Full disclosure: I dig Ryan Lochte. I liked his long surfer boy curls and I like his clean cut (formerly sponsored by Polo) look. I like that he doesn’t pretend to be sophisticated. For a woman who gravitates toward men who are even smarter than I am, I find his goofy facial expressions while searching for the right word and usually not finding it to be surprisingly refreshing. I like that he has spent his entire very decorated career in the shadow of an even more decorated beast of swimming. Isn’t that life for most of us? No matter how good we are, there is always someone better. I like how hard he trained for London and it was glorious when he won that 400 IM on nothing but hard work, grit and determination. So there you have it. I am #TeamLochte and I don’t care how hard my friends laugh at me.
Happy go lucky, free spirited, inarticulate party boy has been Ryan’s brand for a long time. Probably part him and part his reaction to spending a lot of time one step down the podium from Michael Phelps. When he was winning, that brand made a lot of money for a lot of people. Suddenly, one alley pee in Rio later, his brand is being used to beat the living hell out of this guy. I don’t like it. It says a lot about how sick celebrity and social media culture is.
I also can’t shake the knowledge that this basically decent guy who is good to his fans, competes clean, is never a jerk to anyone and just wants to swim really fast and make people proud set this whole debacle in motion. Ryan’s professional life was going to shit as I passed my 30th day alcohol free. Free from alcohol is how it feels and it feels pretty good. I don’t know if I believe he had abstained from alcohol for months prior to the games. I also don’t believe he was “celebrating” the end of his games when he got completely effing wasted in Rio.
I think he was pouring alcohol on disappointment and trying to bring Fun Ryan back to life because the real Ryan was closing out his remarkable career completely dwarfed by the Phelps shadow. Ryan who has long said he wants a family with a nice girl (ok, a nice girl who looks good in white jeans…his taste isn’t all that refined) was in Rio denying that the Playboy model traveling with him is his girlfriend while we all followed Boomer Phelps on instagram. Ryan who has always wanted to win but finished his only individual event 5th behind his rival friend. 5th. Not even 2nd. Ryan got wasted to forget, not to celebrate. He was out trying to be happy go lucky free spirited Ryan who doesn’t care anyway. He peed in an alley. He thought he got robbed. He lied to his mom or his girlfriend because he kind of knew that being totally trashed at six in the morning doesn’t look good on those of us over thirty. He didn’t come completely clean because he was embarrassed. Such is my armchair psychoanalysis anyway. And now, his reputation is in ruins. Over some drunk unauthorized peeing. So small and so big.
I get you, dude. My unhealthy relationship with alcohol intersects exactly with my mid 30’s when I found that some things had not turned out at all how I thought they would. When I felt constantly in the shadow of other happier people more successful in business and breeding. I tried to be happy go lucky unfettered girl. I tried to do things that had been fun once. Except what is fun when you’re 21 can be damned destructive at 35. I did some drunk things that show remarkably poor judgement and poor regard for myself. I got lost and pretty miserable. I ruined a friendship or two. Others drifted away. Eventually I was just drinking alone nursing grudges and liquor. All of this without crashing a car or getting arrested or losing a job or even getting into an argument or peeing outside.
Rock bottom wasn’t losing everything. It was losing my joy, my spirit, my direction. I didn’t need an intervention or a trip to rehab. I needed to sit with myself long enough to ask “Is this what you want? Is this really good enough for you? Do you want something else?” I want something else. Some days I’m running toward it, some days stumbling toward it but there’s a bottle of vodka untouched in my freezer and it’s getting smaller and smaller in my rear view mirror.
Ryan..is this what you want? Is this good enough for you? Do you want something else? Leaving the childish things behind doesn’t mean giving up your joy. It means really really finding it. C’mon, dude, I’ll be your sober buddy. There is greatness in you. You are a child of God, not a child of Ralph Lauren anyway.