Yesterday I went up to my former rehab; the place where I was a patient during my first month clean. They have this aftercare group that welcomes all alumni, and I try to get up there at regular intervals. But it’s two hours each way, and sometimes I get home with an attitude problem because of being tired, overstimulated, or feeling that the hour-and-a-half meeting didn’t live up to the four hours of driving.
However, I am never sorry that I went, because it’s a pilgrimage to me; a journey that has spiritual significance. If anyone had told me, when I was a patient there, that I would miss the place later and be willing to inconvenience myself for the privilege of coming back, I would have thought they were crazy. But it’s absolutely true.
Every step of the journey and every detail of the place helps me remember what I need to remember. It starts with the trip there, when I get to revisit the day I drove north to visit the place. It’s located in the Napa valley, the beautiful wine country of northern California. Alcohol and drug treatment centers, in a geographical irony, lie scattered here and there among the famous wineries.
Now, when I make the drive, I remember the emptiness and confusion I felt the first time I drove that road. How achingly irrelevant the beauty of the mountains and green fields seemed that day, and the way I wondered if it would be the last time I drove myself anywhere.
I get to turn into the driveway and remember the first impression I had of the buildings. I get to check in at the desk and remember how it felt to stand there with my suitcase. I get to talk with current patients, those almost ready to leave and those who just got in. The staff are happy to see me and ask me how I’m doing. The meeting I’ve come for contains alumni of varying “ages.” Some are still dealing with the transition to life outside treatment, so I get to remember what that stage was like as well. Every room I go into evokes memories.
Why is it so important that I remember in such detail? Some people say it’s better to move past bad times, and that dwelling on them just keeps you tied to the past. Folks who talk about positive thinking or the Law of Attraction might say I’m keeping bad things in my life by devoting thought to their existence. My life is focused on change and growth now, so why spend energy on this kind of thing?
For me, it’s necessary because my staying clean depends on remaining willing to do a variety of things I don’t always want to do. Willing to refrain from doing things I might very much want to do. (If you’re addicted, you know how ridiculously inadequate that phrase is. If not, I pray you never know it.) That willingness requires constant fuel, both in spiritual energy and in the maintenance of perspective.
Perspective is what journeys like this give me. When I feel overwhelmed by my current life, when finances or home teaching or relationships have me feeling inadequate and wanting to run, I need to remember the deadly simplicity of how it was before. What it was like to have all of that stuff be other people’s responsibility because I was not present for it; to have my world be about nothing but staying there for one more day in the vague hope that there was a point to it. I need to acknowledge the part of myself that sometimes wants to draw me back to that kind of life because I’m afraid of failing at the life I have now.
After yesterday’s meeting was over I had the privilege of driving away, in my own car, without needing anyone’s permission. I got to admire the scenery on my way home and feel confident that this won’t be the last beautiful drive I take. It was worth getting home tired and cranky; those states are temporary anyway.
One might argue that the benefits I’m talking about are all available at regular twelve-step meetings, and they are. It’s a matter of degree; taking the longer journey demonstrates intention and reassures me that I am still committed to my path. There are longer pilgrimages I’d like to make in the future; journeys to places that have come to mean something to me even though I have never been there yet. And even if the place or the trip or the meeting should disappoint, I don’t think an act of conscious intention is ever wasted.