know anyone who worked there at the time).  More importantly, I didn’t know what to ask for so that the bike shop could sell me the right bike in the first place.  Knowing what I know now, here’s how I’d go about buying that first bike…  First, I’d have a budget in mind.  Most bike shops, if you’ve got decent credit, will be able to get you financed so make sure that you know what your financing limit will be as well if you go with financing instead.  I would then simply walk into the shop and say, “I’ve got “x” dollars to spend or I’ll finance “x” dollars for a road bike”.  I’d then let the salesperson know whether or not I plan on racing (not, in my case), how aggressively I plan on riding (very, in my case), which is more important – speed or comfort (speed, in my case – the setup for a comfortable road bike vs. a fast road bike is completely different*).  From there, they’ll have enough info to get you where you want to be.  Now, if you’re destitute or if you don’t have much money to spend on a bike, let the salesperson at the shop know this; at Assenmachers, where I shop, they care about getting you on a bike first, fit and comfort second, and they let the rest work out in the wash – if after letting your financial state be known they still try to push something you can’t afford, leave and try another shop.

*By the way, I’ve got the perfect example of the difference between a comfort bike and an aggressive race bike in the two photos above if you don’t know what I’m referring to…  Look at the photo of my Venge and then the stock Secteur photo.  The front end on the Secteur is higher and there are several inches of spacers below the stem – this raises the front end of the bike so one can sit more upright.  While riding in this position is supposed to be more comfortable (so I’ve heard, I am perfectly comfortable – back and all – on my Venge), it is far less efficient – and please, don’t even think about disagreeing with me on this indisputable reality.

Finally, and this is the important part – I messed up when I thought I could get by with the old-school, down tube shifting bike – even if I hadn’t messed up and bought a bike that was too small because I was ignorant. The benefits that come with the new integrated shifters and the larger gear selection (9 or 10 rear gears as opposed to 5, 6 or 7) are worth spending the extra money. While there is some truth to the “it’s all about the engine”, studies have shown that you put the same pro on the same course on my Venge and my Cannondale, he will be faster, over the same exact course on the Venge. That absolutely will translate to me being faster, no matter the ability level… Not much faster, but faster nonetheless – mostly because of the additional gears and the ease of selecting them.

Faith without works is dead… The truth about willingness…

My wife shared a quote the other day that really resonated with me…  We’ve probably all heard the quote “Faith without works is dead” but if you’re one of the minority (ten or fifteen percent or so) of people who isn’t religious, much can be lost in the meaning because of your knee-jerk negative reaction to the word “faith”.  In addition, even if you do get it, the saying is used when talking about helping others.

How often have you come to a crossroads in your life?  How often have you decided that tomorrow will be the day that I change?  Tomorrow will be the day I lose weight, tomorrow will be the day when I finally hit the gym or go for a walk.  Tomorrow will be the day I quit drinking.  Tomorrow will be the day I quit cheating, lying or stealing…  Only to find that tomorrow never comes.  There is a flip-side to Faith without works is dead…  All of the willingness in the world and one dollar will get you a cup of coffee:

Willingness without action is fantasy.

When a workout isn’t a workout: December Snow Edition…

I had an awesome childhood.  In fact, I may be one of only a handful of recovering drunks in all of southeastern Michigan who were so fortunate.  That said, we lived way out in the country so we were allowed, as early as seven years old, to run about the neighborhood.  This meant on non-school days that we were gone playing before ten am, showed up for lunch and then were back out until dark.  During the winter we spent much of our time skating on the pond or at the “big hill” in a field a half-mile from our house.  My parents were doing whatever parents did while their kids are out tearing up the neighborhood.

It has been a goal of mine, ever since my wife and I decided to have kids in the first place, to be a better dad than mine was – and those are some pretty big shoes to fill.  I’ve done my best and in a lot of ways I think I’ve lived up to the goal, even done better than I’d hoped.  Today was yet another day of snow and with Christmas out of the way Mrs. Bgddy and I suited the kids up for a day at the sledding hill at the park six miles from our house.  My buddy English Pete even showed up with his daughters so we all had a raucous time.

I’ll tell you what…  At 43 years-old, when my dad was already slowing down, it sure is cool to be able to sled with my kids.  I took them out for a McDonald’s lunch, dropped Mrs. Bgddy off at home and took them back out to the hill for another couple of hours to work lunch off.  I don’t know how many times we went up and down that hill but it was a lot and it  was an absolute blast.  If not for all of that cycling and running there’s no way I’d be in good enough shape to wear my girls out.  I am a grateful man.

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Call Me A Light Weight…

We had a very special Christmas dinner with my in-laws.  Steaks, salad, garlic smashed potatoes, fruit…  It was beautiful.  For the occasion I picked up a couple of bottles of sparkling grape juice – the no-alcohol answer to a sparkly drink in lieu of champagne on New Years Eve.  We even took the stemware out of the China hutch.

The steak was done a perfect medium, the potatoes were amazing, the green bean casserole was stellar – everything on the table was absolutely picture perfect – I was a content man…until I raised that glass to my lips and took a small swig.  My taste buds danced with joy on my tongue, my cheeks puckered ever so slightly…  Oh did that taste good.  By the time dinner was done though, the taste had me missing the real stuff.  Instead of opting for water, I poured another glass and sipped it – a thought crept into the gray matter about what I’d been missing all these years…

Thank God for small miracles, is all I can say.  I went from grown man, master of my little universe, to raging drunk without ever taking an actual drop of alcohol – it was all in my head.  Therein lies the problem though.  I’ve had sparkling grape juice dozens of times since I sobered up and never had a problem with it – never had this kind of reaction.  All too often I see people dabble with these silly no-alcohol containing beverages only to relapse to the real thing and there I was last night, more than 20 years of sobriety under my belt, and I was all out of sorts…

So what was the difference?  Who knows.  Sitting here the next morning trying to look at every little aspect of the dinner last night I can’t put my finger on any one thing.  Perhaps my spiritual program is lacking a little bit lately, perhaps it’s something less problematic.  The trick is, while the details of “why” matter, what’s more important is the fact that I did have a struggle with something that I shouldn’t have – and this is a good thing.

How often do we have a problem and look at it as a bad thing, thinking “I shouldn’t have slipped like that” or “I shouldn’t have missed that workout” or “I shouldn’t have this problem”?  When looking at this in terms of weight and fitness, how often do we fall into that little trap where we have a morsel that triggers a binge?  Do we berate ourselves, further slipping into depravity or do we right the ship?

These are the daily struggles we battle.  Losing them leads me to a loser’s existence, literally, when we’re talking about alcohol.

The reality, when it comes to that sparkling grape juice, is that something wasn’t right – something isn’t right and I have to find out what it is and fix it but this isn’t a bad thing.  I was given the opportunity to fix a flaw within myself before I did something drastically stupid simply because I was paying attention.  If that’s anything, that’s good.

In terms of fitness and weight, translated, what I went through is no different from having a tough time pushing myself away from the table after I’ve eaten my fill only to find that I still want more.  It’s no different from taking another day off the bike or from running because I don’t feel like putting in the effort.  I still do have those days and I handle them the same way – there is something else flawed within me that causes those thoughts or problems.  I have to identify and rectify that flaw or I will relapse…whether than be pigging out, being lazy or drinking.

Now, here’s the really twisted reality:  If I wasn’t a recovering drunk – if I hadn’t gotten in all of that trouble back when I was just a young lad – none of this, the knowledge that something was off and that it must be dealt with, even the ability to identify that something is off in the first place, would be possible.  In fact, I doubt I’d be able to enjoy such a happy life.

If that don’t beat all.

* For clarity, “no-alcohol” should not be confused with “non-alcoholic”.  Sparkling grape juice contains no alcohol while “non-alcoholic” beverages often contain trace amounts of alcohol.  Take “near-beer” for example.  Near-beer contains alcohol – less than 1% by volume, but it’s in there nonetheless.  I dabbled in near-beer one time in my 20+ years of sobriety (about 20-1/2 years ago actually) and I can tell you without a doubt – I had serious problems with it.  My body remembered the alcohol.  That little bit permeated every cell in my body.  I could feel it and it was not good.  For that reason I’ve completely stayed away from anything that isn’t 100% alcohol free since.