Thursday, July 28, 2016

Dave Cooke: Cycling 3,600 Miles for Recovery

(Note: This blog post also appears on The Huffington Post's blog site under the same title: "Dave Cooke: Cycling 3,600 Miles for Recovery.")

Dave Cooke and I have some things in common.
  • We're both from Detroit, Michigan.
  • We both have a son who has battled addiction.
  • We're both recovery advocates trying to make a difference.
  • And we both like to ride our bicycles.
But whereas I enjoy hopping on my Cannondale hybrid bike and riding to the grocery store, or going for a leisurely ride of five, six, or maybe a dozen miles tops, Dave likes to ride his road bike long distances. And this summer he's embarking on the longest ride of his life: a 3,600-mile ride across the United States.

Dave is the founder and board chair of 100Pedals, a nonprofit organization that is dedicated to bringing awareness, advocacy, and inspiration to the issue of addiction in our society. Through speaking programs, collaborative community activities, and a commitment to sharing the truth about addiction, 100Pedals empowers individuals and families who have been impacted by the disease. The result is a unified movement working to provoke change and break the stigma associated with addiction.

Like most parents of children struggling with addiction, Dave was devastated when he found out about his son's heroin dependency. And like many parents--myself included--he set out to rescue his son from addiction and to fix things. Unfortunately, over the next fifteen months Dave discovered that addiction isn't something parents can make go away, no matter how hard they try. It's a family disease that affects everyone; and it was affecting Dave. In fact, it was destroying him.

That's when Dave made a decision that completely changed his life. He challenged himself to do something that would help him regain control and clarity in his life. That challenge? To ride his bike for at least 1 hour for 100 consecutive days. On January 1, 2011, Dave went on his first 60-minute bike ride.  On April 10, 2011, he completed his 100th consecutive ride. All told, Dave spent 141 hours on his bike and rode 2,360 miles over the course of those 100 days. Mission accomplished, and 100Pedals was born.

Dave's accomplishment of pedaling 2,360 miles in 100 days was impressive, for sure. But those numbers are nothing compared to the numbers associated with his latest endeavor, "Cycling for Recovery 2016". On Saturday, July 30th, Dave will climb on his bike in Santa Monica, California, and set out for the Big Apple. His path will follow Route 66 to Chicago, go through Michigan to Detroit, to Pittsburgh, up the New Jersey coast, and end in New York City. The plan is to cover the 3,600 miles in 64 days, and to stop in various cities along the way to share messages of love, hope, and encouragement with people who are living with a loved one’s addiction.

"Our children, our families, and our communities can no longer be victimized by the continued, tragic growth of drug-related addiction in our society," Dave says. "This bike ride is a manifestation of my commitment to educate those who need to better understand this problem. God called me to take action and make a commitment to share his message through my story and my family’s experiences with addiction. At his urging, I accepted the challenge."

"It is my plan to have one-on-one conversations with those who are struggling with the addiction of a loved one or those individuals who are battling an addiction," Dave adds. "I see these interactions as a wonderful opportunity to hear their stories while offering them a message of God's love. I will also be giving presentations and talks in churches and neighborhood organizations."

This may be Dave’s "big, bold, crazy adventure" (as he described it to me in a Facebook message), but he won't be doing it all by himself. There are donors who have contributed to the Cycling for Recovery GoFundMe campaign (after all, a trip like this doesn't pay for itself); a support vehicle has been donated; and volunteers have stepped forward to drive that vehicle for each of the nine one-week legs of the tour. (Note: I'm proud to say that I’ll be behind the wheel of the support van for the Detroit to Pittsburgh stretch.)

Dave says that he's as physically and mentally prepared as he'll ever be for his biking adventure, which he calls a bucket list item. "I have always envisioned taking a cross country bike ride," he recently wrote. "When I realized I was focusing on this individual adventure and accomplishment in a self-glorifying manner, I declared I would not do this unless there was a higher purpose behind it. That’s when I heard God say to me, 'It's a ministry, not a bike trip.'"

Dave Cooke is a man on another mission, and this time he has an important message to spread. If you're out driving on the highway sometime between July 30th and October 2nd, and you see a determined guy riding a bike from west to east while being followed by a support van, make sure you honk and give him a thumbs-up. Or, better yet: Sign up to ride your bike alongside Dave during a segment of his journey.

Yes, addiction is a beast. But we're incredibly lucky to have warriors like Dave Cooke fighting the battle against it.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Scholarship Contest Update

It's been a crazy few weeks in my world, and this is really the first chance I've had to post any sort of update on this year's My Life as 3D Scholarship Essay Contest.

This year we ended up with 29 entries from students in 15 different states. I spent my Fourth of July weekend reading all of the essays and I confess that I shed more than a few tears while doing so. Even though every sibling's story is different, the things that they have experienced and felt while living through their brother's or sister's addiction are so similar. When you read their essays, you can't help but be overcome with emotion.

At this point, the 29 essays have been distilled down to the Top 10. Now the judges have until July 31st to select their personal Top 3. When that process is finished, points will be awarded accordingly, the points will be tallied, and a winner and runner-up will be determined. Those lucky students will be notified the week of August 1st and the official announcement will be made in this blog around that same time. The first- and second-place essays will also be published here so you all can read them.

I want to take this opportunity to thank all of the young people who took the time to enter this contest. I'm sure writing about your sibling's addiction wasn't easy, but hopefully it helped you in some way. I know from experience that writing can be incredibly cathartic, so maybe putting your feelings into words has given you at least a little bit of relief.

Remember: #SiblingsMatter

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Sober Stick Figure: A Unique and Hilarious Story of Alcoholism and Recovery

(Note: This book review also appears on The Huffington Post Blog site under the same title.)

I'll be totally honest with you. Until a couple of weeks ago, I had no idea who Amber Tozer was. None whatsoever. Then one day on Twitter she tweeted to me and asked, "Would you be interested in reading my book maybe?" I clicked on the link she included in her tweet and it took me to the page for her book Sober Stick Figure: A Memoir.

There I found a picture of the book's bright yellow and blue cover, which included a rudimentary stick figure drawing of a woman passed out next to a bottle. It made me chuckle. Then I read the first part of the book's description and was intrigued.
Sober Stick Figure is a memoir from stand-up comedian Amber Tozer, chronicling her life as an alcoholic and her eventual recovery--starting with her first drink at the age of seven--all told with the help of childlike stick figures.
As a recovery advocate and blogger, I get a lot of requests from authors who want me to read and write about their books. Most of the time, I decline. But every once in a while, if the book seems interesting enough, I'll bite. This is one of those times I'm glad I did.

Sober Stick Figure is effing brilliant.

When the FedEx driver delivered my book, I eagerly ripped open the package it came in and thumbed through the book's pages. Oh. My. God. I was expecting a few stick figure drawings scattered throughout the text, but there were stick figure drawings on every page spread! They were crudely drawn and laugh-out-loud funny. All 269 of them (yes, I later counted the drawings).

Then I sat down with the book and started reading the text. By the time I finished reading the first four sentences, I knew this book was something special:
The first time I ever tasted alcohol was at my grandma Babe’s house. I was seven years old. My uncle Woody let me take a swig of his beer, and I thought it tasted like sour pee. I knew what pee tasted like because I was a fucked-up kid.
Sober Stick Figure is, as Amber Tozer describes it in the front matter, "a dark and funny story about alcoholism." It tells the story of how Tozer fell in love with alcohol, how it took over and complicated her life, and how she eventually came to realize that she had a problem before getting sober more than seven years ago.

Tozer shares hilarious stories and intimate--at times very intimate--details about her life, starting with her days growing up in Pueblo, Colorado, where she is surrounded by alcoholism, both within her family and at the bar/restaurant her mother owns. Working for her mother provides Tozer with security, but she wants more than that. She longs for opportunities and adventures, and that prompts her to make a life-changing solo move to New York City.

The Big Apple is the setting for numerous tales of job hunting, job hopping, love, lust, Tozer's entry into the world of comedy, and, of course, drinking. Lots and lots of drinking. And that drinking fuels some scary--and amusing--incidents.
I went on a six-month drinking binge that lead me to get blackout drunk every night. I don't remember much, but what I do remember is "waking up" also known as "coming to" in random places. One time I woke up on a train in Coney Island. The sun was coming up, and I was the only passenger. I was like, "Holy shit. I’ve always wanted to come here."
Later, Tozer moves to Los Angeles, where more craziness ensues.

Throughout her narrative, Tozer holds nothing back, always being as brutally honest as she can be. (How brutally honest? Five different stories about peeing in inappropriate places should give you some indication.) But that honesty brings humor along with it, too. Like when Tozer describes her fear with this comical analogy and drawing:
I was like a mouse in a factory that made big gigantic ceramic cats, nothing to be afraid of really, but it was still scary. 
Although this book is uproariously funny, it also contains some serious, thought-provoking messages. Like when Tozer declares, "Sobriety doesn't make you automatically smart; it teaches you painful lessons until you become less stupid." Or when she writes:
Alcoholism is such a baffling condition, and I'm sure it's even more confusing to people who aren't addicts. Normal people who say, "Stop drinking and stop using drugs. It's a choice and it's common sense." To you I say, "Ssshhh. You have no idea what you're talking about. Why don't you just enjoy your normal brain and logical reactions to life's troubles while we spin out of control until we find a solution that works for us."
I've read a lot of books about addiction, many of them memoirs. But Sober Stick Figure is in a league of its own. Amber Tozer has a knack for storytelling, and that makes this book very difficult to put down. Tozer's ability to write about her struggles in a self-deprecating and relatable way would make this book a winner even without the dark and childlike stick figure illustrations. But, damn…the drawings are amazing. And they make Sober Stick Figure truly unique.