Alcohol is not necessary for outdoor enjoyment. You can go fishing without beer and you can enjoy a campfire without whiskey. This may seem like a simple statement to most people, but for some of us, it takes a long road to arrive at this realization. For me, what started as an attempt to mirror the masculinity of men I admired, has ended with the recognition that nature, and all else in life, is far more beautiful when experienced out of the fog associated with regular drinking.
I don’t remember my first beer. I know I was way too young to drink it, whenever that day was. Stealing a few out of grandpa’s beer fridge began when I was about 12. The fridge was in the garage next to a big mule deer mount. An early visual tie to the connection between the sportsman’s life I desired and alcohol. My friends and I would take the beer fishing, along with any cigarettes and cans of dip we could heist. We wanted anything we could get our hands on adults used to alter their consciousness when they were conducting the outdoor pursuits we were striving to excel at.
My Grandpa Butler was one of the coolest men I have ever known. He grew up in the 1940’s with almost no parental supervision. His mother was only 14 when he was born. She contracted tuberculosis during his teenage years and spent significant time in a sanitarium. Grandpa had to learn to fend for himself early. He became a man while still a boy. As an adult, he owned every room he was in. People gravitated towards him. Outgoing, gregarious, loud, and the life of the party. Everyone wanted to be his friend. He drank a lot of beer. He was a man to aspire to be like, in my mind. He was my hero.
My father, his oldest son, is nothing like him. My father is reserved, stoic, quiet, and content with a handful of good, close friends. There were many years I wished my dad would loosen up. To be one of the dads grilling brats and knocking back beers at the college tailgate like the fun parents. He never drank, and I never understood why. Over time, I came to understand his view of his father’s drinking was very different than mine. He’d have to ride his bike to go fetch his father from the local bar when dinner time rolled around. My father saw alcohol as a divider. A thief of time he wished his father gave to him instead of his drinking buddies.
It takes maturity to come to understand how your actions impact the people around you. While you may not be physically placing a drink in the hands of a teenager who looks up to you, you are inputting an impression on them each time they see you crack a cold one. They are assimilating your happiness in the situation to the alcohol. I was certainly a victim of this at an impressionable age. What kills me now is how I completed the circle. The influenced become the influencer.
Of course, there are certainly different levels of addiction and far from everyone who drinks has a problem. I know many casual drinkers who enjoy a cocktail or glass of wine and that’s it. I’m not one of those people. I do life big, and if I was going to drink, I was going to drink like Hemingway. The association of drinking whiskey with being a man’s man took hold on me. The books and movies I’ve consumed, along with real world experiences, pushed me down this path towards what I falsely thought was an admirable identity.
People in my life who I love very much have suffered greatly due to alcohol and drug abuse. I don’t believe there are many American families who have been sheltered from such pain. Some are completely consumed by their vice. Others continue to function at a high level while remaining in the clutches of substance abuse. Many go through their day accomplishing everything life asks of them, only to settle in at night for another round of enough alcohol to kill the pain of whatever it is that ails them. Then they wake up and repeat the entire process the next day.
Personally, I’m grateful I was helped to recognize a problem was forming. One I don’t feel most people suspected. Including myself. But a few of those closest to me did. I’d been drinking since junior high, but things really began to escalate. The last couple of years were tough. My cabin was burned to the ground by an arsonist. I went through a horrible divorce and custody battle. Lost my home and most of the material worth I had worked so hard to build over 20 years. Then my two teenage daughters moved in with me fulltime. This is the greatest blessing of my life, yet also my greatest challenge. For the last year, I’ve had to figure out how to be a solo girl dad. In bourbon, often alone late at night, I found a way to numb the pain and anxiety.
It was also during this time when I first felt the miraculous hand of God upon me. I spent most of my life wondering why God had no interest in me. Only to come to realize it was me who had no interest in Him. The words to explain the blanketing comfort that has come over me and guided me out of the darkness elude me. I’ll just say wholeheartedly I’ve never experienced anything like it before. In my darkest hour, there was the faintest of light. I chose to move towards it, and the light continued to grow. Until the darkness was gone. The people I needed were there along the way. They were placed on my path and I was receptive to their grace. I’m so fortunate to have had the love and support I needed. Not all are so lucky.
In this first summer of sobriety, I have found it surprisingly easy not to drink. It’s been about four months since I’ve had any alcohol. The clarity I am experiencing is profound. The physical differences are remarkable. My doctor was amazed at how my lab results changed between January and August. I pop out of bed with energy. My thoughts are concise. And my heart is open.
My oldest daughter just began her freshman year at the University of Missouri. She’s a lot like me. In the last couple of weeks, I’ve shed quite a few tears over her transition out of the house. I’m also worried about the example I have set for her. I was certainly not my best at times. I behaved much more like my grandfather than my father. I can only pray she follows in her own grandfather’s footsteps and recognizes the side of alcohol that is not fun. The side that divides and diminishes the real beauty in our lives.
We all set examples. Everyday. Often it is in our most unassuming moments, those when we least expect our actions are having an influence at all, that we impress upon others our behaviors of both good and bad. I’m certainly not advocating for no one to drink alcohol ever, under any circumstances. However, I will tell you, if you find yourself questioning your consumption, there is another path. A bright, beautiful path far less lonely than you might imagine. If you don’t feel like you can get there on your own, please ask for help. There is no shame in admitting you need assistance. Your life will be richer for it.
See you down the trail….
Pic: Looking towards a brighter future after alcohol.