A family crisis had set my head spinning. And what was that ringing in my ears? I found the answer at Al-Anon. Recovery isn't always pretty. It's more a maze than a path. I invite you to join me on my search for serenity.
Sunday, March 27, 2011
What The Grand Canyon Taught Me About Recovery
I’ve just completed my last planned hike in the Grand Canyon: my third in the past year.
Each hike was different. I've hiked from the North Rim and the South. I’ve hiked in and out on the same day, camped overnight and stayed in a dormitory at Phantom Ranch.
I’ve hiked in summer when it was over 100 degrees at the bottom, and in spring after snow had fallen the night before on the Rim. I’ve hiked in various levels of fitness. And I've talked to a lot of people about their experiences.
On this trip, it took me eight hours to hike out from Phantom Ranch. That’s a long time to think. And what I thought about was the lessons I had learned and how they apply to my journey in recovery. I call it “12 Steps on the Trail to Serentiy” or “What the Canyon Taught Me About Recovery.”
1. "The Canyon is in charge," a 20-year volunteer told me. "First and foremost, you have to respect that. But it also gives you things to survive. It gives you the river. It gives you shade.”
That reminds me that I’m powerless. There is a power greater than myself who is in charge. But that Higher Power gives me things. It’s up to me to recognize and use those gifts.
2. The journey has been more or less difficult, and more or less enjoyable depending on my level of fitness.
I enjoyed hiking the Grand Canyon much more when I was physically fit. The hike felt less arduous and I was better able to focus on the beauty that surrounded me. When I wasn’t in good shape, all my energy had to go toward getting out with as little damage to myself as I could manage.
In recovery, the same is true of my level of spiritual fitness. The going is easier and more enjoyable when I’m prayed up, meeting’d up, sponsored up.
3. It’s helpful to have a guide. Consult with people who have gone before you.
In recovery, my guide is my sponsor and other longtimers in the program. As my sponsor is fond of saying: “If you want to have what I have, you have to do what I do.”
4. It’s easier if you take the right tools. But remember to use them.
The same volunteer recounted a story about a couple in the advanced stages of heat exhaustion. They had plenty of water, but they hadn’t been drinking it. They were afraid if they used it, they wouldn’t have it when they needed it.
In recovery, my tools include the steps, slogans and Just for Todays. But they don’t do me any good in my backpack. I need to apply them.
5. If you don't want to get trampled, yield the trail to the mules. Try not to step in the piss they deposit in their wake. There will be puddles. Just accept it.
6. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. You can make the journey alone, but it’s easier and more pleasant when you have company.
7. Don't feed the squirrels. When you do, they become aggressive and dependent.
This is also true of doing things for alcoholics and addicts that they should do for themselves.
8. Focus on what’s in front of you. And don't worry about all the things that might go wrong. When things do go wrong, it’s never what you expect.
On this hike, I worried about a foot I had injured recently. My foot was fine. It was my knee that gave me trouble. I could almost hear God laughing. I can't possibly know what's ahead and most of the things I have worried about in my life have never happened. It's better to enjoy what's happening in this moment.
9. When you get discouraged, it’s helpful to glance over your shoulder to see how far you’ve come. Just don’t linger too long. If you’re looking back, you’re not moving forward.
10. The journey is easier and a lot more fun when you stop to rest.
I learned this on my first Canyon hike from a laminated tip sheet at a ranger station. Most hikers are afraid that stopping to rest will slow them down. The opposite is true. Resting for 10 minutes every hour allows your body to clear itself of the waste products that build up in your legs and make them feel tired.
When I read this, the slogan “Easy Does It” came to mind. I realized my habit in hiking, as in all things, was to simply plod through, no matter how tired I felt. I started practicing “Easy Does It” in my daily life. And I found it to be true. Easy got it done. And I enjoyed myself much more.
11. Be courteous to others on the trail and don’t judge others for their path. We’re all doing the best we know how. Insisting on the right of way never made anyone happy.
I learned this lesson on a training hike. I was headed uphill and two young girls were headed down. Being the one headed uphill I kept my head down and stuck to the path I was on, presuming they would yield the right of way. One didn't, but stopped directly in my way. "Excuse me," she said, annoyed. "Uphill has the right of way," I said equally annoyed, and went on my way.
"Sheesh," I heard her say as I passed. "If I'm already on the right side of the trail, where am I supposed to go?"
For a non-hiker, thinking that traffic should stay on the right was a reasonable conclusion. Yet I was annoyed. It bugged me all day. Because I was right, damn it. Wasn't I?
The next day I read an article in the paper about aggressive walkers. The expert quoted talked about those who stuck their heads down and ignored all the other people around them. He talked about others, who held to some belief that there were rules that were supposed to be followed. "Who knows where they get these ideas," he said. It stung. I was wrong and I knew it.
I had spoiled a nice hike and much of the rest of my day thinking about this girl and how right I was. Maybe I ruined hers, too. I could almost hear my sponsor say: "Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy?"
12. The undertaking is hard, but it's worth the effort. Be generous in sharing what you’ve learned, especially when you encounter those who are just starting out.
In Al-Anon, it's tradition to greet the newcomers by sharing a little of our story. Click on the link below to read my Al-Anon welcome to you. The Statement of Purpose describes my intentions for this blog.
I'm a journalist, wife, mother and, most recently, grandmother. I grew up in an alcoholic home and had heard people say that "alcoholism is a family disease," but never knew what that meant. I didn't believe I had been affected by other people's alcoholism. In Al-Anon, I learned differently. More importantly, I learned tools to deal with it.