Staring down the barrel

December 1, 2018 § 13 Comments

Every year about now I get an email from a friend, a nice “attaboy” for my whatever-th year of sobriety. The friend has been on the straight and narrow for 34 years; I’m still on the freshly paved and lightly trodden fourth, now entering the fifth.

One of the bad things about ‘fessing up that you have a drinking problem is that even when you quit, it follows you. Of course as the years pass fewer people know about it and so it becomes more like a secret about your past, and the last thing you want to do is bring it up because, heck, many/most of your new friends will never even know it was a thing, and some of them, when they find out, will think you are ____________ (add pejorative here).

I dislike talking about sobriety, actually, but not because I’m afraid of what people might think about my character. I’m mostly afraid that it sounds preachy. Fact is, I don’t care if you drink, smoke, or whatever.

I’m also afraid that it sounds fake. What is four years compared to thirty-four? I’m well aware that the line between sobriety and drunkenness is no wider than the edge of a beer glass, and how’s it gonna look if I post a fancy “LOOK AT MY AWESOME SOBER SELF YO!” today, and wind up in the gutter tomorrow?

Not too good, that’s how.

Knowing other drunks who have sobered up, I also know that I got off easy. One buddy listened to my story and raised an eyebrow. “Dude,” he said. “you were a fuckin’ Cat 5, if that. More like a cruiser bike with a coaster brake.”

But then I think about the friend who takes the time to send me those annual emails. She doesn’t praise me or tell me I’m awesome or congratulate me for being special. She just says, “Hey, I notice, and good job, wanker.” Or something like that.

If it weren’t for the people like her, and they mostly know who they are, I never would have quit. They never preached but they never hid the story, no matter how many decades ago they sobered up.

And then I think about the tiny handful of people who have reached out to me in the last four years and confessed that they too are drunks, and that because of something I’ve said or done they too have decided to sober up, sometimes for a few months, sometimes for good. And THEN I think that for every one of those people, maybe there are one or two others who say nothing but, after reading this blog or listening to me blather, simply get their shit together.

Even one person kicking this bad habit is worth opening up this old wound, which isn’t old at all; in fact, it still oozes every time I pass a bar, smell beer, or walk down the liquor aisle in the supermarket … which, sorry to admit, I do. Destruction and salvation are such close neighbors.

To top it off, I hate anniversaries, especially this one, because a year doesn’t have any more significance than a day, today, which is pretty much the only day I’ve got. And unless I have it completely wrong, that’s the only day you have, too.

END

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How time flies

November 26, 2015 § 38 Comments

I’m not much of a milestone or anniversary type guy, partly because I’m lazy. The other reason is that my old debate partner in high school, Jimmy Huang, wrote a really good essay on his successful application to Harvard. The essay asked him to talk about one (or more) of his successes, and he essentially wrote something like, “I’m only 18 and nothing in my short and insignificant life could possibly be called a success.”

It was longer than that but you get the point.

Facebag reminded me that one year ago I changed my profile pic to “No beer today!” which was what I wrote on my arm with a Sharpie the day I quit drinking. Then my pal Dan K. sent me a thoughtful email linking to a post I’d written about climbing on the wagon.

I read the post and was impressed with the author. He had a solid writing style, made some good points, was serious but offhand at the same time, was willing to tackle a tough subject without wallowing in too much self-pity or self-adulation, and he even made me smile a little bit. Mostly I was impressed with how well he knew me and his familiarity with the minutiae of my life.

This is how it is, you see. After I write stuff I forget it, delete it from my brain, wipe the slate clean because that’s the only way I can make space for anything new. People will occasionally come up to me and say, “Hey, that was really funny what you wrote about [x],” and I will nod and smile and say, “Thanks!” but in truth I don’t remember any of it. If enough time passes, say a year, and I re-read something I’ve written then it is truly as if I’ve read it for the first time and as if it was written by someone else. And thanks to my Blogbot and team of ghostwriters, it often is.

So it was fun to read about this guy and his decision to quit drinking, and to reflect that the guy was me and that I never really have quit drinking. In my mind every single day I’m on the verge of grabbing a cold one, but my motto is, “Let’s get good and drunk but not right now.” Works for me.

Here are some of my drinking stats:

  1. Average annual alcohol cost: $3,444.33
  2. Average annual work hours lost to drinking: 1,095
  3. Number of family fights per week: 2
  4. Number of days per year spent mildly depressed: 365.25
  5. Average body weight: 167 lbs.
  6. Estimated times per year I almost hurt myself while CUI: 30-ish.
  7. Number of children I indirectly encouraged to abuse alcohol: 3
  8. Number of wives I mistreated: 1
  9. Number of bike races I won: 0
  10. Days I woke up feeling rotten: Most

Here are some of my non-drinking stats:

  1. Number of days per week I do the dishes: 6
  2. Number of days per week I cook for the family: 2-ish
  3. Amount of money I’ve saved for fun trips: $3,444.33
  4. Number of bad bike falling off incidents: 1
  5. Number of bike race victories: 2
  6. Average pounds lost and kept off: 17
  7. Number of wives mistreated: 0
  8. Number of friends I’ve lost who don’t like me because I don’t drink anymore: 0
  9. Number of friends I’ve made because I don’t drink anymore: Lots
  10. Increased work efficiency: 300%
  11. Number of days I can totally forget my problems: 0
  12. Number of people who have quit or cut back drinking because of me: 2
  13. Extra hours per year that I have to read and learn: 2,000+
  14. New languages I’ve learned: 1
  15. Old languages I’ve really brushed up on: 5
  16. Grandbabies I don’t have to worry about dropping: 1
  17. Number of times per day I can blame my problems on alcohol: 0
  18. Mornings per year I can remember the night before: 365
  19. Days I wish I could drink normally like other people: All
  20. Hours per day I’ve appreciated the support and love of family and friends: 24

So in the spirit of my old debate partner I can’t really call it a success, especially since each day starts with a grand and glorious design to go enjoy a beer. But it is a process that has generally meandered in the right direction, with its lows and unhappy moments as well as its stubborn refusal to regress to the mean.

And if that’s as close as I can get to success, well, I’ll take it.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

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A little help from my friends

December 29, 2014 § 58 Comments

Since swearing off beer I’ve gotten a handful of messages and emails from friends who are also struggling with alcoholism. It occurred to me that I’m not the only one trying to find the season’s “merry and bright” while simultaneously fighting off the urge to get shit-faced drunk. Cycling has its share of alcoholics, and although I first thought that it was related to the intense, addictive quality of biking, the more I look around the more it seems like the world is chock full of drunks. My cycling friends are just more open about it.

The worst part has been the physical and emotional withdrawal, or that’s how it seemed, when going cold turkey plunged me into depression combined with intense craving. However, after three weeks of that hell, a good friend who’s been successfully fighting addiction for 25 years told me that that the hardest part isn’t quitting, it’s “staying quit.” How right he was.

The best part has been people reaching out. There are lots of recovering alcoholics out there, and it didn’t take me more than a few days to realize that “one day at a time” wasn’t going to cut it for me. In my case a day is waaaaay to long. Half a day at a time? One morning at a time? Nope, and nope. I’ve refined to something much more immediate: “I’m not having a drink now.”

I’ve also beefed it up with a promise to myself. Although I’m trying to quit outside of organizational help, the minute a taste of alcohol crosses my lips, I’m heading straight to AA. In other words, this is the first step, and it’s likely to fail, so I’ve got a Plan B.

Of course the only thing that really matters with regard to sobriety is this: “Has it helped your cycling?” In my case, no, but that’s because a lifetime of data has conclusively shown that nothing will ever help my cycling. Perhaps a better question might be, “Is your cycling any different as a result?” and the answer to that is “Definitely.”

First, I’ve lost three pounds. These are real pounds, not water goop loss. This has affected my cycling because my jerseys don’t make my tummy pooch out as much as they used to. It’s nice to think that over time, abstinence may help me go from looking like a reasonably malnourished person to one suffering from disease.

Second, when I need to run down to the bike shop in the evening — that’s any time after about 3:00 PM — I can, because I don’t have to worry about getting a DUI. It’s nice not being homebound at age 51!

Third, I’ve been able to shift beer money into cycling purchases. For the first time ever I’m riding full carbon wheels. Whoosh, whoosh, whoosh!

Last, and most importantly, I’m engaging in dialogue with fellow cyclists who are at different points along the same path. Some have offered guidance and let me know that whatever I need, whenever I need it, they’re going to be there for me. Others have asked for help, which is tough because I don’t have much in the way of answers except this: We’re going through the same thing, and to succeed you’ll need people around you to help you succeed. Flipping this switch from the inside, and keeping it flipped by myself, is too hard … at least for me.

Over the next few days the New Year merriment will be beckoning, and as I’m fond of telling myself, I may well have a drink. Maybe you will, too. But hopefully not right now.

END

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