A greenkeepers life after drink, is blog on the journey of Stuart Butler a former alcoholic on how far he has come and how there is always life after drink. It important to be that we just don’t blog about turf, but also discuss the good, the bad and the ugly of life as a greenkeeper/groundsperson. Over to Stuart.
A picture is worth a thousand words, the end!! Sorry in all seriousness the below picture is my back garden taken on November 20th 2021. The day after l had offered to contribute to a blog to be published in January 2022. The aim of the blog is to offer hope to those struggling with mental health and potentially addiction so below is my story in brief.
TurfCareBlog is of course aimed at the turf industry an industry l have been involved in since 1998 so why not a picture of a mossy lawn. What does that picture mean to you? please just have a think? Jot down three words for me before l explain what the picture means to me.
The Perfectionist that Drives us
Wonky lines, worm casts (if you zoom in), why is he not strimmed the edges and what on earth is he storing in the greenhouse? Just a few thoughts or opinions this one picture might generate. Other minds might point to the falling leaves indicating a change of season and l guess potentially some minds might look skywards and see dark clouds looming. This one picture could mean so many different things to many many people but to me this picture means sobriety and a clear focused mind, let me explain.
It’s midday on a Saturday and my wife and daughter have left me alone at home for the next thirty-six hours while they visit friends up country. Time to relax, put the tv on and catch up with some sport and Xbox. Normal “guy” stuff potentially? Throw in an eight-mile run and mowing the lawn and to me that sounds like an ok Saturday as winter encroaches on the Kent coast.
Whatever is normal now certainly wasn’t four years ago, four years ago l was hurtling towards my own funeral at a rate of knots. My engine was fuelled by vodka and strong cider, my mind was shot and l was lost deep inside the awful illness of alcoholism.
I won’t go deep into my back story, if you want to know my story l will post links to both my blogs and podcast series. The recently recorded podcast series details my story of addiction over twelve episodes currently with a few more in the pipeline.
Using Alcohol to Medicate my Anxiety
A very quick look into my alcoholism is binge drinking for twenty years with alcoholic spells, looking back there are many occasions when under stress and anxiety l turned to the bottle. For periods of weeks or months l drank daily after work and all day at weekends. For one reason or another these periods of sustained alcohol consumption subsided. I never stopped drinking but I did not need to drink every day. That was until l did and that resulted in a hospital admission late December 2017.
I have not drunk since and have no intention to do so ever again, my drinking days finished on the 17/12/17 and my recovery began the next day. In the nearly four years since there have been plenty of ups and downs and along with raising a young daughter, putting a two-storey extension on our house and covid I’ve also battled anxiety.
I’ve battled it while working as a green keeper and l guess l just want all those out there working within the turf profession to know that if you are struggling, please don’t do it in silence and l promise things can and do get better if you seek help.
Outdoor Work can be a Challenge
Now considering I’ve lived in the Czech Republic for one very long winter and the French alps for two ski seasons you might think I like the cold, wrong! I don’t anymore so this time of year brings new battles for me. They are not new battles; l know they are coming. The lack of sunlight that hinders my afternoon runs and makes the morning cycle to work that much more demotivating.
The cold that gets into your bones and makes potentially nice jobs a chore. I don’t build many bunkers nowadays but l have and on a sunny day late autumn or winter the task can be a joy. Throw in freezing temperatures, easterly winds and a drop of rain and now you are praying for the sofa and slippers.
We choose the outdoor lifestyle so can’t complain too much but a harsh winter is hard even on the hardiest turfy, Christmas is a joyous time. If you are lucky enough to have young children those experiences and memories last a lifetime and also if you are lucky enough to not have young children then a week of lay ins, open fires and good food is a rare blessing!
Christmas or not for Greenkeepers
Not for the turfy, half day Christmas Eve and back in for Boxing Day set up. If you are not on a golf course then l assume its Boxing Day fixtures or festive local sports fixtures need preparing for. I remember the jealousy l used to feel as my friends’ offices would shut down for a week over Christmas and the party season kicked in, I would always attend the parties but had to get up the next day. Again, my career is my choice but I remember it did impact the possibility of really enjoying a night out.
Back to now but let’s rewind a to 2017. I would be half a bottle of vodka deep by now (12.50pm) and while merrily drunk the anxiety of running out of alcohol would start to creep in. Mental checklists of stashed booze would be running through my brain, a excel spreadsheet in a sense. An amazing thing but addiction breads these processes, Can l get though the day. Surely l can I’ve got loads of booze but what if l dont? Shall l pop out now just in case?
I have drunk too much, shall l cycle, is that safer of just as bad? I’ll pop to the one village shop, but l bought vodka there on Wednesday oh and last Sunday. They will start to see the pattern and what if someone tells my wife!
There is Hope and Help
That was then, now I’m approaching four years of sobriety and I’m a healthy happy man, l’m far from perfect but my story of recovery can offer hope. Sobriety is not easy and to be honest things had to get a bit worse before they started to get better, but my god it is so much better. I’m still married to my wife; our lives are better for my sobriety and our daughter has started school and I’m committed to my work again.
For nearly a year l have been writing about my recovery and for six months producing podcasts on the subject along with a few other topics. I did not ask for help until it was nearly too late. When l did the NHS, Alcoholics Anonymous, family, friends and colleagues got behind me and supported my every move. They have supported me through the rough and the smooth and I’m forever grateful.
If you are struggling or think someone close to you is reach out, consult your GP. They are amazing people. Ring the Samaritans. Text options are available if, like me, you don’t enjoy talking on the phone.
I’m no expert but l have a lived experience. Whether your a greenkeepers or grounds persons, reach out to me at HWOMTHEPOD@gmail.com and we can exchange numbers and talk via FaceTime, skype or text.
Stu the sober alcoholic to my fellow grounds person and greenkeepers.
Also check out my blog – https://henrywestonsoldmate.wordpress.com/
If your having issues, from money to mental well being check out our friends at Perennial – https://turfcareblog.com/perennial-help-in-hard-times/