I just read the book TRIPOLAR: The Story of a Bipolar Triathlete, by Tim Davis. This is a very inspirational book, much more than the title indicates. Tim had a very difficult childhood and became addicted to alcohol and some serious drugs as an adult. His recovery is an amazing testament to the power of 12 step programs like AA, and the support and tough love of his wonderful wife Mariah. Mariah participates in Al-anon, a 12 step group for families of addicts, and it gave her the strength to support Tim through the bad times without enabling him, which involved painful and difficult decisions. The bad years are depressing to read about but important to give us an idea of how bad things can get. And it makes you realize how very difficult it is to recover from addiction. The 12 step program has to be very powerful indeed to give you the strength to do this.
There is a happy ending because he does recover. But the main moral I got from the story is that you have to totally commit to the 12 steps, you can think you are working them but really “going through the motions” and that doesn’t work. At one point Tim is working the program pretty well, he thinks, but does not thoroughly do step 4 (making a fearless moral inventory of ourselves). He is clean and sober for 3 years and still relapses. Only when he works that step completely is his recovery complete. But he emphasizes you are never cured from addiction, you have to keep working the program and taking a day at a time.
There is an extra dimension to this story that makes recovery even more difficult: Tim was later diagnosed with bipolar disorder (formerly called manic depression). There are medications that control the symptoms but they have side effects. And sufferers can fool themselves into thinking they are cured and stop taking their meds. In Tim’s case he finds a medicine that works well but the side effect is appetite stimulation so he gains a lot of weight. This is where triathlons come in. In an effort to lose weight, he gets physically active, and discovers how much he enjoys triathlons. He eventually becomes an ultraendurance athlete, completing multiple Ironman races, a double Ironman, and some very difficult ultrarunning events like the Angeles Crest 100 miler. It would be a mistake to think physical activity was a cure for bipolar disorder or addiction, but it was an important piece of the puzzle. Tim explains that recovery has mental, spiritual, and physical components, and that he believes exercise helps with the physical. He now teaches about the benefits of exercise for therapy and recovery.
I love comeback stories like this, and in this case it was against almost impossible odds. Way to go Tim.