You Can’t UNLEARN to Ride a Bike – The Explanation for Alcoholism

I Dated Captain Ron for Three Years

It’s a beautiful spring Sunday and I have started to get  to know a group of active women in recovery in Grand Rapids. They have the “Riverside Ramble”, a 4 mile walk on Saturday mornings; planned bike trips to the farmer’s market 20 miles from town; and impromptu hikes in various parks. I’m a multi-tasker, and it’s a great way to get to know new people, hear words of wisdom and breath some fresh air, all at the same time.

My brain seems to be on overdrive these days, but a couple of things happened that really got it going this weekend. A few women on the ramble asked me if I had a bike (I do not) and I asked Lynnel at work how she would answer the question, “Why did you choose alcohol over me?”

I was writing an article on the fact that family, hard as they try, might not fully accept why a loved one becomes an alcoholic. I was looking for answers to the age old conundrum of alcohol being a “choice” in the beginning, not a force feeding. Lynnel’s response hit home. She said, “When you learn to swim, you can’t unlearn to swim…” and it was off to the races in my mind.

I Love This Explanation:

I love this explanation for alcoholism (not least, because I wrote it):

When you learn to ride a bike, you don’t think about riding the bike. You get it out of the garage, take it for a spin and revel in the pink streamers fluttering in the wind. It’s fun. Everyone’s doing it. But what if riding the bike becomes for you (this is my allegory – bear with me) a hazardous act. What if every time you ride the bike your heart pounds and you run over small dogs and tip baby carriages and fall spectacularly – scraping your paper-thin knees on the sidewalk.

What if every morning you wake with the thought, “BIKE.” Like a fever – BIKE.

What if your family says, “It is time to forget about riding that bike. It is dangerous. Stop it. Forget you ever knew how to ride the damn thing! This happened to Uncle Bill, and it ended badly…”

So you decide it is best to cover the bike with a tarp. And every morning, when the thought BIKE springs into your head unbidden, you say to yourself, “Today I will not ride the bike. I will not see the streamers flirting with the sun. I will forget I ever knew how to ride the bike in the first place. I will unlearn to ride the bike.

But you’ve become used to riding the bike.  It’s a bad habit. As much as you tell yourself it is dangerous for you (and the neighborhood Pekingese), you remember how the wind feels on your face and how the streamers make a flapping noise. So you sneak out to the garage at midnight and take it for a spin – running over a few raccoons and smashing into a tree in the dark.

You take the tires off the bike and put them in the attic. You tell your friends you have quit cycling for good. You never get on a bike again, but sometimes – when you are dreaming – you still hear the buzz of the tires on the tarmac and feel, actually feel, the way the saddle fit just right…

The moral of the story? You can choose to learn to ride a bike. You can find a way to stop riding the bike for good, if it becomes an obsession.

But you cannot choose to unlearn to ride a bike.


Today I’m not drinking because I’ve chosen to put the bike away (seriously, I don’t really like to ride bikes)…

How come you’re not drinking?