By Chris Bates
While I have not stood close to a grizzly bear, I have encountered them in a couple of different settings. Needless to say, they are to be feared and respected. They have natural instincts that are dominant and can be ruthless by design.
On a fly fishing trip in Alaska, we were flying low in a 1969 Beaver floatplane heading to a section of the Agulukpak River when we came over an open meadow less than a mile from our planned landing spot. In the meadow, a massive male grizzly was standing over a mule deer carcass. The pilot/guide was not comfortable with us landing to fish that area because of that active bear, so we diverted to an area a number of miles upriver.
Years later, my wife and I were on a wildlife viewing venture outside of Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Near the end of the outing, we drove into a large valley when the guide suddenly stopped the truck and told us to grab the spotting scope. Less than 200 yards away, we watched a mother grizzly supervising her two cubs feeding themselves on the remains of an adult cow elk. Among the many other species we watched that day, that scene stuck out to us as both awe- and fear-inspiring.
The vast majority of us do not have to encounter a grizzly bear in the wild. A good many of us do, though, encounter our own predatory beasts in life. Addiction is one of those. Alcoholism and addiction are not exclusive to certain populations, ages, or gender. Addiction is stealthy, determined, and ruthless. It is unapologetic, and it makes prisoners of those around the person that it impacts.
I watched one of my grandfathers go from community leader and bank president to unable to hold a job, and back again. He struggled in and out of sobriety, putting together almost eight good years of recovery before his other mental health challenges became too much. My other grandfather more subtly increased his drinking to the point that we were no longer allowed to spend time with him fishing and in the outdoors as we had when I was young. I treasure volumes of memories with both of these great men, but I also witnessed the quiet monster of addiction bring them to their ends.
Perhaps due to that genetic string, that same monster became part of my story. From ages 14 to 23, my own world became entangled with this relentless disease. Despite the love and support of a great family and a life filled with opportunities, friends, and amazing people, a hole developed inside of me that could only be filled by numbing out. Lostness and brokenness began to define me. Slowly but surely, that predator settled in with external consequences, but more importantly, tore away at my insides at a soul level without me having realized it. I had good intentions and boundless abilities but could no longer connect those to success.
Through grace and the efforts of my family, I was taken to a treatment program and began to find a new life. Once introduced to recovery, I was able to get the help that I did not even realize I needed so badly. Most importantly, the relationship with my Creator that I had blocked myself from began to be restored and grow. I learned from so many before me that there was a spiritual solution. New chapters in my story began to be written that allowed me to follow the path that others laid out for me into a true relationship with God.
Jesus reminds us in John 12:24, “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” While addiction is without mercy if not arrested, there is great hope in recovery from it. Christ paints the ultimate picture of hope. A life that moves with help from denial and damage into sobriety and solution is filled with grace, hope, and usefulness.
Make no mistake — for those who have found recovery, that bear is still there. It sleeps quietly but is no less dangerous if disturbed. God’s grace, recovery, and the opportunity to pull the next man into the lifeboat can keep that bear at bay. May those who most need it find that path and then share it.
Chris Bates is CEO and co-founder of AgoraEversole a full-service marketing agency in Jackson, and can be reached at Chris@AgoraEversole.com. He and his wife, Stacy, and their children live in Madison.