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One for the Road: Cleaning up my act

By Shadow

 

Custom bikes form a double column down the Daytona Beach boardwalk, the sun bouncing off the chrome. The Atlantic Ocean glistens and shimmers while a slight breeze whips up tiny whitecaps. Even the sand on the beach seems to sparkle. It’s a perfect day—more perfect than most, because today, March 16, marks the day I have been clean and sober for 25 years.

Had I not quit doing what I was doing—and you name it; if I could find it, I’d snort it, smoke it, swallow it or shoot it—I’m convinced I would’ve been dead a long time ago. You’d think I would have heeded the warning signals when I smashed up all those cars. The first time was the night before my high school graduation when I’d had a few, grew a set of “beer balls,” decided to race a buddy and totaled my dad’s brand-new Chevelle (I showed up at the ceremony with a goose-egg on my forehead so big my graduation cap wouldn’t fit). The second time I was speeding to the bar after the second shift at my job let out. The bar closed without me that night and I spent nearly two weeks in the hospital with a fractured pelvis and several months on crutches. And I won’t even mention the accidents where I drove away.

When I moved to New York City in the early ‘80s, my drug and alcohol addiction kicked into high gear. New York is truly the city that never sleeps, and neither did I. I could write books about my experiences, but suffice it to say that in 1986, I was at the end of my rope. I’d bottomed out—or so I thought—several times, but the thing with addiction is that the bottom can drop. I finally got sick and tired of being sick and tired, as the 12-step programs say, and began the long, excruciating battle to stay clean.

The path to sobriety was not strewn with roses—at least, not for this recovering addict. There was no “pink cloud” of euphoria once the drugs left my system; no feeling of well-being and no hope of a brighter future. I substituted with huge quantities of coffee and cigarettes, which served only to keep me sick and sleepless. I relapsed, going back to drugs more times than I care to count, finally surrendering in 1987.

Everyone has their reasons for not staying clean, and mine was that I couldn’t imagine life straight. Everything that “normal” people did seemed incredibly boring to me. Hang out at a coffee shop after an NA meeting on a Saturday night, while everyone else was out clubbing? I don’t think so. My judgmental self determined that I would never hang out with these NA people if we were on the street. They just weren’t cool enough (as if there was anything cool about my cocaine paranoia that sometimes kept me barricaded in my apartment, curtains drawn, sure that the cops were outside on their walkie-talkies and about to bust my door down).

Eventually I met some people in the rooms of recovery that I seemed to mesh with; artists and singers and writers and other creative types. They added a little spice to my otherwise hum-drum existence, and I learned that I could go to clubs to see shows without having to drink anything but ginger ale.

But a major obstacle remained—what to do in my spare time. No one had a home computer back then. In the Lower East Side of the city, “social networking” meant hanging out in cafes, art openings and any number of neighborhood parks. That was OK once in a while, but there was something missing. I had no hobbies, no interest in sports; nothing to spark any enthusiasm. It was a depressing time for me; I still felt numb inside. I wasn’t sure the effort it took to stay clean and sober was worth it, or even if life was worth living. Why bother, if I was still so unhappy?

Months, and then years, passed in an unremarkable way until one summer night when I was visiting my childhood home in Northeast Pennsylvania. An old lover whom I’d recently reconnected with offered to take me for a ride on his Road King. I waited for hours until he showed up at my mom’s house near midnight. We took off and headed toward Harvey’s Lake, where I’d spent summer weekends way back when. Cruising around the lake woke up a part of me that I thought long dead. Tears flowed freely as I recalled the good times and the carefree existence I once led, before the alcohol and drugs dragged down my spirit. That ride stirred my soul.

Once I returned home, I couldn’t get that night out of my mind. It was suggested to me that I learn to ride and then get my own bike. I chewed on that for a while, and finally signed up for an MSF course at Rider Education of New Jersey. In spite of my extreme anxiety and awkward piloting, I passed the course and earned my motorcycle endorsement. The next day, I visited my local Harley dealer and put down a deposit on a brand-new Sportster. It took a month for my new baby to arrive, and when I finally got to see her I was smitten.

Ruby led me into the world of bikerdom, where I met many wonderful people, some of whom remain close friends. She took me on many adventures—my first ride through the Black Hills, around the mountains of New Hampshire and to the Florida beaches. She opened the door to a new world—one where I’m challenged mentally and physically every day, and where I’m nurtured emotionally and spiritually.

I was no longer bored; unfulfilled. My passion for riding grew to the point where it became my vocation. You could say that motorcycling saved my life.

 

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