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The Challenge of Honesty.

11 January 2017

I sympathize with Donald Trump. I really do. In one respect. Donald Trump is a constant, unrepentant liar. And until I entered sobriety, so was I. As I’ve written many times, honesty is the first casualty of alcoholism, and I lied unremittingly in order to get what I wanted. But honesty really and truly comes in many flavors.

I thought of myself as an honest person, even though I lied all the time. How? Alcoholics in recovery talk about “cash register honesty”. I was cash-register honest. You could leave me alone in a room of uncounted $100 bills, tell me no one was watching, and no one will ever know, but please don’t take any. And I wouldn’t. I thought that made me an honest person.

And while I lied about my drinking – well documented on this blog – that’s not the kind of lying I sympathize with Donald Trump about. I’m talking about a different kind of core-self dishonesty. The kind of lying we do to be accepted by others. I think this kind of dishonesty explains all kinds of toxic behaviors that people rationalize to themselves. I did.

The kind of lies that I sympathize with Donald Trump about are not the ones he tells reporters to gain power. They’re the ones he tells his rallies. The ones he tells his close associates. They’re the same lies I told. The ones my mother tells. That impulse to take a great story you hear and make it about your own family so that you seem more interesting.

The impulse to say you agree with whomever is currently being adulated so that you’ll be reflected in the glow, part of the group. Even if you don’t. The impulse to go along with a crowd that’s wrong – to participate in a mob. The lies you tell when you take the pulse of a room and determine what you need to say to be popular. To be accepted. To be seen as valuable.

These impulses – this need to be accepted and promoted, to receive attention and praise – are the sourcewaters of lies told reasonlessly. Told off the cuff. Unremembered because to us they are unremarkable. The truth value was never what was important about them. They were just tools to wedge me into an open space in the crowd that wasn’t quite me-shaped. I lie to reform myself into something that I think you’ll value more.

Not because I’ll get something from you. Because you valuing me is what I get from you.

They are lies told from fear and isolation. They are the reason I have a story to top yours. They are the reason I have an experience that matches the situation you’re describing. They are why I’m always talking. Because I need you to see value in me. I need you to think of me as someone with something to contribute.

This need is why I understand plagiarists and other imposters- we all have our own mediums of lies, but the purpose is the same. Consider James Frey – why would he make up the book and call it a memoir? Consider Jonah Lehrer – why would he fabulate all those quotes? Consider Julie Miller – why would she cut corners in races with no prize money? People assume it was financial fraud of some kind – glory.

I don’t think so. I think it’s a need to be accepted into a society we feel like we cannot truly be a part of. Because we know we have rotten souls. We are insufficient. I’m not talking about impostor syndrome. I’m talking about being actual impostors. We are not as good. Not as smart. Not as capable. We know this. But we desperately want to be part of the group that is.

So I understand Donald Trump. He’s a lot like me. Not as swift, not as talented, not as successful as the peer group he wants to be in – political and industrial captains. So he lies and pretends and cheats and probably makes deals with Russia to advance his position. And now I have to live in this nightmare – someone who is like me will be our president.

I still feel every impulse to lie and cheat and inveigle myself into groups that are more august than I’ve earned a place in. I know because I prove it when I am admitted, when I see the regret and chagrin of the people who’ve invited me to join them in rarefied places. But in sobriety I’ve found a way to stop the lies, at least. Even if I cannot yet accept the truth about who I am with grace and dignity.

First Long Run of the Season.

9 January 2017

Saturday morning I went out for my first long run of the new marathon training season. Only nine miles. My total mileage for the week was about 21.5. It was a tough run, with the temperature hovering about 20 degrees Fahrenheit, and snow falling hard for the last four or five miles. My hands were numb for the first forty minutes.

I didn’t have enough water onboard, and didn’t bring any on the run. And I only had 100 calories during it. I went out too fast to stay warm, and then had run through my breakfast and the little Larabar bite I had with me wasn’t enough, and was hard to choke down with no water. So I ended up with a big positive split.

But I finished it and my knee feels ok (not great, but ok). My heart rate is not really cooperating, but it will as I get back into condition. It’s depressing that taking about 5 weeks off is enough to repeal four months of work. But I am still fit for a 9 mile run at 10 minutes per mile, which is encouraging. To say the least.

BB and I are going to Seattle Friday for a long weekend, and I’m looking forward to seeing family. But I will need to get several training runs in, including a 10 miler Saturday morning. We’ll have to do it early. I’m hoping to get ten miles in and then have brunch with the family. After that it’ll be who knows.

I’m looking forward to going home but always apprehensive about being there. Family is difficult – for everyone I think. But it’s been a long time since I’ve been in the Pacific Northwest and I’m looking forward to showing BB around.

Dating Someone in Recovery.

6 January 2017

A new friend reached out to me with a question. They’ve recently begun dating a person in recovery, sober around seven years. The question was, how does a “normal” person date a sober person? My friend wants to be supportive of the recovery, because they think there’s a real chance for a good relationship here. But they also don’t know what being supportive actually looks like. How do we know what it means to support someone when we don’t even really understand what being in recovery means – besides no longer drinking?

Specifically, they wanted to know: should they clear all the alcohol out of their home? Should they refrain from drinking with dinner? These are serious questions which can give normal people a lot of anxiety. But luckily, at least in this case, they have easy answers: no, and no.

A person who is seven years sober, and working a strong program, as seems to be the case here, doesn’t need others to safeguard their sobriety. By the time this much time has gone by and we have done the 12 steps and are working regularly on daily maintenance, we know our danger-spots, we know our triggers, and we have tools and systems in place to protect us.

That doesn’t mean we could all date someone who keeps booze in the house. But if we know we can’t, then we seek out dates in places where the person we date isn’t going to keep booze in the house. We bring it up first, before we’re in the situation. Our sobriety is our own responsibility. The same is true about drinking with dinner. If I didn’t feel comfortable dating someone who had wine with dinner, I wouldn’t date them. But I have no expectation that anyone will change their own relationship with alcohol to suit my needs.

In fact, I really don’t want them to. That way lies codependence. I don’t want anyone resenting me because they “used to be able to drink with dinner”. I don’t want anyone walking on eggshells for fear that my sobriety is so fragile that their glass of wine might derail it. And I don’t want to date someone who changes themselves in some way to try to be a better fit for me.

When you date someone in recovery, someone with long-term, established sobriety who works a strong program, you get to be you. Go do your thing. We’re dating you because we like you the way you were when we found you. We appreciate your support, and are glad you didn’t reject us because we are in recovery. Lots of people do. But we’re really just ordinary people with a single disability. We can’t drink normally.

You don’t need to start attending open meetings. You don’t need to read the Big Book. It’s nice if you become passingly familiar with the steps and the program, but it’s not necessary. But what will be necessary is not to compete with AA. Those of us in recovery need it to be first, for the most part. We’re not choosing AA over you. We’re choosing AA so that we can also choose you. Without recovery being first, we can’t have a relationship with you at all.

So, don’t feel rejected or put out when we take a night or two (or three) a week to go to meetings. When we have dinner with other drunks. When we work with others. You won’t be neglected. We will make time for you. But we also have important routines that we must keep up in order to stay safe and sober and sane. Let us do that, so that we can also attend to you.

One positive thing? Celebrate our anniversaries with us. They mean more than we say.

Everything is Religion.

4 January 2017

As a person employed to find objective, accurate, predictive answers to questions about the future of the systems I analyze, I like to think of myself as a scientist. That’s what science is, of course – a system or tool or process by which accurate models and predictions of the natural world can be made. As our understanding of nature increases, we can build better tools. With better tools, we can refine our predictions. Some of the tools are physical objects, like pipettes or computers; some are conceptual like calculus and algebra.

But in fact, many many more things are presented as science than actually are. In some cases, it’s pseudoscience designed to misinform, confuse, and exploit. This is especially true in medicine. Things like homeopathy, acupuncture or dry needling, “detoxification” (not relating to actual acute intoxication), and even – to a large degree – supplements and vitamins. For the most part, these things are useless, and can even cause harm, presented as science but really about a spiritual sense of wellness.

But it’s true of things that most people seem to think are real sciences too. Consider political science and economics. We use sciencey words and tools, we perform rigorous experiments in model environments, and we collect data and develop conceptual frameworks. But for the most part, they have no predictive value whatsoever. Studying one economy doesn’t teach us lessons about how another economy will react to similar interventions. We cannot predict elections reliably.

And yet we make predictions and fight, sometimes violently, over their likely effects. We see data points and invent narratives that fit them, making post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacious conclusions. But really, these are religions. Conservatism and liberalism are religious opinions about how the world should work. The same is true of capitalism and socialism. They hold very little predictive value, and are not even coherently defined in a way that allows us to identify them in the real world with rigor.

And finally, science is treated as a religion by scientists themselves in many ways. We scientists, doing real science with real predictive value, want to be seen as priests. We want the public to simply believe what we report, despite not having the access, education, or capability to verify or integrate the concepts and results. We act like ancient mages with access to secret knowledge. We condescend and criticize when the public doesn’t credulously accept what we say.

Most scientists seem to subscribe to the “deficit model”; the idea that if everyone just had more information they’d agree with us. After all, we did the science. But there’s plenty of real scientific evidence that the deficit model is bullshit. People don’t believe just because they see convincing evidence presented by a magister. That’s not how humans work. We believe based on our social systems, our communities, and on things we can personally perceive and witness. This is well-known, and yet scientists reject it because it doesn’t fit their own religious model of dissemination.

Science, real science, is messy. It relies on statistics and repeated observations, and takes time to establish inferences and theories. A single result from a single paper should rarely be taken as a new established fact. We fall in love with our results and we feel personally attacked when they aren’t accepted immediately, even though we criticize others for failing to be objective about their tenuous new findings.

Science itself in not a religion, no; it is a system. But it does have sacred cows, and we all want to be its ministers.

Another New Year.

3 January 2017

Well, we are now inhabiting 2017, a year that looks, from here, to be foreboding and menacing. We will soon have a president who doesn’t have the first clue how to run a country, and has ruined most of the stuff he has run. An incompetent buffoon, a would-be dictator, and a man who does not understand that commercial negotiation is not the only kind. His stench is going to pollute the entire world for a while. We soldier on as we must.

Assuming he doesn’t destroy my livelihood (a distinct possibility), I will be laboring again at MECMC, and trying to build something worth preserving. I might. I might not. The progress toward my own fiefdom has stalled, and I am a member of a group that I am not particularly thrilled at being a member of. I like being in authority, but I don’t really care about (or understand) the goals of the group we oversee. So I’m feeling a little adrift. But I feel like I have good job security; I’m good at what I do and people see me as valuable.

But personally, 2016 was not a bad year. I accomplished a lot both personally and professionally. I finished my first triathlon and my second marathon. I also discovered some limitations: if I want to compete in hot weather, I have to train more in hot weather. I can’t rest long on fitness-laurels. My condition degrades rapidly. I need to keep up the pressure to keep up the capability.

I’ve set some big goals for this year: a spring marathon, a fall half-Ironman. I hired a coach and I will soon rejoin the gym where I can swim. I have new projects at work that will be challenging and exciting, including a high-pressure project that has potential to (basically) directly save lives, which is kind of thrilling and kind of terrifying. But it’s a good project and I’m eager to get started.

BB and I of course plan to travel again in the late spring as well. Europe, probably. We’re looking at flights and I have the $1,000 coupon from my hell-flight back in September. So we ought to be able to get a nice vacation in for not too much expense. I’m vaguely hoping we can rent bikes and ride the back roads of some small socialist nation for a while. Stay in places with good tea and green hills.

But who knows. All I really have is today, and today is the first workday of a new year. I’m sober, sane, healthy, and ready to go. So let’s go.

The First Week’s Training Plan.

30 December 2016

Well, yesterday BB and I went on a little 3.3 mile shakeout run. My knee felt ok, and feels ok today. We were slow on purpose, averaging about 11 minutes per mile. Her calf and my knee and foot are all still in the healing process. My knee I expect to take several more months. If it isn’t better by summer, I’ll get an MRI or something I guess. Not that I plan to do much while I’m mobile. Engagement with the medical community is a last, desperate resort.

My workouts for this week are: a 4 mile “easy” run Saturday, which I actually intend to make 5-6 miles to get back into things. A strength workout Sunday. Monday an interval training workout called a “fartlek”: 5 min warm up, 30 minutes of 30 second sprint/2:30 jog, and a 5 min cool down. Tuesday personal training at the gym. Wednesday an easy 4 miler. Thursday a 40 min hilly run: hard up the hills, jog down. Friday rest.

So I’m doing actual speedwork and hill training, under a coach. I’m a fat, prediabetic, 42 year old pahtzer. But I’m going to do the best I can. And as someone whose goals fundamentally include only finishing, and staying healthy, I think I can do it. I’ve done the math on the half-Ironman. As long as I can ride at 13 mph, and run at 5 mph, I shouldn’t have any trouble finishing in the time limit. Those are both significantly slower than my Olympic speeds.

As time goes by I’ll be adding swimming and riding into the mix, running a touch less frequently – though I want to maintain distance – and planning “brick” workouts that involve 2 or 3 training types in a day (i.e., bike then run). It’s going to be hard and I’m going to have to work at it. It’s a big time commitment. It means basically being the only thing I do for 9 months is work, and work out. But I can do it.

I think I can do it.

Stir Crazy.

29 December 2016

I’ve barely done any exercise in the past three weeks. I’ve been resting my knee, and traveling. Eating like bear before winter. I’ve gained about 10 pounds, making me the heaviest I’ve been in several years. I’ve been using all my exercise as an excuse to eat whatever I want. That’s fine when I’m running 5,000 calories a week. But when I’m sitting on my ass all day, it’s not so good.

I hired a coach to give me training plans and advice, support, while I train for my next marathon and my half-Ironman races this year. I’m eager to start. I finally went to the gym yesterday and did a good workout that has left me feeling pleasantly sore this morning. I was pleased that I was able to do 5 chin-ups in a row. That’s only one off my max. So my strength hasn’t gone.

I just feel like I need to get moving again. But I want to give my knee as much relief as I can before marathon training starts this weekend. It starts easy, with a little 4-5 mile run on Saturday. Still waiting to get the training plan from my coach, but we’re looking at a tempo run Monday, easy run Wednesday, hill training Thursday, and the long run Saturday.

Tuesday will be cross training and cycling. Sunday will be cross training, maybe swimming sometimes. Friday, as always, is rest. I’m looking forward to getting back out there, hopeful my knee will hold up, and excited for some new challenges. I’m also scared and have to plan to work harder than I’ve ever worked. It will be expensive too: coaching, gym, equipment, etc., is going to end up costing me like $600/mo. The entry fees to the races alone are up around $800 total, not counting travel and accommodation. That’s a lot of money to spend, and I’m grateful I have the option.

So I’m excited for the new year while being a bit nervous about my fitness and weight and metabolism. I’m scared to test my fasting glucose until I’ve worked out regularly for a month again. But I know I’m doing the best that I can. Maybe not the best that can be done, but the best that I can, to be healthy.