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The definition of insanity as applied to recovery was ever thus; doing the same thing(s), over and over again, and expecting different results.
I’ve been reading a guy who fancies himself a victim because he is terrible at not drinking. The problem, as he doesn’t see it, is that he does everything wrong. Going by what he writes on his blog, it appears he makes the exact same choices he did when he was using and can’t figure out why he keeps getting drunk. Oh, he’ll get some piece of advice that’s going to be the game changer, that’ll finally change his attitude so that he won’t pick up again… It’s a breakthrough, you see! Then, sooner than later, he falls into an old pattern and he’s back out, wondering what the hell just happened.
Like I said at the beginning, the very definition of insanity.
My friends, that’s simply the way we roll. Insanely. The only reason for my success in recovery, the one single thing that set the recovery process in motion so I could actually recover, is that I quit fighting recovery. I gave up every notion, read that again for the cheap seats, e-v-e-r-y notion that I could ever be, or live like, a normal drinker again. That means near beer, too; near beer, near death, that means any form of dope (including pot), because I didn’t drink (or do drugs) for taste, I drank for effect. Without the effect, there would always be something missing, something gnawing at the back of my mind that says, “Oh, hey, a you could switch to a real beer now… you’ve got this licked. You’ve been sober for “x” days/weeks/months.” That’s the fight I quit having.
Not having the fight meant all of my old friends, all of my old life, all of my old haunts… everything was out. Done. Gone. I quit fighting recovery so I could transform into being “normal”. Because, my friends, once alcohol is added, I am anything but normal.
I remain sober because I understand the definition of insanity. I accept it for what it is. And I quit trying to outsmart a disease that can’t be outsmarted. Ever. The insanity is trying to live a drunkard’s life without being drunk… and one of the hardest habits to break because being a drunk wasn’t bad all of the time – even at the end, when I was completely out of options, there were still some good times.
That’s what it takes for me to be happy, though. I don’t know of any other way… but to quit being freakin’ nuts when I quit drinking. If someone else finds a way to keep doing the same $#!+, but actually get different results, well more power to them. I don’t expect I’d follow along, though. To even try would be insane.
Either I am, or I am not. There is no betwixt.
Just a thought.
Last Sunday, I rolled over 60,000 miles since I started keeping track in 2011. In terms of a special milestone, it’s not all that special. There’s a phone book of people who ride that in a year, worldwide. It’s my milestone, though. I did it, and what’s important is that I’ve had fun putting almost every one of those miles on my bikes.
Cycling has evolved for me over the last eight years. The first few weeks weren’t all that impressive, until I bought a decent bike. An adult mountain bike. After that, a cavalcade of road bikes… and it was Katy bar the door from the moment I first rode my Trek 5200. I dropped 20 pounds so fast it actually scared my wife. I was skinny. Then I learned how to eat, ahem, for an active lifestyle and have been okay ever since. It could be said that I certainly do enjoy eating a lot more.
Anyway, I’ve had my bikes, one or the other, all over the place – especially all over our home State of Michigan, and after all of those miles, I’m still excited when a big tour rolls around. Who am I kidding? I still get fired up, just to run a quick loop around the neighborhood. For those who ride a lot, you’ll know exactly what I mean when I write that cycling has been my source of fun, rather than a source of exercise. The fact I burn a lot of calories just comes with the fancy pedals.
I headed out last evening to hammer some miles out with my friends and, unlike the stock market, past experience is an indication of future returns. I was driving home with a big smile on my face, thinking about how lucky I am to be me. I’m nothing special, of course, but I do believe I’m a blessed guy to have the wife, kids, friends, bikes and life that I have.
I don’t have a whole lot of money. I don’t have a big, fancy house. I do have a smokin’ hot wife, two awesome daughters, some great friends, a good job, a stellar, clean life, (ahem) six bikes, good health… and some fantastic memories. Above all, though, I am happy.
What I’ve learned over the last 60,000 miles is that the miles don’t matter. It’s the spending time, regularly, with friends and family making memories. As we get older, most everyone wants to slow down time. The only way I know to do that is to take the time to enjoy life. A little bit, every day. When I take the time to savor where I’ve been and where I’m at, life slows down just a little bit… and it’s vastly sweeter.
And that’s enough to make any ex-drunk get a little misty. Keep coming back, my friends. It gets good enough, if you work for it, that you simply can’t believe that things worked out so well.
I read a post the other day from a fellow recovering drunk who was lamenting, I think it was, a new craft beer that had been released. I quit long enough ago craft beer was made by my buddy’s dad in the garage and tasted like… well, really not good. The craft beer of today wasn’t even a glimmer in someone’s eye yet. Hell, I quit before Zima and slightly after ICE beer.
It’s been a long time since I felt I missed out on a new drink. Hard lemonade, hard cider, hard seltzer water… and there is a very simple explanation for this; I don’t like prison more than I wish I could have a Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandy. Well, let’s put this into proper context; I don’t like prison more than I wish I could have 24 Leinenkugel’s Summer Shandies. You know what I’m getting at?
I default straight to the misery, and that’s why I don’t miss out. The trouble for newly recovered alcoholics is the new misery of quitting can tend to be only slightly less miserable than drinking. Especially if one is trying to white knuckle it. Blur the lines too much and drinking can win out. For someone like me, who continually works a recovery program and keeps a vivid memory of what my drinking misery was really like, it’s easy to pass because my life, with all its fleas, is awesome.
And awesome is good. Prison? Not so much.
Recovering from addiction, if done right, will be the hardest thing you ever do in life. If you’re doing it wrong, then doing it right will be the second hardest thing you ever do.
For the last, oh, I don’t know, several thousand years or so, alcoholics have been trying to switch addictions to cope with quitting their drug/drink of choice. Beer only, wine only, liquor only, foo-foo drinks only… weed only, pills only, heroin only, cocaine only, weed and beer, coke to get up, booze to come down… you get the idea. Hey, why not swing for the fences and throw meth in there for good measure? I’m sure that’ll end well.
Friends, there is no escape an addict won’t exploit. If it makes us feel good, without proper motives and checks, we’ll abuse it. It’s what we do.
The problem is not that we abuse the $#!+ that makes us feel good, it’s that we have to escape what is happening around us, that we want to escape life (usually synonymous with our bad decisions and the wreckage we create). As addicts, we used to escape, to hide from life, therefore anything that gives us that escape in recovery has to be suspect (even, gulp, cycling). If it’s mood or mind-altering, in the form of a drug, it’s simply off limits (there are exceptions, obviously, but none of them include self-diagnosis or pot – though feel free to kid yourself. I won’t try to stop you). If it’s something that simply puts a smile on our face, like cycling in my case, we must constantly assess our motives and our behavior. If we don’t, we risk creating more, new wreckage from which we’ll seek to hide. And that will start the cycle of destruction and the downward spiral to relapse.
That’s how $#!+ works.
In the end, Captain Obvious, it’s very simple; quit first, recover second. Sadly, we don’t get to put the cart before the horse. I can’t have the benefits of recovery if I won’t quit in the first place.
Tuesday night was spectacular. We had a north wind and that’s normally tough for the home stretch, but for some crazy reason it didn’t bother me too much at all… and for the first time this year I got to the warm-up on time. And oh, was it a gloriously fun warm-up!
We rolled out a bit late, a few minutes after Six in the evening for the big event. The A Group were already down the road when Jonathan and I took the lead and we quickly, surprisingly took the pace over 22-mph. That’s a fast start, and for some crazy reason the crosswind just wasn’t hurting me like it should have. Almost three-quarters of the way to our first turn and I looked down to see 24-mph. Never, in the history of a Tuesday Night Club Ride, has the B Group started out that fast without a tailwind.
We made our turn into the headwind and the pace eased quite a bit as we dropped to the back. Unfortunately, we’d blown up the group. In the first mile and a half. We’d strung everyone out for the better part of a mile. We waited a bit longer than usual at the first main intersection for stragglers to catch up, but there were still a few back. I asked the group to take it easy for a bit and dropped back bring them up to the group. I turned around and started with an easy pace just ahead of Matt. Chuck, who went back with me, fell in behind me and we commenced to pulling Matt back. I dropped them three times in the headwind. Riding with my hands on the bar top to cut more wind.
I checked my back to make sure some smart ass hadn’t glued a cape to my jersey. I did have a this on my chest, though:
After bringing my friends back, the fun began. We charged west with a crosswind for a mile, north for a mile into the headwind, then our Sweet Lady of Tailwind showed up. We flew. Our 21-mph jumped to 24. We flirted with 27 a few times, even nudged 30.
We hauled ass up the hills after a slow start up the first. We were busted up again after a tricky gravel-strewn turn off a busy road. Besides, we wanted to give the tandems a chance to build up a head of steam.
By this point I felt like Neo the first time he saw the Matrix for what it was… I was just cruisin’, everything was perfect. The bike was fast and nimble and I wasn’t struggling to hold on at all – it was something special, that’s all I can say about it.
Over two of the biggest hills of the ride, down to the valley, up again and we were almost twenty miles in, at the regroup spot.
We waited for most of a minute then split as the last straggler rounded the corner. I had my eyes on that intermediate sprint, a little more than a mile up the road and I was perfectly positioned, about six bikes back. The pace started ramping up as we crested a small climb that precedes the blast into town. Too close to the front and you’ll be pulling the group into the sprint at 28-mph. Too far back and good luck getting to the front as the group splinters under the weight of the gears needed to keep that pace up. I held my enthusiasm, fighting the urge not to jump as I had to feather my front brake to stay out of the wheel in front of me.
I launched my sprint far enough out that nobody would have been expecting me to go quite that early. Starting speed was just shy of 26.7-mph and I took it up to 33.4, everything I had in me with a headwind, and held it till my lungs were burning. I looked back under my left arm to see my buddy Chuck, but he wasn’t within striking distance, so I eased up and took it across the line at 30-mph.
Every time I sprint for a City Limits sign with my friends I feel like I did when I was twelve, pushing my mountain bike as hard as I could to cross some imaginary line… man, just writing about it puts a smile on my face.
We regrouped again in the city proper. I did a short turn up front then headed back to recharge for the final sprint. I took my turns up front over the next eight miles, but they were short.
The last 10%, or three miles, of the ride are some of the best we ride. Slightly descending all the way into town, even in a headwind we can manage a decent speed. Last night, with a light crosswind, we were stacked up in a double echelon and charging down the road for the City Limits sign. Just a mile from the finish we hit a bit of a lull in the pace. It dropped from 26-mph down to 22, but it picked back up in a hurry. With a mile to go I was perfectly placed, four bikes back and fully recovered. The wry grin on my face stretched closer to each ear as the pace quickened. We went from that mundane 22 to a lively 27 in a matter of seconds and I watched as we closed in on my launch point. I waited just one extra second and put the hammer down. I could feel the gang behind me, trying to chase me down but I kept my head low and the power up. With a cross-headwind I still managed a little over 32-mph and I powered it straight through the City Limits sign.
I felt like a hundred Dollars as I reset my computer for the slow mile-long cool down back to the car. Dinner was sweet.
My friend, Jonathan, texted me that he was having a tough time… he felt he had too much energy for the B Group but didn’t quite have what it takes for the A’s. I replied that I could relate. We’re both right on the edge, but I choose to stick with the B’s for two reasons. One, I have fun when we ride. Our road trips don’t include “get there-itis”. Sure we ride fast, but we take our time to savor the ride and snap a few pictures. We have a great balance of fun and fast. We get to do both when we’re not trying to hit a four hour century every time we go out. Second, I have fun. Almost every time I ride with my friends. I don’t want to turn my favorite hobby into work. I get enough of that at work.
It’s easy to be sucked into the morass of the news cycle. It was a dark day in America way back when the big whigs at CNN, on their second day of the network’s existence, realized that 24-hour news was really hard. It seems shortly thereafter they figured, well, if the news won’t come to us, we’ll start making it ourselves.
This isn’t going to be a critique on CNN, though. The point is, when we’re bombarded with crap designed to keep us glued to a TV screen, eventually, to use a phrase seemingly designed for CNN, throw enough crap against a barn, eventually some is going to stick. Therein lies the rub.
I have something rare going for me. I’m a terrible, raging alcoholic.
It’s rare that being an insufferable drunk is looked at as a benefit, but if given some decent perspective, it’s the best thing ever to happen to me.
Being an alcoholic, recovering from it, specifically, has put life in perspective. The hardest thing I’ll ever do in my lifetime is recover from that pit of despair and hopelessness. I did it at 22 years-old, and with just under half of my brain constantly trying to get me back to the miserable relief of escapism through drinking and drugs.
Not only have I stopped mood and mind altering substances, I’ve flourished in this new lease on life, and if I can do that, after all of the despair I suffered through, anything is possible.
One final note on gratitude. The moment after I gave up and asked God for help to recover, I had a complete change of mind and heart. My compulsion to drink was lifted. Maybe “eased” is a better word, but it was something tangible, something I could feel. A crushing weight lifted off my chest… real relief.
People often speak of “being saved”… I get to know, deep down to my baby toes, exactly what being saved feels like. And I know enough not to waste what I was given.
My friends, life is all about how we choose to look at it. Injustice exists everywhere. So does great joy, friendship, happiness and love. Everywhere. What am I going to choose to see, and share with those around me?
Life is never perfect, but if I remain grateful for what I’ve been given, it’s never CNN bad, either.
My wife came through again. As I was loading my car I saw a screw sticking out of the tread. Now, I happen to know the pan head was just a shade more than a half-inch long so I had hopes it hadn’t penetrated the shell of the tire. I went into the garage and grabbed my trusty cat’s claw and went outside to see if I could pull it. As I gently started to pry it loose, a hiss escaped. I tapped it back in and prepared for having to skip my ride to get my tire fixed before that screw came out on its own… Long story short, my wife let me take her vehicle to the club ride and took mine in to get it fixed on her way to pick our eldest daughter up from band camp. The ride was on.
We’d changed the location of the ride because our normal route had been chip sealed over the last week. Newly chip sealed roads are impassable in a double pace-line. It’s WAY too dangerous.
I pulled into the parking lot at 5:30. I did not like what I saw… serious fire power from the A Group and me. I knew my friends were on their way, though. I just hoped it was enough to make a decent B Group – the route we picked has some real hills on it. The parking lot, before long, was teaming with cyclists – many more than I’d assumed would show up. We ended up with a great B Group and a stacked bunch of A’s. We rolled out together but the A’s were by us and up the road after a mile.
And that’s when our ride got fun… and hard.
We had a bit of a tailwind so the pace wound up to 26-mph in a hurry and it stayed there – even up hills we were incredibly fast. Because of the hills we handle this route a little different than our normal Tuesday night – we have several regrouping points throughout the 31 mile route and we needed all of them.
We entered a secluded lake subdivision that features a long, winding loop around the lake. Plenty of up, a lot of down, and brand new pavement the whole length of the road. It was incredibly fast, but provided one of those situations that makes you glad to be a cyclist on a fantastic bike. It’s hard to describe, the emotional charge, where you’re down in the drops because it’s so fast you don’t dare peak your head out of the draft and cranking it around a winding road where you have to lean deep into the corners and look through the corner, a couple hundred feet ahead for the next change in direction… it’s just badass – and we had that in spades.
We exited the subdivision and charged out onto the main drag again with a tailwind. And then, after a few miles, we turned around and had to pay the piper. To say I was winded was an understatement, but we had a couple of horses up front who took some enormous turns, giving me the opportunity to recharge a bit. I needed it, because I knew what was coming.
We charged up the road and made a right, heading down a partially gnarly street with potholes littering otherwise decent asphalt. You had to keep your wits about you and we at the front did our level best to point out the holes to those behind us. Thinking back, I don’t remember hearing anyone hit one, so all went well. At this point, Chuck turned off for a shortcut and I announced I was going with him, but several in the group piped up, pressuring me to stay on for the main climb. Peer pressure is a bitch. Before I got too deep into the shortcut turn, I checked my six and whipped ’round to catch the draft at the back of the group.
A left turn and Denton Hill loomed in the distance. At four tenths of a mile and an 8-10% grade, I stayed with the tandem and we climbed that sucker in 2:28, averaging 237 watts up the hill. It sucked, and I was down to my last gear to spin up the steeper section but crested it we did and tore off down the back of the hill into town at 40-mph.
We hammered all the way to the parking lot, pulling in with a 20.8-mph average. I was more pleased with that than our normal 22+ average back home. Our normal route only has 480′ of elevation gain. The route yesterday more than doubled that at 1,122. We were all smoked after that ride, but it was smiles, hand shakes, and fist bumps all around as we loaded our gear into our vehicles to head for home.
I was struck, for the remainder of the night and into this morning, with how blessed I am to be able to ride like that with a group of competent friends, and to have the life I do. This is the main benefit I get from cycling. I hate to use the word, but it fits, a little bit; there’s nothing better than feeling lucky to be you, and that’s what cycling does for me.