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Recovery When Life Gives You a Bowl of $#!+… Are You Prepared for the Rough Patches?

Folks, every once in a while life skips the basket of lemons and goes straight for a bowl of shit. It happens. In recovery, these can be dangerous times (though, being honest, I encounter more trouble when things are running smoothly).

The important question is a simple one; are you ready for those times?

Now, before I get knee-deep into this post, I want to be very clear about one little piece that is absolutely crucial; this is not waiting for the other shoe to drop. Early in recovery, many of us have a bad habit of waiting for the doom to happen, we often refer to it as “waiting for the other shoe to drop”. Being prepared for a rough patch is not waiting for that shoe to drop. Anticipating bad times is not being prepared for them. One of the first lessons required for a happy, lengthy recovery is getting over “waiting for the other shoe to drop”. I expect good times because I work at recovery, but sometimes life gets a little dark.

So, what does a recovering fella who’s been sober for three decades do when the fit hits the shan?

Well, folks, the first thing I do is hit my proverbial knees and pray for the strength and wisdom to do the right thing. When emotions get the best of me, I do stupid quite well. Second, I have at least try to make sure I don’t do anything to make matters worse (this is usually pretty difficult). Third, when I’m struck with an “idea”, I must filter it through the “Is this stupid?” sifter. Those are the immediate things. Next, depending on the severity (as is judged by how I’m coping with things), at the very least I’m going to call my sponsor and we’ll have a discussion over the phone. If shit really went sideways, I’m taking him out to dinner so we can work through whatever I have to so I can accept my situation and do something constructive with it. Finally, I’m going to work with other recovering people, sharing my experience, strength and hope so that my experience might help them.

Notice nothing on the list of shit to do involves sitting and stewing in that bowl of shit. That’s a period, not a question mark at the end of that sentence.

Why, At 29 Years In Recovery, I Still Get My Coin

I don’t have all 29 anymore. I gave a bunch away to friends as the years have gone by. I always figured it’s better to get a coin that’s been around the block than a new one, anyway. Even though my anniversary was almost two weeks ago, I just got my 29-year coin Wednesday night.

Here’s the quick breakdown on why. My homegroup meeting is on Wednesday night from 8 to 9 pm. My anniversary was technically Thursday the 18th, starting at 12:01 am… so I was three hours short. Just before my actual anniversary. I had to wait until the following Wednesday to get my coin. This might seem a little strict, obviously I was going to make it, but it is what it is. We try not to take a minute for granted, let alone 180 to 240 of them. Anyway, we were up north at my wife’s mom’s house for Thanksgiving last week, so I couldn’t make my home group meeting.

So that brought us to Wednesday… and my wife had other meetings she couldn’t miss to give me my coin (she’s given me every one for the last couple of decades unless my sponsor took the task on the rare occasion). So my wife orchestrated it so her dad, who had come in from out of town, filled in to give me my coin (he’s got more than 38 years… it’s a bunch).

It was a special night. Though I’m only 51, I can fairly be called an old-timer.

Now, we old-timers aren’t good for much besides leading by example in showing newer folks that a) the program works by b) being there and generally of good cheer by c) talking about how the program is worked to achieve that good-natured temperament.

Rocket science this ain’t.

That said, there are a half-dozen reasons I still get my coins but there’s one that is above all others. I was given a great gift by my Higher Power the day my desire to use drugs and alcohol was removed enough that I could recover.

I was sober two weeks when I begged God to remove my desire for alcohol. I can remember waking up the next morning awestruck by what it felt like to be free. That was enough to get me working that program of recovery so I could grow into what I am today.

A lot of people struggle with guilt for having been saved and not having a decent answer for one of the harder questions we face in recovery: “why me”? I am not so afflicted. I know why me. I believe I was given that gift because I asked for it when I was ready to use it. Then I did. Now it’s my turn to pay for that gift by helping my fellow newer people in recovery achieve what I did.

And so I have a purpose.

I do my best to be the brightest beacon of light I can be on a stormy night that never ends, on a really small, rocky shore. That’s the job.

Otherwise, we can be pretty much useless. And that’s why people struggle with “why me?” “Being of maximum use to my fellows”, humbly, isn’t exactly the sexiest of jobs. We certainly never get rich doing it.

Freedom, happiness and contentment are the payoff, though. And that’s better than good enough for government work. Especially after what we have to go through to get there.

Recover hard, my friends. It’s a zoo out there.

We Interrupt this Awesome Life for A Lot More Awesome; A Recovery Tale for Everyone

The only sure constant besides death and taxes is, life with throw curveballs at you as long as you’re on the right side of the grass. Since I sobered up in ’92, I’ve dodged more proverbial landmines than I could possibly begin to list. The main difference between when I was a much younger lad pre-recovery and today is that I used to step on them back then.

Sad truth is, I simply made poor choices when I was drinking – and my bad choices on top of bad choices had a tendency to compound, as one would imagine they would. I’m here to tell you, I don’t think I could have amounted to as much as I did without the guidance of Alcoholics Anonymous. While it isn’t for everyone (well, technically it is for anyone, but I feel obligated to say it isn’t for those who choose a different path – and I have no opinion on the choice to go a different way – I wouldn’t, but what I would and wouldn’t do is about as consequential as bat shit), AA offered a path to correcting more than just the booze-related problems. It is often said, you can sober up a horse thief, but what’s left is still a horse thief.

In AA lies the ability to fix the “horse thief” stuff. In fact, we believe it’s the outlying issues that drove/drive us to drink in the first place. Another way to look at it is like this; take someone who used to be an angry drunk. If they’re not a drunk anymore, what’s left? Angry.

And so it was, I set about a path to fix me. Not the world around me, but me. And this has paid dividends upon compound interest. I’d never say I’m to a land of unicorns and rainbows, but freedom and happiness sure feel good after hell on earth.

While one could poke holes all day long into my theories on and understanding of happiness (and I have people who literally do poke at me for weaknesses, simply because they can’t stand seeing someone else being happy with acceptance of life on life’s terms) you’ll wear yourself out trying because my enjoyment of life and recovery doesn’t depend on the believing of others it’s worked.

And so it is with recovery. Have a little compound awesome for yourself. It’s there for anyone who wants to work for it. And it’s sweet.

Well what do you know… my vaccine appears to be… working! Shocker!

I’ve been 100% back to normal since getting vaccinated. That’s a full stop. No masks (I don’t even look for signs anymore), no distancing, I’m back to hugs, handshakes and bro-hugs. I’m about three weeks away from “last year is last year”. I don’t even think about COVID anymore.

I’m treating my vaccine as, well, one would treat a vaccine.

Normal is fantastic.

Alas, I can’t help feel sorry for those who still run around in a mask, whether to signal some form of virtue (if you’d even call it virtue, I wouldn’t), because their employer or government requires them, or because they’re still legitimately scared.

Another set I feel sorry for is the group that won’t get vaccinated – be it vast right-wing or vast left-wing conspiracy folks (if you think they’re only from one side of the political spectrum, you’re wrong). In fact, this is an excellent line of thought to expand on.

Whatever the case with the COVID, I’m enjoying my double-immunity (had it and I’ve been vaccinated… didn’t really know I’d had it till I was sick for a full week after my first jab).

One of my friends sees everyone through a political spectrum. Now, we all have our political leanings and beliefs, but the vast majority of us can look beyond those beliefs and see the good in others and let the rest go to be friends. After all, these are politicians we’re talking about here. Not this friend of mine, though. In fact, I don’t think he much cares for me due to the way I lean. He certainly likes to take pot-shots at me from time to time. I rarely react, because other than his political views and the way he treats those who think differently, he’s generally a pretty good guy to be around. Funny thing is, he’s lost on the fact I choose to look beyond his political leanings even though I disagree with a lot of what he believes in. I like to say, “if it was actually as bad as he thought it was, I’d be just as mad as he is, too”.

On a ride a while back during a ride, we passed Nuggent Road and I pointed to it as we rode by. This friend of mine is a connoisseur of rock and roll and I figured he’d get a charge out of passing Nuggent Road.

He got a charge, all right. He let me know how Ted Nuggent was a denier of the COVID until he got it and how he despised the man because he’s a radical right-winger.

First, the Nug wasn’t a denier at all (though he was mis-reported as being one – shocker). He said the toll on freedom was too much, and he was right. Anyway, I took that opportunity and said, “He also happened to play a mean guitar”. Then I added, “You know, half the country is a whole lot of people to hate because of their political beliefs”. I didn’t say a word after that.

If you can’t see the good in people beyond a bunch of political bullshit arguments meant to keep you angry, I’d like to suggest you try to make the world a better place. As long as you know where to start doing that. Try a mirror.

I do. It’s a great place to start. The asshole looking at me is the only one on the planet I can change anyway.

And So It Begins, Training for DALMAC Over Freedom Weekend

DALMAC, at the end of the season, is a grind. Three 100+ mile days followed by a 72 as we take it to the barn. Most days are above 19-mph for an average.

The first day is fairly easy – or, as easy as 100 miles can be at 5:10-ish hours in ride time. The second day is where you’re tested. The second day hurts. Uphill almost the whole hundred and maintaining that pace, a day after we rode a hundred, can be more than a little brutal. The third day, you’re feeling a little better as your body gets over the shock… right up till about mile 90 and The Wall. A quarter-mile at 18% after you’ve climbed 1 to 3% for two miles to get there. I walked my Venge the last eighth the first year but rode every year since (I changed my drivetrain specifically for that hill) because I climbed the first two miles way too fast.

https://www.strava.com/activities/2668368665/embed/d96ab03236a7dacfe506d885370d23d8bb4d7e9d

The Fourth of July weekend is tailor made for DALMAC training. We’re staring at a three-day weekend and day one is in the books.

We rolled out to unseasonably cool and cloudy conditions but with barely a breeze as wind goes. I regretted not wearing arm-warmers for the first hour but it warmed up after.

We started out into what little wind there was but it felt like forever before we had the help of the breeze.

The pace was steady and enjoyable throughout and I was feeling quite spectacular.

It was heading home in the last ten miles of our 56-mile ride that I started contemplating, “Why is it we ride our bikes so far?” By this question I mean, we’re out there three hours yesterday… but I never had a dull moment and as we took it to the barn all I could think is “I wish we had another hour to go…”

I’ve got no good answer, my friends. I’ll pass 4,000 miles (6,437 km) for the year today, I’ll be more than 1,000 miles over my pace to hit my yearly goal of 6,000 miles (just wait till August and September, I should be over my goal by the end of September, easy). We ride more than most folks drive their cars… but look at that smile on the face of the old fella up front.

That says all you need to know about “why” right there. Thank you, Sir. May I have another?

PS. When I refer to the Fourth of July as “Freedom Day”, do not mistake that I was referring to our freedom from British Colonial rule. While the Declaration of Independence has much to do with that, I’m thinking bigger. The beginning of the United States of America is based on the Freedom of the People from government. Unlike most other countries the world over. Some have famously complained that this is out of date, that our Constitution is too hard on the government’s efforts to progress. I’d argue that our Constitution is doing exactly what it was designed to do in that regard.

Why Recovery is so Hard to “Get”, From Ruin to Recovery to Relapse and Back Again

Up until my 22nd birthday, my longest sober stint in four years was one week. I don’t remember much of that week as it was in my lost year (1991). I don’t remember much of anything from that year other than I was told my liver was shutting down and I had about eight more years on the right side of the grass at my current pace. I was bad enough that I tried to swear off drinking on my own, of course. I lasted one whole week. I knew AA was out there, but I didn’t want that to ruin my chances of going back to drinking once I righted myself.

A year later was what turned out to be my last drink and/or drug. I was down to seven years left on the right side of the grass. That stuck. I found AA and I finally hurt bad enough that I didn’t care about all of the BS negative clichés surrounding “the program”. I needed the pain to stop and, if possible, to lead a happy life. I’ve said it and written it a hundred times, if someone would have told me standing on my head in the corner would help me stay sober, I’d have tried it.

I’d hit “f*ck it”. That’s “f*ck it”, I don’t care what anyone else says, this life I’m leading isn’t going to end well if something doesn’t change drastically, and right now so I’ll do whatever it takes to change it.

Everyone knows millions have recovered using AA, a free program that doesn’t require anything other than showing up and working some steps. No doctors (though there’s nothing that says one shouldn’t include doctors, mental or medical, to the list of aides), no expensive plans… A Dollar to help cover the cost of coffee and rent – and that’s only if you have a buck to give. Well, those odds seemed a whole lot better than anything else out there, so that’s what I went with.

It’s worked, without fail, for 28, going on 29 years. Not only did it not fail, I did get that happy life out of the deal.

So what’s the trick to sticking with it?

There’s a list as long as my arm, of course. Make meetings, work the steps, be done and stay done, surround yourself with recovering people, work with others, give it away to keep it… but there’s something, one thing, that sticks out slightly above the rest. I have to work at it.

Folks, if I want to watch my life change for the worse before my eyes, all I have to do is stop working at a better recovery. For those newly clean and sober, if your recovery “sucks”, work a little harder at it. Early recovery is never easy, not when you’re dealing with all of the anguish related to the difficulties you created. The only way to get out of the muck is to plow straight through it. If we work at recovery, the suckiness doesn’t last long – and the harder we work at it, the faster the improvement (generally speaking).

That’s the trick. Work.

The Case for Continuous Sobriety; From an Old Friend, Mentor and Part of Our “Rat Pack”.

Due to anonymity issues, I have to be very careful with this post.  For that reason, this will appear a little vague.  If you’ve read one post of mine, I like to be descriptive to a fault, because being clear helps newcomers.  Sadly, I simply can’t be perfectly clear about the “who and where”.  I’ll be all over the “what and why”, though, as is par for the course.

I stumbled into a very special group of old-timers when I moved north of my native Brighton – Howell zip code as a young lad.  They were Flint’s “rat pack” in sobriety, the same as Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin, Peter Lawford, and Joey Bishop in Hollywood.  My sponsor, for a short but influential time before his death, was “Frank Sinatra”.  He was such a good sponsor and man, he’s still talked about fondly and regularly a decade after his death.  If you ever talk about a legacy, especially for a person in recovery, that’s as good as it can possibly get for just a normal, everyday person.  My sponsor could make anyone feel instantly better about being themselves just by greeting them.  It was an amazing talent and use of an enormous heart.  He loved every lost soul who ever walked into an AA meeting and he was going to do his level best to make sure they felt welcome and knew that he was there for them if they decided to stick around.

We had “Dean Martin” over to the house, Friday night.  I’d say he was Sammy (my favorite), but Peter is unquestionably Sammy.  Dean was a close second favorite for me because I drank like him and related to his sense of humor.  That quality my sponsor had, rubbed off on Ian.  Ian, almost by chance and luck, had a huge influence on my wife and was a big part of her life growing up.  My current sponsor, Greg, is “Joey Bishop”.  Roger is “Peter Lawford”.

And so here we were, having a small dinner party (very small, so it could be held outdoors, socially distanced, because Ian and his wife are of that age that Covid-19 ravages).  Ian’s been sober 44 years.  I was five when he put a plug in the jug for good, 17 years before my sobriety date.

And so we group of sober friends and family ate together, vegetarians and balanced eaters alike, and it was wonderful.  We all laughed.  Ian, my wife and Ian’s wife cried.  And in the course, Ian brought up how well he thought we were doing, and how happy we appeared.  He related that back to his life and success, and we both related that back to our working a program of recovery.

And that brings us ’round to the main point of this post.

Within recovery, I am a decent example of a good human being.  I’m not great, yet, I think I might need that 17 more years to touch that, but I’ll keep trying to get there.  I have a chance to get there because I know one very important point down to my baby toes; sobriety and recovery aren’t an on-again, off-again experience.  I don’t get to the good benefits by straddling the fence, one foot in recovery, the other in addiction and on a banana peel.  And there exists a simple explanation for this truth…

In recovery, there is a progression to health that is very clear and if one hopes for the full benefits afforded by recovery, none of that progression can be skipped.  It’s cumulative.  First, we work the steps to become free of the grips of addiction.  Once free, and with a basic knowledge of “how it works”, we go on to practice those steps and principles in all our affairs.  As life continues, we lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows – helping others becomes a part of our life.  Helping others naturally helps us grow in the steps and principles and life improves.  It doesn’t get easier, of course.  There are trials and tribulations, but we handle them better than we ever could, because the steps and principles we’ve been working for years have become second nature.  We intuitively handle situations that once left us baffled, cursing the universe for having shit on us one more time.  Now we roll over those issues as if they’re minor speed bumps.  We have to slow the momentum a minute so we don’t bottom out the car, but we absolutely keep rolling.  And life continues to get better.

Before you know it, you don’t need meetings anymore – if you’re so blessed, you keep going simply to see how good life can get and to help others get to the same place you’ve been for years.  And this gets to my sponsor’s legacy.  This will be Ian’s legacy, and Peter’s… and Greg’s and Roger’s.

And if I keep it up, possibly mine.

With on-again, off-again sobriety I can never fully release myself from the grips of alcoholism and addiction.  I can’t recover.  If I can’t get out of that fly-paper, I can’t move on to the next part of the progression so I never really get to the sunshine of recovery.  I’m held back.  Retarded from the growth necessary to help friends and fellows – because you’ve gotta have something to give away to be able to freely give it.  If I can’t get there, I’m blocked off from the really good stuff.

I keep coming back because I want to see just how good “good” can get.  Without recovery, all I’m capable of is “meh”.  That’s just not good enough – it hasn’t been for a long time.  Good times and noodle salad isn’t arrived at by chance.  We have to work for it.

A Perfect Thursday Night Ride… How Is This Even Possible?!

I had a choice last night; attend a zoom meeting, or ride with friends, a familiar loop in a nice town south of home… I didn’t need a second meeting in a row so I chose the latter because we had another perfect night for a bike ride.

Perhaps conditions were on the hot side of perfect, but with barely a breeze to slow us down, I was looking forward to a fast one.

As things turn out, it ended up being on the moderate side. I was slightly bummed when the relaxing of pace was suggested but I quickly found my attitude much ado about nothing.  It ended up settling into a fantastic ride…

Normally we’re hammering the route so hard, we can’t look around.  Last night was moderate enough to enjoy looking around a bit.

I even had time to snap the rare photo.

We altered the route to take out the main hill, longer in the middle, shortened at the end to help a new guy who rode with us, a move that was perfectly fine with me.

We rolled into the parking lot with just shy of 29 miles (34 for me, I showed up early and did a five-mile warm-up).  I honestly don’t know how we’re getting away with this stretch of fantastic weather.  Rain is rare enough during a Michigan summer, but this is spectacular.

We’ve got a nice weekend planned, though Sunday is starting to look a little sketchy.  Yesterday the weather service was calling for evening thunderstorms… today, they took the “evening” part out of the description.  We shall see.

In other news, I handled what I had to with my sponsor yesterday.  My tolerance for self-inflicted mental pain and bullshit is, thankfully, low.  And the more I enjoy my recovery (and life), the easier it is to handle anything on my angst immediately.  In turn, the sooner I handle this things that crop up, the happier I am.  The only key thing to remember after that is this:  All of my mental pain and bullshit is self-inflicted.

As long as I can remember that last point, life is good.

 

The Best Day for a Bike Ride I’d Ever Seen… And We Made the Most of It.

The weather report couldn’t be right, I thought. Light breeze out of the northwest, 60° at the start, a high of 76° (15 & 24 C respectively), and abundant sunshine. We get some decent weather in Michigan, but that’s asking a lot for a peninsula.

The weather report was even better when I woke up. No wind for the first few hours, then a gentle northwest breeze picking up as the day went on.

We rolled out with a goal for a 75 miler for my wife and Mike. Chuck and I had a loftier goal of 100.

Without gushing on, it was one of the most enjoyable rides I’ve ever had the pleasure of being a part of. We didn’t see our first clouds till 10:58 am.

We had an 18.8-mph average when that photo was taken. I was thoroughly pleased with how Mike and my wife were riding. Mrs. Bgddy did require a 5-hour Enery at the 45-mile mark, though.

By the way, if you ever find yourself struggling, throw down a 5-hour Energy and hold onto your butt.

I think, in the whole 100 mile ride, we had less than seven miles of questionable road conditions. Not sketchy, by any stretch, just “less than ideal”.

Chuck and I split off from my wife and Mike near the 68 mile mark and headed north to add on what we needed to make our century. Our pace picked up. Into the wind we were better than 20-mph and cruising. I’d chosen the Venge for the day and with the new wheels and my old saddle back in place, the bike is simply spectacular. We stopped in town at a Subway for lunch and took our food to a picnic table out back on the Flint river.

After a much needed break we rolled out again and picked up on our pace. Our average slowly ticked up from 18.8 to 19.2, where it stayed.

Chuck and I said our thank yous and goodbyes and I rolled into the driveway with 101.4 miles… a perfect (meaning laughable) cycling tan and a smile that I wore the rest of the day.

After cutting some grass, I went and played some tennis with my girls (though I was a little slow moving). We had a simple (late) dinner and I was out for the count. I even managed to sleep in (!).

Just 43 miles planned for today, Sunday Funday on the tandem again. And it’s my wife and my 23rd wedding anniversary.

Good times and noodle salad. There’s no place I’d rather be.

Sadly, With All Good Things (And Thankfully, With All Bad), This Too Shall Pass; The End Of My COVIDcation Is Near

Our governor, who our attorney likes to refer to as “her highness”, has decreed that construction activities can resume as of May 7th, though she has yet to put this in writing, so as is quite normal, we’re all waiting around in limbo for her to provide the details – you know, just the way you want to open the economy, with everyone waiting around till the last minute to figure out how to start things up again.  Brilliant. I think. Kinda… her spokesperson said that this was so but we need the official word.

This means, obviously, I’m being asked by one of our customers to provide manpower numbers starting Monday the 4th, even though that would be quite illegal, exceptionally inefficient and exceedingly stupid at this point to commit manpower before we know the details of how to send them back. Ah, how I missed work!

Anyway, it appears as though my COVIDcation will be coming to its glorious conclusion after the weekend.  Or at some point next week. I won’t lie, I wish the governor would have kept it going till Monday (the 11th), but I don’t make the stupid rules, I just live by them (ahem), so it’s frickin’ time to get this dog & pony show on the road.

This has been the longest vacation I’ve been on since high school and while I’m supposed to hang my head in sorrow at the sad nature of things and moan about the fear and insecurity and scariness of it all, I won’t. Whether I had it or not (I’m pretty sure I did – I’ll know in about 36 hours when my cycling buddy’s wife gets her antibody test back, then I’ll get tested if they’re positive), I’m not going to participate in the self-aggrandizing over-the-top wailing and gnashing of teeth. Sure, the bug is scary for a few percent of the population. Sure, it’s deadly for a half-percent or so (if you think the mortality rate is greater than that, I respect your right to be wrong*). Sure, a few healthy people actually died (I think everyone’s heard a story about one or two)… but I’m not into the whole fear for the sake of sounding somber, caring and important, thing.

So, with what I thought was a week to get back into my schedule, I started yesterday morning. I slept in till some time after 3 am and didn’t take a nap.  This morning I made it till 4 am!  I think the hardest adjustment will be no more naps! I’ve made up for 28 years of 6-hour a night sleep in a month and it’s been fantastic. It’s time to get accustomed to my schedule again, though, so I have to put that $#!+ away and get on with it.

Sadly, this will also mean my mileage bonanza is going fade a bit. No more 40 & 50 mile weekday rides. On the the other hand, $!

Sadly, as it happens with good things, they pass. The flipside is, with bad times, they too shall pass.

And for that I am grateful.

COVIDcation has been an amazing, inspirational, fun time for me (it was a little scary when I had symptoms and I was more afraid for my wife). Several decades ago this wouldn’t have been possible, to enjoy this as much as I have. I’d have been out of money within a week and scrounging for a way to survive, or worse, find my next drink before the shakes set in.  I’ll write more on this in the coming days, but my gratitude is off the charts – and that’s how recovery is supposed to work.  The whole idea was to change my life and how I live it so I could get to a place where I’m a productive member of society and I can enjoy a happy existence.  As that goes, my recovery, rather than my addiction, proceeds at pace.

And that’s as good as it gets.

* For the Washington Post story I linked, you actually have to read the words in the story, rather than just looking at the misleading “doom and gloom” headline. For instance:

The new serological data, which is provisional, suggests that coronavirus infections greatly outnumber confirmed covid-19 cases, potentially by a factor of 10 or more. Many people experience mild symptoms or none at all, and never get the standard diagnostic test with a swab up the nose, so they’re missed in the official covid-19 case counts.

The crude case fatality rates, covering people who have a covid-19 diagnosis, have been about 6 percent globally as well as in the United States. But when all the serological data is compiled and analyzed, the fatality rate among people who have been infected could be less than 1 percent.