Monday, August 25, 2008

Addiction


“You’re addicted!” The only way you’ve avoided hearing that phrase is by either not telling people you ride most days of the week or by not actually riding most days of the week. Such sins of omission are entirely understandable. Keeping the peace, or a low profile can be difficult enough when you’ve got a tan like a panda bear and legs as hairless as Michael Jordan’s head. The full story has been known to cause non-cyclists to think your last known address was Area 51.

But addicted? It’s not like any of us would ever say, “I can stop this any time.” We don’t pretend our lives could go on without cycling and remain fulfilled, enjoyable. And shouldn’t that be the definition of addicted? Shouldn’t a true addiction be something we are honest about, the thing without which our lives would lose some luster?

We, ourselves, can joke about being addicted to cycling. About how when we miss our riding we get the DTs. How we get neurotic without that outlet.

No matter how we joke, most people simply don’t understand our devotion. From following the racing, to structured workouts and, of course, the numbers of hours we spend in the saddle each week, our love for the sport can seem unnatural, even unhealthy. And anything done to excess must be unhealthy, right?

But here is where I find the difference remarkable. True addictions narrow one’s world. Whether drugs, alcohol or compulsive disorders, addictions define a person’s world into necessary and unnecessary and as the disease progresses, less and less is necessary. Meals, jobs and eventually even loved ones can be determined expendable by the brain hijacked by the disease.

What cycling has done for my life is anything but. I don’t think anything else in my life taught me the value of hard work the way training has. My interest in cycling has led to learning about physics, metallurgy, physiology, GPS technology, blood chemistry, metabolism, diet, European cultures and cuisine, Hannibal, and wine, not to mention expanding my knowledge of other subjects I was already interested in including geography and photography.

My experience can’t possibly be unique. But universality is no standard by which to judge. The epiphany I came to in defending my love of and devotion to cycling is that the sport has made my world bigger. What it has done for me is nothing short of miraculous. It has exposed my weaknesses and foibles like no shrink could. I give nearly everything in my life greater effort thanks to cycling and there’s a chance that I’m a more tolerable person to friends and family.

I doubt very much the definition of addiction includes feeling better about yourself.

21 comments:

Erik said...

The addiction actually works the other way around. The addiction that needs to be overcome is not getting out and riding. Addiction implies that what you are doing is somehow harmful. Not riding is harmful, easy, satisfying in the short run, and ultimately harmful, even fatal to your health.

"My name is Erik and I'm a recovering sloth, sugar, fat, sit on my butt, hunched over a computer, addict."

"Hi Erik!"

Riding isn't the addiction. Riding is the cure.

Jim said...

I'm with Erik. It makes me a better person *but* when I miss two or more days consecutively it turns me into an evil bastard. On daily rides, stress from my fairly intense job melts away, and I'm more or less bearable to those around me. When I don't have that outlet, I turn back into that guy I used to be - junk food noshing, irritable, withdrawn jerk. Did I mention that I rarely get colds any more? What used to be a 6x yearly event is now a 1x yearly event. I often feel a sniffle coming on, and a little bit of extra sleep, followed by a good ride in the morning, clears it up. The time I spend with my family is also better quality time; I've learned to budget my time and to make the most of each hour because our time in 'real life' is limited just like our training time, and like training you need structure and a goal in order to get the most out of it.

Like a lot of sicknesses, the way I used to be wasn't noticeable to me until I got better. Now that I'm better I wouldn't want to be sick again. Becoming a dedicated rider didn't save my life, it just kept me from wasting it. I don't worship my bike but I do love it and have a lot of respect for it; Grant Peterson is right.

Lachlan said...

perfect: Riding is the cure.

A philosophy, mantra and endline is born.

Chris Bagg said...

Hey Pedraig, I muse (obsess?) about this subject a bunch, and blogged about it myself. Here're my two cents (this is copied from an old post at http://chrisbagg.blogspot.com):

Addiction
November 4, 2006

I drink a lot of coffee. The students at the school where I teach reflect America’s current bipolarity (thin/fat, left/right, hedonist/ascetic), and the teetotalers say to me, with the sanctimonious tone typical of Vermont’s artist immigrants, “You sure drink a lot of coffee.” When I shrug and keep drinking, they push the issue: “Wouldn’t you rather not rely upon something to make your day possible?” I shrug again and say “There are worse things to be addicted to, don’t you think?”

And it’s true. I could be back in New York City, drinking too much and staying up all night, losing days to hangovers, missing work and embarassing myself, but I’m not. I’m going to sleep early tonight, so I can get up and go to the pool tomorrow, so I can be fresh for tomorrow’s long run. I’m not saying this because I’m pleased with myself. I’m saying this because I’ve clearly traded one addiction for another.

I bought a cyclocross bike recently (see “Newbie Once More”), I thought because I was sick of road riding after a long season on skinny tires. I realized today, as I was scouring Bikereg.com for races that would keep me competing each weekend until New Year’s Day, that I bought the bike so I could keep racing. Isn’t this an addiction? A habit I pursue regardless of near financial ruin and compromised relationships? Of course it is. Like the coffee, though, I would ask “Aren’t there worse things to be addicted to?” I’m in the best shape of my life. If doctors are to be believed, I’m putting years in the bank and managing stress (life, work, life) in a healthier way than self-medication.

It’s the question of why, though, a question that haunts all of us who train hundreds of hours for only, at most, dozens of competitive hours. Why the obsession, the skipped nights out with friends, the fights with loved ones, the weekends spent driving to races instead of hiking, climbing, exploring, or sleeping? I think, for most of us, we’ve traded a more insidious addiction for the ostensibly safer habit of endurance sports. I work with a guy who was a big time bike racer a number of years ago. He was also an alcoholic, and his stories resonate for me: the highs and lows, the constant sense that this thing that you thought was a good friend, an ally in difficult situations, was waiting patiently to devour you whole. He doesn’t drink any more, and he’s a huge role model for the kids, users or non, at our school. I also think of a runner a friend of mine told me about once, a superstar back in the golden days of American running, who rose to mythic proportions and then simply disappeared, leaving a family behind, to resurface twenty years later in Hawaii. “Someone who spends that much time out on the road,” my friend said, “is running from something.”

I hear that, and I’m sure that some of you out there do, too. If I hadn’t bought that cyclocross bike, if my next race were months distant instead of days, I would be out tonight with two of my friends who were going to a movie and then on to “Hit the bars.” I know where that leads. Take away my sense of responsibility to myself, to the hours I’ve already logged, and I will overachieve in another, darker realm. So even though it is an addiction, I’m going to keep drinking the coffee. Aren’t you?

Paul said...

I'm with Erik and Jim.

And my family thinks that I need to go for a ride...

frilly said...

Last summer I really got into following the ProTour & BKW. This summer I thought I should walk the walk so I started riding a little more seriously. There is a fairly steep hill by my house that has been kicking my ass all summer. I thought, hmmm, maybe if I lost 10 lbs or so I could I get up that hill. So, I quit drinking soda & started snacking on fruit instead of the daily afternoon Snickers bar. Yesterday, I got up the hill! It was slow and a little shaky but done.

So, riding has caused me to become more fit, lose some weight, sleep better, gain a sense of accomplishment & more confidence.

Addicted? Damn straight.

Padraig said...

Congrats Frilly! The walk has its own rewards.

And to Erik, Jim and others: I definitely agree with you; cycling has been the antidote to much in my life. I was just struck by the inverse relationship cycling has to traditional addictions.

Anonymous said...

I think that we are all addicted. This came to me on my commute today. I am addicted, because I always want more/better/faster/lighter/stiffer/ext...

Will you ever be satisfied? Have you ever had enough? NO you want more.

As for cycling not being an addiction because its good for you. How many of us go fast down hill and can't wait to do it again. Is going down hill at 45+ mph down hill safe? There is an inherent danger to riding and that is part of the reason we love it.

I’m not saying that I would rather be addicted to anything else, but I admit I have a problem.

I just want to say My name is Ari and I have an bike problem.

Andrew said...

As western life has become more sterilised and safe in some aspects , certain members amongst the tribe still need to challenge their abilities in order to make sense of themselves. I feel no better than to point the bars in one direction and set off for a couple of hours until you realise it is time to come back as you did not put lights on the bike.It is not necessarily about training, junk miles or anything else but being on a bike and removed from the distractions. I have been and still are, addicted to surfing and skiing and now cycling, with the common thread being the ability to extract from the world , into my world where I dictate the pace , direction and order of things. It is not a fad driven by media or trends or glitter. Very much a preventative cure

LVciclista said...

Amen.

Anonymous said...

I'm a recovered alcoholic. It took everything away from me. Riding a bike can be obsessive-compulsive and too much can be unhealthy but it doesn't destroy ones soul and turn a person into a despairing Gollum.

That said, having a coaching plan helps me to keep from overdoing it cuz I'm still a nut.

oldFonzie said...

Agreed on the Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Or maybe Autistic nerdiness.

I really liked this piece and enjoyed how you illustrated a life of cycling that is beneficial.

Unfortunately, over the years I witnessed people whose lives and humanity were just crushed by cycling. One of the best examples of this was a close friend and training partner I had known since I was an intermediate. He was older than me and drove me to races.

When I was a first year senior he totally fell apart after accidentally missing the start of the state championships that had been delayed due to rain.

He absolutely lost it. He kept phoning the District Rep to get him to rerun the event. He didn't sleep for days. He kept bugging me since I had won the race and he kept asking me "what am I going to do?? You gotta get me to that race!"

He wanted a rematch. After several more days of no sleep he was completely incoherent. He had short circuited and was driving around at a 100 mph trying to get to the race.

He came over to my house and didn't know who I was half the time. He kept calling me Joe and rambling on about the points race and how he should have won it. He had chewed his fingernails off and just had bloody stumps for finger tips.

I had to take him to the mental hospital and have him committed which as an eighteen year old was one of the most frightening place to take a friend. But I called his mom and she pleaded with me to help her. She said I was the only one he would listen to and she didn't want him to kill himself with his behavior. He needed help.

And it wasn't just cycling that did this to him. He had other issues: unrequited love, the recent death of his father and who knows what else.

I guess what I am saying is that the line between addiction and benefit can be a thin one. For the most part, the devotion to cycling can be an anchor in life and a door to the world.

In a similar vein tobacco addiction is a form of self medication that like heroin comforts the soul and is a catalyst to human contact. There are schools of thought that believe the higher incidences of smoking and opiate use among the mentally ill is due to these benefits of the drugs.

Still, if you approach cycling as a fix rather than a ride it's no different than plying yourself with airplane glue. The real therapy of cycling is learning how to ride and the structure it give to life.

The nice thing about cycling is that done properly it can enhance your life and can be used to overcome demons rather than mask them. The bonds we make training, racing and cheering form a community which supports us in other aspects of our lives.

I am really impressed by the group Phoenix Multisport, which uses cycling and sport to help people combat addiction by replacing the social cues and support of the drinking / drug lifestyle with the healthier ones offered in the sports community. I think these guys are as revolutionary as A.A. was in its time.

http://www.phoenixmultisport.org/

Anonymous said...

Cycling to me is a gift from GOD.

The key to me is to let cycling serve me, benefit me and my family, and not for me to serve it, ie, riding too much and stiffing my family. Two of my sons are old enought to really mtn bike now, and this is great. I use it as some nice bonding time.

Most of my riding is to work, and that meets most of my cycling needs and serves a real purpose.

Tim

juzme said...

I can't understand the people that don't get the connection between cycling and meditation-- you know, the ones that ask you what you "think about" during all that time on the bike.

It's a process of clarification.

Even when I'm with the group doing a hard AT paceline averaging 20 mph (we live in hills), for me cycling is a "mini vacation."

John said...

lovely just lovely!!!!!

spiff1 said...

The word is:
Cyclehoalic.

NVdK said...

So true. Man. I need at least 1 of those water bottles. Yes.I'm addicted. And quite happy. Thank you very much!

Anonymous said...

Hi, my name is Moe and I'm and LSD addict..

aham23 said...

agreed 1000%!

Anonymous said...

Junkie!

jeff said...

Cycling, running or any endurance pursuit forces prolonged deep breathing.

I know I could never sit quietly, meditate and get similar benefits.

Cycling not only exercises the heart (the most important muscle in your body), it exercises -- and expands -- the mind.

No?