I have never been much of a beer drinker. When I turned 18. which was the drinking age in Michigan in 1972, I bought a six-pack of Stroh’s (for $1.55) just because I could. I don’t even think I drank it all. In college, I drank a decent amount of beer on Saturday nights after the Michigan football games. I didn’t care much for the beer but it was the thing to do. Many of my marching band fraternity brothers and sorority sisters would go to Bimbos for pizza and beer. We would hang out until closing time and I often would play the cymbals using pizza tins as we sang The Star Spangled Banner. TV stations used to play it when they went off the air at night so I guess we felt it was the thing to do when the bar closed.
In the first couple of months of 1998, I was fighting but losing my battle with depression. Like a dark shadow on my soul and in my mind, it began to slowly take over. During this time, I had to go to California on a business trip and my wife joined me. One evening, we went out to dinner at a place called the Rock Bottom Brewery. I had never heard of it and didn’t even know that there was one near us in Atlanta. The only thing I remember about the evening was that they sold baseball caps and t-shirts and I thought it would be fitting for me to have a souvenir of our dinner given my situation. I didn’t buy one, nor had I hit rock bottom. It wasn’t long after our return home that I turned completely inward and isolated myself from my family and most of the outside world. When I hit rock bottom, I hit it hard.
On the first night of our visit to NYC last Thursday night, my wife and I went to the top of the Empire State Building. After checking out the 86th and 102nd floor (and, of course, the gift shop), we made our descent and decided on a late evening dinner. We chose a convenient place called The Heartland Brewery, a restaurant at street level of the ESB. After being seated, I noticed a sign showing locally-brewed selections. One of them stood out to me immediately. It was called Grateful Red Lager.
What a journey I have had, from hitting the rock bottom of mental illness to enjoying a life filled with gratefulness! It has been almost 19 years since that evening at Rock Bottom. In those 19 years, I’ve navigated my way through 13 jobs as well as a few part-time positions. Pretty resilient, don’t you think? I’ve run a marathon, sold our house and downsized, joined a wind symphony, proudly watched all four of my children get married and start their adult lives, and become a grandfather. But, most importantly, my wife and I will be celebrating our 40th wedding anniversary next year.
I can think of only one good thing that happened as a result of hitting rock bottom. I am so much more aware of the gifts in my life and so much more grateful for each and every day. I am looking forward to more good things in the year to come.