Almost four months ago I was on the doorstep of some changes in my life that I didn’t really know if I had the strength to face. It turns out that the changes were not going to be exactly as I thought and that I am a stronger person than I knew.
She made it to Ogden, UT that first night. There was a phone call. Tears. Panic. The realization that leaving her children on the other side of the continent wasn’t something she was really capable of.
“Can I come home?”
“Of course you can.”
What else could I ever have said? Anyone who knows me also knows that “of course you can” is the only answer I would ever be capable of giving. Whatever our relationship was or wasn’t, she’s the mother of my children. We’re family. Rule #1 is: you take care of your family.
So the overwhelming stress of being the only parent within three-thousand miles of our kids was lifted. There may now be a whole new set of complications to work through, but the kids have their mother, and we both have our kids close by; I feel so much better about the whole situation.
But there’s a certain point-of-no-return that we were well past. Coming back to be with her children isn’t the same as us going back to our lives as though the past eight months hadn’t even occurred. I don’t think either of us wants to live that way again. She has a spot on my couch until she can get on her feet, but it’s time for us both to move on.
There was a moment back in June where I made a decision. It was a small decision made without deliberation or hesitation. Just a split second thought. And yet I think that for the rest of my life I will look back on it as possibly the most important decision I’ve ever made. In that one instant the person I have been became the person I am.
I found something out. It doesn’t matter what it is, just that it made me feel sad and angry and hurt all at once. My first instinct was to seek the refuge of companions that had become all too familiar over the last several years: I just wanted to go buy a pack of cigarettes and a case of beer, polish both of them off within a couple of hours time and then go pass out in bed, wallowing in self-pity.
But something inside said “No!”
“No, you are done letting what other people do and say have this control over your life! You are better than this goddammit!”
I’m not sure why I thought of it, but instead of jumping into that hole of self-destruction, I got on my bike and rode it as hard as I could for about seven miles. I pushed every ounce of frustration into each pedal stroke. Although I owned a bike and always intended to ride, this was the hardest riding I’d done in many years. That seven miles took everything my 245-pound, out of shape body had. And when t was done, I felt fantastic. The anger was gone. The frustration subsided. Not forever, but for long enough that I caught a glimpse of what living was maybe supposed to feel like.
That night, I couldn’t sleep. My brain wouldn’t shut off. The frustrations held at arm’s reach in the light of day plagued my thoughts as I tossed and turned the entire night long. As 5:00am rolled around and it started to become light, I did it again. I got on the bike and pounded out those negative feelings into the pavement. And again I caught that glimpse of a life that I could live rather than one I could simply survive.
I did it again the next day. And the next. I started going farther. I started going faster. I started setting goals: be doing 100+ mile weeks by the end of the summer (which I hit in July); start racing in the summer of 2014.
It’s now four months later and I’ve logged over 2,000 miles on my bike since the day I decided to live again. I left about 50 pounds of myself along the way and began to see the cords of lean muscle forming in my legs and arms. My diet has improved out of necessity (get on that bike for a couple of hours and you’ll really regret last night’s fast-food!) While I haven’t sworn off alcohol, I went from having a few beers nearly every day to having had about four beers and a couple of mixed drinks total in the last four months. I’m now in the best shape I have ever been in.
Things aren’t perfect—life never really is, I suppose—but for the first time ever, I neither need nor even want things to be perfect. I’m learning that it’s the overcoming of the imperfections that make life worth it, because those are the experiences that shape us.
The days where I wake up, and it’s 40 degrees and raining, and I force myself to get on the bike and ride 30k anyway, and then get home and feel like I’m made of pure awesome—those days have really driven this lesson home: when you have a choice between doing something easy and doing something hard, the hard way is usually the right way.
Make the hard choice. Push yourself. Be stronger than you knew you could be, and conquer whatever is thrown your way. Once you’ve shed the cloak of fear and self-doubt that—like a parachute—pulls you back from that final step, then you get to meet the person you really are.