Every step hurt. The muscles in my hips and thighs protested each degree of arc, and my feet rebelled against the touch of the ground as if a spike were being driven upward through the tender soles. My shoulders throbbed from the weight of my pack, my mouth seemed perpetually dry and my lower back had knotted into a single spasm.
I was ridiculously happy.
The hike had gone four miles out to the meeting place, and now I was somewhere along the four miles back. From my background in science fiction, I am familiar with a variety of space-time anomalies, so I can tell you on good authority that the way back was at least four times as long as the way there. I was alone most of the time, being the slowest member of the group. At this point I had said goodbye to everyone, knowing that I needed to go at my own pace the rest of the way.
So why was I so happy? Let’s start with the most obvious reason, which you may know if you’ve read me before: Me? On a HIKE? Are you fucking kidding me? I could no more have done this a year or two years ago than I could fly. So each step was a cause for gratitude, and the painful workings of my muscles only heightened my awareness of how those muscles function now.
Also, I was on this trail:
I was with a group of people from my twelve-step fellowship who go on hikes and hold a meeting in a beautiful place once a month, and I had always wanted to go. I’d decided this was going to be the time–another exercise in imperfection, showing up without knowing how well I’d do or how it would turn out. After visiting my doctor the day before (Chicken Day) I thought I’d bring that fateful first piece of chicken with me and eat it at the meeting.
That, my friends, is what I did, and if you have ever been depressed or shared some of my other challenges you also know that it can be a rare and wonderful feeling to set a intention, plan how to carry it out, and do it. I was the last one to arrive at the meeting point, but I got there. I sat on a bluff overlooking a stunning blue-green expanse of ocean, with the sun warm upon me and soft breezes cooling me, and took tiny bites while people talked about recovery.
The hike was proving harder than I had hoped from my practice walks, and as I started back I knew it was time to pay the piper. As my pain level rose, I tried to stay serene about it, which wasn’t very hard to do in these surroundings. Okay, so the aliens had lengthened the trail, not to mention slipping some neutronium into my pack, but there was plenty of time. Sunset was nowhere near, I had water, and people passed by often enough that I was in no danger.
One thing I noticed about the last hour or so of the journey was that stopping for more than one or two minutes was a bad idea. My muscles were beginning to stiffen up, and it was better to keep moving even if slowly. Since I’m incapable of going a full day without seeing a metaphor in something, I thought about recovery and the steps.
Sometimes we are striding along, feeling strong and grateful and making changes in our lives, and at other times we have to marshal all of our determination just to stay clean for one more day. What matters is that we keep moving forward, and when we do have to pause, we do everything we can to start even a tiny forward motion as soon as possible. Fighting addiction is like trying to go the opposite direction on a moving walkway sometimes, and to stand still for too long is to be dragged back toward the previous status quo.
That’s what was scary about my recent slide into old attitudes…those old attitudes are still so familiar that in the absence of effort it’s easy for them to feel natural again. I’m really glad that I found enough willingness to fight it. I did some extra meetings and talked about it, made an effort to do more prayer and step work, and gave it a good going over with my sponsor and therapist. And, of course, I wrote about it here. After a week of doing this work–after my attitude had started to improve–I got the word we’ve been approved to rent the last place we applied for.
Walking on that beautiful path through the evergreens and chaparral, I was aware of how my brain tries to leap forward and find a new thing to be worried about. How it tries to start obsessing about deposits and moving and the downsides of the new place and what are we thinking…how it wants to do anything but just be where I am, doing what I’m doing. A taste of that simplicity was the other gift of walking on that path. My thoughts wandered, but nothing seemed very important except the beauty around me and the fact that I was going somewhere.