Know this, I sobered up young. I was only 22 when I put the plug in the jug and I’ve yet to look back at 46. I once had an old-timer ask how I could sober up that early, adding “I spilled more than you ever drank!”
I replied, “Well, if you hadn’t spilled so much you’d have sobered up a lot sooner.”
It was a perfect moment, he had no come-back.
There was a lot of fear back then, on my part. On one hand, I really didn’t want to die a drunkard’s death and my days were numbered and short at that. On the other, I was afraid that my days of fun were behind me at the ripe age of 22. Hell, I was just barely old enough to drink legally when I chose to, with the help of the whole State of Michigan, up and quit.
At first, cleaning up the wreckage of my past was enough to keep my attention. Once the bulk of that was behind me, I needed some fun. STAT!
Now, there’s one important rule that I applied to myself that many who relapse choose to ignore: I must surround myself with recovering and/or sober people. No exceptions. Period, end of rule. Years later, once I popped my melon out of my sphincter and could react to alcohol as I would a forest fire (run!), I could relax a bit as long as I could meet three requirements:
- I had a good reason to be in the proximity of drinkers.
- My program was solid and my spiritual foundation was strong
- I had my vehicle ready for an immediate departure, if necessary. No getting parked in, no excuses.
Well, not so much. I truly believed in surrounding myself with sober people, for too many reasons to count. It just makes sense.
Within months of sobering up I met a guy at work who loved rollerblading and he didn’t drink. He wasn’t sober like I was, but that didn’t matter…. I knew I wouldn’t get into trouble hanging out with him. I didn’t know much about skating but I’d played quite a bit of pond hockey when I was a kid so I bought a ridiculously expensive pair and learned to use them. Matt and I were inseparable most weekends all summer long. I started taking solo trips out to a local Metropark after work and before my meetings. Before long I was putting in upwards of 60-80 miles a week on my skates (my best was 40 miles in one day, over the course of three hours).
It was one of those solo trips that opened my eyes. I wanted to see how fast I could do the 8 mile loop. 24 minutes and 32 seconds. On roller blades. I decided on a second loop but at an easy, enjoyable pace. Two miles into that second loop and I was overcome by a feeling that I was okay. Everything would work out and I was going to make it, sober. I was half-way between getting misty and jumping for joy. I did both.
It was the first time I’d ever felt that way, that I was going to be okay, without chemical enhancement. Ever. [ED The freedom that comes from fully, honestly working the steps came later – it took me a while to fully get through them]
My friends, after being a basket case for years, I can’t describe the joy and relief. Actually, yes I can; I was free.
I didn’t know it then, it took the better part of 15 years to put the pieces together, but that freedom was tied to my being sober and fit. Of course, I had no chance at the latter without the former, but let’s not split butt hairs.
Then there was a period of lethargy, video games, food, and weight gain.
Then, once my butt (and gut) had reached maximum allowable density, came running and the point of enlightenment. I didn’t love running but it was a great escape from the difficulties of life for an hour or two, three day or four days a week. Three of those days I ran with friends in sobriety, and my wife.
It was the escape. In fact, when I looked back on it, that’s exactly how I used alcohol. Well, with the distinction that with alcohol I didn’t want to, and eventually couldn’t, come back.
If you’ve been reading this page for any length of time, you know cycling is next.
Nowadays it’s 45 minutes to 1 hour four days a week, two hours two days a week, and three to five hours one day a week. The only days off are due to rain or having to work late… During the summer months, both are rare.
I ride just enough that when I’m pulling up to my driveway, I’m ready to tackle the world as it is again. I get my escape, but I want to come back.
Another interesting tidbit, almost every one of my cycling friends abstain from alcohol. Only three, of the dozen or so, are sober in context I am. Life is wonderful that way. Sometimes stuff just works out… if you believe in random crap working out against impossible odds. I don’t, but that’s just me.
Where did your “smokin’ hot wife” come into the equation? Great post BTW.
She came into my world just before my 3rd Anniversary, 1995. We married in ’97. Thanks, man.
Congrats on your success. I know it can’t be easy.
I quit cigarettes 4-5 times so I have a vague idea. Being around smokers when you are trying to quit is impossible.
Thanks Andy. As an ex-smoker myself, I can tell you that smoking is tougher to quit than drinking. It’s quite simple, actually; with drinking the side effects are much harsher on the body and soul and the consequences for relapse are stiffer. If that’s not enough, and it usually is, drinking kills a drunk quicker than a cigarette. That said, congratulations on staying quit, brother. I know it isn’t easy.
I sometimes think that England has a messed up attitude towards drink, compared to its neighbours like France, Spain or Belgium… but USA takes it to another level. 😦
I think many cyclists I know drink, but one or two, mostly with food, and then stop. Few drink more. Makes it hard to balance otherwise.
I think we could have an interesting conversation about the differences between our countries. To start, the diversity of the US has us at odds with other nations. Those ethnicities which (who?) haven’t been exposed to such a great extent as Europeans fare worse, by a long shot because they haven’t had the time needed to breed out the recessive genes that contribute to addiction. Italians can drink better than Native Americans, for instance.
Most of the cyclists I know drink with dinner after a ride, responsibly (as you state). I can’t be around that though. Too tempting. Sit in a barber shop long enough and you’re going to get your hair cut. This is why I make such a big deal about the group I fell in with. What are the chances of finding eight cyclists who don’t drink, for varying reasons, and also happen to ride close to the same pace I do? The odds seem against that kind of luck.