The past three years have been such a roller coaster for me, from a lawsuit with an AMC to going into rehab for alcoholism and getting sober, running an appraisal business with absolutely no knowledge on how to run a business, its enough to make anyone go crazy and wonder just where and when life will become normal again. Then again, was my life ever normal, to begin with?

This past week my wife and I took a trip to go camping for 4.5 days at Cades Cove in the Great Smokey Mountains. If you have never been or have thought about visiting the mountains, I highly suggest camping in Cades Cove. Now I have been on many vacations in my life, but this was the first time I went completely off the grid. No Cell Phone reception, no internet, no contact with the outside world, and let me tell you that having none of these luxuries made for the most fantastic trip EVER—just us with nature and fellow campers. We didn’t have an RV; we tent camped (see our set up below) the entire time and loved every minute of it.

So what made this so unique? Everything. It was an opportunity for me to spend time with my wife on vacation, completely sober for over one year. While we have gone away during my sobriety, we usually spent it with other family members. Secondly, we had no outside noise. No emails about business, no calls, no Facebook or Instagram, and no news about what was happening in this world around us. Just us listening to other campers talk, their kids playing and riding bikes, watching grandparents and their grandkids enjoying time together, hearing all the sounds of nature at work, and most of all, zero distractions preventing us from spending time together. It also allowed me to do something I haven’t ever been able to do in my life… Think with clarity and peacefulness.

Laying in my hammock, looking up at the trees and the sky, I was able to reflect on the past couple of years. In the background, a little boy was yelling for grandpa to watch him speed along the road on his bike while my neighbors to the left of us were out, making a fire to cook dinner and playing with their two kids. The sounds of crickets, birds, and people laughing had me in a trance. Typically my ADHD mind is all over the place, and I’m constantly checking my phone for something; however, with no phone and just my thoughts, I found that my mind was very relaxed and ideas were straightforward to concentrate on. As I laid there in that hammock reflecting on the past, I realized that the past was just that…the past and that everything that has happened to me up to this point needed to be packed away and put on the shelf. After all, here I am, in one of the most memorable and peaceful places on this earth with my wife, sober, present, and for the first time, in forever enjoying my life. There is no need to think about the past. It was that moment I realized that I am blessed to be where I am today, and it’s tomorrow that I want to be better than today. I was thinking about my future, where I wanted to take my writings, my podcast, my business and most of all my life. It’s like a switch went off inside me, and as I looked over at my wife in her hammock asleep, I felt a wave of positive and happy emotion run through me. I am one lucky man considering all I have been through and all I have put my wife through. It was here at this moment I realized that my focus needed to be put towards something bigger than myself… It needed to go towards my wife, our relationship, and our FUTURE. My past… It’s on the shelf.

Hammock Time

During this time at Cades Cove, we got to experience nature in its finest moments. We took an 8-mile bike ride through the Cove, walked in a small stream of untouched water; while driving the loop, we got to see 8 Black Bears in the wild and trees feeding, 2 Coyotes, a ton of wild turkeys, and even got to see a mother deer frantically looking for her baby only to be reunited and see that baby deer feed off her mama.

Cades Cove Black Bear

On this trip, the highlight was taking a drive at 4:30 am from our campsite to Clingmans Dome, the highest point in the Smokey Mountains at 6643 feet up. The drive was dark and quite scary at times with the winding roads. We got to our destination; we took a .50 mile hike up a 45 Degree incline to the Dome to watch a sunrise take place over the Smokey Mountains. For me, this was a significant moment. First, seeing the sunrise’s beauty from this point signified a brand new day to enjoy my life. I wasn’t hungover or feeling terrible ( although the trek up the hill had my calves on fire)—my first actual brand new day Sober and enjoying what I have in front of me. Not a single thought about work, business, and what was going on in the outside world entered my mind. Secondly and most important was seeing the pure joy of my wife taking pictures non stop. Seriously. I think she took like 300 pictures that morning from every standpoint she could, but I knew this was something she will never forget. I made this happen, and I’m so glad I did.

Clingmans Dome Sunrise

I am a Real Estate Appraiser. I value homes every day. It’s time to value my life, my wife, my family, and the moments that will forever be etched into our lives. Being a Real Estate Appraiser is what I do for work. It’s not who I am. Work will always be there for me. Clients will come and go. Moments like these are priceless. I asked at the beginning of this blog if my life was ever normal. The answer: My life has always been normal. It comes with challenges and bumps in the road; however, it’s what you make of it after all that, how you learn from your mistakes, how you apply what you’ve learned and how you move forward that matters. After this trip, I don’t want to be normal. I want to be exceptional to myself, my business, my clients, and most of all, my wife.

The Smokey Mountains are a place of pure beauty and peacefulness. You can learn a lot from just being there about yourself and just how simple life can be if you choose to take it all in. Life is hard; it will come at you in ways you never expected it to; however, if you just put down the phone, the internet, and take away the outside noise, you may only find yourself at peace.

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