Guest Article: The Longest Road

Let us thank @The Oracle for contributing this guest article. We haven’t been putting up many guest articles so it’s good to have something substantial to begin with again. I don’t think cyclists are any more or any less addictive or OCD than anyone else. We are just humans who love to ride the bike. We don’t like to bring our personal baggage with us on the bike, hell we can’t even bring an EPMS, but sometimes we can’t ride away from it. .

VLVV, Gianni

I wasn’t an alcoholic when I left college, but I was on that path. I’d imbibed more than my fair share as a hard-drinking undergraduate at UW-Madison. Through the following years, my drinking was what I would have described at the time as occasionally heavy, but not problematic. Of course, I look back now on my 20’s and early 30’s in a new light. Now I see a pattern of worsening addiction. From a few beers a week and only occasionally getting drunk with friends, to several beers on Friday and Saturday nights sitting alone at home in front of the TV, to occasionally taking nips from the hard liquor in the evening during the week, etc. etc. At the same time, I was distancing myself from my wife and my young kids, and foundering professionally. I was becoming an alcoholic, but I didn’t yet see myself as such.

In my mid-thirties, I finally decided to stop just staring wistfully at my old Cannondale m300 mountain bike from college, and to actually do something with it. I started riding, and it was like finding a long-lost friend. A new mountain bike soon followed and then, due to the lack of trails in proximity to my house, road bikes. I joined local clubs, did indoor training in the winter, did my first centuries during the summer. I lost 20 pounds and was getting the most out of life. I found Velominati.com during that time, and began steeping myself in the traditions of cycling.

But I kept drinking. I did a lot of kilometers hungover during the latter half of my 30’s. Worse yet, I’d been known to ride immediately after having (more than) a few. God only knows how I survived those rides. I’d get home from a long ride and have a few beers (even if it was only 11 a.m.), and justify them as recovery drinks. I posted often on this site, and used the frequent talk of drinking here as a misguided rationalization for continuing to drink heavily even while riding harder and farther than I had ever done in my life.

Even with the growing evidence to the contrary, I still was in denial about my addiction. How could I be in the best shape of my life if I were an alcoholic? The alcoholic mind bends everything to its own use in justifying the all-consuming desire for more drink. I loved cycling.  It was quickly becoming my defining passion. I loved drinking, and (at least through the distorted lens in my mind) it went hand in hand with my cycling—a tradition as old as the two-wheeled machine itself.

It’s a powerful testament to the subversive effect that alcohol has on one’s mind. As my love for cycling grew, so also did my addiction worsen—these two great passions of my life were inextricably intertwined with one another. My alcoholic lifestyle and my cycling lifestyle were ingrained into one another. Alcohol twisted my passion for cycling into a reason to drink more and more. I was poisoning myself to death, slowly but surely. When I look back at it now, I was riding my bike faster and faster to escape the truth: I was an alcoholic.

Of course, one can only try to leave his demons behind for so long. A few years ago, I changed jobs and we moved to a different part of the state. At the same time as the move, my drinking became demonstrably worse. I’d have a beer or two in the evening, but only to cover the fact that I was drinking massive amounts of vodka, tequila or rum straight from the bottle. I’d binge all weekend long—blackout on Friday night; come to on Saturday and have vodka with my morning coffee, and drink straight through to Sunday. I engaged in dangerous behavior, putting both myself and my loved ones at risk. I still shudder at some of the horrible things I did. Somehow, though, I was never stopped for a DUI, I never broke any bones, and I was able to keep the full extent of my drinking hidden for the most part. I guess you might call it lucky, although I’d hesitate to even put that positive of a spin on it. I was nearing the bottom. I risked everything I had every time I picked up the bottle. I knew that in the back of my mind, but again that alcoholic voice was there to convince me that it really wasn’t that bad.

Needless to say, my cycling suffered. It’s impossible to do long weekend rides when you’re in bed with the shakes and sweats all morning, of if you’ve started drinking rum at 6 a.m. to ward off the DT’s. I didn’t seek out any clubs, didn’t look for any cycling companions. I told myself it was because of my schedule or because I preferred to ride alone. Really, though, it’s because I didn’t want anyone to wonder why I never showed up for rides, or why I looked like hell when I did. Impossibly, though, my alcoholic mind continued to use cycling against me, even as I was nearing rock bottom. I was a weekend binger. Drink hard all weekend, sober up on Monday and Tuesday, and then feel decent until Friday rolled around again. I did a lot of short rides on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. My alcoholism seized on this as proof that I was really okay, that I didn’t really have a problem.

The spiral continued until one devastating night this spring, where I was a hair’s breadth away from losing everything due to drinking  The details of that night aren’t important; the point is that it forced me to finally come to grips with my addiction. I realized that alcohol ruled my life, and was destroying my life.  That was Day 1. I went through two weeks of paralyzing physical withdrawal, and months of anxiety (all part of getting cleaned up). My body was a wasteland—thin, dehydrated, out of shape, and suffering from overwhelming fatigue.  My brain was a mess as well–diminished cognitive function, short term memory, abstract thinking skills. I avoided the bike all summer; it had become a trigger, and I knew now that I could not have one drink, ever, for the rest of my life. I came to see the bike as a danger to my sobriety, and avoided it for months.  My love for the poison had destroyed my passion for the bike. Although I was clean, my alcoholic voice still whispered in my ear:  “don’t bother riding, because you can’t enjoy that ice cold beer afterwards!” I had no enthusiasm for riding anymore.

As I write this, I am on Day 100. A cause for celebration. I’ve come a long way since day one, and while I still have a long way to go, there are positive changes everywhere in my life. A little over a month ago, I started jogging regularly again. It’s amazing what a body can recover from.  The fatigue lessened, and I started putting some muscle back on my bones and color in my skin.  One day, with little thought about it, I pulled the bike down off its rack and hopped aboard.  Thirty kilometers later, my ass was killing me, I couldn’t breathe, my legs were jelly, and I had little hope that I’d ever get to the level I once was.

That ride was nothing special at the time, but when I started thinking about it later, I didn’t remember the pain of my first ride in weeks. Instead I remembered the little things about it:  the whisper of the tires on the pavement; the wind through the trees at the roadside; the smells of the late summer in the Midwest; my regular breathing and concentration on the effort; the sensation of freedom; the thrill of bombing down a slope at 65 kph; the quiet and peace of riding through a warm meadow with no one around for miles. None of this was groundbreaking, and yet each was profound in its own way. I’d found new reasons to ride that weren’t connected to drinking, and I’m in the process of rediscovering my relationship with cycling.

I still only ride a few days a week, but with each ride I discover a new benefit that was hidden from me before. I’m happy to have this part of my life back, and I can’t wait to see what is in store in the future. It is a victory over that alcoholic voice and, although perhaps not my most important victory in this lifelong battle against this disease, it is one that I will cherish.

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70 Replies to “Guest Article: The Longest Road”

  1. Very moving, The Oracle. Congratulations on 100 days, I wish you many more on this good path you’re on these days.

    I actually started drinking too much and riding obsessively as a result of graduate school. I’d progressed to All But Dissertation status and fell into a real hole of not knowing how to finish up. I’d never lacked effort or self-motivation in my life regarding anything. I had some challenges with changing programs and losing more than one advisor, but that just made things more challenging and I won’t use those to shift the blame off of my shoulders.

    I’m happy to say I should (finally!) be finishing up this year. I don’t ride enough these days, based mostly on having a 5 month old. And I don’t overdrink either, based mostly on having a 5 month old and a wife and really thinking about my behavior, responsibilities, and what those two need out of me.

    Anyway, this isn’t about me, just wanted to share. Keep on keepin’ on to everyone who has struggled with substance overuse/abuse in the past and has sorted it out.

     

  2. There’s a program which I think originated in Aust., but is available for anyone, called Hello Sunday Morning.

    They describe it as “HSM is a movement towards a better drinking culture.”

    https://www.hellosundaymorning.org/

    Their vision is for a world of better choices, fewer hangovers and unforgettable Sunday mornings.

    If those Sunday mornings happen to include a bike ride then so much the better.

    Be kind to yourself and those who love you.
    (actually be kind to everyone)

  3. @ChrisO

    @KogaLover

    While carefully considering Rule #40 today as I was changing my tires, I kept thinking about this article/post and am calling for a “move to strike Rule #47, your honour!”.

    I was sort of surprised to see references in the article and comments about the site and drinking – it’s never really occurred to me that it was anything which would unduly encourage or glamourise it.

    And I say that as a very light drinker who will go weeks without touching alcohol, not as deliberate avoidance but it just isn’t part of my life, so it’s not like I feel part of a drinking culture. (It’s why I had to leave Australia)

    But the article also says: I posted often on this site, and used the frequent talk of drinking here as a misguided rationalization for continuing to drink heavily even while riding harder and farther than I had ever done in my life.

    Misguided rationalization is the key bit for me. If you’re looking for justification it can be found anywhere and it’s dangerous to start taking individual rules too seriously. Would someone argue that Rule #11 (Family doesn’t come first) is encouraging people to neglect their children or divorce their wife?

    Changing Rule #22 on the other hand…

    ChrisO, I actually totally agree with The Oracle on the point that the V site glamourizes drinking and encourages it, but then again maybe that is a misguided rationalization on my part???  Just my read on it.

     

    Also, I completely break Rule 22 on a daily basis.  But I have a bit of an out on that one as the rule says “The only time it is acceptable to wear a cycling cap is while directly engaged in cycling activities” and since every action in my life is directly engaging in cycling activities in some shape or another, then it is okay.  Besides, Frahnk taught me first hand how to properly don and wear a casquette and when one has been so anointed, the rules of mere mortals no longer apply.

  4. Recovery from addiction is often talked about in steps. But you’re finding it in pedal strokes. Their is a silver lining in every cloud. You’ve re-discovered the simple joy/fun of riding to ride. You have, in fact, transcended the V.

  5. Wow. This beats the tattoo thread that descended in to name calling…..because this was actually about something that really effing matters.

    This site does an excellent job of taking a humourous look at cycling….the regular commentors try hard to replicate it, but they lack the imagination subtlety and nuance. It comes across like heckling does at a live comedy show…..never as funny as it sounds in your head. Please, leave the comedy to the ones that are good at it, and on the articles that warrant it.

    Well done to the OP. Showing your weakest side to your peers is probably the bravest thing a person can do.

     

     

  6. Thanks all for the well wishes and encouragement.  I knew that this was a pretty heavy article, but I had faith that this community would handle it with panache (and some off-color humor), and I was not disappointed.

    @ChrisO has it exactly right.  I did not mean to condemn the site as glamorizing drinking and, for the record, I’m cognizant of the fact that a good portion of the population can enjoy alcohol responsibly.  I don’t expect society to change or tiptoe around me because of my addiction.  If I want to be a part of our society, I have  to learn not to let things like Rule 47, or the booze ads during football games, or marketing cocktail hours for work turn into a trigger for me.

    Rather, I was commenting on the subversive power of the alcoholic mind.  My brain would distort anything and everything into an excuse to justify putting more poison into me, including the relatively innocuous celebration of Belgian cycling traditions on this site.  By no means am I suggesting that this site needs to change, or that a revision to the Rules is in order.

  7. @The Oracle

    Thanks all for the well wishes and encouragement. I knew that this was a pretty heavy article, but I had faith that this community would handle it with panache (and some off-color humor), and I was not disappointed.

    @ChrisO has it exactly right. I did not mean to condemn the site as glamorizing drinking and, for the record, I’m cognizant of the fact that a good portion of the population can enjoy alcohol responsibly. I don’t expect society to change or tiptoe around me because of my addiction. If I want to be a part of our society, I have to learn not to let things like Rule #47, or the booze ads during football games, or marketing cocktail hours for work turn into a trigger for me.

    Rather, I was commenting on the subversive power of the alcoholic mind. My brain would distort anything and everything into an excuse to justify putting more poison into me, including the relatively innocuous celebration of Belgian cycling traditions on this site. By no means am I suggesting that this site needs to change, or that a revision to the Rules is in order.

    Hell, Mate!  I’m not condemning the site for the alcohol banter that occurs around here and I do not suggest that it change at all.  Personally I love it.

    But I do feel that we talk about it a lot here.  But maybe glamourize is not the correct word.

    As for Rule revision, I’m still on changing Rule 22!

  8. @Buck Rogers

    As an ex-mountain biker from the 1990’s, I’ve got a weakness for visors.  Cycling caps under the helmet are a godsend for me.  Plus, they look badass, especially combined with my faithful Oakley M-Frames.  However, they are NOT badass when worn in non-cycling activities.  Would you wear your bibs for a trip to the hardware store?  Fuck no.  You look like a douche, and may not make it out alive.  Same goes for cycling caps.

  9. @Oracle

    @Buck Rogers

    As an ex-mountain biker from the 1990’s, I’ve got a weakness for visors. Cycling caps under the helmet are a godsend for me. Plus, they look badass, especially combined with my faithful Oakley M-Frames. However, they are NOT badass when worn in non-cycling activities. Would you wear your bibs for a trip to the hardware store? Fuck no. You look like a douche, and may not make it out alive. Same goes for cycling caps.

    As much as I like my Radars and some of my Rudy Projects, M Frames are some pretty incredible cycling and other exercise shades.

    Along the lines of attire, I can’t wait for the trend to go away of people walking around 24/7 in $$$ workout gear. I get it. You own a gym membership. Maybe you even went jogging 7 hours ago. I understand. But you’re at the grocery store now. Change into regular ol’ street clothes. Do the rest of us a favor. Your house or that awesome invention of a locker room are perfect places to change.

  10. I’d rather wear a cycling cap into town than the usual peaked cap any day. And I would if I didn’t have this fabulous head of hair to show off.

  11. @Oli

    I’d rather wear a cycling cap into town than the usual peaked cap any day. And I would if I didn’t have this fabulous head of hair to show off.

    And there you have it!

    Maybe it is my follically challenged head but I love wearing my cycling cap under the helmet (definitely b/c of the follicularly challenged head) AND off the bike.

    I still stand by the fact that we are cyclists in everything we do, not just when we swing a leg over the top tube and ergo I continue to don the casquette both on and off the bike.

    But the most important thing is to swing that leg over and ride.  So have a ride and enjoy the wind in your face, Mates!

  12. @Buck Rogers

    @Oli

    I’d rather wear a cycling cap into town than the usual peaked cap any day. And I would if I didn’t have this fabulous head of hair to show off.

     

    I still stand by the fact that we are cyclists in everything we do, not just when we swing a leg over the top tube and ergo I continue to don the casquette both on and off the bike.

     

    I like this way of thinking.

    The only rule which I think must be observed when wearing a cap off the bike is that it should be an actual cycling cap i.e. a cap which has been worn while cycling.

    People who don’t cycle or don’t wear caps while cycling (under helmet or au naturel) have no business wearing them at other times.

    This, I think, is the real essence of Rule #22.

  13. @The Oracle

    Congratulations and keep on turning the cranks!  It was cycling that helped me see where I was at.  I’m 361 days sober and happy every day to wake up feeling great.  In the early goings, through winter here in Maine, if I wanted a drink I’d go climb on my bike and Zwift until my head was clear.

    christian

     

  14. @ChrisO

    @Buck Rogers

    @Oli

    I’d rather wear a cycling cap into town than the usual peaked cap any day. And I would if I didn’t have this fabulous head of hair to show off.

    I still stand by the fact that we are cyclists in everything we do, not just when we swing a leg over the top tube and ergo I continue to don the casquette both on and off the bike.

    I like this way of thinking.

    The only rule which I think must be observed when wearing a cap off the bike is that it should be an actual cycling cap i.e. a cap which has been worn while cycling.

    People who don’t cycle or don’t wear caps while cycling (under helmet or au naturel) have no business wearing them at other times.

    This, I think, is the real essence of Rule #22.

    That is my chosen understanding of the rule too. I often wear my cycling cap around town.

    “I still stand by the fact that we are cyclists in everything we do, not just when we swing a leg over the top tube and ergo I continue to don the casquette both on and off the bike.” – well said Buck Rogers!

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