By Brian Miller, CSAC, IOP Program Coordinator at Master Center for Addiction Medicine
I was enjoying a ride through Nelson County, between Charlottesville and Lynchburg, when I experienced a sense of knowing that driving through the beauty of the mountains just wasn’t enough. I wanted to walk a trail.
I turned into the parking lot for Crabtree Falls, near Montebello, and began my hike. It was 1.7 miles in length and deemed a “moderate exertion” hike (a positive reframe if I’ve ever heard one!) And this was not just any hike, but one I’d tried a few times before, gotten winded, thought better of it, turned around, and returned to my car thinking, “Hiking this trail sure was easy when I was young.” A quarter of the way up the trail, that thought was going through my mind again! Then I greeted a couple going downhill. I asked them, “Did you make it to the top?” “We sure did!” they said. “I’m going to give it a try,” I replied. And then the guy said, “Don’t just ‘try,’ say you’re going to make it!” I thought for a second and answered with not just a response, but with an intent: “I will. I’m going to do this!” They both smiled their encouragements, and I was on my way.
At that point, my hike became an adventure, a quest, literally a mountain top to reach. And along the way, good things occurred that echo the journeys we witness as we work with those early on in their recovery journeys.
I made up my mind to succeed this time, and that was essential. But it wasn’t enough. On my way to the summit, I received encouragement over and over again. Those who had just made it to the top greeted me on my way up, saying, “You’re going to make it.” “It’s just a little way more.” “Not much further, you got this!” Halfway to the summit, there was even a caring woman with a concerned look on her face who asked, “Are there people below you who might be coming up the trail?” By then I must have looked totally exhausted, and she was worried I might trip or pass out! She didn’t want to just pass by without knowing I’d be OK. A total stranger showing compassion. I felt awkward, even embarrassed by her support, but it felt good. I felt cared about and safe. Although I had begun this as a solo hike, I knew that I now wasn’t alone.
The more I walked, the less the milestone markers mocked me, and the more they filled me with hope – and confidence. Only 1.4 miles, 1, .7, .5, .2 miles to go! I was amazed. I was actually doing this! Toward the top, I was really, I mean REALLY, just about out of steam. However, I felt a strength in my core and had a sense of knowing that this was for real.
When I made it to the top, I felt exhilarated and spiritually revitalized, and I was unashamedly proud of myself. Also, I felt grateful. On the way up I was, very unexpectedly, a part of a community who smiled their encouraging and knowing smiles at me, who knew what I needed to hear to keep going, who watched over me when I looked like I just might not be able to make it, and who even wanted to make sure I had someone to catch me if I fell. When I reached the summit, a couple offered me a bottle of water and the sweetest, crispest apple I’ve ever tasted. After resting a bit, I started my way back down, yet still on the trail, still on a journey.
I took with me into today a knowing that my success came from my initial willingness to tweak my attitude from “I’m going to try” to “I’m going to do this.” And it came from my willingness to be open to the support of my trail mates with their natural inclination to want to connect, cheer me on and be there for me and with me.
On my office door at the Master Center, I have a selfie of my soaking wet and grinning face, with the waterfall as a beautiful backdrop. And I look forward to telling the story to anyone who asks me about that picture, knowing that it will be another opportunity for community, and maybe through my journey’s lesson, a chance to carry a message of hope to another on the journey of recovery.