Unfinished Business

This is Part I of an intermittent series I will be writing and intermingling with unrelated essays over the next few months.  Part II of this series may be in 2 weeks – or it may not be for 2 months. Only time will tell, and time is like a carnival mirror.  Stay tuned, and enjoy.

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Wake Up.  Move.

Nearly 3 years ago I gave my Jeep away in favor of being a bicycle commuter.  Roughly every 12 hours, six days per week, I have been on my bike peddling the hills of Fallbrook for 30+ minutes in each direction.  Later this week I will be merging my home and my fitness studio into a single location.  Once again I will be working from home and my bookend bicycle commutes will take their place in the story of my timeline. 

My morning ride, often before sunrise, has set the tone for my day, and been the calling into action of my body and my senses for 3 years.  Through the heat, the cold, the morning fog, rains, coyotes crossing my path, low flying owls, skunks blending into the blacktop, drivers texting and mismanaging their coffee as they fail to see me, I would become alert.  I became awakened though, from the exhilaration of climbing the hills, and feeling of the wind in my face riding them down. 

My new commute will simply be the act of stepping over Stroodle and trying not to spill coffee on him as I enter my studio each morning.  How will I call my senses into action now…?

Stroodle; the newest obsticle in my commute…

 The Jericho Mile

In the late 1970s a made for TV movie made an imprint on my fitness psyche that would last for decades.  To this day, The Jericho Mile, starring Peter Strauss, is one of the most inspirational movies I have seen with regard to athletic courage.  The Jericho Mile is the fictional tale of a man who was imprisoned for a murder he committed while trying to defend his stepsister from an abusive father.  While in prison, woven between several other story lines, Strauss’ character, Larry Murphy, spent most of his time in self-imposed isolation.  He would use that time to establish himself as a world class runner.  Impressed by his talent, prison officials even attempted to qualify him for the Olympics from behind bars.

In one scene, Murphy and a would-be running coach from the outside were discussing the feeling of a runner’s high.  They compared the experience of running to floating – running without feeling the ground beneath their feet.  I found that description simply poetic.  It left me wanting to experience it for myself.  Despite my blossoming passion for weightlifting, that floating analogy instantly made me a runner at heart.  The fact that I had never enjoyed running now had opposition.

After watching The Jericho Mile, at the age of 18, I felt I had to become a runner.  After my first week of running, I came to two conclusions; that running is both hard, and stupid.  I would not attempt to run regularly for another 25 years.  However, I really wanted to connect to that ideal of poetry from physicality – the floating thing.  Soon I began mentally mining that sensation from my weight training.  I began to view my strength training as analogous to anything poetic – and I still do.  That mind-set has served me well for 30+ years in the gym.  From that one scene in The Jericho Mile, I have developed an appreciation for the beauty and poetry that lies within all forms of challenging athletics. 

Running Men

My first exposure to the ideal of running came years before seeing The Jericho Mile.  In the early 1970s, my father, then a weight-conscious individual, took to running as a means of better health and weight control.  They called it jogging back then but that would soon change.  Jim Fixx’s book, The Complete Book Of Running, turned jogging into running, and running went from fad to fiber in the American fitness psyche.  In the late 1970s, you couldn’t throw a cat 50 feet without it hitting a copy of The Complete Book Of Running.

Around the same time my father began jogging, my brother, four years my senior, began competing for his high schools’ cross country team.  Suddenly, I was surrounded by running.  But I was a weightlifter.  Full biceps, a respectable bench press, and an obvious v-taper were my only agenda.  Running, I reasoned, was not consistent with my goals, and so it went for about 30 years.   Then, in my mid-40s, I became engaged to be married – to a woman who wanted to run a marathon.

If she was going to run a marathon, so would I.  That’s what a relationship is.  If she had chosen to become a cross-dressing Nazi sandwich maker, I too would have become a cross-dressing Nazi sandwich maker.  But she didn’t become a cross-dressing Nazi sandwich maker, she became a runner.  Shit.  Following my fiancée’s lead, in 2007 I began preparing for a marathon.  Over the course of a year or so, I trained for and completed the 26.2 mile event which most runners consider the supreme accomplishment within their sport.  Through it all though, I never considered myself a runner, and the so-called runner’s high had eluded me.  I never floated when I ran.  I had run many races in preparation for my marathon including 5Ks, 10Ks, and a half-marathon, but I never felt as though I was a runner – not in the spiritual sense.

I am a hoarder of fitness values.  That is, once I attain a new physical ability, I won’t let it go.  I simply add new values to my physical repertoire and expand it over time.  Through the mid-2000s I had worked hard attain the ability to run and did not want to let it go.  After my first marathon I kept running mixed into my fitness fold, and I have been running ever since.  Despite my cycling, strength training, hiking, stretching, and other conditioning activities, I still make time to run each week.  Running is something I continue to do because I feel I should.  After all, fitness is what I do for a living, and running is synonymous with fitness, yes…? 

Next Up, Floating…

With my bicycle commute not longer needed to start my day, I have decided to run each morning prior to starting my workday — in quest of floating.  I now seek to become a runner in the spiritual sense.  This process will begin later this week, and I will be writing about it intermittently over the next few months.  Whether I ever float or experience a runner’s I high, I won’t predict.  I will though, remain committed to my early morning run come rain, shine, or tonsillitis, as I did with my bike.  Be well.  rc

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Please check back in 2 weeks to see happens when I push the “stop” button on the blender inside my head.  Oh, and there is this from Mike Stinson, formerly of The Replacments.  Enjoy…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LNJFUomPtfY&feature=g-all-u

And So It Goes…

This Part IV of this series.  If you have not read Parts I, II, or III, please click those links and take time to read them as well.

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The M Factor

The circumstances had dictated that I alone must change my life, but I did have some unexpected help.  On the day the walls caved in, I received a text message from, M, the girlfriend of a friend of mine.  M (not her real name), me sent a text message to say goodbye.   She and my friend had broken up and she assumed the breakup would estrange us from one-another.  M also knew I wanted to quit drinking.  As she exited my life via text, she asked how I was doing with it.  I replied by telling her what had transpired earlier that day, and a cheerleader was born.

Over the next several days, M called me, emailed me, and texted me to stay connected.  During the first few days of this transition she stood behind me, in front of me, and beside me.  Mostly, she helped keep me aware of the task at hand.  She was an unexpected angel on my shoulder, and I will be forever grateful for her hand in this. 

Unique Vantage Point

I make a point of warning all weight loss clients to be cautious of expecting any degree of success.  The CDC defines successful weight loss as having lost 30 pounds or more, and keeping it off for more than one year.  Even by that liberal definition, the success rate among sincere weight loss attempts I have been involved with is under 10%.  The notion of weight loss is easier to conjure, than tangible results are to achieve.

People who attempt weight loss often seek structure to aid them.  Systems such as Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers, or NutriSystem are sought.  Though these may have utility, at the end of the day it is not those means which enable successful weight loss.  I argue that successful weight loss is primarily the result of the level of commitment exerted by the individual – that success is the result of the commitment, not the methods.  Too often we praise these systems for someone’s success more than the commitment an individual poured into reaching the goal.

When I chose to quit drinking many of my friends suggested I attend AA meetings or join a 12-step program to help me stay on track.  Similarly, the success rate of AA is relative to the success rate of many weight loss systems.  Though many people do succeed with the help of AA and similar organizations, the much larger majority fail.  My experience in weight loss gave me a unique vantage point where I could see the parallel between losing weight and stopping drinking.  I knew this change had to come from within.  This would not be about the system.  This would be about my commitment.   

Also, I have never been able to accept two primary tenets that AA and similar programs teach:

–          That alcoholism is a disease

–          That the term “addict” is a lifetime assignment as it apllies to alcohol. 

If addict is a synonym for decision maker, then color me an addict.  Once you’re a decision maker, you’ll always be a decision maker – that I can accept.  Every drink I ever chose to take, I chose to take.  Cancer is a disease.  Drinking is a choice.    

Also, such programs teach addiction will be with one for a lifetime.  In my opinion that ideal only teaches weakness, and offers a built in excuse to relapse.  There is no room for relapse here and weakness is not an option – my potential is at stake.

Monster. Energy. Drink.

When I stopped drinking, my fear of not sleeping was the monster whose shadow still frightened me.  From May of 2000 until recently, I had come to believe that fair sleep would only come my way with a liquid head start.  My first night without alcohol I slept just over an hour.  Still, my business was at stake so the next day I nailed a 12-hour workday on just 1 hour of sleep and I survived.  The next night I enjoyed nearly 2 hours or so of broken sleep and nailed another workday, as well as survived my taxing bicycle commute. 

By day 4 of this pattern I was beyond exhausted and knew I needed a better plan.  I decided I would begin to eat dinner late – just before crawling into bed.  Prior to eating I would allow myself 2 over the counter sleep aids, and let my late dinner work them into my blood stream quickly.  The first night, that resulted in 5 hours of fair sleep.  I woke up feeling refreshed and positive.  Five hours of fair sleep is enough.  A new protocol was born. 

No, it’s not perfect.  Yes, I have substituted one fix for another.  I will hope in time I will successfully wean myself from the sleep aids.  If I never do, honestly, I’m good with it.  I have energy these days – real energy.  I have enthusiasm, optimism, and bravery in the face of bad circumstances.  I am alive.  Over the counter sleeping pills notwithstanding, I feel like me for the first time in over a year.

Where It Fits In

But I didn’t really stop drinking — I stopped drinking myself to sleep.  Since that Friday morning I hit critical mass, I have enjoyed and appreciated a glass of wine here, a beer there, and even a smidge of Ouzo while traveling in Greece – without feeling the need to pile on and load up.  I have not had multiple drinks, or even consecutive days of drinking since I crawled out of bed.  I have been tested to be sure, but not tempted.  Life is still life, relationships are still messy, and finances are still evil.  None of these though, have been reason for me to drink.   This all began with, and had everything to do with sleep.  People have challenged me on this and suggested those social drinks will set me on a dark course.  Those people, I suspect, would find fiendish pleasure in seeing me fail.  If addict is a synonym for decision maker, then color me an addict.  Be well.  rc

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Please check back in 2 weeks to see what happens when I push the “stop” button on the blender in my head.  Oh, and there is this from the Candy Skins — one of my all-time favorite covers of a classic song.  Enjoy…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GdfFVBMXJHE&ob=av2e

The Collapse…

This is Part III of a series of four essays for this blog. If you have not read Part I or Part II please click those links prior to reading this.  Please check back in 2 weeks for Part IV — I assure you  it’s good news…

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Emotional disembowelment.  That is the best phrase I know to describe the morning that led to my fall.  It was also the doorway needed for a possible rebirth.  More on that in a year or two…

The Collapse

I had arrived home on a Monday after an eleven hour, and particularly toxic workday.  The personalities and conversations which pass through my studio can sometimes get the better of me.  It may be called fitness training but there can be a heavy crosspollination of thoughts and ideas exchanged as the fitness is cultivated.  The topics of death, aging, cancer, divorce, injuries, and family dysfunction are chief among the subjects people wish to discuss while they do lunges, planks, and crunches.  I’m not against this discourse so long as there is sufficient effort channeled into the exercises simultaneously performed. 

I had not had a drink in several days and had eaten extremely well for the prior week.  I was feeling like after 12 years of bedtime drinking, I might actually earn my way out of this thing.  A couple of over-the-counter sleep aids followed by a dish of Brussels sprouts and some carne asada would suit me fine on this evening, and my impending sleep would erase the toxic residue from my day.  Despite the sleep aids, as my head lay on my pillow in hopes of rest, every thought I had that day had rematerialized in my head – simultaneously.  Soon those bullets began to ricochet off the walls of my mind in rapid fire succession.

My head was spinning with thoughts of business, upcoming travel, finances, and conversations from the day still resonating.  At midnight, still wide awake, I poured a glass of vodka and drank it straight.  That calmed me down and I was probably been asleep within 30 minutes.  At 3:30am I woke up though, as the blender in my head turned on again.  This time the blender was set to puree.   I drank some more vodka and after another 30 minutes or so I fell back asleep.  I woke up again at 4:30am with just enough time to shower, build my meals, prep my bike, and get it together for another workday.  At this point though, I just didn’t want to.  I only wanted to go back to sleep.  So I poured some more and repeated the cycle again, insulating myself from myself.

Before I drank my way into another short-term coma, I texted or emailed all of my sessions for that Tuesday morning advising them I wasn’t feeling well and was not going to work.  I would not leave bed again until the following Saturday.  For nearly a week, I drank my way around the clock, scarcely leaving bed, mindlessly Facebooking, watching movies on my laptop, napping, enjoying conversations with my dog, and writing.  It was like an all-inclusive vacation on Skid Row Island.

Each morning for nearly a week I would contact my clients and advise them I was taking the day off; that I was sick, had some emergency, a flat tire, or whatever story might garner me another day off.  Truly, I just wanted rest.  Honestly, I’m not nearly as sorry about the drinking as I am for all the lying.  

The Confession Eruption

By that Friday morning I knew that my clients were beginning to sense something was up.  My brain was swimming in alcohol.  My ears rang, my hands shook, I was hot, I was cold, and I was confused.  I was also out of alcohol which meant all of those sensations were about to increase – substantially.  I called my first session of the day to tell her I was sick.  She is not only a client, but she is a dear friend and occasional workout partner.  Suddenly I just broke down and came clean about my week of drinking.  As I cried, I begged nervously for her forgiveness – feeling as though I deserved anything but.  She was both accommodating and concerned for me.  I’m glad she was first. 

One by one I began calling all of my clients with similar confessions, and sincere apologies.  All were received better than I deserved.  By the end of the 4th phone call I was in such emotional distress, I had to stop.  I began contacting my 32 remaining clients by email with similar, and well detailed confessions.  In sending those emails, I knew this might be my best chance to avoid losing my business, my life, or both.  I had made the commitment, finally, to stop drinking.  I would spend the rest of that Friday crying, thinking, and attempting to summon strength.

High Functioning Vs. Functioning High; A Juxtaposition

The first week after crawling out of bed that Saturday, I had to face my future as well as my past.  Yes, there was all that sobriety to reckon with, as well as my personal and business relationships, financial concerns, and my health.  But me being me, what I chose to came face to face with first, was my exercise life.  How on Earth, I wondered, was I was able to function at such a high level drinking well into the morning 7 days per week for over a decade…? 

My last drink during the night was often at 2am, 3am or even 4am.  Still, I would be out the door and on my bike riding 30+ minutes to work most days by 530am.  I would work until noon, take in my workout with the weights, have lunch accompanied by a drink or two, work my afternoon sessions, and ride home.  Once home, I would feed myself, crawl into bed with my laptop, and begin the cycle again.  Sundays would find me doing beastly exercise things with my beastly friends, and actually keeping up with them.  But I knew I was fading physically.  By January of 2012, I could feel it and see myself losing ground in my physicality.

To be continued…

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Please check back in 2 weeks for Part IV.  Oh, and there is this from Ronnie Lane who passed away 15 years ago today.  He was exquisite.  Enjoy…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wpoC_S-2Jf8