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The waters of sobriety – Wired2Fish

To be honest, I’ve never really liked the smell of secondhand smoke. I lived a pretty heavy life in my younger days and after inhaling cigarette smoke for years at a time, I’ve avoided it ever since.

This past Friday, however, I reveled in the smell.

I smelled the cigarette smoke and it reminded me of bygone times and a confusing time in my life, finally and gracefully rescued by calm waters, two-stroke engines and cheap fishing rods.

As ash rolled down the front of his shirt and onto my flip flops as his long dark hair blew in the warm lakeside breeze, I instantly connected with him.

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The smell reminded me of a time when I was struggling to get my life back together. I was grinding every day, trying to figure out what my life and this fishing world had in store for me. I was a young kid with a wild dream of working in the fishing industry and at the time, I had no idea what that really meant.

Ignorance was indeed bliss.

The smell of that cigarette last Friday took me back to a very vivid time when I was working a miserable dead-end job and didn’t know where I was going to live for the next month. I wouldn’t eat on my lunch breaks; I would sit in my old diesel truck in an abandoned parking lot, doors locked with a gun in the center console and type fishing articles on my laptop.

I would dry off at night during the hour drive home because I would be so hungry. But the dream of working in the fishing industry and the lure of calm waters, sunrises and a simpler life made me strive for a seemingly unattainable dream. I had no money, so there was nothing to lose. I wanted to smell the water every morning somehow. I didn’t care how it happened.

Fast forward a decade or so and I guess everything worked out, thanks to a lot of hard work and good people along the way. But interestingly, my career led me to another lost soul.

That guy who smoked a cigarette last Friday put a lot of things into perspective for me and made me understand even more the great importance of what we all do.

So here’s the backstory.

I work from home and am almost always alone. Most of the time he’s pretty good, but there are a lot of times he feels very lonely and, at least for me, things can easily go over my head at times. My beautiful wife notices this, so she makes me leave the house a few times a week to go out to dinner. She knows when I need a little human interaction, so we’ll hop in the truck and head to a few nearby restaurants to get me out of the house. I don’t always feel like it, but she makes sure I stay socialized, as weird as that might sound.

There is a marina restaurant a few hundred meters from our house and we like to go there from time to time. We can have a grilled chicken salad (I’m getting older, so I have to watch my beautiful figure), watch a few innings of the Braves game on the outdoor patio, and be home in no time. This short social outing does a lot for me; I can see people, talk about fishing with people and change the scenery. The older I get, the more I realize how important this is to my mental health.

As we were finishing up our dinner there last week, I struck up a conversation with a rather intriguing guy. He had long hair, a big beard, and it was obvious that he didn’t really fit in with today’s social norms. I love talking to people like that because, in my experience, they often have the most interesting stories. I don’t look for people like me on purpose. I want to meet other types of people because I think it’s very interesting.

He was an itinerant union welder from Canada. He was in our town for several months and was all alone. I had coworkers and all that kind of stuff, but I didn’t know anyone. He didn’t really have much else to do at night, so apparently he went to this restaurant to do the same thing I was doing… socialize with other human beings. I think we were just two lonely guys looking for a decent conversation.

As we stood on the patio outside and condensation from my rapidly warming beer dripped onto my bare fingers, my wife realized some kind of connection. She let herself go into the shadows and let us talk. As I mentioned before, his cigarette smoke engulfed my face. Ash was all over the wooden deck. I’m sure it smelled like 90’s Waffle House.

However, a situation that would normally irritate me suddenly didn’t bother me at all. I wanted to hear his story. I tell stories for a living. It was time to hear a story, to change.

Being in the city alone, working 12 hour days, he quickly found himself drowning in some bad habits. He had not seen his widowed mother for several years. I was depressed because I didn’t have any close friends in this suitcase, boondock type town. He was a big man kicking his ass and making a lot of money, but he still felt empty. Compliance did not exist.

As a result, he turned to the bottle.

When the bottle stopped working, he turned to other vices.

Before he knew it, life was spinning out of control. It was difficult to keep up with his work and his daily responsibilities. I knew it was time for a change. I asked him about his future plans and his answer, and the full circle realization that followed, surprised me.

“I have to go home,” he said. “I need to see my mom and I need the water. I need to feel a smallmouth hit my line. I need to catch a walleye. I need to feel the cool breeze off my boat. I need to be on the water again. This is the only way I’m going to stand right.”

Think about it for a few seconds. The solution to their rather serious problems revolved around this beautiful sport that we all love. If I could fish, it could be fixed.

This is powerful.

After a while, I shook his hand and went home with my wife. While I was in the shower, she and I were talking and I told her there was no way I couldn’t write about such a chance encounter. I didn’t know what I was going to say and heck, I probably still don’t know what to say. But I know I have to say it.

One of my best friends died of addiction several years ago. I didn’t know I had a problem. No one did. He did a good job of hiding it.

He begged me to take him fishing. Read this sentence again. He practically begged me to take him fishing. But I always had some stupid, short-sighted excuse.

I never took him fishing.

Less than a year later, he was dead. I will never, as long as I have a single breath in my lungs, forgive myself for this. I could have helped him.

For me, this job I’ve been blessed with isn’t always about teaching people how to fish.

I think a lot of it revolves around teaching people WHY to fish.

I like to believe that the Good Lord created these calm waters, these eastern sunrises, these catches of fish, and these chance encounters with outdoorsmen as a respite from the garbage we all deal with in life everyday

We seem to be bombarded, every second of every day, with negativity. The world is not what it used to be. Some days, in my opinion, it sucks.

But the waters remain still.

The waters will never judge you. They will never make you feel insignificant.

The waters are what they have always been.

They are our point still in a changing world. They are our escape from the mundane.

Waters are our sobriety.

Sobriety due to addiction. Whether it be drugs, alcohol, technology, negativity, self-hatred, insecurity, anxiety or depression. The waters are there to heal us.

Regardless of addiction, everyone reading this has known someone who struggles with this problem and that doesn’t make that person any less human.

But maybe, just maybe… they need the water. And if they do, it’s up to us — the fishermen — to provide them with that comfort.

Put a fishing rod in their hand. Take some time. I would like to do it with my old friend. But I’ll never get that chance back.

To my new Canadian friend, who is now on his way back to Canada to rediscover his sobriety, I wish him the best of luck. He’ll probably never read it, but if he does, I hope he knows I’m pulling for him.

To my new friend: embrace the great unknown. Stay close to the outside. take a breath Get back on track and most importantly, thanks for the conversation. I appreciate your trust and your time.

Always remember… the unbreakable waters of sobriety will save your life if you let them.