At this exact moment last year, I was sitting in a hospital room taking my daily dose of suboxone to detox off the heroin I had been using just days before. I’d detox, go home for the holidays, and fly out to Chicago on January 1st. I’d spend five weeks in treatment trying to figure out how to cope with my emotions. Treatment would help. It would be a safe space to start feeling again. Feeling emotions that I had covered up for the past four years.
But when I’d leave treatment I would still be asking myself the same question…what do you like to do for fun? The answer was always the same, get high. I felt like it was all I knew how to do.
Although treatment was beneficial in teaching me strategies to help me cope, it didn’t force me to use them. Treatment didn’t teach me what I would be doing outside those walls. Treatment didn’t lead me to be the person that I want to be, which is why I decided to spend the next seven months hiking the Appalachian Trail.
Two pairs of clothes, a tent, a sleeping bag, boots, poles, food, water, and a backpack to hold it all was all I started with. A family, real friends, trust, and a life without drugs is what I’d have when I finished.
Living in the outdoors with nothing to hide who you really are is one of the life changing experiences most people talk about after their thru-hike. While I must agree with them, this experience was so much more to me. The Appalachian Trail was a hike starting at one point in my life and walking through 14 states to get to an entirely new place.
I started a journey towards accepting myself how I am. I learned the way I see myself is how others will see me. I realized jealousy and envy are emotions that will only upset the one who is feeling them. I met people along the way sharing their stories, learning that everyone is fighting a battle and everyone needs support. I learned I must ask people for what I need. I can’t just expect people to know how I’m feeling.
As I walked miles every day and talked for hours to many different people, I learned the happiest people are the ones who stay positive all hours of the day. They don’t look ahead or back, but live in the present moment. They do not worry, but trust. The happiest people don’t have to look for approval through others because they already have it from themselves.
The journey from Georgia to Maine was both physically and mentally challenging, but the journey through recovery is excruciatingly hard, but also extremely simple. The journey through recovery must be centered around the way we think, the thoughts we let come in and out of our own minds.
I have changed immensely from a year ago, but just because the trail is complete doesn’t mean my life is fixed and better. Returning to the “real world” from the trail is a hard transition, but no harder than the one out of treatment. Returning to society has brought a lot of emotions and thoughts back. I still get lonely and jealous at times. The thought of doing a baggy still pops up in my head. I am not always happy and my thoughts are not always perfect. I still struggle, but instead of picking up I reflect back on my hike and remember how simple life can be when all you have is a backpack.
Treatment brought to my attention all of the skills the trail taught me how to do. While I believe treatment was a huge part of my recovery, I believe spending seven months in the outdoors was vital to my success.
The greatest thing I learned while in the woods was that its not about what you like to do in your spare time, but rather what is stopping you from loving yourself. Because if you love yourself, then you’ll aways be doing things you love to do.