In 2012, ThurstonTalk writer Anne Larsen interviewed Brent Bryant while he was a golf coach with Tumwater High School. At the time, he said, “You have your ups and downs, but it’s how you deal with them that will make you either great or average.” An average person might deny or hide from an addiction to alcohol, something Brent did for many years, saying he “struggled with being a very selfish person during that time.” However, having reached his eighth year of sobriety on November 8, 2016, Brent now describes himself as “the complete opposite. I’d rather give more of myself to help others than anything in my life.”
Thankful for his sisters Stephanie and Jennifer for being straight with him and “laying down the law,” Brent also wishes to be an honest voice and advocate for sobriety. He has been openly sharing his story to help others during the past three to four years of his life.
One day, while taking a stroll around Capitol Lake, Brent ran into Dale Reeves, the activities coordinator at Black Hills High School. They had known each other since Brent’s days of coaching golf. When Dale heard what Brent was doing, he said, “You need to come to my school and talk with my classes.” In April 2016, Brent began to speak with Black Hills High School students during their health classes.
Brent describes his experiences in the classroom. “They’re reading about what alcohol can do. The book says one thing, and real life tells you another.” He says when the teacher announces his name, “I say, ‘My name is Brent and I have got to tell you, I’m an alcoholic, and I am an addict.’ They look at me and realize I’m not this guy that’s trying to preach to them, I’m them, and they’re me.” Brent explains that he doesn’t talk to students to “bash people that drink; it isn’t everybody that has a problem, but millions of people do.”
The statistics are shocking. Alcohol kills nearly 90,000 people every single year. And approximately 5,000 people under the age of 21 die as a result of underage drinking, more than all the other drugs combined. Yet, Brent says, “I don’t see it in the news. I see more things about prescription medication, or crack, or other drugs. My goal is to try to bring awareness to the real truth of drinking.”
While in the classroom Brent selects a student volunteer to write, “THIS WILL NEVER BE ME,” on the board. Tapping on that board, he shares how a DARE Officer told his class about the woes of drugs when he was 13. Brent remembers thinking, “This will never be me,” but confesses, “at the same time that was me. I started drinking when I was 12-years-old.” Hoping to help students choose a different path from the one he went down as a teenager, he says, “It’s great to talk to freshmen, before they get into it.”
Going beyond statistics, Brent encourages students to deal “with their issues and problems. “If you’re in tune with your emotions and feelings, you can at least progress a little bit faster.” He also warns that, “if you’ve been drinking before processing those struggles, your brain will instantly want to find what made you feel nothing. What made you feel numb, and you’ll go back to alcohol in a heartbeat, and before you know it you’ll be me, or you may be dead.”
Brent wants all people, especially students, to know someone cares for them and they are never truly alone. He believes many struggle with the fear of being judged and rejected, and thus suffer in silence. Therefore, he often makes sure to remind students that “they have the greatest support group in the world. Our stories might be a little different here or there, but essentially, we all go through the same things. We’re all scared, but deep down we have each other, which is huge.” Pointing to himself he tells them, “You have somebody who cares.” Then pointing to their teachers, he says, “they care about you. They will listen to you.” And while gesturing around the classroom, he adds, “I’m betting anything that if you go to the people in here, if you spoke up and said something, they’ll care about you. And there are counselors, the principal, and you probably have an aunt or uncle—you can find somebody that cares.”
Since April, Brent has been able to speak at Olympia, Timberline, and Tumwater high schools and estimates to have spoken with over 1,000 kids. Brent understands that not every kid will listen, but references Mother Teresa, “If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.” Through these talks, he hopes to share what he called, “the truth about alcohol,” noting that if young people have the knowledge, they at least have a chance at making a better choice than he did. One or two kids will choose to talk with him or their teachers after every speaking engagement. To this Brent humbly says, “At least I know I could help them a little bit.” Olympia High School Health and PE instructor, Jennie Bush, says, “High school students need to hear his message, which cannot be conveyed through reading a textbook or completing research.”
One day Brent is hoping to speak full time, saying he “would go everywhere all over the United States. It’s a passion, and will be something I do until the day I die because I love my sobriety, and I love helping people.”