Otis started drinking when he was 9. “I held out a long time before I started,” he joked.
His first taste was sampling his uncle’s home-brewed beer when his father asked him to fetch one.
“I was a full-fledged alcoholic by junior high,” he said. “I just loved the buzz.”
His parents, migratory fruit pickers, were constantly on the move. Otis said he attended as many as eight grade schools in his childhood. His parents accepted and normalized his drinking at a young age.
It was during this time he found his passion for music, playing the guitar and banjo.
While Otis said he had a good childhood, he doesn’t remember a single sober weekend in high school.
Down to Florida
After graduating, he married a woman in Idaho. Their relationship was short-lived and he quickly moved to Wyoming and then Florida, working as a carpenter.
When he arrived in Florida he had roughly $6,000 in cash. He woke up one morning in a ditch, “broker than a Georgia convict,” he said.
Following this, he got a job working on a wealthy man’s yacht as a deckhand.
“It was party time on that yacht ’cause he was always gone,” Otis said. “He had a push-button bar that would open up, and it was solid booze on one wall.”
Life was good for Otis. It got even better when he stole the yacht and sailed it to the Bahamas with the captain. When the owner realized what happened, life got significantly worse.
“He said, ‘Otis, I’m giving you your notice.’”
Alcohol gave him permission to do these things and was a factor whenever he would lie, cheat or steal, he said.
Up to Oregon
From Florida, it was on to the discos and bars of Portland.
“I had a really good time in those years, until I reached a point in my life where I got so sick and tired of getting kicked out of bars, I bought one,” he said.
This was part of a six-year period where he would regularly wake up not knowing if it was Tuesday or Sunday.
It wasn’t just drinking anymore either.
“Drugs are free whenever you have booze,” he said.
His drug and alcohol use resulted in him being charged with driving while intoxicated seven times, three within a 30-day period. Willing to take anything, he was “just trying to get out of Otis,” he said.
Eventually, he came to terms with the fact he had a problem. He sold the bar to save his life and began treatment and thought it would be as easy as getting a quick fix, entertaining everyone at the treatment center with his mandolin and walking out.
The employees immediately confiscated his instrument and told him to cut the jokes, that this was serious.
While in treatment, he met a man with one eye sewn shut. Giving in to his curiosity, Otis asked him what happened.
The man told him he didn’t know how he lost his eye; he just woke up without it.
This story moved Otis, motivating him to stay in treatment and stay clean.
And it worked, for six months.
Once out of treatment, he went back to working as a carpenter.
In an interview, his boss commended him for not drinking. However, he also opened a desk drawer revealing a pile of cocaine and asked Otis if he “partook.”
“Well, shoot,” Otis responded, “I’ve been known to partake.”
And for three months, he said, it was “off to the races.”
One weekend, he was late picking up his daughter, showing up two days late on a Sunday. When he did show up, he fainted in front of her.
He woke up to her rubbing his face, saying, “You’re sick, daddy. You’re sick.” That was a turning point.
Otis is now 66 and has been sober for 29 years. He recently became a grandparent, and couldn’t be more enthusiastic about it.
“I’m so happy to be a grandpa. Oh my God, that kid is gonna be spoiled,” he said.
In those 29 years, Otis bought a lodge and followed his dream of being an outfitter and guide, has been married for 18 years and still finds time to play a little music.
“I couldn’t even look in the mirror and look in my own eyes before I got sober,” he said. “I’m doing really good right now, and I just feel fantastic.”