I am alone, it is my first time setting up a tent by myself, I am 97 days sober and I’m shaking.
I’ve come on this hike (a four day trek along the Juan de Fuca trail in British Colombia) both in celebration of my new dedication to life and to prove my independence to myself.
I’ve never overnight backpacked before without counting on a man—to carry things, to operate the stove, to keep me company. To keep away the bears. To keep away the fears.
Of course I can put up a tent. I most certainly (with slight trepidation) can light my little stove and boil water to cook my dehydrated meal. I still feel a great sense of accomplishment as I crawl in and fall asleep (at about five pm).
In active addiction (or as I simply call it, when I was a drunk) you lose your ability to take care of others, then yourself. Sometimes I was too weak to simply open a bottle of water. You forget to eat, to bathe. In my first few days of sobriety I promised myself—this time, this time I would live. Hence this night, alone, in the middle of the woods. I’m living, I tell myself.
I realize I’m not setting out on an adventure in the “wild.” At most, my hike should take me five days, and I do run into a few people on the path. The most dangerous part of the trip is probably being alone with my head, my thoughts, for four days and nights.
Early sobriety is full of guilt, horrific memories and remorse.
The first couple of days of walking I am in mental pain. I think of moments I have missed with my son, my family. At one point I double over, sobbing. Other times I walk with better spirits, reciting all the poems I have memorized to scare away any bears or cougars that may be lurking in the woods around me.
I repeat Whitman’s “This is what you shall do..” over and over. When I do run into a bear, I am in the midst of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116, my favourite. I speak quietly (as the many posters instruct for a bear encounter) about love bearing it out “even until the edge of doom” as I slowly back away from my furry friend.
The third night I reach, Sombrio beach. A common locale for surfers to come and overnight in order to catch the early waves, I have heard its exquisite beauty praised many times.
At this point, though, I’m tired. I’m sick of listening to my random, self-berating thoughts.
Every part of me hurts. I trip and fall into a river as I make my way to my campsite and fairly stomp my way through setting up the tent and falling into a deep sleep.
I wake early. I am 100 days sober.
The day is overcast, but beautiful. My heart has stopped its anxious beating and my mind is clear. I sit outside my tent boiling water for tea and watch a lone early surfer eyeing the waves, waiting until they begin to slope perfectly. I am finally able to be mindful of this moment, this trip, this day. My mind and whole body opens up with a single phrase, enormous in how it overtakes everything else in my head and soul.
Thank you, thank you, thank you, I whisper.
We all face the dark days and nights that I encountered in early sobriety, whatever your demons. Sometimes all you can do is to put one foot in front of the other and continue until the tide breaks, until peace hits you like a crashing wave.
The point is: peace comes.
Whatever your journey, whatever your pain, you can reach a place of calm. Be brave. Continue. From one intrepid hiker of life to another, hang in there.
You, too, will find peace.