Taming Our Addictions.
by Mike LeBlanc (@velo_mike)
The cravings just seem to creep up on me. An insatiable deep hunger. All I can think of is my next dopamine hit. This addiction. My survival mechanism.
Bikes have always been a huge deal for me for as long as I can remember. From playing with my Evel Knievel action figure and toy bike to going on rides with my dad as a young boy, there’s just something magical about the mechanical physics of balancing a man-made machine on two wheels at speed. Pure freedom. Growing up, me and my friends literally lived on our bikes. Jumping curbs and sidewalks. Building ramps. Endlessly exploring. Riding into the sunset night after night. I had a great childhood, good friends and a loving family. But I also experienced certain consequential losses along the way. Traumas that I didn’t have the tools to properly deal with at the time.
Living in this traumatized world. A world that doesn’t foster grieving and emotional healing. An overly busy world, consumed with consumerism and the next big thing. A world that doesn’t have time for what it sees as all this emotional trauma bullshit. Living in such a world, all I knew how to do was what it taught me. Stuff it all in. Stiffen my upper lip. Suck it up. Put up a stoic front. Repress. Riding and racing bikes gave me the perfect environment to practice suppressing my emotional pain. I was even validated and idolized for it. The better I became at muffling and enduring pain on the bike, the more people paid attention to me. I felt validated, like I was winning the battle. Endurance sports are great like that. Our bodies are constantly rating our pain. Physical pain always rates higher than underlying emotional pain. For this reason, “hurting our self” on a bike seems to alleviate the emotional pain beneath it by changing our focus. The problem is that it’s only a Band-Aid, a temporary release mechanism. It doesn’t fix the problem at the source. It hushes the flames, but it never extinguishes the fire.
For me personally, everything literally came crashing down in July of 2016 during a local Tuesday night mountain bike race. On the last lap, my tired hand slipped off the bar on a rooty downhill. There was no way to save it. I tried to roll as I hit the ground. My helmet took the brunt of the impact. Hitting my head that day was the beginning of hitting my rock bottom. Concussed, I couldn’t ride anymore. Hell, I couldn’t really do anything anymore. Every single thing took so much energy and effort. I lived in a constant fog. The only time that I felt somewhat normal was when I was asleep. Depressed and constantly anxious, I was a mess. My broken brain made me feel like I was no longer part of this living dimension. Alone in this darkness. The bike racer pedestal that I once proudly stood on had crumbled and I no longer had a place to stand. Emotionally, my concussion felt like the spillage of my entire life baggage. The sealed container holding all of my past trauma violently smashed open by the impact of my fall, all of its contents scattered in a huge mess. I could no longer deny it like I had done for so long. Everything was all there before, neatly organized to ensure my survival. Now it was all exposed, disorganized and raw. The task of putting everything back in the container like it was before just wasn’t possible. There was no going back. All I could do was get really honest with myself. Completely overwhelmed. I didn’t know how and where to begin.
I started seeing a new psychologist. I did yoga. I meditated. I read books that spoke to my soul. And I slowly started riding again. My first rides were very slow and short. And still aggravated my symptoms. I was but a tiny speck of my former self. Completely deflated, the light at the end of the long tunnel was very dim. Then, every once in a while, I started having better days. Days when I was able to ride a little longer. I was also finally revisiting the traumatic events of my past in psychotherapy, slowly allowing myself to feel what I couldn’t feel at the time. I cried a whole lot. And the more that I got better at feeling, the more that I started feeling better. No shortcuts. Time doesn’t heal all wounds. This stuff doesn’t just go away by itself. To get to the other side, I had to do the work. Over 4 years later, I am feeling much better. I still get that drunk, dizzy, disconnected feeling every once in a while but now I try to honour it, as a reminder of what I’ve been through and how far I’ve come. I’m still seeing a psychologist. I’m still healing. Emotionally, I feel better than since I can remember. And that is what motivates me to continue to sit with my discomfort instead of run away from it. The process is and will always be ongoing. It’s my life’s work. The real work that makes me whole.
We’re all traumatized. Damaged in some way. It’s simply a side effect of living. For me, as my traumas accumulated, they began to angrily drive me. Infiltrating my every thought and action. Lodging themselves into every single one of my cells. Deep down, unconsciously, I hated myself because of what had happened to me. As if I should have been able to prevent it. This traumatized society. A society that prizes pushing beyond our limits, idolizes strength and speed while viewing rest, showing emotion and grief as weakness. Young and impressionable, that’s what I had learned. Hard wired for survival, my addictions are simply the best solutions that my mind could come up with at the time in order to keep me alive. Without them, I wouldn’t have made it. Some levitate towards drugs, work, sex or shopping in an attempt to fill their void. I ride bikes. Why didn’t I end up in the same situation as the drug addicted homeless beggar? I simply either suffered less trauma or I had more help and support dealing with and healing from my trauma. In other words, I just got lucky. In this sense, our addictions are actually purposeful. Even if they are mostly never sustainable.
I‘m still madly in love with the bike even if this fondness has been evolving in a different direction lately. Riding is still my lifeline, my salvation. But now, it’s on my own terms. At my own pace. Mostly alone. No expectations or agenda. Simply exploring this world that we are one with. An undying solitude seeker at heart. My racing days are over. I’m not saying bike racing is all bad. It definitely has its place in cycling and it did serve its purpose, even if I no longer see it as the best thing about our sport. For me personally, I can’t seem to race “just for fun”. The competitive aspect seems to strip too much from my experience. In its purest form, riding a bicycle is a very personal experience. We get out of it what we put into it. For me, riding makes me a better husband. It makes me a better father. It makes me a better friend. It makes me a better human.
Our addictions, our teachers. Showing us what needs attention and healing. Maybe we never completely heal from our addictions? Maybe all we can do is stop hurting ourselves by taming them?
All photos by Mike LeBlanc (@velo_mike)