Rowing Away from Addiction and into Recovery
Living in active addiction can feel like paddling up a fast moving river; no matter how hard you try, you end up going backward. In order to stop fighting the current, one must surrender to his or her inner most self. It was through this surrender that the foundation of my life in recovery was built. A river is a great metaphor, not only for recovery, but for life in general. As the great Garth Brooks said, “Trying to learn from what’s behind you and never knowing what’s in store. Makes each day a constant battle, just to stay between the shore.”
Recently we took a group of alumni on a canoeing and camping trip down the Colorado River through Black Canyon. This was an adventure of epic proportions.
Surrounded by a Power Greater than Yourself
In my opinion, while in active addiction, I was blind to the beauty that surrounded me on an everyday basis. When I got sober, my perspective on the little things in life changed dramatically.
Our journey started at the base of the Hoover Dam. As we were driving down the winding road leading to our launch point I couldn’t help but feel like a kid in a candy store. I was in awe of the majestic dam that towered over us. As I stood there looking up at the canyon walls and the crystal clear blue water, I realized just how lucky I am to be exactly where I was. After we get all our gear loaded into the canoes, we pushed off.
Paddling into the Unknown
As we began the first leg of our 12-mile journey, we traveled downstream about 200 yards to a cave. This wasn’t just any cave, it is called the sauna cave because of all the geothermal activity. The temperature in the cave hovers right around 125 degrees. After hanging out in the cave for a little while, we all headed out.
The majority of us have little to no experience with paddling a canoe. This made for many crashes and a lot of confusion. Once we all finally were headed in the right direction, we rowed about a mile until we came across a side canyon. We pulled in, tied up the canoes, and started exploring. There is a creek running through the canyon. We expected the water to feel cold like the river, 55 degrees, but we were pleasantly surprised when it was warm to the touch. Just like the cave, the creek is heated by geothermal activity.
We continued upstream and came across a pool that was dammed up using sand bags. This turned into a natural hot tub, fed by the hot springs. Some of us decided to strip down to their bathing suits and get in. While a few of us continued to explore. After about an hour we decided to head back to the boats and continue our journey.
Once we were back in our canoes, our next stop was about a mile downstream, another side canyon. We arrived to the spot where we were stopping, pulled the boats up and tied them off. We had been up since 4:30 in the morning so some of us elected to stay at the canoes while about eight of us ventured up the canyon.
We came across of group of women camping, they told us we would be hiking through the creek, up waterfalls. We kind of laughed not thinking they were telling us the truth but sure enough about 200 yards into the canyon we came to the first waterfall we have to traverse. Thankfully someone has fixed some rope with knots in it. The rocks were extremely slippery and a few of us had some trouble but we all made it up safely. This continued for a good mile, up and over five more waterfalls. With each one we went over, we would say well that’s going to be fun to climb down.
After we made it as far as we could, we turned around and headed back to meet up with the rest of our group. All of those places we climbed up, we now had to climb down. One of the waterfalls was a 20-foot rock face, this one in particular got the blood pumping. Thankfully everyone made it down safely.
We all made it back down to the boats in relatively good condition. One of us slipped in the waterfall and decided to make it look like he just wanted to take a little shower, but other than that, everyone made it back to the others safely.
2-miles to the camp ground.
Setting up Camp… In a Wash
We finish up the 4-mile trek to the camp ground. We paddle in and pull the boats up on the sandbar and start unloading our gear. We decide to take the camp site that has more open space in order to accommodate all 15 of us comfortably, it just so happens that there is a wash that runs through the middle of camp.
We unload all of the gear and we get camp all set up. Some of us decide to take a nap, some of us decide to go up to the hot springs that are about a 10-minute hike from camp, and some of us decide to just hang out and relax for a little while. After a little bit of R and R, there was a group of five or so of us that decided to find a cliff to jump off.
As a few of us walked up on top of about a 20-foot cliff, two people jumped in their canoe to check the depth. We found a suitable location, and the first person went. The water was so cold, about 55 degrees, it took his breath away. I went next. The water was even colder than I had expected.
We go back to the top to jump again because no one else is jumping. Right about this time there was a huge crash of thunder and then the skies released a torrential downfall. We hadn’t planned on this so all of our gear is out in the open. We run back to camp and luckily a couple of people were awake and had put all the gear in the tents.
The rain did not let up. Soon enough the dry wash we had set up camp in slowly begins to start flowing. The people who didn’t realize that they were in a wash and set up their tents right in its path, were now scrambling to move their tents to higher ground. It doesn’t take long until we had a pretty sizable creek running through the middle of camp. Everyone who needed to moved their tents and got resettled, and the rain stopped. The lesson we learned from this debacle was no matter what the skies look like when you are setting up, they can turn dark and unload in a blink of an eye.
Arizona Hot Springs
After the rain subsided, a group of us traveled up to the hot springs. We made the hike and climbed up the 15-foot ladder to arrive at the springs. These pools are created by sand bagging the natural springs to create three pools that get hotter and hotter the further up you go. Four of us made our home in the middle pool, water temperature was a little hotter than 100 degrees. We had brought along some Montecristo cigars so we sparked them up. It was as if we were in a different country, like a Turkish bath house or something.
This experience was amazing. Never in my wildest imagination would I have thought I would be smoking a cigar while sitting in a natural hot spring.
This was another moment that I realized how amazing and blessed my life has become since getting sober. I have always enjoyed the outdoors, but I never was fully able to enjoy them because I was always to preoccupied with using substances. Now I am able to be completely present and see my higher power in the smallest of things.
After sitting in the hot springs for a while, we decide to head back to camp.
Dinner, Fire, and S’mores
We brought out the camping stoves and began to boil water to make dinner. We brought along dehydrated mountain house meals. Many of the people on the trip had never eaten anything like this.
We had beef stroganoff with noodles, chicken and rice, and red beans and rice. For the people who had never eaten them before, they were pleasantly surprised at how good they tasted. This could be a result of being up since 4:30 in the morning and working out all day, paddling and hiking, but nonetheless everyone ate and enjoyed their meal.
After eating we decided it was just about time to get the fire started, but our fire starter got wet in the rain. Luckily we had someone who was an eagle scout with us and he set out creating kindling to start the fire with.
Once we got the fire up and going, everyone was impatient and wanted to start making s’mores. If you know how to properly make a s’more, you know what is wrong with this.
Everyone had clothes, shoes and even some of our sleeping bags got wet. We used the fire as a source of heat to dry off all of our belongings. We had shoes laid all around the rocks that made up the fire ring, shirts, blankets and sleeping bags hanging over chairs so much so that it was hard for us to feel the heat coming from the fire.
Slowly but surely people started to wander off to their tents to go to bed. It didn’t take too long until there were only four of us left awake, enjoying the fire and beauty of the place we were in. We had been sitting there for a little while when we see a couple of head lanterns coming through camp, it had to be about 11p.m., it was an odd time to see hikers.
We said hello and they went on their way, about 20 minutes later these two women come back over to our fire to hang out. They were from Canada on an adventure throughout the southwest, backpacking, camping and exploring. We sat and talked with them for a few hours, then it was time to go to bed. We had a long 8-mile paddle ahead of us and we needed our rest.
The Final Leg
We woke up in the morning and got everyone started with some breakfast, more mountain house meals. This time we had scrambled eggs with bacon, biscuits and gravy, and breakfast skillets. Once everyone was fueled up it was time to start packing up camp. After packing up, a few of us headed back up to the hot springs while some of us took off down the river in the canoes, and some stayed at camp just relaxing.
Once we decide to all get ready to go, we carried the gear to the canoes and loaded them up. Before we pushed off, we took a group picture of everyone who was left. This is harder than it sounds when everyone is loaded into canoes and not knowing what they are doing.
While we had found a little cliff to jump off the day before, I was itching for something bigger, something that would get the blood pumping. So as we are paddling down the river I am scanning the sides for a suitable spot to jump that has ample depth.
Then I see it. It must be at least 50 feet, with a water depth of at least 20 feet, and an easy path to the top. I paddle over to the side and tie off the canoe with one other set of people. We walk up to the highest point, somewhere between 40 and 50 feet and scout the location. It has a little outcropping to clear but other than that, it is perfect.
We scope it out for a minute and then Chris jumps. From my stand point, everything went well. So next I line up and go. It was a huge rush, and when I hit the water, it took my breath away. I scrambled over to the shore and climb out. It was a perfect spot to jump. I was filled with adrenaline. We got picked up by our canoes and head down stream. I thought everything had gone well with Chris on his jump but he hurt his back and we still had 6 miles of canoeing left to go.
We continued downstream and came across a couple of people who had headed out earlier in the day. We meet up with them and head out. The surroundings are amazing. There is no way to put them into words.
As I am paddling I can’t help but be extremely grateful for everything I have in my life. I have the opportunity to go on amazing adventures and be surrounded with amazing people all while living free from active addiction.
As we are paddling the home stretch of our trip, I am overcome with a sense of accomplishment. I was responsible for planning and executing this whole trip, when not too long ago I was unable to even be responsible for myself. Everything went off perfectly, minus the back injury from the cliff jump. We meet up with the company that we rented our canoes from and load up.
Reflecting on the Adventure
Looking back upon our trip, I can’t help but have a sense of gratitude. At the end of my using, I had nothing. I lost all self-respect and well as respect from those I love. I had no sense of direction, no sense of purpose, and no sense of life. The only thing I cared about was my next fix.
Today, things are extremely different. I no longer fear the storm because I have learned to dance in the rain. I am able to help others and in return help myself.
Being in the outdoors is a great reminder of how small I am in the scope of the world. I am but a drop of water in the ocean of the universe, but even a drop of water can make a difference.
Recovery, much like the river we traveled, is bound to have rough waters, and I know I will fall but with a higher power as my captain I will make it through them all.