This has been the first year that winter has clubbed me into submission as a cyclist. Between poor health and even poorer road conditions, I have ridden very little for what seems like about six months (in reality, though, it’s been more like two months). Such was my optimism* both in the winter’s infancy and in the moments of relief from the polar vortex that I didn’t even bother setting up my trainer (okay, depression may have also played a role there). My bikes have, for the most part, languished all unloved in the garage.
In the intervening period, I have learned that I can continue to lose weight without riding the bike, which I guess is okay (actually, I should say that it’s great, because it removes a major source of obsessive-compulsive angst). I have also learned that being cooped up indoors is a recipe, in my case, for grinding depression (I guess I should already have known that already). I’ve learned that my social existence revolves around cycling to an extent I don’t think I previously understood.
I’ve also learned — or, rather, I am learning right now — that the hardest part is getting started again.
As a professing member of the Climbing sect of the Cycling pathway, I know a few things about getting started. I know, for example, that there’s a huge mistake a lot of people make when they reach a big climb: they get discouraged before they even start. They start riding the big, grinding climb on the route before the ride has even started — sometimes weeks before, if it’s a big ride or one that sports a local killer hill (I am not, by the way, immune — I just tend to do this with fast, winding descents rather than with intimidating climbs; I have spoiled more than one perfectly lovely climb by imagining everything that could possibly go wrong on the way back down).
One of the secrets to climbing is to ride where you are.
If you’re riding rollers, don’t mentally start the next grinding climb in the middle of the current soaring descent — more than half the time, the next climb isn’t going to be as bad as it looks from the current descent, anyway, and you don’t gain anything by adding mental suffering to the physical suffering that may or may not ensue.
If you’re at the foot of a real climb**, meanwhile, you can either look up to the summit (or, more often, look up to wherever the road disappears, knowing that the summit lies far beyond) in despair and defeat yourself mentally, or you can remind yourself that you love big climbs (even if it’s a total lie, by the way — there’s much to be said for the “fake it ’til ya make it” approach to climbing), grin, and spin.
If even that isn’t working, you ride three meters ahead (I use the same trick when I’m running on the treadmill and feeling like I can’t maintain my current pace anymore: just five more minutes at this pace – great, you did the five more, surely you can do one more — okay, one more again…). That strategy works especially well when you’ve cooked yourself sprinting up a sizable climb to what turns out to be a false summit and you feel like you have no legs left.
In short, no matter what anyone wants to say, climbing is largely a mental game.
So is getting started again, at almost anything, after a long and unwanted break complicated by a depression — especially when the depression still has its teeth in you.
Where am I going with this?
I’m not at a point, right now, where I can’t get out of bed period, though there have been days that have been that bad, and days that have been nearly that bad, and today appears to be one of the latter. It would be nice if the progression of recovery was more linear, but I seem to progress by leaps and setbacks — two or three good days followed by a pretty bad one.
I am still definitely in a place where my normal reserve of initiative just isn’t there. If I can get myself going, somehow, on any given day, I can keep going — but it’s the getting going that’s hard, which is to say I don’t have tools in my aresenal, so to speak, to help me cope.
If there’s something to force me onto my feet and out the door, eventually I kind of warm up, like a diesel tractor engine. All the sludge in the lines — or, in this case, my head — thins out and things tick up for a bit***. The “something” can be almost anything, as long as it’s structure imposed from outside: school, a bike race, ballet class, any kind of appointment. There has been at least one day this semester that I’ve missed class because I just couldn’t get started, but that’s an extreme outlier, for me — a sign that things are very, very bad.
So, basically, I use external structure as a lever, and today I don’t have a lever.
I’m beginning to suspect that I should rethink my decision not to make any cycling goals for this year. I’m still at that point where I feel like I couldn’t achieve a goal if I set one, so why bother?
By this time last year, though, I had ridden close to a thousand miles. This year, I’m sitting on maybe 150 miles, max. Last year, I had some significant goals, and those goals got me out riding on days that I might otherwise have languished in the house. I just didn’t quite realize that was what was happening. Last year, I did well at Death March, set a few land-speed records for the category of “Me,” spent several weeks blowing all my climb times out of the water, and rode my first real century, among other accomplishments. I managed all of these things in part because I set some lofty goals early on (okay: so a couple of distinct and glittering manic phases probably didn’t hurt).
I hadn’t realized how very much I am driven by plans and goals, even if they rarely work out quite as I had hoped.
In the mental game of getting started, the climb, so to speak, is beating the hell out of me right now. It’s like that thing that sometimes happens when you have to stop for whatever reason on a steep gravel climb, and you just can’t seem to get purchase to get going again.
Sure, this depression — which is not over; I am still lacking some of my major inner resources and part of me is convinced that they will never, ever return — is a big part of the problem … but setting some goals — small ones, even — might give me some levers I can use to keep moving forward for the time being.
I will have to think about what those goals are going to look like.
*Not unwarranted, optimism, by the way. Historically, riding outdoors in the winter has been my norm.
*As the particular flavor of masochist that might be called a “Roller Specialist,” I don’t consider rollers or anything else that I can muscle up using a combination of borrowed momentum and anaerobic grit to be “real” climbs.
***Fact: I may be confusing the effect of self-medicating with caffeine with the effect of blowing the smoke out of the pipes, too.
This year’s Sub-9 Death March was tough going.
In spite of an initial decision to skip Callahan altogether, since neither Timothy nor I was feeling quite the picture of fitness, we scrapped that plan when we realized that Callahan was “conveniently” located between one of the just-drawn mandatory checkpoints — Hickory Grove — and a couple other useful checkpoints. This meant largely throwing our plans to the wind (though not entirely).
The ride up to Hickory Grove was easy enough. There were a couple climbs that were made more challenging by the conditions on some of the gravel/dirt sectors — I can describe them only as “sloggy” — but I started out the day feeling pretty confident. Timothy’s cough acted up a bit now and then but not too badly, my guts (which were not happy) behaved themselves, and we bagged our first checkpoint soon enough and headed up to Trail 14 to seek out Callahan.
On the whole, the ride up to the head of Trail 14 wasn’t bad at all (okay, except for the last climb, when I had somehow acquired a generous schmear of mud between my front brake pads that resulted in some serious rubbing). Trail 14 itself was pretty blissful — I discovered that the Karakoram is quite a nice little off-road bike, very capable both climbing and descending and quite happy in mucky conditions (it is not, however, super-fast on the roads with its current ginormous tires). I certainly enjoyed rolling over everything in my path with nigh impunity.
As tends to happen during Death March, I rode stuff I didn’t actually realize I had the skills to ride.
This year, it was all about the muck. Footing was deep and slippery on the trails; and on the trails, this was generally no big deal. We walked some, especially on the steepest and most slippery climbs, but our legs were still fresh and we rode a lot.
As the day went on, though we would find that footing was deep and demoralizing on many of my beloved “Indiana strada bianca” roads, some of which had turned into peanut-butter pits. Inclined peanut-butter pits. Even with the Karakoram’s itty-bitty gears, there were places where the sheer suction of the mud on my wide-tastic tires was just too much.
Even with the fortification provided by the famous “Support, Alcohol, and Gear” wagon, which we found between our third checkpoint and Hanner, by about one both Timothy and I were cooked. His lungs were done and my stomach was beginning to complain. We bagged a few more checkpoints, and at Lutes we decided for certain to take a DNF and live.
We headed out, rolled around for a bit under the guidance of Timothy’s GPS, then swung onto Indiana 1000N, which I am now quite certain is the longest road in Brown County, IN.
Under conditions more like last year’s, 1000N is rather a nice road — but pushing through the sludge was tough, mentally speaking. We also had somehow failed to account for a long, long, gradual but long climb on that route: one we’ve both ridden many times in the opposite direction, as a descent, and never noticed because it’s so pleasant and fast when you’re going downhill.
To add to the drama, the footing was at its worst in parts of that stretch, and we were already at ebb tide in terms of what one might term “testicular fortitude.” As we tootled along at speeds topping a mind-blowing 2-4 MPH, we were passed occasionally by fast people who were making maybe 5-6 MPH. Sometimes we were all slogging along at little more than 1 MPH. At one juncture, during a stretch where I’d dismounted and was pushing the Karakoram through peanut butter again, I proceeded forward for nearly a minute with my Garmin registering a speed of 0.0 MPH.
Come to think of it, that’s probably also what my face looked like:
This isn’t to say we weren’t still enjoying ourselves — or, well, I can say that I was still enjoying myself, in that bizarre and masochistic manner specific to endurance athletes and our ilk. Once we’d completed that last long climb, we were essentially home free. We did manage to pick up our pace a little in the last few miles, and made our way back to camp around 2:45, just in time to for the food line to open up. I found Denis, grabbed a plate of delicious Yat’s cajun chow, and then zipped back to our hotel, where I had time to shower and change before we headed back to Louisville to catch Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo.
I have no complaints about the outcome of this race. Though we rode slowly and DNFed, we enjoyed ourselves, and that was the whole point. We both rode terrain we wouldn’t normally have tried and impressed ourselves. Neither of us fell down, though I very nearly took a header into a tree after finding slick branch hidden in the mud, and again after failing to get the back half of my bunny-hop on over a tree-across-the-trail.
The cool part is that I feel like I’ve rather got the taste of off-road dirt in my mouth, and I think that the Karakoram and I will be exploring the off-road world a bit more.
In other news, my mood is still doing reasonably well, and all our ballet stuff has arrived, so perhaps we can begin classes this week.
That’s it for now. Keep the rubber side down, avoid the peanut butter, and don’t be afraid to throw yourself into some new terrain now and then.
Right now, I feel more like my usual optimistic, hyperactive self than I have felt in months.
In the past, I would’ve assumed that this just meant that I was in a good mood. The past year has left me with a more complex, nuanced reality: I cannot simply assume that I’m in a good mood; it’s like this observer part of me has broken away and is watching to see if this is really the on-ramp to mania.
I’m not going to say it doesn’t feel good to feel better. It does. I’m also not going to say that I don’t intend to enjoy this uptick. I just think I probably ought to try not to over-enjoy it.
Like many athletes, I am evidently programmed to drive myself really hard the minute I start to feel anything like normal (I am, after all, the guy who rode around on a broken tibia in total denial for weeks). Learning to back off the gas a little and take it easy is a challenge for me. Perhaps it’s one I should learn to approach with the same aplomb that I approach everything else.
It’s time for class, so I need to close for now.
Rubber side down, folks!
I believe we have established our race strategy, such as it is, which is, “Same thing as last year, only backwards.” Which is not to say that we plan to sit facing our rear wheels, pedal with our hands, and devil take the foremost, but more that we will be riding the same route in the other direction.
This is promising, as last year’s route worked well for us but put some of the harder climbs and such at the end of the ride. Approaching the route from the opposite end will both get some of the climbs over earlier and magically transform others into descents. For what it’s worth, I am a better and more confident climber than I am a descender (though last fall’s 35-MPH-tire-explosion-on-a-gravel-descent actually did much to improve my confidence, since I neither went backside-over-teakettle, fell down, nor found myself picking gravel out of my face). Thus, it’s possible that less climbing and more descending may make our overall time rather slower. We’ll see.
Timothy is a much better route planner than I am. I am, as you probably already know, a terrible planner general. As such, I trust Timothy’s plan. My job is to be the necessary race partner, be spunky riding up the hills, and provide a second opinion if we should happen somehow wind up “off-piste,” as it were. And probably also to provide sparkling conversation or something like that, but Timothy is definitely more than half of the team.
Anyway, for all my intending to get out there and train, I’ve come to what should be my taper week without really putting in any serious time or effort on the bike, so I’m going to have to hope that my training strategy of “piddling around on the treadmill” will help. If nothing else, I have become a much better runner, so if I should have to push the bike for miles on end, I’m better prepared.
Tomorrow I shall see about running the Karakoram over to Bicycle Sport for a tune-up. I will have to attend to the Tricross myself, thanks to my total failure of organizational skills in recent days. I think Bicycle Sport is professional enough to get both bikes banged out by Friday, but I need something to ride for the duration.
I think I’ll also swap out the tires on the Tricross and otherwise generally try to make my own life easier. I’ll have to decide how I’m going about this, as I currently have two halves of a good tire set for this race (and one set of skinnier-than-ideal-but-awesome tires as well). I could run mixed, but my inner roadie just won’t accept that, so basically I need to decide which set to run and buy a second tire.
Timothy isn’t going to run studs, so I don’t think I will either (because the goal is not to make the race any harder than it has to be). Plus, I’m not 100% certain that “carbide studs + water crossings” equals anything other than “(humiliating failure*pain)(^2).”
In related news, I’m still trying to sort out whether Hotels.com ever actually booked our hotel. They have collected my money, but I have not received a confirmation email or anything. I called them today and they were having difficulties with the system that lets them view existing reservations, so I’m going to have to call them back later.
In unrelated news, my research project is fumbling along at a surprisingly efficient rate, given that I’m the one running it, and I except to present some actual data at this year’s undergrad conference. If nothing else, it will be fun to watch like 100 people throw beanbags and peek through telescopes.
That’s it for now. I am definitely feeling a little more content today, if kind of cranky and edgy. This is sort of the opposite of how I’ve been feeling of late (malcontent, but more soupy-and-moody than cranky-and-edgy). I think the sun is helping. Probably two good nights’ sleep and a metric shedload of caffeine aren’t hurting either.
Rubber side down, and may your good intentions lead to interesting destinations.
Just a quick check-in today.
We’re having a snow day, which is sort of irrelevant for me since I don’t have classes on Monday anyway. Denis and I got the walk and driveway shoveled this morning, and now the remaining scrim of crusty gritty ice-snow stuff is melting off as the sun hits it. The world looks all pretty and properly winter-y.
I’m starting to feel a little bit more like myself these days. I’m working on damage control for the time being and hoping that things will remain on a more even keel until I can start to get this under control.
The tough part now is kind of accepting where I am right now. In his book Dark Nights of the Soul, author Thomas Moore writes about the appreciating the “night sea journey” for what it is — a concept that fits neatly with Zen teachings about being here, now.
It isn’t always comfortable to be where you are. It definitely isn’t comfortable to be where I am right now, though it is more comfortable to be here, now than to be where I was, like, a week ago.
Of course I want to rush forward to “the good part.” I want to get to the next phase where I feel okay or even good. I want to get to spring, so I can get out on the bike and ride. I want to get there.
Thing is, here is where I am now. The trick is to be here, now — to be in this when and this where — and not be quite so focused on getting to the next phase, the next destination.
In other news, tomorrow I’ll be handing in all my reams of research paperwork. Friday evening we head up to Bedford to
irresponsibly watch cable TV in a hotel room feast upon the bones of our enemies attempt to not die during Death March (which is on Saturday).
Neither Timothy nor I have spent any time on the bike worth speaking of, so this year’s “race,” as it were, might be interesting. Conveniently, I will get to knock out both my first significant ride of the year and my first (and probably my only) race of the year. I’ll leave it to you, gentle readers, to determine whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing.
I’ll report back on it at some juncture, though evidently I’m horrible at getting race reports posted. I definitely won’t be posting directly after the race, because we’ll have just enough time to shower, change, and haul bacon back to town to catch The Trocks at the Brown Theater. Any way, I’m sure I’ll manage to fill you all in on whether I live or die. That is, assuming I live. Which is probable.
In other, other news, I made my first lasagna ever last night, and it was gooooooood. Needless to say, a recipe that I’m happy to have in my repertoire (Denis is a good teacher!) and one I plan to make again.
That’s it for now. Nothing else to report.
Rubber side down, everyone
Just a quickie. A while ago, I posted an initial review of my “tablone.” I liked it. Sadly, it turned out that the one I ordered had some issues with freezing up and rebooting itself randomly.
I have never returned anything on eBay before, but there’s a first time for everything right? So I sent a message to the sellers, who replied promptly with complete instructions. I followed the instructions, packed up my phone, and returned it, and voila, they refunded the purchase price and my $30 expedited shipping fee with no difficulties. I didn’t even pay return shipping.
The process was painless. I feel like WeSellCellular on eBay deserves a wee shoutout. As the subject line says, these guys are legit. It’s not their fault my phone didn’t want to do what I wanted it to do, and the problem it had isn’t one that would be easy to pick up in used-phone quality testing, and when I let them know I was having a problem, they solved it right away.
Denis got me a replacement Note II from ATT (turns out he had an upgrade ready to roll, and just swapped it out; I gave him my last one) so I didn’t get my replacement from them, but I wouldn’t hesitate to buy from them again or to recommend them. All of my dealings with them were fast, courteous, and easy (even if it did take me a minute to figure out that they were WeSellCellular and not Wessel Cellular — our insurance agent is Wessel Insurance, and I am a wee bit dyslexic :D).
Anyway, that’s it for now. I am doing a bit better. First appointment with new doc today; got a psychiatrist referral because our health insurance is an HMO and got back on fluticasone (generic for Flonase) to help keep my nasal stuff sorted, which should help prevent sinus infections and help me sleep better (being able to breathe helps immensely).
Next week is Death March. I booked a hotel room because Denis likes his creature comforts (and I don’t mind them, either) and I wasn’t organized enough to book super early. Still haven’t decided which bike I’m taking; to be honest, I might take both and decide on race day.
‘Til then, keep the rubber side down.
I am still not riding much right now. With Death March 1.5 weeks out, we’ll see if “being a lazy schmuck” is actually a good early-season training plan.
I should note, though, that I haven’t entirely been a lazy schmuck. I have, instead, been running on the treadmill.
This is turning into rather a promising enterprise. I am now running consistently (rather than alternating running and walking) for the duration of my planned run and increasing my pace. I am pretty sure that this is doing good things for my cardiovascular fitness, though my respiratory system still freaks out about cold weather and probably always will.
Since we’ll be starting ballet classes in a couple of weeks, I have also adopted a consistent stretching apres-run stretching routine. I am far more flexible by nature than most people (born that way; evidently, some medical folks consider it a disorder — hypermobility in multiple joints combined with a tendency for the joints to “crack” or “pop”), but that doesn’t mean that I don’t need to stretch. My flexibility is one of my best assets as a dancer, and both cycling and running make for tight legs.
The cat loves the stretching part; he thinks it’s great whenever I get down on the floor for any reason. He gets right down there with me to “help.” Today, that meant lying around doing his best impression of an exhausted caterpillar while I ran through floor and ball stretches (that’s EXERCISE BALL, people — brains outta the gutter!).
I’m enjoying my treadmill time. I listen to internet radio or watch documentaries or whatever while I’m running. Right now, it’s basically all ballet documentaries all the time — inspiration, if you will. I’ve wanted to get back into ballet for a long time, and it gives me even more incentive to lose these last 20 – 30 pounds (20 pounds should really be fine) and to build up my respiratory endurance.
It’s also a way to get my head back into the ballet game. I had sound training from the start and I feel like my “muscle memory” still has it and will recover easily, but I know for a fact I’ve lost a bunch of terminology and so forth. Plus, it never hurts to watch people who know what they’re doing.
Once the weather improves again I will be riding and running outside, but I think I will probably continue with my treadmill routine until it gets too miserably hot in here.
I have no further racing plans this year, beyond Death March. I think I need to get the bipolar stuff sorted first. I think ballet might actually help with that, but we’ll see. I plan to discuss it with Dottie tomorrow. Part of me is afraid that I am having some kind of awful mixed state and that the intensity of my drive to make the ballet thing work reflects not a passion long deferred (Denis and I have been having this conversation for quite a while) but a manic obsession. I really hope not.
Anyway, that’s it for now. I am basically caught up on homework and research stuff for the next thirty seconds or so, which feels really good, so I’m going to go make a nice dinner and enjoy such free time as I have bought myself by working like a madman for several days in a row.
Rubber side down, folks.
Point the first:
Once upon a time, I was skinny. Then I moved to Louisville, got really sick, had to stop doing all the physical activity stuff that I loved for about six months, and didn’t stop eating like I was still doing all that physical activity stuff. Predictably, I gained a bunch of weight.
I have spent the past few years whittling off weight that I gained over six months (and have learned, in the process, that I am fantastic at maintaining a weight, but only mediocre at losing weight).
I have now whittled myself back to a reliable size medium in most brands of bike kit (I haven’t tried Assos, but I hear they run small). Sadly, because I’m built on a pretty small frame, this doesn’t mean I am back at my fighting weight, so to speak. I’ve still got a ways to go, but I’m getting there now.
Point the second:
I did ballet as a kid and loved it, and continued on and off with various forms of dance until I graduated from high school. I have missed dancing but haven’t had time to get back into it. My schedule is now starting to slow down, and Denis and I are planning on taking ballet classes together (he’s never danced; meanwhile, it’s been long enough for me that I figure it won’t hurt to start from scratch). I was going to wait until after graduation, but I’m thinking about starting over the summer instead, then perhaps continuing with a class once a week next semester. We shall see.
Because I am excited about this prospect and also the kind of person who handles that kind of excitement by going out and drooling over the stuff I need to acquire for whatever thing I’m taking up, I have spent the past hour looking at stuff we need for ballet class.
I have also spent the last hour discovering that ballet kit sizing standards are even smaller than cycling kit sizing standards (the last time I bought ballet-specific stuff, I was too young and skinny to even be remotely aware of such things).
So in the world of cycling, I am a medium; in the world of ballet, a confirmed large. Meanwhile, in running kit, depending on the brand, I am anywhere from a small to a medium.
I guess this just goes to show me that labels are relative. Medium in one arena is large in the next and small it the one after that.
I think this is a good object lesson. I probably obsess about my size as much as anyone, and probably more than many people (I would blame cycling, but I have been obsessive about my weight pretty much as long as I’ve been aware of the concept).
At the end of the day, all the size-related labels are data-poor and relative. Because I am built the way I’m built, I will be a small in everything by the time I get down to my ideal weight. Someone else could be at his or her ideal weight and be a large in everything. I suppose none of it even matters as long as you’re healthy … now, if I could just get the horrible person who lives in the middle of my brain and believes that nothing short of skeletal is thin enough to believe that, we’d be gettin somewhere.
In other news, I am looking forward to getting back into ballet. First, it’s something physically active that Denis and I can do together, which makes me really happy. Second, I was pretty good at ballet and I like doing things I’m good at. I hope I will be able to work back to the level at which I danced as a kid and surpass it.
Besides, cycling does all kinds of crazy stuff to your muscular balance, and ballet can help to rectify that. I have had much opportunity to think abut that since Dave’s Achilles rupture.
Mostly, though, it’s totally an excuse to do drag my husband into a physical activity that I enjoy.
Lastly, I wonder if I will ever develop a hobby that doesn’t somehow involve trotting around in what the rest of the world perceives as elaborate underwear.
Today the air was warm enough to breathe and the sun sidled out and shone gloriously upon the startled world for quite a while.
I told myself last night that I would take the bike today: not just take it, but take it and actually ride it — maybe not to downtown, because mornings are still hard right now, but at least from downtown.
When I left home (with the bike and, for once, everything else I needed to schlep) I remained undecided: try the ride in, or pick up the bus at Taylor?
The indecision resulted from the fact that the roads seemed a little iffy; though the temperature sat well above freezing, patches of slick ice, invisible among the general shiny-puddliness of the morning, mined our driveway and the Court — but I’d already chosen the Karakoram for today’s ride, wit its unstudded tires, and it was too late by then to go back and get the Tricross ready to go.
Less than a quarter mile out, the road made up my mind: I hit a completely invisible patch of ice, fishtailed gracefully a couple of times, and went down with a splat! in the middle of the road.
Fortunately, neither the bike nor I took any major damage. A kindly driver stopped to make sure I was okay, and I thanked him. I walked the bike to the next dry spot in the road and then crept my way to the bus stop.
The ride home proved far less eventful. I went the longish way, and discovered that I am still sufficiently deep in the “depression” side of the spectrum that it felt more grinding than rewarding. Not that I hated riding, or whatever, but the part of me that usually likes to go fast and usually ignores pain has yet to return from its leave of absence.
A couple of times I found myself consciously thinking, “This is a beautiful day. This weather is perfect. These roads are almost empty. I can’t believe I’m not completely blissed out.”
So instead I grumbled my way home at an unimpressive 9-ish MPH overall average, which probably really amounts to about a 10 MPH average, since I hit every possible stoplight, which drives the average down. Still slow. I wasn’t worried about it.
In other news I discovered that Qdoba’s breakfast options are kind of ridiculously high in calories (I missed the stop next to the place where I often eat breakfast), so although I enjoyed this morning’s breakfast burrito, I probably won’t be doing that again. Almost 700 calories for breakfast is too much.
So that’s it for now. I’m still hanging in there. Neither Timothy nor I feel at all prepared for Death March, so we’ll see how that plays out.
Keep the rubber side down.
My father was an alcoholic.
This isn’t surprising.
First, he came (as I do) from the kind of blustery Scottish family that is stereotyped — and perhaps for good reason — as producing burning, brilliant, passionate minds prone to alcoholism. Bipolar disorder runs in the genes, presents itself on a spectrum, is associated with creativity, and predisposes its sufferers to addiction — and therein may lie the grain of truth behind that stereotype.
In retrospect, I can’t help but wonder if those genes derived from his mother’s side. My paternal grandfather was a warm and peaceful man, while my paternal grandmother was a wiry and intense woman given to passionate opinions which she expressed with what I can only describe as forceful restraint. With respect to her own children, she was not infrequently embattled.
In thinking about her now, I realize she may, in fact, have been very much like me. This is not to say that she was a bad person: I am capable of seeing, at this point in my life, that her battles with her children often stemmed from the force of her convictions. She was a person of immense strength. I hope that I possess, at least in part, the qualities of character that were her greatest assets.
Second, my father was a member of the generation that went to war in Viet Nam. He was torn by the forces of his own conscience, I think, and torn — I am almost sure — by the response of the country, which seems to have been violent at both its extremes and probably also in the middle, where the two streams of reaction met.
I spent much of my childhood in fear of my father’s mercurial moods (I should probably discuss another time why that’s actually a good thing, in some regards; I think I would have been a much worse person if I hadn’t learned early that there was something bigger and “badder” than myself). I didn’t doubt that he loved me, but I was the kind of kid who really needed stability, and stability was not something one of Dad’s strengths even after he stopped drinking.
When I was eleven or so, Dad discovered Alcoholics Anonymous, or perhaps Alcoholics Anonymous discovered him, or something like that. I don’t know exactly how it happened — I suppose because I was not the kind of kid who was by nature inclined to inquire into the minds of other people (perhaps ironically, every single career assessment I’ve ever taken has told me to become a psychologist!). All I know is that it changed his life.
I don’t know what the early days were like for him. I don’t know if he tried a few times before he was able to stop drinking, or if he was able to stop at once. It doesn’t matter. I know that he went to a lot of meetings and developed a lot of friendships, and I know, in retrospect, that he worked hard to rebuild his relationship with me. I know that my father rebuilt himself, in a way, or rather that he was rebuilt through grace and through effort and through the support of a community of people who understood him.
I know that the principle of “one day at a time” was central to that process. I know that those one days had added up to seven years of sobriety and counting when my father died.
At this juncture I am beginning to see that I, too, should probably adopt that principle. I’m trying to find ways to apply it: to school, to cycling, to my spiritual journey, such as it is.
I’m reading Forward Day By Day again (if you’re not familiar with it, it’s part of Forward Movement, a ministry of the Episcopal church. Forward Day By Day is a little booklet that comes out every few months or so which includes a daily meditation and some very fine thoughts from people who have done some serious thinking and feeling.
Today’s reading begins with Psalm 88.6:
“You have laid me in the depths of the Pit, in dark places, and in the abyss.”
I can’t help but feeling that that message directly relevant to my own life; that today G-d is speaking directly to all of us who are struggling in dark places through those words. The funny part is that I haven’t looked at Forward Day By Day in a few days. I forget pretty often. So, there it is: serendipity. The message today is terribly relevant.
G-d is an implacable hunter. You can try to escape but you never will. Somewhere in The Seven Storey Mountain Thomas Merton says something about how you can run to the ends of the earth to escape from G-d, and still He will pop up wherever you find yourself.
Serendipity never ceases to amaze me. It has always been serendipity that makes me most keenly aware of the present of G-d in my life. Here it is again, that same serendipity that never fails to shock my soul awake.
The meditation on this passage, which is both wise and gentle, ends,
“The good news? Recovery is possible.”
That’s something I need to hear right now. Even if my particular recovery isn’t from some specific addiction (though I will be the first to note that my personality and my biochemistry are terribly prone to addiction), it is good to hear in that serendipitous whisper from the divine those un-looked for and un-hoped for words, “Recovery is possible.”
The sun will return and spring will come again. Evidently, recovery is possible.