Pedaling my way across Germany was a kind of hell because I’m an alcoholic, not a recovering one but an active, big chain ring, I’D LIKE A FUCKING DRINK RIGHT NOW AND HURRY THE FUCK UP alcoholic. That was a problem because Germany was filled with beer and everyone was drinking and 99% of the drinkers were drinking responsibly and all I wanted was JUST ONE LITTLE DRINK I PROMISE I’LL BE GOOD.
It was very unpleasant and so every time my knees started to buckle and my hands started to shake and my mouth got dry I would resolve to have a beer but first I’d have a coffee. Then I’d sit down and have the coffee and would resolve that before I had the beer I’d have something to eat and after that for sure I was going to wash my throat with a fresh tasty German beer.
Then I’d finish the food or the cake (usually cake) and tell myself that the beer would have to wait until I was done biking for the day or walking for the day or daying for the day. And somehow through this process I was getting to bed every night sober in the paradise of beer.
Each day, though, was as mentally exhausting as the Flog Ride, straining as I was to bust loose.
Then I got a note from a pal who has been going through some alcohol difficulties of his own. He said that he was really looking forward to the end of September so that he could reward himself with a drink. At first I thought he was kidding but he wasn’t.
“I’ve reprogrammed my brain,” he said. “I’ve taught it that there’s a place in my life for alcohol but I have to use it in moderation.” This shook me to the core. We were five days into our ride when I got the message, I was beat, and every kilometer we we seemed to be pedaling past a beer garden filled with happy people and very tasty-looking beer.
“Have I been doing this wrong?” I wondered. “Shouldn’t I just be reprogramming my brain and using alcohol to my benefit instead of my detriment? Why am I putting myself through all this trial and denial?” It was worse than the Nancy Reagan Sex Abstinence Program (which I’d never tried but had been scarred by even learning about) and I felt like a fool and resolved to really truly actually have a moderate beer that evening, and possibly two moderate ones. But not three. Okay, three moderates ones, but not four,
The closer it got to beer time, though, the more worried I got. Hadn’t I been down this road before and didn’t it always end in a headache and too many numbers to the left of the decimal point on my credit card bill? My brain didn’t feel reprogrammed anyway, it felt like the brain of a raging drunk who’d been denied his life fluid for too damned long and couldn’t wait to get smashed.
The more I thought about it the clearer it became: My friend and I are different. He has a programming problem whereas I’m an unreconstructed drunk. This was terribly depressing because I knew the statistics: Only 5% of alcoholics succeed with abstinence or AA-type abstinence programs.
That makes sense because when you have a bad drinking problem and you quit, for it to work it has to be forever. I’m an impatient person on the best of days; forever isn’t a time frame on my planning calendar.
I got off my bike and leaned it against a tree as my son and I sat on the grass and shared an apple, tired and many miles from our day’s destination, which itself was only a waypoint on a long journey. I considered the metaphor.
Then I catalogued the good things that had happened since I got on the misery treadmill of moment-by-moment sobriety.
- I’d won a bike race.
- I’d started doing the dishes.
- I’d lost 20 pounds.
- I was in the middle of an amazing trip with my son.
- I had saved several thousand dollars and invested them in 100% carbon products made of full carbon.
- I’d decreased my social media presence by 99%.
- I’d begun flossing.
Instead of life spinning wildly out of control, thanks to the sobriety-misery treadmill it was merely on the verge of spinning wildly out of control. If you don’t think there’s a difference in quality of life between those two states, you’re wrong.
My son and I finished the apple and contemplated, briefly, the long and tiring road ahead. “We’d better get going,” my son said.
“Yes,” I answered, throwing my leg over the top tube. “We’d better.”
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