No Regrets for a Redneck Russian

Every successfully recovering alcoholic knows that we should never revel in the ‘glory days’ of our addiction, and I won’t. But we do get homesick for what was real and good. Just because we are not our best selves and living up to our potential does not mean that there weren’t genuine good times and love amid the chaos.

This is about one of those times.


It’s a cool, spring morning.  I feed our horses and then steal a moment of serenity for myself.  As I look across the valley below our high desert home, I whisper the abbreviated prayer that I say when it’s getting late and I should be off to work.  “Thank you,” I say, “It’s a paradise that I can’t deserve.”

But something…

Horses, snow, Tag & Duchess, pannellbytes, Duane Pannell, mountains, Redneck Russian

Maybe it’s my inner redneck.  I look at the still heavy snow on the Colorado and Utah mountains and think how warm it must be in Savannah.  Warm enough I’ll bet, to put the boat in and spend the night fishing without getting too cold.

One thought leads to another and I soon find myself 30 years back in time.

My brother-in-law Darryl was an avid fisherman.  Up until we started fishing together, the only things we really had in common was, I was married to his sister, and we both liked to get, fishing, two guys, river, pannellbytes, Duane Pannell, Redneck Russian

It was a little past noon on a Friday when Darryl showed up at my job.  We had planned to go fishing for the weekend, but I hadn’t expected him to show up that early.  “Let’s go,” he said, “I told ‘em you had a family emergency and need to get off early.”

We walked back through the big warehouse and into the office area, making our way to the front door.  My boss stepped out of her office and wished me well, “I hope everything turns out okay,” she said.

“Yes ma’am,” I said, trying to look sorrowful…or disturbed.  I wasn’t quite sure how to look since my ticket out had not yet been revealed to me.

I don’t know what concerned me more; that Darryl had told my boss that my mother was at the hospital, about to have emergency surgery, or that he had parked the truck directly in front of the building with a boat full of coolers and fishing gear.

“You worry too much,” he said, “They’ll forget all about this by Monday.”

It wasn’t true, of course.  People asked me how my mother was doing for six months after that.  I had to lie my way through her follow-up visits and physical therapy.  I really was a bit of a worrier, but still managed to turn her fake medical condition into at least half a dozen more fishing trips.  Darryl didn’t have such inhibitions.  Rumor had it that he hadn’t been to work on a Friday in several years.

When he put that truck in gear he started talking about fishing.  Darryl was selling and I was buying, and any concern that I had about my job was soon a faded memory.  I had the attention span of a gnat.

But his passion!

Darryl could’ve been driving me to my doom and I would willing go.  It was his way.  It didn’t have to be about fishing.  No matter what we were about to do, he could convince me that I was about to have the time of my life doing it.  Lucky for me his idea of good times was not anything too illegal.  Hunting, fishing, and sleeping under the stars was all he ever really wanted out of life and everything else was just the necessary drudgery that got you to the next trip.

Darryl was a terrible driver.  That’s not an insult; he knew he was a terrible driver.  He turned and looked at me and with a mischievous grin and said, “You know what…?”

Before he finished what he was about to say the truck went off the pavement and slid in the gravel.  He had a bad habit of driving in the direction he was looking.  He got us back up on the pavement and swerved a nice serpentine pattern along both sides of the two-lane until he could regain control.  Lucky for us there was no other traffic.

“Dude!  Dang it!”  I said as I arched my body off the seat.  I had spilled half a beer and it made a nice puddle beneath me.

Darryl laughed but hadn’t really changed expressions.  He continued talking as if nothing had happened. “You know how you drive along one of these old rural highways and you see a locked gate?  And you know that the road that leads off into the woods on the other side of that gate—how you know it goes somewhere good but you ain’t got the key?”

“Yeah, ” I said as I sat back down in the cool puddle of beer.

“Well, today we got the key!  Braswell’s gonna take us to a black water lake up here that hasn’t been fished since 1949 and it’s just full of lunker bass!”

Mike Braswell was a guy that Darryl worked with and I had never met him.

“Hey!  You know what would be funny?” Darryl asked.

“What’s that?”

“Let’s pretend like you’re new to the country and don’t speak very good English.  See how long it takes Braswell to figure it out” he laughed.

I can be just as immature as the next guy and thought it to be an excellent prank.  We played around with a few voices, and although my fake Japanese was far superior to any of my other voices, we settled on fake Russian.  I could do the voice, but no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t fake looking like I was Japanese.

We met up with Braswell and followed him out to the lake.  It was so beautiful there.  It ‘looked’ fishy.  Big, moss-covered cypress trees growing throughout the lake; gators, snakes, frogs, and mosquitos.  It was paradise.

cypress gardens, south carolina, alligator, swamp, pannellbytes, Duane Pannell, Redneck Russian

We put the boat in the water right away.  Braswell and brother Darryl were giving me pointers as we fished.  Darryl was giving me pointers because I’m a city boy; Braswell because I was Russian.

I played the part well and I totally had him on the hook, but every now and then Darryl would get tickled.  He would burst out laughing, and just when I thought he had ruined the joke, he’d turn to Braswell and chastise him, “Don’t make fun of him, man!  He’s not from around here!”

Georgia, jon boat, michael braswell, pannellbytes, Duane Pannell, fishing, Redneck RussianBraswell, the good-natured guy that he was, would apologize—leaving me to keep my composure.  And so it went, into the evening.  Fishing, drinking and being Russian.  Oddly enough, the more beer we drank, the more convincing my character became.

I’ve seen a lot of evenings pass away, but none like the reflection of a Georgia sunset on that pretty black water.  We caught several bass and even got a glimpse of some wild pigs running through the swamp.  A couple hours after dark we sat around a campfire on the bank and roasted some hot dogs and told lies.

We all told lies, but in fairness, I had to tell lies—I was a fake Russian.

The night might have been quiet, but for a Lynyrd Skynyrd cassette playing over and over again in the truck.  I think Braswell went out in the night to cast a few times, but we were all mostly asleep after midnight.

The other guys were stretched out across the front seats of the trucks, but I awoke with a cold dew on my face right at sunrise, laying in the bed of one of the trucks.  The hangovers don’t last long when you drink beer for breakfast, and with no one around to tell us not to, that’s just what we did.

crappies, mississippi, fishing, pannellbytes, Duane Pannell, Redneck Russian

It was hard to keep being Russian while all that nature was making life so sweet and real, but I maintained character.  It was around lunchtime when Braswell suggested that we take our stringer of fish and cash them in at a market in town.  This began our longstanding tradition of cashing in our Saturday afternoon catch.  We called them ‘Liquor Fish’.

I elected to stay back and let them go to town without me. “Go comrades.  I am to fish, and possibly take nap,” I said in excellent broken English.

We pulled the aluminum jon boat up to the spillway and we all got out.  When they got into the truck and pulled away, I decided to go back to the boat and resume fishing.  It may have been the hot sun, or it might’ve been the beer, but somehow I misjudged my step into the boat.

The boat tipped, and when it did, it immediately gulped up about 30 gallons of water.  I don’t know what happened next—the whole thing is a bit of a blur, but in my panic I…well, I sunk the boat.

It might not have been so bad if I hadn’t, in my own efficient way, taken the time to untie the boat before trying to get in. As it was, I had no idea how deep the water was at the spillway. I could only guess that it was much deeper than we would be able to salvage if I let it go.

iron rod, hand, hold to the rod, fishing, pannellbytes, Duane Pannell, Russian Redneck

So there I hung.  One arm gripping an iron rod on the spillway; the other arm trying to gather all the gear that was floating away. And down below the water’s surface, between my legs, was our boat.  I wasn’t entirely sober, but I was doing some serious cipherin’.  Those guys had just pulled away from our camp and would be going to Adrian, several miles away; selling fish; buying liquor; driving back.

‘I will probably drown way before they get back,’ I thought.

It was hot, but I wasn’t in direct sunlight.  I was holding on to the most important stuff.  A couple of coolers and a big tackle box were floating nearby.  If I could just hold on until they got back, this whole situation could easily be rectified.

My face was all sweaty and I was feeling kind of sleepy.  I dipped my face down in the cool water in an attempt to get my bearings.  I had no sense of time.  I tried singing songs to distract myself, but the stress of holding on was apparent in my voice and made me feel even weaker.  My legs were really cramping from holding the boat.

Just when I thought that I could hold on no longer, I saw the truck! I started screaming for help!  They heard me right away and came running. 

“The boat!  It’s down here!” I said, as they were grabbing the gear.  I got a bit of an adrenaline rush and between the three of us we managed to save most everything, even the boat. When the danger had passed and relief set in, we were on the ground laughing.

“So…were there pirates?” Darryl asked.

“No.  No pirates…”

“Were you trying to hide the boat from us?

I expected that I would probably never live down the day that I sunk the boat, but I was too relieved to care.  They continued to give me a hard time about it for a few minutes when Braswell got a real serious look on his face.

“You know what I noticed?” he said.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“I noticed that you speak perfect English when you’re about to drown.  That’s what I noticed.”

Darryl and I had forgotten about our little prank and we all had a good laugh.


I hate that I can’t remember the details of all the adventures I had with Darryl and my good friend Michael Braswell.  We parted ways long ago.  I left Georgia in ’88 and never went back.  I quit getting high and drinking in 1990 and my life changed so much for the better.  If it were possible to separate out the bad from what was good, I would sure love the chance to go back.

But in a way, this week I did go back.  Thanks to modern technology and Facebook,  I reconnected with Braswell.  He’s had some medical issues recently, and maybe he’s feeling his mortality.  I woke up to a message from him that said, “If you ever come to Georgia, the place on the Ohoopee would really like to see you again.”

Braswell Lake, Georgia, sunset, pannellbytes, Duane Pannell, Redneck Russian

I told him, “Dude, you’re gonna make me cry. I tell my wife and my little boy about the black water and the cypress trees, the alligators and the HUGE crappie, and what I can remember of my adventures with Darryl and Michael in the south Georgia wilderness. It seems like a million years ago and my life is so different now. I only wish I could be there with you guys again…sober.”

Braswell told me that 12 years ago he got sober, and he’d love to have me come down.

“Darryl finally got sober, too.  October before last,” he said.

I guess that’s why this story has been on my mind all week.  Our dear friend Darryl passed away in October of 2014.

It’s not smart to have regrets.

We all need our struggles to be who God wants us to be.  And I do love my life as it is today.  But what a sweet thought it is to me, to think of what it might be like to spend a day at that beautiful lake in Georgia.


With my good friends.

~Duane Pannell, co-author of 3,000 Miles To Eternity: A True Internet Love Story

Forgiveness: For Mental Health and Sobriety

Many of the things that I had to learn to overcome addiction were foreign to my nature as an addict.  Chief among these was the ability to forgive.

…and [Jesus] taught them, saying…

“But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you…”  (Mathew 5:2 and 44)

My first year of sobriety was a strange new adventure.  I had managed to graduate from preteen, to teenager, to young adult, and then to adulthood without ever really facing life’s challenges sober.  I appeared to be a 30 year old man on the outside, but on the inside was an excitable 12 year old, spontaneous and passionate.

I took a job with a local man that owned his own truck.  He hauled explosives and ammunition for the government and he needed a co-driver.  I had to be certified to handle sensitive materials and we were required to be armed.  Al, my new boss, paid for my training and background check and provided for my food and hotels.  Within a few weeks we were on the road.

semi truck at night; forgiveness

I was to be paid a percentage of our contracts.  He showed me his previous year’s settlements and I was looking forward to making a higher than average income driving a truck.

We had not been out on our first run for very long when I started to suspect that Big Al was an alcoholic.  Every hotel that we stayed in had a bar, and it appeared that he knew the location of every strip club on the eastern seaboard.  Being around Al and some of his antics was not a trigger for my delicate sobriety. It was actually the opposite.  His obnoxious behavior seemed to strengthen my resolve to stay sober.

One day, as Al was driving, he reached over to my side of the cab and grabbed the book I was reading right out of my hand.

“Whatcha readin’ there, Hot Shot?” he said.  Al was about 30 years older than me and never called me by my given name.

“It’s the Bible.  Hand it back,” I said.

“Why are ya readin’ that for?” he said, as he reached back across the cab.

“Just am,” I said. “Didn’t think it would be an issue.”

“Well, it’s no issue. I was just wonderin’.”

I had been reading the Bible as part of my journey to sobriety.  I don’t know that I was embarrassed to be reading the Bible, but I wasn’t prepared to make a big deal out of it.

We rode in silence for a few minutes.

“You know, all judges are going to hell,” Al said with his most authoritative voice.

It took a moment to register.  I wasn’t sure that I heard him correctly.  “What?”  I said.  “Wait…what?”

“That’s right.  All of ‘em.  District court judges, State Court judges, Supreme Court judges.  All the judges.”

I was staring at Al in disbelief.  He took his eyes from the road for a moment and said, “Judge not!  Lest I judge you!  It’s right there in the Bible.”

“Al, I don’t think it means…”

“In fact,” Al interrupted, “If you go by that book, there’s just about nothing you can do to avoid goin’ to hell.  Tell a lie…go to hell.  Shoplift a box of animal crackers…go to hell.  Have sex…BOOM, go to hell.  We’re all goin’ to hell.  That’s why I say ‘just live like ya want, cause you’re just going to end up in hell.”

Sadly, that was not the dumbest discussion that I ever had with Big Al.  He would argue until my head hurt, so maybe it was not such a bad thing that our relationship was short-lived.

I had worked a full six weeks and the day had finally arrived to get my first paycheck.  We were standing outside Al’s apartment when he handed me the check.  I should have known there was a problem when his wife made an excuse and left.

“Three hundred dollars?!” I said. “Is this a joke?!”Man smoking cigar on Pannellbytes forgiveness blog post

“Yeah, I’m real sorry about that,” he said, “I had some unexpected expenses; bringing you on cost me some overhead.  I’m sure we’ll do better next month.”

“I don’t care about your expenses!  You said I would be paid ten percent of gross!”

Al just stood there.  “Sorry, but that’s all I got.”

“This ain’t over!”  I said, as I ripped up the check and threw it in the direction of his face.  “I put up with a lot of crap and I worked hard…this ain’t over!”  I turned and walked away, fuming.

I didn’t know what to do.  I was mad enough to kill and sad enough to cry.  Al’s drinking and hanging around clubs had never been a challenge to my sobriety, but suddenly I could feel a battle waging for my very soul.  All I could think of was revenge.

I’ll bet his wife would be interested in knowing about all the money he spends on strippers.

I’ll bet the feds wouldn’t be happy if they knew that Al was flipping his placards and driving high explosives through tunnels and over restricted bridges.

I also thought of vandalizing his truck and his apartment.  Maybe even doing something to his cat.  Stupid cat.

Smug cat on Pannellbytes forgiveness blog post

I didn’t know how to cope with what had happened.  I parked my car in town and started walking around.  I was rehearsing the event in my head over and over again.  I thought of the money I owed to other people and my bills.  I had promised to give my ex-wife money for our kids.  I cursed myself for throwing that money back in his face; it was money in my hand and I let my emotions rule me.  I had to act, but I didn’t know what I would do.

Hours passed and I resisted the desire to drink or get high.  I made the decision to go to a Narcotics Anonymous meeting.  I knew that, if nothing else, I could vent my frustrations and maybe find some relief.  It was a good decision.  I found peace there and was able to see sympathetic faces.  When the meeting ended I felt a little better, but there was still no plan for how I would get satisfaction.

A young man that I knew approached me before I got in my car to leave and he said, “So what are you going to do?”

“I don’t know,” I said, “Slash his tires?”

He laughed. “Yeah, you could probably do that.

Would you be open to a spiritual solution?”

“I’m open to having God smite him, if that’s what you mean.”

He laughed again.  “It’s an old AA trick.  Every day for the next two weeks I want you to pray for this man that cheated you.  Get down on your knees and literally pray that he has all the blessings that you can think of.  Even if you can’t feel anything, say the words.  Do you think you can do that?”

“I think I liked my solution better,” I said.

“It’s like this, my friend. You are going to hold onto this resentment and it’s going to grow.  It will eat at you like cancer.  That old trucker will be long gone with your money and never give you a second thought. Meanwhile, your hate will affect your very quality of life.  And then one day, do you know what’s going to happen?” he asked.


One day you’re going to drink or take drugs to get even with him.  It doesn’t make sense, but that’s what addicts do.”

I thanked my friend and went home.  In the coming weeks I knelt down twice a day and I prayed for Big Al.  Admittedly, I was not as sincere with my prayers as I should have been, but I did as my friend suggested and just said the words.

God,Praying man on Pannellbytes forgiveness blog post

Please bless Al.  Bless him to win the lottery.  Bless him to get dates with supermodels.  Bless him that his cat lives to a ripe old age.


After a little time I got better at it.

Dear God,

Please bless Al.  Bless him with good health and a happy marriage.  Bless him that he can make a success of his business.


I don’t know if I went the full two weeks.  I forgot all about Big Al; that is, until three years later.  I was sitting at an intersection in town waiting for the light to change.  I looked at the car to my right and it was Al!  I immediately blew the horn at him and waved.  When Al saw me, his eyes got big and whoosh!  He ran the red light

Al remembered the money he owed me and fled, but I had peace.  My very first thought, when I saw him was of our talk about religion that day.  I had learned a lot over the past few years and I had answers for his questions; good and positive things to share with him.  The prayer exercise had worked.  The hate had been removed from me and I was well off.

Jesus’ command to ‘turn the other cheek’ and to ‘bless our enemies’ may result in softening the hearts of those who hurt us, but that is not a guarantee.  This command is for all of us who wish to live without anger and bitterness. To live in peace.Broken log pieces make peace sign on Pannellbytes forgiveness blog post

Living sober is greater than just abstinence.  Practicing forgiveness relieved me of an agitation and a stress that I had lived with my whole life.  Forsaking resentment took away a portion of power that addiction had over me and has allowed me to have true sobriety.

~Duane Pannell, co-author of 3,000 Miles To Eternity: A True Internet Love Story


Addicts 101: 5 Tips for Earthlings

For most of the past 25 years, I have been actively engaged in an activity called Step 12.  It’s from Alcoholics Anonymous and it reads:

Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

This is the way that people who are successfully recovering from addiction pay it forward.  We recognize that a power greater than ourselves has delivered us from a place of total darkness, to a place of ever-increasing light and true happiness.  It is through helping others that we strengthen our resolve and our allegiance to sobriety.  Understanding and practicing this principle is so important to me.  It means keeping my sobriety.

I was in my second year of being clean and sober when I began to realize that I had the ability to actually help people suffering with addiction.  Local church leadership knew that I was a recovering addict and would call on me to visit with people requesting help with addicted loved ones.  I went to homes, hospitals, and jails and shared my experience, faith and hope.  While I was going to school and studying psychotherapy and counseling skills, it was a wonderful revelation that I had at this time that I did not need to be a professional therapist to guide people to recovery.  I became aware that all I needed to do, for my part, was to encourage the person who was suffering to get help and then volunteer to introduce them to the local fellowships.  The first couple of meetings are the most difficult, so I would go with them.

…the therapeutic value of one addict helping another is without parallel. –

Narcotics Anonymous

It is my hope that all of my friends who are in recovery will read this post and will be encouraged by what I have said so far about helping others; being a mentor or a sponsor.  Now, as I switch gears, I don’t want to lose my audience with you as I talk more directly to the Earthlings.

Who are the Earthlings?  Earthlings always ask that.  In the great big world there are people who are prone to addiction and others who are not.  Earthlings will often observe an addict’s destructive behavior and ask, “Why does he do that?”

The addict, on the other hand, will observe the Earthling as they suffer their trials without drugs or alcohol and ask, “Why does he do that?”

It’s not a derogatory term. I LOVE THE EARTHLINGS!  Selena is my sweetest friend and she’s an Earthling. Sometimes though, the addicts and the Earthlings simply do not understand one another.  Whenever I can, I like to reach out to the Earthlings, sort of like a diplomat—maybe I’m an Addict Ambassador.

Occasionally someone will come to me about a loved one whose life is spinning out of control due to drug and/or alcohol addiction and want to know about treatment options.  I have some personal beliefs with regards to treatment that I want to share, but remember, it’s just my well-informed opinion.  The advice is free and worth every penny of it.

I have known better than a handful of addicts over the years who began and sustained good recovery with 12 step meetings alone.  I have great admiration for these people because it isn’t easy to carry on with the normal day-to-day of life and, at the same time, immerse yourself into understanding and implementing full-time repentance.  It works for some, but many of us seem to lack some key variable in our personality or the necessary self-discipline to pull it off.  It is for this reason that I always recommend residential treatment when it is possible.

If you are an Earthling, and you are trying to decide the best course of action for your addict, and residential treatment is a consideration, let the following be a guide:

1.  There is not a program, a method, or treatment (like electroshock therapy), that has the success of 12 Step.  Millions of people worldwide have found success with programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous and it would have to be the fundamental philosophy of the program that I would choose for someone that I love.

2.  Education is very important.  The more a person understands the physical and mental toll of addiction, the less likely they are to return to it.  The program should teach how addiction works in the body and mind and how it progresses.

3.  Successful recovery means being ever-vigilant.  A good program teaches coping strategies for real life stresses and relapse triggers.

4.  My personal experience as an addict; using alcohol and pills on a daily basis for many years, meant that it took time for me to begin thinking clearly.  Some inpatient programs only run 30 days, and for some that just isn’t enough.  The most effective programs will have more inpatient time and include a period of outpatient treatment along with supervised living.  Not always possible or available, but a person needs to be totally devoted to recovery for a full year.  We always worry about the job or the family and the conflict that there can be, but there is no family or job if the addict fails.

5.  Again, not always available, but very important:  Co-ed inpatient care is not the ideal.  Just like the smoker, who replaces cigarettes with donuts and begins to put on weight after giving up tobacco; the alcoholic/drug addict will often seek to substitute sex/romantic relationships in the absence of chemicals.

So far, in my 25 years of sobriety, I have yet to see 12 Step fail to deliver on its promise.  12 Step is almost flawless.  Almost.  In all fairness I must admit that there is one fatal flaw with regards to 12 Step and it can be frustrating and discouraging, particularly to Earthlings.  It’s only one thing, but it’s huge:  You cannot make an addict start or otherwise, embrace recovery.  You cannot force treatment on an addict against their will.  Addiction is a spiritual disease that requires a spiritual cure, and because that cure is given of God, in the form of repentance, we have to work within His framework.  God will not compel an individual to be sober.  He won’t.  And you can’t.

~Duane Pannell, co-author of 3,000 Miles To Eternity: A True Internet Love Story