Life on the Mountain - Michael Rocke
The spring after my DUI I was sucking pond water. My depression was in overdrive. My coping mechanism of alcohol was taken away from me and I was left with a huge void. I was miserable. I needed a release. A shot or two here and there wouldn’t get me in trouble with the courts right? What a dumbass. After about a month of fooling myself and not the system, I failed a urinalysis and was put on a alcohol monitoring ankle bracelet. What had I become? Whatever it was, it was running me into the ground. I needed a coping mechanism that was healthy. I wasn’t a skier or a mountain biker. I played paintball but that was 100 miles away for a safe game with the things you needed for a day’s outing.
One day it came out of the blue. I was watching Joe Rogan on YouTube. This was just some of the standup that he had done. In the suggestions was a podcast with Cameron Hanes. Podcasts were lame to me. I couldn’t understand the entertainment value of them at the time, but the description said bowhunter and my buddy was just talking about how I should be out there this year looking for elk. So I put the episode on. Listening to these guys talk about the rush of bowhunting in my backyard had me fascinated. Backcountry hunting seemed like painful camping to me. Not the sit in tree stand hunting I was used to. Who are these guys? What was the big deal with archery and elk? I was about to dive head first in to find out.
I didn’t know how much archery would change me. Hours were spent looking online. I was a sponge. Things had changed from what I remembered bowhunting was. I looked into everything I needed and bought a bow off EBay. The used bow I bought never arrived, so I got my money back and ordered another. The seller was a real jerk, so I didn’t feel so bad when the replacement I ordered came and then his did. Same thing happened with targets. One didn’t show, got refund and ordered another, and then the original showed up. Someone out there wanted to make it known I needed to shoot a bow.
By the time everything arrived I had drawn and let down the bow 100 times. My friend was very experienced with archery and double checked my draw length and form before I even let an arrow go. I backed up about 10 yards, stood comfortably, and drew back. I wasn’t sure if I held the shot two seconds or 10 but the release came quick. The shot hit high left of center and was happy I didn’t smack my arm like my buddy warned me about. I drew for a second time and relaxed a bit more. I wasn’t really conscious of anything else but where I was putting the pin. I know I punched the shot the second time but I managed to put the arrow on top of the first.
The sudden release of endorphins was far greater than I had ever gotten from any drug or drink. The connection between mind and body subconsciously thru archery was something that became very addicting to me almost immediately. People with substance abuse issues tend to gravitate to other things to get that release. Booze to pills or weed to cocaine. I had never felt this rush from something so natural before in my life. I would get up early and shoot from my slider with my morning coffee. I found out early on if you wanted to be good there was no such thing as a couple beers while you shoot your bow. That just would lead to bad shots and lost arrows.
This was what I was looking for. A healthy coping mechanism that would help me live a healthier life. All the demons go away when you nock an arrow. No relationship issues. No issues with work or how little of it I had. No worrying about what was going on in the world. The focus of archery allowed me to get out of my own head for a while. I knew it wasn’t going to fix all of my issues, but anything that gave me a positive feeling that wasn’t induced by alcohol was priceless at that point in my life. I was starting to want to change.
Unfortunately, I didn’t change. I kept it up. My mind was getting better thru therapy and the outdoors. My use of alcohol grew all day every day. Only a binge that totally made me sick the next day would make me take a day off from drinking. I was running a cleaning business with my wife and we could do whatever we wanted. I managed to get off of probation in the spring of 2019. I figured I had it figured out. I figured wrong. It took my first attempt in the elk woods to realize how physically and mental unhealthy I was.
My 30 year best friend from Massachusetts was in Colorado. That’s how I ended up there in the first place. I remember him saying. “Are you going to fucking die bro? If you do, can I have this bow?’ As he stood over me holding my bow and I puked my brains out. I practiced and trained for that first hunt. I wasn’t a Cam Hanes but I wasn’t T-Bone either. It was the beating I was putting on my body from the inside that was kicking my ass. By the time I dumped my gear at base camp I was considering being a target archer. I had never slept so good as I did that night under the Colorado sky. The next 3 days we probably covered 25 miles. I was exhilarated and exhausted. We only saw a nice mule deer and a ton sign, but that time out there made me realize something. It made me realize how much living I was missing. It made me realize how much I was sedating myself to get thru life when it wasn’t a life I wanted to live. I was unhappy with myself, my marriage, my career, and my direction. I was a broken arrow and the next turn my life would take every bit of strength that I didn’t leave on the mountain.