A little help from my friends

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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.

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