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… It was Indeed the Beginning of a Fatal Progression…

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That’s from today’s Daily Reflections. The title is from Page 23 of the 12 and 12.

… it was indeed the beginning of a fatal progression…

Just before I quit drinking, I was convinced the world just didn’t like me. That, and the universe had it out for me. How could that many things go that bad for one guy?!

Then I was sentenced to treatment. I didn’t detox the pretty way, with drugs. I went cold turkey, shoveling out pig stalls… I felt it.

I also believe the shakes, night sweats and random terrors all positively contributed to my decision to ask God for help. DT’s were a wakeup call.

I really am that bad.

F*ck.

At the time, the graph of good times and bad may have felt like an “up and down” line graph… a little bit of up, some down, some more good times, so up… some really bad times, way down… more up…

Then withdrawals. And with them, the realization that it wasn’t up and down, up and down. My life was a steady down with some bumps in the road.

When I drink or use drugs, I am actively participating in my own demise. I am no longer at the beginning of a fatal progression, I’m at the end. I’ve simply suspended the decline by not drinking and working a program of recovery.

And as a benefit of doing so, a day at a time, I have been given a life of consistent contentment and happiness normal people feel blessed to experience fleetingly.

It was the beginning of a fatal progression. But it doesn’t have to stay that way.

Many new to sobriety have a hard time grasping how they can live without drugs and alcohol. When looked at from my perspective, I have the blessing of experience. I don’t know how I could want that misery back.

Recover hard my friends.

Are Meetings Needed to Stay Sober? From Dry Drunks and Popcorn Farts to Happy and Recovering (and Everyone In Between)

This will likely be the toughest post I’ve ever written.  I am beholden to steer clear of controversy related to AA and the 12 Steps, but this is a hugely important topic that doesn’t get enough of a proper airing.  I’m going to try to walk the tightrope.

Let me start by adding a disclaimer; the following is my opinion and my personal understanding.  If you want to know exactly what’s in the Big Book, look to the forward and the first 164 pages.  I highly recommend reading that rather than basing your opinion on someone else’s opinion.  Especially when trying to make a determination on what the book does or does not say.

With that, I’ll begin.  Are meetings needed to stay sober?  No.  And yes.  One of the biggest misunderstandings about the aforementioned Big Book is whether or not other forms of recovery are acknowledged.  Many mistakenly believe that those in AA believe “the program” is the only way to recover.  This is entirely untrue.  It’s a fabrication and a pervasive myth. AA does indeed embrace the idea that it does not corner the market on recovery.  The idea that “AA” as a whole only recognizes its own “brand” of recovery is simply false (page 31, 38 & 39, bottom of 94, last paragraph of 95, and finally, 103).  As I go, I’m only worried about my own recovery and passing on my experience, strength and hope that it might help others.  Our stated goal, and I fully embrace this, is simply to be useful to others.

Where this gets tricky is that our brand of recovery happens to be very thorough.  We “leave no stone unturned” when it comes to rectifying our past and making amends for our misdeeds.  We learn to change how we think and live down to our very core.  We look at everything that we are and seek to rise from the dregs of society to become productive members of society.  Better, we do this without trained professionals and at little cost, beyond a Dollar to help with coffee and rent and a few more to buy a Big Book.

Put another way, if cancer could be fixed the same way, there’d be a line around the block to get into a meeting and no one would complain about having to work a few simple steps!

Happy and Recovering

That out of the way, I have two very close friends who lead perfectly happy lives who stopped going to meetings decades ago.  One found God and happiness in church and the other simply got the message and changed his ways long, long ago.  Both are fine, upstanding members of society and have more “clean time” than I do by more than a decade each.  Those two alone show beyond a shadow of a doubt that recovery is attainable without meetings.

The trick is, each of my friends are mindful of who they hang out with and what they do with their free time; they’re every bit as vigilant as I am about my recovery.  They also worked some form of program in the past where they transformed their life to break the cycle of addiction.  These items are a must if one hopes for peace and contentment.

Dry Drunks and Popcorn Farts

Now we’re going to wander into dangerous territory.  If I were to have sworn off alcohol for good and managed to quit on my own, cold turkey as they say, well, I’d probably be dead or drunk today.  I simply couldn’t do it without the program and live with myself.  I had to fix my stinkin’ thinkin’ and everything that came with it in order to sober up.  I also needed the companionship that only comes with being a part of AA.  And therein lies the rub – but that’s me.  I can’t fairly say what someone else needs, I can only share my own experience.

However, where we get into trouble is when well intentioned people lack the ability to honestly assess their situation and become irritable discontents.  Within the program these people can get help.  Outside, without professional help, they languish, forever placing the blame that belongs on who they’re looking at in the mirror on other people, places, and things.  Things they have no control over.  These are your dry drunks that we often refer to as “drier than a popcorn fart”.  They quit drinking by sheer will alone, and they’re not happy about it.

I don’t know what the answer is for people so afflicted.  It’s a horrible condition indeed.  I just do my part to be useful to my fellows, wherever possible.

In the end…

In the end, it’s all about happiness and contentment.  Call it “quality of life”, a fantastic buzz-term for this topic.  I continue to attend meetings because they better my quality of life.  I’ve said for a long time (after someone passed it on to me), it’s a lot harder to fall off the wagon when you’re sitting in the middle of it, surrounded by 50 of your closest friends.  It’s easier to fall off if you’re sitting on the edge, all by your lonesome.  All that wagon needs is to hit a bump and you’re flying through the air, waiting to land in the mud.

Meetings and steps isn’t the only way to sober up.  It’s a thorough way.  It’s a useful way, and when done with gusto, a way to sober up that leads to an exceedingly happy life.  I continue to go because going makes me happy.

But that’s just me.

And On the Eighteenth Day He Said, Thou Shalt Tinker with Thy Bike. It’ll Make You Smile. And So I Did.

I had a long day in my car Monday. Eight hours drive time for a meeting that lasted an hour and a half. It was productive and absolutely necessary, so it was good but what a drive!

Thankfully, I left early enough in the morning that I pulled into my driveway before 4pm. I had time to burn before my trainer ride…

The shifting quality of my Venge is and has been less than perfect. Call it very good, but… just a hair off. The rear derailleur had to be dialed in perfectly for the gears to operate quietly. A thirty-second of a turn one way or the other and a one of the middle gears would click either going up or coming down the cassette (but not both). It shouldn’t be that difficult to get it dialed in and I knew what the culprit was (drag in the cable), but I didn’t want to mess with it until the season was over.  The bike was mechanically sound, it just wasn’t perfect.

Also, the housing that comes out of the handlebar and goes into the frame’s down tube was just a touch long so it touched the brake housing. The mechanic at the local shop had tried to improve the shifting quality that I was stumped on and simply cut the cable a touch too long when he installed a new single-piece cable housing in lieu of having an in-line adjuster for the front and rear mechs (an in-line adjuster for the rear mech is redundant and a little useless – for the front derailleur, it’s a necessity in an internally routed cable system).  It had bugged me since I brought it home but not enough to take the system apart to fix it.

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It’s the one on your right – the left cable if you were sitting on the bike.

It was being stumped that had me nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room filled with grannies on rocking chairs to tinker with what worked… even if not perfectly. I couldn’t help but think I was being too picky.

I found three problems. The shop had installed two housing ends that were plastic with a rubberized coating rather than metal. I didn’t like that the cable felt like it was catching a bit and it didn’t play well with the barrel adjuster. I pulled the cable through and trimmed the long housing, added metal ends, and changed the housing assembly going into the derailleur itself. Then, I added a piece of cable liner at the bottom bracket cable guide to match the front cable (I’m sure the mechanic removed the old liner thinking it was binding the shifting but the problem was more in the choice of cable housing ends [aka ferrules].

Then I put everything back together.  The whole operation took 25 minutes from start to fully adjusted and shifting seamlessly (with internal routing – using cable liner as a guide is as good as, or better than magnets).

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I managed to achieve perfect.  I’m stoked how well the bike shifts now.

After tinkering with the Venge, I changed into my cycling kit and hit the trainer for a 45 minute intense workout and followed that with dinner… I fell asleep watching the national championship football game.  It’s very likely I had a smile on my face as I drifted off.

I’ll get into the repair in greater detail for tomorrow’s post because it’s a HUGE issue with a 10 speed drivetrain.

Addiction Recovery Based on the Power of… Music? Sadly, I’m Not Kidding.

In researching a treatment center for someone close to my heart, I happened on a treatment center, recommended by the person’s attorney, that specializes in recovery “based on the power of music”.

Now, I’m going to be very blunt here, because for those of us saddled with alcoholism and drug addiction, this shit is life and death, literally and sadly, this is just a sampling of the BS that’s out there that touts itself as “recovery”.

Friends, again, addiction is a serious issue that needs to be dealt with rationally and with great depth.  While I will absolutely give you, there is a certain jump in mood when I listen to music, I don’t want my sanity, freedom and health to hinge on Recovery by Metallica.

That’s just not good enough.  Imagine something along the same lines, Movie based recovery…  and that should be enough to show a sane person exactly how nuts “music” based recovery would be.  Music is a one-trick pony in terms of recovery and my addiction is a whole lot more pernicious than a one-trick pony.  After reading through as much of the website as I could take (a little less than an hour), other than having a “professional” make a playlist for you, I couldn’t tell what they actually do to help people recover!  Now perhaps they get into greater depth in their in-patient setting, but you’d never know based on what’s on their website.

Fortunately for my friend, he and his wife had someone with enough sobriety to choke a drunk (figuratively, dear) to recommend something… uh… with a bit more of a foundation.

As we in recovery like to say, our disease is sitting in a cage at the back of our mind doing push-ups.  The door isn’t locked.  I fully embrace the fact that there are many ways to recover from addiction and have a productive life.  You have to ask yourself this, though:  Do you want to trust your life, sanity, and recovery to a Taylor Swift tune?

If you answered yes, good luck with that.  I’ll be here when you come back from your next relapse.  Look me up and we can talk about what’s next.

Why I’ve Chosen Recovery Every Day of My Life, Since Just 22-Years-Old

When I turned 21, old enough to finally consume alcohol (legally) in the USA, and yes, the “legally” caveat is necessary, it was off to the races for me.  That whole year, from 21 to 22, was a blackout.  The year is and was, gone.

Insanity with alcohol started early with me, though.  Long before my lost year.  I had my first brush with death at just 17.  We called it alcohol poisoning back then, but you’d do just as well to call it OD’ing.  I almost choked on my first vomit of the night.  The only thing that saved me was a friend recognizing that I was about to hurl, so he kicked me over on my side.  Several pukes later, and a couple of dry heaves thereafter, I burst a blood vessel in my throat and damn near bled out.  I was a mess when my best friend and dad carried me into my parent’s home.  Head to toe, chunks and blood.  According to my buddy, my mom laid into me at that point, kicking me repeatedly.  She denies it to this day, but he always maintained it was brutal.  I made my peace with it long ago, I just add it for “color” to the painting.

I was seated at my first AA meeting shortly after that, but it would be a mountain of trouble later that I finally went to my second.  I was facing real time, too.  Not just a stint in the County jail.  I thank God I got what I got, and not what I deserved.  It was a steady circling of the toilet bowl.

Then the medical issues started popping up.  I had a bloated gut but was surprisingly skinny (6′ tall, 130-ish pounds).  The doctor at an out-patient treatment center said the bloating was a product of a swollen liver.  He’d run an enzyme test weeks earlier and said the results came back that I had the liver of a 60-year-old chronic alcoholic.

I never did anything I liked half-assed.

I was, eventually, sentenced to in-patient treatment after more trouble compounded on the old that I still hadn’t jumped through all of my hoops for… and that’s where I had my breakthrough.  It was very sweet and exceedingly simple.  Somehow, with the fog cleared after two weeks in treatment, I could see what my life had become and I wanted better.

I tried quitting dozens of times before then, but could never quite bring myself to do what it took to really stay sober.  Until that moment, I didn’t want to quit, really.  I wanted to “moderate”.  To drink “responsibly”.  To learn how to control myself once that first drop crossed my lips.  It was two weeks into treatment that I could finally see the laughable folly in even attempting to control that which couldn’t be controlled.

I had reached the end of my rope and rather than trying to sew on another piece while I was dangling there (as I’d done many times before), I decided to tie a knot in it.

Once I made my decision to give recovery everything I had, there was no need to turn back.  It was “work for a happy life” or “misery”.  Some would say I chose the former and didn’t look in the rearview mirror.  I would have said that up until a few years ago.  It’s closer to the truth to say, after a year of sobriety, “there was no rearview mirror”.  Once I got my stride in recovery, I knew I’d struck gold.

I knew this because I tried everything to drink like a normal person.  Everything.  It was easy to come to the conclusion that I had a choice once my life really started improving.  And the longer I stayed sober, the better I got, and the more fun I had.  Life has become so enjoyable, all I wish for is another day, week, month, year like the last.  Today, it’s a choice between anguish and joy… and once you get to that point, it’s even easier to stay on the path.

It’s hard to believe, but I’ll turn 50 this year.  Six years of pain and misery followed by 2 years of hard work followed by another 25 of happiness and contentment.

In the end, I managed to stay sober this long, not because life was so good, but because I remembered exactly how bad it was.

In fact, ironically, you could say that the one thing that keeps me coming back is the one thing we try to banish from our lives with the steps; fear.  Of course, I’d be able to convince you, if I haven’t already, this a healthy and a welcome fear.  It is a good and useful piece in my recovery.

Riding a Bicycle; Eight Signs You May Not Be Doing It Right and What to Look For If You’re Not.

First, this is not going to be some “go out an buy a $10,000 featherweight road bike for your first ride” snob post.  To be fair, I wouldn’t know how to come at it from that angle, as I’ve never owned anything approaching a $10,000 featherweight road bike, myself.

do have a $6,000 featherweight road bike, and it is indubitably sexy.  If you can afford one, I highly recommend picking up one or two.  They’re unquestionably fun.

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Here’s a list of eight things that will help you identify something wrong and what to do to correct each item.

  • Your butt feels like you’re riding on barbed wire after ten miles.
    • Okay, so this isn’t exactly perfect, because one must get some miles in before one’s heinie stops hurting.  On the other hand, it won’t hurt bad enough that you actually check to see if someone put a piece of barbed wire on your saddle.  If someone did, check your friends – you’re doing something wrong there.  Just a guess, of course.  Otherwise, your saddle is one of these:  Out of position (too high, tilted too far forward or back), or too narrow/wide for your sit bones, or has too much padding.  That’s right, too much padding.  Those big-ass seats, all irony aside, stop blood flow to the nether-regions.  That’s no bueno.
  • Your hands go numb in the driveway.  On your way out.
    • Your hands shouldn’t go numb unless you’re on a very long ride.  Hours long.  If they do, there are a few simple things you can do to correct this.
      • The drop from the nose of the saddle is either too great or too little.
      • The saddle nose is tilted down too far, it’s sliding you into the handlebar.
      • You’re gripping the handlebar too tight.  Think of gripping a baby bird in either hand.  Don’t kill the birds.
      • If the drop from the nose of your saddle to the handlebar is off, you probably need to raise or lower the handlebar.  Lowering the bar may seem odd, but I had to do this myself on my mountain bike to get some of the pressure off my hands.
      • If you’re gripping the handlebar too tight, stop it.
      • In all seriousness, if you’re gripping the handlebar – hoods, bar top or drops – with a decent amount of pressure, you’re definitely doing it wrong.  The idea is to hold on just tight enough that if you hit a bump, you don’t let go.
  • Your neck hurts.
    • Your neck shouldn’t hurt too bad, from looking up the road.  If it does, the problem is related to the drop from the nose of the saddle to the handlebar.  Don’t raise your handlebar quite yet, though.  Do some yoga or stretches or anything to fix your neck first.  Low is fast.  Fast is cool.  Therefore, low is cool.  By default.
    • Riding is cooler than not riding.  If you can’t get your neck comfortable, raise the handlebar.
  • Your knees hurt.
    • Your knees shouldn’t hurt.  There are three things that cause this
      • Your saddle is too high (front of the knees will hurt)
      • Your saddle is too low (back of the knees will hurt)
      • Your cleats are misaligned.  Believe it or not, this is a really big deal.  You can do some damage if this isn’t addressed.  Your local bike shop should have what’s needed to get you sorted out.
  • Your feet hurt.  There are a couple of issues, maybe a few, related to the feet…
    • Your shoes are too small.  This ain’t hockey.  You don’t have to cram your size 11 foot into a size 8.
    • Your shoes are too tight.  One would think, especially for those who clip in, that the shoes should be ratcheted down pretty tightly.  This isn’t the case.  Snug does the job.  Tight increases pressure unnecessarily.
    • Again with the cleat placement – in this case, too far forward or back depending on where the pain is.
  • Your back hurts.
    • Check your bike setup.  Get your bike fitted if you haven’t already.  Doing so is incredibly important.
      • There are quite a few things that could cause this.  Saddle too far back, too far forward, too high, too low… you’d need a shotgun and a lot of hope to hit the answer on this.
  • Your butt hurts, but your saddle is right.
    • You need better shorts.  Click here and learn.  You don’t have to feel the burn.
  • You’re not having any fun.
    • Dude, how can one not have fun riding a bicycle?!  That doesn’t even make sense!
    • Seriously, if you’re not having fun, maybe try a different type of cycling.  Don’t like paved roads?  Try dirt.  Don’t like roads?  Try mountain biking.  It’s supposed to be fun, and a lot of it.

The Daily Reflections Post from the Other Day; I Was Once Lost…

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Anyone who has read my blog knows how I feel about my addicted past. I was a miserable, useless, POS. That description doesn’t bode well with today’s insufferable “love me as I am” movement which will create more relapse, demoralization, loss and death than it helps.  Very few, if any, will benefit from this extension of the long discredited “Dr. Spock” method of recovery.  It’s sad how intelligent people cling to idiocy in the name of “feelings”.

“In A.A. we aim not only for sobriety—we try again to become citizens of the world that we rejected, and of the world that once rejected us. This is the ultimate demonstration toward which Twelfth Step work is the first but not the final step.”

— AS BILL SEES IT, p. 21

The world that once rejected us… but note, we reject the world first, almost every time.

The world was right to reject me because I rejected it.  This is as it should be. I didn’t care about one person on this rock who got in the way of my addiction. I would lie, cheat, steal, and manipulate to stay drunk and high.  I didn’t care what the effects were.

The world treated me as I was, not some silly notion of who I’d be if only [fill in the blank here]. I was treated as I deserved.

The result is different today, though I’m still treated as I deserve.  I am treated better by “society” because I treat “society” better.  I’m a productive part of it.  To wish otherwise, to hope that society will treat us as productive members of it when we’re clearly not, is folly.  It’s wrong-headed, ignorant, and narcissistic.

True happiness in recovery is only possible when we put aside that selfishness.

I only hope this post doesn’t cause anyone to spontaneously combust from the raw truth expressed here.