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You have to give it away to keep it;  A most oft overlooked concept of recovery

You read many of the recovery posts on the blogosphere, even some of the professional stuff, and much of the “evidence based” material (which has been spawned with the sole purpose of Easing God Out), it lacks a most necessary component of recovery:  working with another alcoholic….

It’s summer, 1993 and I’m laying in bed, just 23 years-old, less than a year sober, and I think I’m dying.  Not figuratively, I believe I’m having a heart attack or something.  It’s two o’clock in the morning, I have to be to work at six.  I tossed and turned for the rest of the night, never getting another wink of sleep.  The next day at work, I was a mess.

I called my sponsor and explained what I’d been through.  His first question?  “Why didn’t you call me last night?”

I pointed out that it was obviously too early in the morning so there was no chance I was waking him up… And that’s where he set me straight.  He explained that I had experienced a full-blown panic attack and that those times are exactly what a sponsor is for, and that someone had done the same for him when he was just a pigeon.
I’ve made countless “I need you, man” phone calls and received plenty, because that’s what we do.

At first, feelings of inadequacy and humility limit our sharing with others as a means of “giving it away” and for all but the most precious of snowflakes this is a good thing.  You actually have to possess something worth giving to someone else, after all, for them to accept it.

For those who have read my posts, especially my cycling posts, what is the common thread?  Working with, and in the service of, others.  

Cycling in a club setting is so much like AA’s brand of recovery, I’m almost nervous to explain exactly how close they are in nature.  Every new cyclist to a group leans on that group to ride faster and farther than they could on their own.  At first, a noob’s contribution is vastly less that their seasoned countetparts.  Over a period of years, though, this changes as the cyclist gets stronger and becomes a fixture in the group.  That cyclist does less hiding and more working.  They do more so the seasoned members can catch a longer break after having devoted years to pulling that puppy around courses….  That’s the essence of working with others.  If we are doing it right, we learn to become less self-centered.

This is an excerpt from the Big Book.  Snowflake Trigger Warning!  Your fragile self can’t take reading this, so walk away now, before you melt.

Our actor is self-centered-ego-centric, as people like to call it nowadays. He is like the retired business man who lolls in the Florida sunshine in the winter complaining of the sad state of the nation; the minister who sighs over the sins of the twentieth century; politicians and reformers who are sure all would be Utopia

if the rest of the world would only behave; the outlaw safe cracker who thinks society has wronged him; and the alcoholic who has lost all and is locked up. Whatever our protestations, are not most of us concerned with ourselves, our resentments, or our self-pity?

Selfishness-self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles. Driven by a hundred forms of fear, self-delusion, self-seeking, and self-pity, we step on the toes of our fellows and they retaliate. Sometimes they hurt us, seemingly without provocation, but we invariably find that at some time in the past we have made decisions based on self which later placed us in a position to be hurt.

So our troubles, we think, are basically of our own making. They arise out of ourselves, and the alcoholic is an extreme example of self-will run riot, though he usually doesn’t think so. Above everything, we alcoholics must be rid of this selfishness. We must, or it kills us!

Interesting, isn’t it?

Cycling and Weight Loss;  How Far Must I Ride to Eat ANYTHING I Want?! A Guide

I’ve been trying to figure out how to write this post for five years….  Reading a post written by a friend of mine provided just the push I needed.  Enjoy, I hope.

Every person who overeats wants to know what it takes to get that magic Dwayne Johnson/Michael Phelps diet:  Eat a ton of s#!+, whenever I want!  Woohoo!  First of all, it’s just the Michael Phelps diet.  Look at The Rock’s diet.  It’s boring.  Chicken, broccoli and rice.  Repeat.  A LOT.  Phelps eats like heavy people want to, but only when he’s training to crush a$$ in the pool eight hours a day.

Well, I can tell you how that works for cycling.  Now, we’ve all heard the crap that you can’t outrun a bad diet, right?  Well you can’t, so stop daydreaming.  You can outride a decent diet though, depending on what your definition of “decent” is.  If you’re looking for that “Double Quarter-Pounder with Cheese, Fries and a Diet Coke” for every lunch and dinner diet, you will die of heart disease so forget about it – that’s not “decent” by any stretch of the imagination.  Not even cycling can keep the lines clean if you’re going to eat like that – and that’s really the problem.  The Fast Food diet isn’t just bad, it’s bad.

Let’s just say you just want to enjoy eating like a heavy person, without the “being heavy” part, though.  How much do you have to ride to lose weight, or even maintain a decent weight once you’ve hit your goal?  I can help, but I have a feeling you’re not going to like this…

  1. 5 miles in 50 minutes or more per day, on any type of bike, 5-6 days a week:  These calories don’t count for weight loss or maintaining weight.  Don’t be discouraged though – the exercise will do wonders to transform your body and health.  Any weight loss will be due to improvements in diet though.  Seriously.  No, I don’t care that this exceeds the government minimum.  The government minimum is for sissies – and if you didn’t know that… ooh, sorry for breaking it to you the hard way.  [Ed.  I should add that we all have to start somewhere – everyone, including me, is slow and can only manage a few miles at a crack to begin with….  You have to start somewhere, and you’re not a sissy for starting.  The idea is progress though.  If you stay at five miles for more than a couple of months, well…. (it took me a week or two to start increasing mileage)]
  2. 10 miles in 50 minutes a day, on any type of bike, 5-6 days a week (50-60 miles a week).  Now we are getting somewhere!  Just not far enough to eat more than your average 2,000 calorie a day diet for a man, 1,600 calorie diet for a woman.  This will do exceptional things for your health though.  Keep it up!  If you’re trying to lose weight, you should drop 200-400 calories from your normal daily intake and the weight will fall off well.  If you’re skinny and want to gain, eat like santa for six months.  If you want to maintain, stick to the recommended 2000/1600 calorie a day diet.  Keep in mind, a footlong Subway sub is between 750 and 1,200 calories.  That’s no drink and no chips.  Beware.  2,000/1,600 calories isn’t much.
  3. 15 to 20 miles a day in 45 minutes to an hour-twenty a day, six days a week.  90-120 miles a week.  Hey, it’s time to celebrate!  You get one fast-food lunch or dinner and one Coke – per week to celebrate your hard work.  I know, not exactly sexy.  You’re doing great though!  Keep it up.
  4. Now we’re going to switch to just “miles per week” because if you’re riding this much, you’re putting some serious effort into it.  150-210 miles per week!  This will take anywhere from 10 to 15 hours a week.  Using a decent diet, you’re going to be losing weight like you mean it.  If you’re looking for that extra food, guilt-free, well we’re not quite there yet.  Your portions can increase a little bit and you don’t have to worry about the occasional small ice cream cone.  Homemade burgers (not the Food Network 5,000 calorie burgers, we’re talking the stripped down burgers, are acceptable fare now and again).  Ice cream enters the fray once a week, but only the small or “baby” size.  Just enough to get you a taste.
  5. 200-250 miles per week!  See number 4.  You get to go from 1 burger a week to two (not at the same sitting).  You also get a second baby-sized ice cream, also not in the same sitting.
  6. 250+ miles a week.  Don’t be silly, you’re still not there yet.  You just figured out that you’re riding so much you don’t want to eat enough to gain weight.  You want to stay fast now, so you decide to eat sensibly because you feel like a Million Dollars compared to when you were heavy.

So there you have it.  I wish I could give you better news, but I can’t.  I ride a thousand miles a month and with a decent diet, maintain my weight.  If I were to eat like a heavy person, I’d weigh three hundred pounds.

P.S.  I’d get used to feeling hungry.  It kind of goes with being lean and mean.  Chin up, though!  It beats the $#!+ out of doctors and medication!

UPDATE:  I did want to mention one thing:  The trick is, with a lot of exercise my understanding of the word “amount” has changed over the last fifteen years.  I eat quite a bit to fuel my cycling habit, or more precisely stated, my understanding of how much I eat has changed.  When I was a skinny fella back in the day, I used to eat like a bird.  Today, throwing down a half a large pizza is relatively normal for a Wednesday…. but therein lies the rub – it’s only a half of a pizza.  How many people chow down an entire large, or even a medium?  Folks, normal people can’t ride enough to fix that.  The only thing that can fix that is cutting back the consumption.

Defining Fitness through Quality of Life – or Better, the Other way Around

I’ve heard and read a lot of stupid stuff over the years but my new doctor laid one on me that I hadn’t heard before – that the health risks outweigh the benefits of extreme athletics.  A friend of mine doubled down on that in a comment by sharing that she’d heard that not only do the risks outweigh the benefits, there are no benefits to exercising the way I choose to.

“Incredulous” is the best word that fits, for me.  Maybe “nuts” would be for anyone who actually believes as some doctors do. 

I am slim enough to be able to complain about five extra pounds, and actually mean it.  I am fit enough to keep up with my kids and teach them sports by doing, not by trying to explain from the sideline.  I have a zest for life that the vast majority of the world would be jealous of…. because I get to play for an hour a day and a few more on the weekends.

I ride with my wife, spending hours on the road together throughout the week.  The fun we have cycling together passes on through every moment we spend together.  We laugh together like we used to when we were just kids dating.  I no longer seek an escape from life through drugs or alcohol, I have a Twelve Step Program that I work diligently, and my bikes.  Either one alone leaves something to be desired.  Together, I feel like I’ve won the lotto.  Every day I wake up.

No benefit indeed.

Life is short, bikes are cool, and cycling is fun – and anyone who would put out the garbage that there is no benefit to cycling ten or twelve hours a week, when done wisely, is a quack.  Better, with a straight face, look at some poor, obese person who’s body is shutting down due to complications from diabetes, heart disease, liver disease and poor circulation then tell me there’s no benefit to riding a bike twelve hours a week.  How about someone who can’t leave their house because they’re too fat?  Someone who can’t even get out of bed?

The notion there is no benefit to a good bike ride is simply freaking nuts.  The idea that the risks outweigh the benefits is right behind it.

I wonder if the issue here isn’t about the definition of extreme, though.  While many could view what I do as extreme, mainly by duration of a weekend ride or perhaps by speed (with a fair bit of ignorance, I might add – I may be fast against the average Joe, but I am not fast against real speed), I find it hard to classify me as “extreme”.  Dedicated?  Absolutely, but extreme? Hardly.

The real issue here is laziness.  Labeling a fit cyclist or runner as “extreme” is lazy.  It’s measuring a fit person against a horrendously unfit populous to come up with an average that unfairly slants against a fit person.  Any doctor who would stoop to such a label for a fit person in their late 40’s who is so healthy they don’t take one prescriptive medication to correct a lack of fitness, is off (even if I would view the label as congratulatory anyway).

Life is about quality, and while I would definitely like some longevity, I wouldn’t trade my the happiness for an extra ten years on the back of 85, 90 or 100.

Now, if you would excuse me, I have a hundred miles to ride.  Chuckle.

I can FINALLY See…. No, Seriously.

Last week I was sitting in a chair, looking through a giant apparatus as the depth of my ocular deterioration was assessed.  The optometrist, highly recommended by a friend who knows eye doctor’s, quietly said, “One or two?”

“One”, I replied.

“One or two?”

“Two.”

And so it went until, BAM…  

I got a little misty.  I haven’t seen clearly at a distance for 27 years now.  Just a row of crisp, clear letters.  They looked so beautiful.  

There was once a train of thought that said if you wear glasses your eyesight will worsen because your eyes are no longer working to focus (or something like that).  Right or wrong, I bought it and simply stopped wearing glasses….

The optometrist asked gently, again, “One or Two?”

I cleared the frog from my throat.  “Could you go back to One?  Yeah, One.  I’m sorry, I haven’t seen like this in a long time.”

I left the office, having been told my glasses would be in within eight days…  I tried to forget so I wouldn’t count the days.  I was going to be able to see again.  It took only three days for the call to come in.  Talk about under-promising and over-delivering!

I picked up my glasses after my ride on Wednesday.  It’s like life is in HD.

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So there I stood as I put my glasses on for the first time and looked in the mirror…  I could read the signs clear at the other side of the store, more than 100 feet away.  27 years is a long time to go missing most anything beyond a hundred feet (my vision is still good enough to pass the driver’s license exam, but it’s getting iffy).  I wore my new glasses all evening, marveling at what I had been missing.  Even watching the Tigers play on TV….

I knock Wal-Mart on a fairly regular basis (though rarely publicly).  Their internet order security sucks, among other issues, but what they do right is make necessary items accessible to everyone.  I do not have vision insurance so when my daughter complained about her eyesight, we decided to take care of me while we were at it, but we were paying cash.

In 1990, the last time I owned a pair of glasses, I remember the cost for the appointment and glasses topped $750 but my parents paid less than $100 after insurance.  My daughter and I were taken care of expertly for 60% of what one pair of glasses and sunglass clips cost 27 years ago, and that is awesome.  So knock Wal-Mart I may, they do provide a necessary service and for that I am grateful.

I still marvel at details I can now see clearly that I never paid attention to.  The reflection of the lamp on the flat screen TV, the way the leaves and grass move with the wind, raindrops hitting puddles.  HD Life is awesome! 

The Very Definition of Justice

How often do you see a douche park their Beemer or Benz taking up two parking spots?  I’ve seen one jerk take four parking spaces before.  This is justice:

When that punk starts throwing his hands up in the air like a little baby, my God, I haven’t laughed so hard in a while!

Seventeen Simple Miles…

Finally.  The sun was out and it was perfectly mild… barely above room temperature, a perfect April day, even if it’s the end of May.

I prepped my bike and donned my Cavelo kit, pumped my tires up, topped off a water bottle with good old-fashioned H2O, put on my shoes and snapped my helmet on and out the door I went.  With the club ride this evening, the ride was just about enjoying the sunshine and the fact that I was on two wheels.  For an hour, the world wouldn’t be able to catch me.

I rode my normal route, into a fairly stiff wind first, and headed into town.  I altered my route and headed over to the High School so I could watch my oldest run the 200 meter at her last meet of the year.  After she ran I got back on my bike and headed for home.  I paid little attention to the computer and just rode easy, enjoying the tailwind and sunshine.

I love those weekday rides.  There’s no goal, no objective, no target speed, just enjoying the ride and feeling the sun beat down on my vitamin D deprived skin.

As f***ed up as this world can be, as long as I’ve got an hour for a bike ride so I can refocus on why life is good, I’ll be okay.

Extreme Athletics: How Much Fitness is too Much? (And other Fun Questions)

This post is about my experience, strength and hope.  My results may differ from yours.

I rode my bicycle more than 8,500 miles last year.  The year before was 7,500.  The year before was 6,000.  The two years before that topped 5,500.  Add my miles up over the last six years and I’m well into my second time around the world (38,000 miles and change).  I ride an average of better than six days a week, but I never considered what I do “extreme”.  Intense, maybe, but not extreme.  Extreme was for those crazy people who are running marathons through the desert, or who take a couple of weeks to cycle across the US…  Not me.

The last time I sat in a doctor’s office (something like 3 or four years ago), after having a full blood workup, my doctor said, “Whatever it is you’re doing, keep doing it”.  Cholesterol, blood sugar, my “inflammation” numbers… by every measure I was extremely healthy.  In that case, extreme was good.

Going back three doctors and a decade there has been concern over my EKG readings though.  The first cause for concern was the “spike”.  My “spike” is big.  Really big.  The spike led to an ultrasound of my heart and an “all clear”.  I even called my doctor back to make sure I’d heard right in his office, that I was clear to continue exercising as I had been.  The worry was that my heart was enlarged.  While it is a little bigger than normal, it was discovered that it’s not really that big, it’s just strong.

Over the ensuing years I cut days off the bike to a point where I’ll now go for a month or two without taking a day off.  I simply substitute easy days for taking a day off (three easy days a week).  That’s not “extreme”, right?

Well, maybe not.  It’s the duration.

According to my new doctor, who I know personally and have for years, and whom I trust to look out for me, there’s a new understanding that’s come about over the last three to five years about what happens after that spike in the EKG that I mentioned earlier.  I can’t remember all of the jargon, but there’s a drop after the spike (which is normal) but there’s a small rise after that drop followed by another small drop that shouldn’t be there.  It was once thought that the small rise was benign.  Sadly for me, “once” is a very big word in that last sentence.

Unfortunately, because Government-down Obamacare sucks, I can’t be referred to a cardiologist to have my ticker checked out because I’m too healthy.  While my EKG shows signs for concern, I’m not exhibiting any negative symptoms or problems related to that little rise….  On the other hand and thankfully, Democrats didn’t go full stupid for a Canadian-style socialized scheme so I can still pay for the consult and new ultrasound with a cardiologist out of my pocket.  In the next few weeks I’ll be going to see a cardiologist about how to make my ticker keep up with the rest of me.  Where this gets really fun, if there is something wrong with my pump, we’ll catch it early enough that the available treatment options will work excellently because I’m so damned healthy.

Anyway, back to the main topic:  How much fitness is “extreme”?  I don’t freaking know.  I always figured I was a little above average and maybe slightly nutty, but extreme?  We’re not even that fast, above average, yes, but I know a whole class of guys who ride a lot faster than my friends and I do… Then my buddy Mike pointed out over the phone yesterday, “Yeah, but it’s not about the speed.  We’re out there doing a hundred miles in five hours.”  And that’s precisely when I saw me as I am.  If the average person puts in 30-45 minutes a day, five days a week… measured against that…  Their week is my Saturday.  Or Sunday.  In those terms, I may not be hardcore, like someone who races, but “extreme” is fair.

Finally, and to wrap this up with a neat little bow, I still have a lot to learn about what is going on with me, whether it’s just genetics that is messing with me or whether I even have a problem to begin with.  There is one thing that keeps ringing in my melon, what my doctor said about how much I choose to exercise or ride my bikes…  Once you go from a normal amount of exercise to the extreme, the risks not only outweigh the benefits, there are no additional benefits.

That one hurts, and it fits me perfectly.

So, what’s next for me?  Well, it’ll be that appointment with a cardiologist and I’ll wait for his recommendations – and I’ll follow them.  If that means slowing down or limiting the length of time I’m on the bike, I’ll do whatever I have to for longevity.  I like riding fast.  I like being in the upper crust of endurance cyclists.  I like long rides with my wife and friends.  I also believe in one important axiom a friend of mine passed on to me:  “It’s real easy to talk tough about death, until the bus shows up for you.”