Sobriety and Surfing

I learned how to surf while I was still drinking and using. I was living in Hawaii, and had recently relapsed after nearly two years of abstinence. I say abstinence, not sobriety, because I wasn't working a real program of recovery. I was void of any real change, and I had stopped going to meetings months before moving to Hawaii. 

I was floating around on a boogie board, looking very white, and sticking out like a sore thumb for a good, long, while before I picked up a surfboard. My neighbors all surfed, and made fun of me and my boogie, but I did my best to keep up. 

The whole idea of surfing had me wrapped up in fear. Fear of the ocean, fear of drowning, and fear of what my new friends would think of me. The fear that was driving my addiction was also keeping me from taking a chance with surfing. Soon, I feared what others would think if I DIDN'T try surfing. Again fear was driving me, and I reluctantly tip toed my way into the water, with a surfboard tucked awkwardly under my arm. My friends had given me an 11 foot longboard for my maiden voyage. It was brown, looked like a museum piece, and was the lab rat of all their board repair experiments. 

I can honestly say I don't remember my first paddle out. My brain was operating at less than full throttle, so parts of this story are blurry at best. I remember catching a lot of waves on my knees, I remember watching my friends catching waves, and I remember how great it felt to be a part of something.

The first real wave I caught, I remember, very well. I managed to stand up, and by some magic my board turned left, and I was surfing.  What you imagine to be surfing and what I was doing, were two very different things. But I was standing up, and a board that big decides on its own which way your going. At that moment, my life was saved. 

Surfing created a barrier for me in Hawaii. A defensive wall that stood between me and my addiction. It slowed down the progression of my addiction. It created an outlet for me that I could use when the spiritual malady was upon me. I was able to find acceptance in surfing, to be a part of something much bigger than myself. At that time the idea of a higher power was beyond me, but I was certainly at the mercy of the ocean, and that in itself was humbling. I was grateful to be in the water, and to experience a fellowship totally foreign to me. Surfing with my friends allowed me to feel like I belonged.

Surfing was a glimpse into sobriety for me, and as my addiction got worse-it always gets worse-a little shred of hope lingered in the back reaches of my mind. 

Guess what, my life fell apart in Hawaii, who'd-a-thought? I remember sitting on the beach crying like a child, lying to my family on the phone. They did not know that I had lived for two years in Hawaii, in a relapse.  I did my best to convince them that things were just not working out.

I moved to Florida, and my disease progressed beyond my wildest nightmares. I had created a horrible portrait of my addiction, and it was way worse than anything I had experienced. My surfing continued, to a point. I was out of shape, and I tired easily. I was limited to surfing only when it was small, clean, and calm.  During these times, surfing was about the only thing that brought peace to my life. I was lost, and it was surfing that I turned to for direction.

It had been three years since I relapsed, one year since I had moved to Florida. My surfing was on the back burner, and my life was in complete shambles. The best way to describe it, is that I had a moment of clarity, amidst an insane life. I had received a gift of scared shitless desperation, and I was ready for a real change.

WIth the support of my family I sought treatment. I traveled as far away from the ocean as one can get, and went to treatment. It was recommended to me that I stay in sober living after treatment for at least one year. I was furious, the idea of no surfing for a year was completely out of the question. It occurred to me that all my best decision making had landed me in this very predicament, and that following the advice of others may be exactly what I needed.

I dreamt day and night about surfing, I hung surf posters all over my bedroom at the sober house. How my housemates put up with me, is a mystery. All I talked about was Hawaii and surfing, Florida and surfing, surfing and the surfing life. Surfing, and being a surfer was the only thing I could identify with, and I was living in Minnesota of all places. 

I went to meetings, I got a sponsor, and he took me through the 12 steps. I talked about surfing and how important it was that I go back to Florida AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.  He calmed me down, and reminded me that if I stayed sober and put my sobriety first, I could go anywhere and do anything. 

I moved back to Florida after living in the twin cities for about a year. Packed full of recovery, and ready to surf. Boy, did I surf. In fact, surfing became my new drug. I got a job at a surf shop on the beach, and I surfed everyday, all day. I surfed when it was big, I surfed when it was small. I surfed in all conditions with every walk of life. It was controlling my life, my schedule revolved around surfing. Despite all my surfing I managed to-thank God-maintain fairly strong sobriety. I continued to go to meetings, meet with my sponsor, and work the steps into my life. I was by no means the poster child of sobriety, and I made a ton of mistakes. But I never stopped going to meetings, and I certainly never stopped surfing. 

With about three years of sobriety I had another moment of clarity, surfing was controlling my life. Given the chance I was breaking commitments and even putting my surfing before my sobriety. I noticed that surfing was not as fun as it once was. I was trying so hard to get better, that I began to experience bouts of rage during my surf sessions. It was hard for me to imagine anything but a life of solitude, for fear that I may not be able to surf whenever I wanted. Just like my drug use, surfing had become a program of maintenance. 

Today I'm in a great spot with my surfing. I try to let God decide when I go surf. I have tried really hard to put my recovery, my fiancee, and my family before surfing. I find that when I don't surf everyday, I have more fun on the days that I do.

I still use surfing in the same ways I did while I was using. It is still an escape for me, still a source of peace and serenity. With a life as good as mine is today, I don't have to lean on surfing in that way anymore. My life is one beyond my wildest dreams, and this life is available to any addict who seeks it.

There is freedom on the other side of addiction. If you want, that freedom can be offshore winds, and head high swell. 

-Chris B. (Chris is the admissions and outreach coordinator at The Augustine)