My Secret to Sobriety and Dieting (or maybe I should just say losing weight): No Magical Herbs or Pills Needed. Just Change the Tape.
I have a tape that I play over in my head. A lot of ex-drunks do/did, it’s quite common. Some people call them thoughts but I have an entire committee in my melon that I have to keep in order, to simplify that down to “thoughts” does the process injustice. Also, and more importantly, people (myself included) often use the thought process to justify their actions or even succumb to that which haunts them. Now that I know better, the excuse just isn’t good enough.
To thine own self be true, but don’t try to bullshit me either.
I never ended up drunk at a bar stool, or worse – in a jail cell, especially toward the end, by accident or spontaneously. Toward the end, I was in a veritable shit-ton of trouble and the last thing I needed was to get caught drunk again. Yet that’s exactly what I did.
When I quit drinking, on November 18th, 1992, I began a process of changing the way in which I process thoughts. See, there once was a time when I couldn’t maintain sway over the committee. The ass-hat in the back who always wanted trouble ruled the roost, and the following is exactly how that worked. I would swear off drinking, yet again for the umpteenth time and everything would go along just fine for twenty-four hours or so. Sometimes less, sometimes more (I made it a whole two weeks; I almost bled out after bursting a blood vessel in my throat and then came closer to checking out Jimi Hendrix style from getting too “sick” during a rather impressive
night on the town binge). Then a thought would enter the gray matter between my ears… “You need to relax, and a beer would help that immensely.” The next thing I knew, I was being cuffed and hauled off to the drunk tank again… But that’s not entirely how it went. It only seemed that way because I wasn’t paying attention. An “argument”, for the lack of a better term, had ensued prior to my stepping foot in the bar. First there was, “No, that’s a lousy idea. You have no idea how far that one beer will go.” Followed by the miscreant’s, “But you need it. Look at you, you’re shaking like a leaf, you’re sick to your stomach, you’re a nervous wreck… We need this.” I could hold off for a few go-rounds but inevitably I’d give in and end up plastered. Once I got that first sip passed my lips, there was no telling how far down the toilet I’d go – and the interesting thing about all of that is you hear people say it’s the first drink that gets you… That’s only partially true. It’s being defenseless against the argument in the first place that gets me to the point where I have a beer in my hand. That’s where I ran into problems… Long before the first round was ever paid for, I lost the argument.
The problem is, figuring all of this out isn’t easy – especially when you’re sitting in that mess and can’t see a way out.
There’s a reason I meld diet into the alcoholism angle too. When I make a change in eating, my thinking follows the exact same pattern. Think about it… “Oh, I can have this brownie, I was careful all day about what I ate…” For some it stops at just one brownie but a craving is set off where tomorrow it’s a little harder to skip it. For some, “one brownie” equals a brownie the size of a pie plate, with ice cream, whipped cream, salted caramel and a frickin’ cherry on top. For still others, that one brownie sets off a chain reaction that lasts until the final brownie crumb from a whole batch is washed down with a glass of milk. Folks, that’s no different than what a practicing drunk does, all that changes is the severity of the consequences. Have you ever tried to justify that pie plate brownie, as described above, as “a brownie”? Remember, rigorous honesty is required if you’re to get better…
Say I eat twelve brownies, or better yet, instead of opting for a decent lunch I decide to go for the big Double Mega Artery Clogger Burger, Large Fries, Diet Coke and a six-piece Chicken Strips, with barbecue sauce of course… Eventually I’m going to get big on a lunch like that – not even I, at 200+ miles a week, can outride that. Over the next five years I get fat. Over the next ten I get old. Over the next five to ten… Well, it’s time to pay the piper.
On the other hand, if I head to the bar and drink twelve beers, I’m going to suffer through all kinds of marital, work, health and legal issues – its unavoidable and damned near immediate. I’d give me two weeks before my first trip to jail. Why, or better yet, how can I be so sure? I am a two-fisted drinker. One in each hand and the case between my legs. I. Will. Not. Change. Ever. I’ve tried a hundred different ways and combinations. I am what I am, so abstinence it is. Rigorous honesty.
Still with me? Now, there is a solution. I have to change the tape that plays in my head – and this is exactly why I have an easy time losing weight… When I quit eating crap, I change the tape. Right friggin’ now. I can shut it down at one 2″x2″ piece of cake (literally folks, that’s a tiny piece of wedding cake) or a few kernels of chocolate covered popcorn (curse you Boy Scouts!) or I can avoid the garbage food trap altogether. Once I’ve changed the tape from “I may as well give in” to, “This is brownie is going to wreck my happiness”, I can win the argument that goes on in my melon.
This takes a ton of practice, and because of that reality, a Higher Power of your understanding wouldn’t hurt (sure helps me), along with a friend I can call in a moment of indecision (or worse, poor decision).
In the end, diet works for me not because I have a prescription for some magic pill, or because I eat the equivalent of a field of some concoction of herbs and roots wrapped up in a neat little pill (all of that crap is hoo-ha by the way). I don’t need diet books or to eat only veggies… Nope, none of that. Because I’m an ex-drunk, I learned long ago I have to cease fighting. I have to give up to win.
To wrap this up, if you read to this point you may be scratching your head… I wrote about winning an argument with a committee member in my own freaking melon! How could that be “not fighting”!?
Very perceptive indeed! When I changed the tape, I got so good at countering that first thought with a positive second thought (or three), that I don’t have to fight anymore. The healthy, good, positive thought becomes natural. Enough practice and I don’t even have to contemplate how good that brownie would taste, I don’t have to entertain that first thought. I just discard it as I would a banana peel after eating the fruit. I learned how not to have the argument in the first place. I surrendered, and won. At the same time.
Try it, you’ll like it. Just remember, this takes practice.
Some people cycle for the beautiful scenery.
Some, for the camaraderie.
Some, for the bikes. After all, a cyclist can own the equivalent of a Ferrari for less than $5,000. When it comes to midlife crisis hobbies, while cycling is anything but cheap, you could do a lot worse – and at least a bike runs on fat…
Or how about the fitness itself? Eat more veggies? Look, vegetables are great, but put a bacon and pepperoni pizza up against a cucumber or tofurckey and chia seeds… Oh, I know, couscous is awesome. Yeah, I’ll have the pizza. Butter-garlic crust. Simple fact is, unless you’re okay with eating like a rabbit (and some are, God Bless ’em), you have to be active.
…And the climbers, who find joy simply in climbing a tough mountain pass.
Then there are the adventurers. Those who load up their bike and head out for a camping week (end). Or maybe just a day-long trip to explore new roads (or 100 mile-long bike trails)…
I love all of it. I have my Ferrari. It’s beautiful, fast and fun. I have my wife and friends, climbing vacations, cycling weekender’s with my wife, beautiful scenery…
…And do we have adventures! Trips this year included Boyne City, Michigan for Mountain Mayhem: Beat the Heat, The Horsey Hundred in Kentucky, my first DALMAC…
But I also love the mundane, the everyday bike ride, the 30 mile club ride that, even though it’s the same route every day, is never the same ride twice. There’s the same 16 mile route my wife and I have ridden four days a week, all season long. There are the weekend rides that we always manage to enjoy but cover much of the same asphalt, week in and week out. Cycling is what I make of it. I can concentrate on its imperfections – I can choose to concentrate on its flaws or the fears associated with those flaws or I can concentrate on the vast array of positives that come with a life on two wheels. For the benefits to my marriage alone, I wouldn’t trade it.
One way or another, my fitness is almost as important to me as my sobriety. Stay sober or die hard, stay fit or die hard. When I was a kid, thinking about how cool it would be to be in control of my own money, to have the means to go on adventurous vacations and do fun things, to enjoy life… I never saw myself doing that on a bike, but that sure is the way it turned out.