I have returned from what is becoming a yearly sojourn to the cabin on Lake Superior. This year, I took my twenty-six-year-old niece, daughter of my brother Steve, who died in 2013. She’d never been to the cabin. Her father likely was too preoccupied with booze. Alcohol will do that to you. It’ll keep you wanting to stick close to home. Close to your supply. I wish I could have made the trip with him once he got sober. But he had only three months of sobriety before he died. He was 52. The same age I am today.
Steve died eleven months after my eldest brother died from cirrhosis at age 56. He died five months after my father died. While my father did not die from alcohol, he was an alcoholic of the binge-drinking variety. The angry, violent, binge-drinking variety. Until the Alzheimer’s got him. And then he was a sweet, kind, loving man.
This year’s trip was my second to the cabin since the death trifecta. It was to be my first boozeless trip to the cabin as a grown-up. Last year, I brought a drinking friend. And drink, we did. Day drinking. Night drinking. Grill drinking. Deck drinking. Card-playing drinking. Drink, drink, drink. I cried a lot that trip. I probably would have cried sober. But not as much.
Flash forward one year. As my niece and I drove across the border into Canada, we made our grocery list. She had added wine to the list, and I broke the news to her that I stopped drinking in January. She scratched wine off the list and said maybe she’d just drink beer when we played cards with the uncles. Throughout the week, we talked about our relationships with alcohol, and her father’s relationship with alcohol. By the end of our trip, which she ended up doing sober, she had committed to herself to stop drinking. She sees the red flags in her own drinking, and I expect seeing me give it up, she realized you don’t have to have hit her father’s low bottom before stopping. I don’t know how long she’ll continue with sobriety, but I’m hopeful she’ll not find herself in her father’s shoes, twenty-five years from now.
When we arrived at my uncle’s cabin for our first night of card-playing, I wasn’t sure how the relatives would react to my abstinence. After all, I come from a long line of drinkers. This side of the family includes an infamous bootlegger from the Prohibition era. Maybe not on par with Nucky Thompson, but still, my family’s bootlegger achieved a certain amount of notoriety in Michigan. I would be spending time over the next few days playing cards with a couple of uncles who are direct descendants of that bootlegger, and who are known to partake themselves. Would I be blackballed from the card table?
As it turns out, no one cared that I wasn’t drinking. One of my aunts was curious, and asked me about my decision. I told her it began as a sort of protest.
“The shit was killing everyone,” I said.
“Not everyone,” my uncle said, as he sipped his scotch.
Yes, in addition to a long line of drinkers, I come from a long line of smartasses. I explained that in addition to the protest, I had found myself drinking more than I wanted in the wake of all the dying. And upon stopping, when I found my sleep had improved tremendously, that was enough to keep going. My aunt gave my uncle a sideways glance. He responded by taking another slug of his scotch. And then I beat him at cards. (Counting cards is easier sober. Yet another advantage to sobriety.)
This vacation came when I had more than 240 booze-free days. Far enough along in my non-drinking career that going without booze is no big deal. I don’t miss it. In fact, I prefer not drinking. I never thought I’d say that. I was certain going without booze would feel like deprivation. Lucky for me, I did my booze-free experiment long enough to figure out that after a time, it feels a lot more like freedom than deprivation.
Today is Day 261–104 Days to 365.
Without further ado, a few images from this year’s trip: