In 1993, a group of teenagers from the local Alano Society invited me to come with them to something called “Gopher State.” It was in a hotel and there were a lot of people I didn’t know, and I didn’t really understand why I was there, so shortly after arriving, I left and walked four miles back to my childhood home.
At the time, I just figured that was something people from Alano societies did, gather in big groups in hotels. I thought of it as a sober kegger with root beer instead of booze. I really had no concept of any of the recovery programs that were offered at Alano societies. I went to meetings because my friends went there, and we got pizza afterwards. I can’t recall feeling or thinking much of anything during this time frame, given that I was only thirteen years old, I didn’t fully understand that my current situation had pointed me in the direction of future crushing desperation.
In 1996, I had been more formally introduced to recovery by external influences. I was sixteen years old and thought of my sobriety as something conditional. I would be sober until I could drink again. But I was having consequences and thought I’d give recovery a chance, you know in case I really needed it later in life.
Most of my early life’s memories are clouded with a heavy shadow that distorts time. I would make a terrible historian as my dates blend together and events merge together as time passes. With that being said, I have some crystal-clear memories of the early days of Gopher State. I remember the mushroom cloud of cigarette smoke in the main room that was lined with recovery groups from around the twin cities. I remember there were only a few places one could go to, to escape the smoke. I remember the wild debates about making the main speaker rooms smoke free.
In the nineties, the rules were loose and the party at Gopher State was wild. One year a piano ended up in the pool. Another, there was a fire in one of the suites that was serving food. What started as a few hundred people grew year after year. I remember where I was standing when they announced one Sunday afternoon during Gopher State Weekend that there had been three thousand people who attended. I couldn’t believe there were that many people who would choose to come hang-out in a sober environment for Memorial day weekend.
Over the next two decades, my sobriety was sometimes intermittent, but I always made it to Gopher State. Sometimes I didn’t have money to get in and would volunteer for some minimal tasks and this would “pay my way”. Then there were the few years when I worked at the hotel that hosted it and hotel management would give me a suite so I could watch the speakers talk about their recovery without “feeling embarrassed” that someone might see me.
One year I was on a committee that hosted a “hospitality suite.” Another year I was in charge of the food, which comprised of nothing more than telling everyone to bring something to share. Another year, the committee responsible for planning collectively quit and our alano’s presence was sparse. Then there was the year when a sponsee of mine died in route. And the year that several members from the same group found themselves drunk at the bar.
Time passes with or without my participation. For thirty years, Gopher State has been a way for me to participate. At least once a year, I make time to sit and chit-chat with my fellow sober alcoholics. More importantly, it is a time to reflect on my sober life and sit with gratitude that I was one of the lucky ones that was granted a reprieve from certain alcoholic demise.
In 2019, a group I was attending at the time volunteered to serve food in a room at Gopher State and I helped out. I had a toddler to get home to so my time there was short and uneventful. I didn’t think anything of it at the time but looking back, that was the last time I saw many of my elderly friends as Covid was lurking and in the end, it claimed a fair number of them. Another reminder that life, and death, goes on with or without my participation.
This year, the stage was set for a fun-filled weekend. We had a hotel suite booked for both nights of the round up and the bonus of our kids going to sleep over at a friend’s house the first night, giving my husband and I time to socialize and mingle uninterrupted. We expected to recapture some of the fun we’ve had in previous years, but as time has taught me, expectations are nothing more than premediated resentments.
By the time we arrived at the hotel and got checked in, I was beyond tired. We decided to watch the speaker in our room, lying on the bed fully clothed, and within minutes I fell fast asleep. Waking up before the speaker was finished, I was now tired and grumpy. I had no desire to do anything and just wanted to go home and sleep in my own bed. Luckily, my husband agreed as sleepiness was also upon him. Although we had the best of intentions of socializing with people we hadn’t seen in years, it didn’t take much to justify abandoning the event and going home to sleep.
This morning was met with tired eyes as we had to pick up our children and bring them to soccer. Nothing went as it should have, and both kids were unenthused about any sort of physical activity. After our kids fled soccer practice before it was complete, we decided to set our sights on Gopher State once again and try to go and connect with our fellows. With some light bribery and the promise of unlimited snacks, we were able to convince our kids to come willingly to the round-up.
We planned ahead and brought noise canceling headphones for our son, who has sensory issues, and thought we had a good plan of picking up some food from the hospitality rooms and then going to eat said food in our own hotel room. As one could guess, nothing is as simple as it should be when young children are involved. Our son quickly became over stimulated, and our daughter’s hunger was no match for her pickiness which left her in a perpetual state of insatiable hunger.
We saw people we wanted to chat with but to do so was next to impossible. We finally made it to our room to listen to the speaker and once again, we both promptly fell asleep. Thankfully, the kids don’t understand commercials since we don’t watch TV at home and were both glued to the TV, so my husband and I were able to steal a few winks of rest. But all good things must eventually come to an end, and we were awoken with pleas for more food. We decided to go to a nearby restaurant which brought with it a whole new set of chaotic issues.
After food, we decided that we would split the load and I would take our son back home and my husband would stay at the hotel with our daughter. A reasonable way to navigate a complex situation.
My husband just sent a video of our daughter and him cheerfully in the midst of the activities. I’m happy they are happy and that they are able to participate. However, my first reaction was one of jealousy, as I am home writing a blog when I could be at the biggest sober party of the year. But jealousy is fleeting and is easily displaced with gratitude.
There was a moment this afternoon when I could watch my son’s world shut down. He was over stimulated but really trying to participate. He had his headphones on but was still trying to engage. Then we ran into some friends that we were eager to talk to and the noise escalated. Our son retreated and sat down on the dirty floor and rocked for a moment, before I left my conversation to check in. Our daughter followed me and required a bit of attention. Then within the span of what couldn’t have been more than few seconds, our son went from slightly overwhelmed to curled up in a ball in the corner of the room behind the bed. It’s terrible to watch your child suffer but what a gift it is that I am able to be fully present and that only seconds passed before he was safe in my arms, and we were working on how to accommodate his needs for the rest of the evening.
Since we’ve been home, our son has cleaned his room, played “superheroes” and is currently very focused on building in his Lego city. He is very happy and calm. There is no doubt in my mind that coming home was the right thing to do. Gopher State has been so many things for me over the years. This year, it served as a reminder of where I’ve been and how it was all necessary to become the mother, wife, friend, daughter, and sister that I am today.
Today, I chose to live with the solution instead of lamenting over the problem. I chose to live in gratitude over manufactured misery. I accept that I cannot recapture the fun of times past because that would rob me of the present moment and the present is all any of us truly have. Tonight, as soon as this blog is posted, I’m going to quietly watch tv with my son in our pajamas and there is no where else I rather be.