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Recovery and Workin’ Steps, Baby. How Free Do I Want to Be?

I started working with a new sponsor the other day. Let’s just say he’s not gentle. I’m starting a new fourth step and I’ve got a month and some change to get it done while he and his wife head down to Florida to get away from the worst of the winter. We’re right on the edge of the worst the winter will have to offer, so they’re heading down just at the right time… and that gives me time to work on a big fourth.

At first, I thought to myself, “a fourth step? Really? The more I thought about it, though, the more appealing the idea was. I’ve got a few things that I really want to unload.

So, humorously, as these things tend to work out, I’ve got two guys I’m sponsoring plus me working on the fourth and fifth. It’s going to be a busy February.

So, the question for today is how free do I want to be?

My answer is, free enough I want to do another fourth step.

Contending with My Mortality While Using… Knowing The End Was Near and Looking Back.

I’m finally beginning to see why people soften as they age. I can see why we don’t take to violent movies the same now that I’m into my fifties. I can finally understand why they don’t send old people like us to war. I’m on the back nine, in a golfer’s parlance, and it’s beautiful back here…

The glorious thing about a human liver is that, if you choose to beat the ever-loving shit out of it in your youth, if you stop abusing it soon enough, it’ll repair itself. I had less than a decade left when I quit alcohol and drugs. Estimates were seven years. I would have been dust twenty years ago had I not turned it around.

As a kid, I tended to think I was on the immortal side. I thought the doctor was just trying to scare me. I’ve seen family, on my wife’s side, die. A week after, “The doctor says if I just quit for a year my liver will get better and I can go back to drinking”, she was dead.

I couldn’t see life without alcohol and drugs a week before I quit. I couldn’t see how it could be any fun to live without an escape from the fear, from the nagging down, from the misery I caused myself and others with bad choices and thinking. How can you have fun if you can’t escape, was the line of thinking.

I know the answer today; you build a life you don’t have to escape from.

There’s a downside to that, though, even if it’s technically an upside: Life is so sweet I’ve actually come to cherish it.

My life isn’t perfect. I don’t have caviar dreams and, the irony is sweet, the champagne wishes were flushed long ago. Every morning I wake up, though, I’m grateful for being on the right side of the grass. I lead a happy life today, and I care enough about it that it’s changed my attitude and outlook.

I went from hoping my days were numbered to hoping that number was huge.

Folks, recovery from addiction, especially early in life, is better than cheating death. I wasn’t even all that good at the work as is evidenced by the what I’ve had to correct in the last year… and things turned out so much better than I could have hoped, I’m thankful I’m not the architect of my fate. If I’d have tried to sit down and map my life out as a recovering 24-year-old kid, I’d have shorted myself.

If you’re struggling, don’t quit five minutes before the miracle happens. Remember perspective. If you can’t think of a reason to be happy, or to even keep breathing, try looking at it differently; why not repair the damage so you can help others in your same spot recover from their pain, too? The key is in helping others, folks. If you’re struggling, try it. If feel you have nothing to give, the answer is to work at it till you do.

Recover hard, my friends. It’s beautiful out here.

The Joy of Loving without Fear

Since I changed how I live with my wife last year, trying to do away with selfish and self-centeredness, I’ve been exceptionally fearful and I haven’t written much about it. When I was wrapped up with how awesome I was, I’d built up walls that protected me from hurt… and my wife wasn’t afraid to dole it out from time to time.

Then, just like that, the way I’d been living just wasn’t good enough anymore and I started to change.

Now, to the point of this post; my wife and I used to sweep a lot of hurtful stuff under the rug because we were both afraid to fully talk about anything for fear of that leading to a massive fight. Forgive the phrasing, but when you sweep stuff under the rug, eventually it piles up to a point you have to walk around the rug rather than over it. That was us.

With this new way of life, I chose to ditch the fear. My wife, too. We began talking about some serious issues that caused a lot of fear and pain in our marriage and, when we got to something my wife felt I’d done wrong, rather than look for ways to deny it, I learned to own my stuff. Fearlessly and without flinching. If my wife was mistaken, I’d look at my behavior and, if what she was saying was reasonable, I’d say something like, “I never had that in my heart, but I can understand why you took it that way”. We didn’t justify the other’s feelings if they weren’t accurate, but we didn’t hold them against each other anymore, either.

Today, after eight months of practicing this, nothing goes under the rug. Nothing. My wife and I can talk about anything that we need to without the fear of the other taking advantage.

Now, it wasn’t always like this. My wife used to hammer me by weaponizing what I said. She’d take a snippet of something I said and turn it into a strawman that she could easily strike down. I got frustrated with that approach so I learned to just clam up and not talk about anything important. Before long, that morphed into not caring and withdrawal from the marriage. My wife did the same and would throw in the silent treatment in… until everything blew up under the pressure and we got into a massive donnybrook.

The miracle was that we started working together on these things rather than trying to make points off of them. Today, if I’m feeling a little hurt, I can say so and my wife won’t turn it back on me. We’ll talk it through. That shoe also fits on the other foot as well. My wife can come to me with anything and we negotiate that stuff out. We’ve gotten so good at negotiating, we rarely bother with fighting anymore.

We’ve built our marriage on a solid foundation. Today we don’t have to worry about sweeping anything under the rug. In fact, I’m pretty sure we can throw the rug away.

What Nice Thing Can I Do For My Spouse Today?

Having a penchant for being blindly self-centered, I have a little cheat that helps me remember that I’m a part of a team today.

Every Thursday at 1:00 in the afternoon, I have a reminder that pops up that says, “What nice thing can I do for Jess today?”

I’ve started driving home, only to turn back around and head back to my wife’s office to blare our wedding song on my phone as I held it above my head, standing outside the door (that one was a winner – WHAM!). I’ve stopped by the flower store a few times. I stopped by the bakery and picked up the most ridiculously decadent chocolate cake I could find. Most times it’s something simple, just to let her know I was thinking of her. Maybe folding the clothes before she gets home, or going the extra mile in getting dinner ready.

I’ve never missed a Thursday in eleven months. Almost a full year, now.

If you want to know how to let your spouse know they’re special and loved, I can’t think of any better way. Try it. You’ll like it.

Our New Tandem is Almost Here… and An Unexpected Note on New Bikes

Jess and I spoke with the owner of our local shop yesterday and he gave us the report he’d spoken with Co-Motion just the other day and found out our tandem is coming along right on time; it looks like the very end of February or beginning of March at this point – perfect for the start of the 2023 season.

Jess and I were getting excited yesterday, talking about new adventures for next year after having been through our total marriage makeover which is proving to be better than either of us hoped for.

My biggest problem is I haven’t made enough to retire at 53-years old. Had I, it’d be all over but the shouting. Sadly, I’ve got another decade and some change before that’s a possibility, but I can be patient on that front. We still have a lot of excellent adventures on the horizon.

Now, on another note, I have had to change my understanding a little bit on new bikes; they’re not terribly over-priced… at least, not as much as I once thought. The Trek Emonda, at 18 pounds and costing $5,000, comes out the door with Shimano’s Di2 105 groupset and legit 35mm carbon wheels. Folks, for what I have into my bikes and considering what the world has been through, that’s a fair deal.

Even Specialized has a fairly legit equipped Aethos that comes with DT Swiss wheels and SRAM Rival eTap 12-speed for $5,200.

I’d go with the Emonda any day of the week and twice on Sunday for $200 less than the Specialized, by the way.

If Specialized were to quote Ken Miles (or, technically Christian Bale) in Ford vs. Ferrari, “If that was the beauty pageant, we just lost”. Even with the eTap drivetrain.

All of that said, I’m liking Trek a lot more these days. I’ll have more on why at the start of the season. I’m glad I own a Trek that I love to ride.

Buying the Cheap Cycling Stuff; Is It Worth It?

I won’t lie, I had a serious laugh watching that clip. Never mind that he wore the shorts inside-out and the shorts were two sizes too small (oh, my was that funny) and that they ordered a jersey four or five sizes too big. Even if they’d gotten the sizing right on the battery operated heated vest, the jersey and shorts, he still would have looked a little goofy… because that cheap stuff, next to the good stuff, does look a little crappy. It’s not horrible, mind you, and maybe that’s why they played with the sizes as they did, but I own some of that cheap stuff and I can unquestionably tell the difference between a $150 Specialized pair of bibs and the $40 Coconut jersey and bib kit that I paid $56 for.

Hell, my wife asked me to refrain from wearing the bibs out in public.

So, the real deal is just as GCN presented it; you can tell the difference between that cheap stuff and the good stuff. The materials feel better, the bibs stay where they should better… and the good stuff looks infinitely better. As for the helmets, I really don’t know. You’ve really gotta watch out for the knock-offs because I’ve seen some pretty scary stuff centered around knock-offs and Specialized helmets. I don’t know if I’d want to trust my melon to just anyone, if you know what I’m sayin’.

With that said, look, if you can’t afford the expensive stuff, and believe me, I know how hard it can be to shell out the big bucks for that stuff, maybe buy a couple of the cheap kits and start saving for the good stuff. You don’t have to go all “top-of-the-line”, either. The midgrade stuff is vastly superior to the cheap stuff… and I have the hot spot experience to know what I’m talking about.

Or writing about.

The One Hardest Issue In Our Marriage to Get Right… But We Did.

I’m just going to get into this, because this is a short, simple post. My wife and I both have multiple decades in recovery. We’re almost sixty years between us, so the one thing you’d think we could get right would be communication. Our lives literally hang on being able to communicate unflinchingly with other people about our thoughts, emotions, fears, regrets, faults and flaws. We have to master this or we relapse. Well, so I thought, at least.

In our marriage, however, we had years of misunderstanding the other on a regular basis which led to building up of what I understood as being protective walls for our emotions. For me, they allowed me an impenetrable zone of what I understood to be “being okay”. And I was okay. My wife and I built a “fair” marriage around that. It was good, but not exactly great. We were relatively content, with the occasional donnybrook that could last as long as a week or two before we forgot what we were angry about and made up. Well, I forgot what we were angry about. My wife seemed to be able to remember that stuff for a millennia. Every now and again, say four or five times a year, I’d run into a silent treatment that would last a week or two but I could usually weather those.

We’d been to marriage counseling where I was told in private sessions that I really didn’t have much to work on, that I was a generally good guy and that I simply wasn’t perfect. I don’t know if I had the counselor snowed (doubtful), that he was setting me up for the big reveal that I had a truckload of $#!+ that I was hauling behind me (plausible) but he passed away before he could get to the good stuff, or that my wife and I simply had a major communications problem.

Whatever the case, I “came to” almost a year ago, now, and realized there was a lot I could do better. My wife joined in with the changes a short while after me and we crafted something together that we could both love. I’d say we worked hardest on learning how to communicate effectively, nicely and safely. I haven’t seen a silent treatment in almost a year, and I’m here to tell you, I don’t miss them a bit. I’ve had to change how I communicated with my wife entirely… and truth be told, I’m still learning.

For my part, I used to think there were too many rules and those rules were routinely thrown on the table to make things difficult enough to say what I had to say so that I’d simply give up out of frustration. That wasn’t so; the problem was I had to change three things – and this is the important part:

  1. I had to listen.
  2. I learned to assume that my wife was simply trying to help me move through the world a little less stupidly, that she didn’t want to hurt me or shut me down.
  3. I had to let go of the fear that my wife would win. Neither wins if one wins. The only way one can win an argument is if we both win.

Once I got those two things down, I could calmly communicate what I had to. And I could listen to my wife calmly enough to understand.

With no fear to get in the way, I could see my part better and change. My wife felt that safety that I found so difficult to share with her, and our marriage flourished. And it is awesome.

Road Bike Weight Obsession and Owning A Bike Made In the Right 2K Decade…

My buddy Mike and I have a regular laugh at the weights of today’s road bikes. Want a sub-16 pound (7.2 kg) bike? Yeah, you’re going to spend north of $8,000 to $10,000. The key, if you’re on a budget and really want to get yourself a great, light, aero road bike might not be to head over to the local shop to clunk down a wad of cash for a down payment on a brand new, fancy rig. It’s going to be heading over there and taking a look at the pre-owned stock or checking out the other avenues to picking up a used road bike from the 2010s. My 2013 Venge weighs in at just over 16 pounds and I’ve got $6,000 into it, but it’s six grand if you count some of the things that aren’t on the bike anymore, like a $500 wheelset that’s now hanging on the wall.

In fact, while we’re at it, my 1999 Trek that came with Shimano Ultegra components and weighed around 21 pounds can be purchased used for as little as $700 and upgraded to 18-1/2 pound, svelte cruiser for a few Thousand Dollars. Total.

Now, the question becomes, does weight really matter that much?

No, but yes, is my official answer. No, it doesn’t matter enough to think about blowing $10,000 on a bicycle (Unless it’s a tandem, ahem. A silver tandem. That’ll be here in the next month or so.). Aero is also vastly more important that a pound or two. I can attest to this reality.

If, however, I compare the 16 pound Venge above with my 18-1/2 pound Trek 5200, I can tell the difference on the way up a hill but not enough that I’d choose the Venge over the Trek if the forecast called for more than a 15% chance of rain. I can do everything on the Trek I can on the Venge.

That also begs the question, if an 18-1/2-pound bike is just as good as a 16-pound, why not just get a new bike? Will that be hydraulic disc brakes, then?

Starting the 2023 Year Out Well… Or, At Least, Better Than Planned

We’ve got a bit of a break in the weather that doesn’t involve rain so Jess and I are pumping up the tires on our road bikes and heading out for a short jaunt with Mike this morning – our first outdoor ride of 2023 is going to be on just the second day of the year. Perfect. The snow is all gone after a mild week, so we’re going to take advantage of it.

Sadly, we sold the tandem a few days too early.

I should be readying the gravel bike for duty, but I just can’t do it. I’ve been ogling the Trek for a couple of weeks now as it sits locked into the trainer… it’s going outside for a spin. I can’t help it.

Yesterday’s trainer ride, judging by the puddle of sweat on the floor (not the average speed – my speed sensor updated and needs to be recalibrated – I’ll do that today), was awesome. I could really feel it this morning when I got out of bed. That’s exactly how I wanted to start the new year off. Positively and in the mood to kick some winter fat off.

Friends, those of us in the northern hemisphere have plenty to be negative about, if we so choose. That negativity won’t do anyone any good. Let’s turn some $#!+ into sunshine and get a move on! There’s life to be lived, and there won’t be much of it good if we take a passive path and let it happen to us.

… It’s 2023! Let the Fun (And Work) Begin!

My wife asked me last night if I had any resolutions in mind for this year. I put it quite simply, “I’ll continue what was started last year… just maybe a little thinner.”

My “eat anything” lifestyle has caught up with me. Not so much I have to go on medication, but enough that my doctor finally said it’s time I started on a low cholesterol diet. Well, my wife suggested we start looking at new dinner options today, and I agreed. I’m all in for giving it my best chance for a loooooooooooooooooong life. As good as our marriage and recovery are right now, I’m actually hoping for another 50-ish years. Life is awesome.

On the cycling front, and in typical fashion, there are changes afoot that begin today; I stop taking it easy on the trainer and start working for a strong start to the new cycling season. We joined MUTS (Michigan United Tandem Society) last week and we’re gearing up for a big year with the new tandem. So far on the calendar we’ve got the Ride for Recovery in Ypsilanti, the Horsey Hundred, we’re looking at a gravel ride in Ohio with a blog friend, and we’ve got about three or four tours on the slate… including DALMAC on the new tandem (more on that later). Then we’re absolutely doing the Sunrise Adventure (the date’s been changed to September) after the Shoreline West tour… and we still have to work in the Midwest Tandem Rally (though that looks to be a 2024 enterprise). In short, when it comes to cycling, we’ve got a lot going on this year and it all looks fun.

As far as work goes, well, work is work and there’s a reason they have to give me money to do it. I think there’s room for improvement, though, so I’ll tend to that in the new year.

Basically, that’s about the done of that. I’m excited and grateful for the new year.