At the age of six, I took my first drink. Father, Mother, Aunts, Uncles and Grand Parents all drank heavily on a daily basis. What separates a daily drinker from being an alcoholic? This is clearly defined in step one of the Program of Alcoholics Anonymous. ”We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable. Avoiding the gory details, my family could not manage boiling water.
I took my last drink on May 14 1978, and have been sober since. I did not want to but had to drink. At two quarts of vodka a day the pain, physical and mental became unbearable. It will also cause you to return items you did not steal. On that morning, lying on a cold floor, I asked for help. A call to AA brought a man to our home who would later become my AA sponsor. I began attending meetings.
Alcohol became my life, its absence convincing me that I would never laugh again; “my life is over” this cyclic thought like and old song playing repeatedly. The following is an event that occurred after ninety days dry. Living in a bottle creates an imposter like identity. I see myself as a sophisticated city kitty, lover of blues, overwhelmingly brilliant, and never wrong. Of course, none of this is real but inventing and wearing it everyday soon assimilates reality, answering the unasked question “Am I OK“ with a resounding yes. AA slowly erasing the false you to be drawn as God intended. It literally takes years.
Around nine PM the phone rings, it is my sponsor (let us call him Frank). “Throw some cloths on, grab the wife and come over to the farm; a bunch of us are going coon hunting”. “Coon hunting“, I ask, “I don’t think so” and I
hung up. “Was that Frank“, my wife asks? “Yeah it was him, wants me to go coon hunting, I can’t take that redneck, tobacco chewing, dung pumping cowboy“. Frank pumps septic tanks for a living. “You should go“, she says, “It might be fun”. “I doubt the fun part but OK I’ll do it”. Calling him back, I told him we are on our way.
Carl, Frank and I are the threesome. Carl has a young Blue-Tick, named Smoky that he is raving about. Frank has a Great Dane, born without a brain that has no idea of raccoons and is just going along for the walk. We will be hunting near The Devils Backbone which is a high ridge paralleling Elk Creek. There are sheer drops of sixty feet straight down to the creek. In the fall, the water can reach seven feet deep.
I am the carry person, lantern, dog tethers and Ruger .22 revolver. Frank gives me a headlight, which I have never owned or used. I become completely intrigued when I realize, no matter where I turn my head I can see! “Dave what are you doing”; asks Frank? “The headlight, I have to buy one of these”. “How easy it is to entertain a recovering drunk” he replies and off we go.
Hours pass without Smoky making a sound. “Carl”, I ask, “how much did Smoky cost”? “Twelve hundred”, he answers, then spits chew into his beard. I find that worth a chuckle and think how many used cars I could have bought. I realize I am laughing but at someone else’s expense. “Either there is no coon here or Carl got stuck”, I mumble.
Suddenly Smoky lets out with “A-WOO-WOO”; “he’s on one” screams Carl. We all take off in a run. Do you recall the sixty-foot drop I mentioned earlier? Well, Smoky just ran off the edge. “The dog went over the cliff” yells Carl. We all peer over the edge and see that Smoky is walking out of the water, seemingly no worse for wear. Now I am stifling a laugh. “Take it easy Carl, says Frank, we will walk down to the creeks edge then back upstream and get Smoky”. We all make a left except the Great Dane who steps forward, “A-WOO-WOO-WOO” then the sound of the Dane hitting the water, which resembles a watermelon exploding.
“Gosh dang it”, shouts Frank, “Both dogs are in the creek”. I have to step back because tears are running down my cheeks and I do not want them to know I am laughing my butt off. I envision two Cocker Spaniels holding cards over their heads with the number one on them; “neither dog knows how to dive,” says one Cocker.
As we reach the edge of the creek, Frank tells me, “Stay here until we come back with the dogs”. “OK”, I reply, “take your time I’m having fun”. It is three AM; I am standing on the bank of Elk Creek with a .22 pistol on my hip and a headlamp on. “How on earth did I end up here”, I ask myself, it sure is beautiful“. Looking down into the water I am shocked at the number of very large Lake Run Rainbow, Coho and Chinook salmon, so I shot one and pulled it out of the water. A thirty-eight inch Rainbow, and by far the largest fish I ever shot! I turned out my headlamp.
Thirty minutes later Frank is shouting; “Dave where are you”? Turning on my headlamp, I answer, “Over here”. “What is that you’re holding”? “Frank, I shot a fish; how are the dogs‘? “Oh fine…just fine, let’s head to the house”.
As we walk into the kitchen Frank’s wife asks, “How did you guys do”? He replies, in a rather moody manner; “Dave got a fish”.
I will never forget this evening, so etched in my mind. A ripple of laughter instilling hope that there is life in sobriety would soon become a tsunami. They never asked me to coon hunt again.