Everyone at the bus stop took one big step back from the curb. I looked to my right as the 63 descended down the snow covered hill of East 3rd street. The air brakes hissed, and the bus slid nearly three blocks to within feet of where I was standing. The door swung open inches from my face, mouth agape. The bus driver smirked a little, "Don't worry. I saw you."
In my first year of sobriety, I spent a lot of time riding the bus and walking. I was living in St. Paul, Minnesota. I had been discharged from treatment in December, and I stayed in St. Paul for sober living. It was cold, very cold. The local news stations were making a big deal of "the most mild winter we've had in years!" This was hard for me to believe: most mornings the thermometer on our porch read zero degrees or less.
I was apprehensive. I told myself after this was all over I would return home to Florida. The staff members responsible for my after care planning recommended one year of sober living and eight weeks of continued counseling. This was not part of my plan, but somewhere along the way, I realized that my plan up until now always got me high. That, up until now, I had taken direction from no one. And so, with my family's support I moved forward with the advice given to me, and packed my stuff for sober living.
I decided to take the long way home.
My first few weeks at the sober house I set out to conquer the public transit system. If you've ever looked at a bus route map for a large metropolis, then you can share my sentiments. It wasn't easy. In fact, it was down right confusing. Luckily for me, I was fresh off of two years of using the public transit system in Honolulu. Believe you me, if you can master a bus system that runs on island time, you can master any bus system.
I got a job 45 minutes across town, bought a bus pass, and spent the first and last hour of each day on the bus. At first, I enjoyed riding the bus. It gave me an opportunity to listen to new music, and I LOVE people-watching. You get some serious characters riding the bus, and you see all sorts of weird stuff. But, eventually riding the bus became a serious pain in the ass. Waking up super early for my morning ride and waiting around in the Minnesota chill were getting pretty old. The thickest winter clothing is rendered completely useless in St. Paul when you're waiting for the bus in the dead of winter.
One day, with about two months of sobriety under my belt, I made a decision that changed things for me. I was waiting around for the 63 after work. I had taken the bus enough times back and forth to know the route home. I was growing inpatient and increasingly cold. Did I mention I was cold? I decided to walk.
Again I decided to take the long way home.
I started walking home most days after work. It was about seven miles in total, and it took me two or three hours to walk back. My sober housemates thought I was a little strange, but I felt great after those walks. I began using walking as my preferred method of transportation: I walked ALL OVER the city of St. Paul. I walked to meetings; I walked to work; I walked everywhere. If I got lost or tired, I would just find a bus stop, wait for a line headed in the right direction, and hop on. Something was starting to happen to me, something strange and foreign, something that had been missing in my life up until that moment.
I began to see, I mean really see, life happening around me. I began noticing things I had never noticed before: birds flying, people living their lives, plants growing and changing color. In my addiction, I was shut off to life outside of my using. I hardly noticed the intricacies of life, and I certainly was void of any spiritual connection to that life. I was connected to one thing--my high.
I was coming alive during these walks. I was awakening from the spiritual death that had come over me during my addiction. I was connecting to life around me, in a way I had never experienced before. One particular day, I was walking down busy Grand Avenue. I was listening to some great music. It was a beautiful day. I started to cry. I can only imagine what people thought as they walked by. I had a huge smile on my face and tears pouring down my cheeks. I was having a bit of a spiritual moment, but at the time I had no idea what was happening to me.
I had no idea that my decision to walk home that day set into motion a series of events that gave birth to my spiritual journey in recovery. My walks gave way to runs, and my runs gave way to physical, as well as spiritual rebirth. With ears full of music, I explored every inch of the city. I discovered a lot about the Twin Cities, and in doing so I discovered a whole lot more about myself. Some of the best memories of my first year of recovery are walking and running through St. Paul. It was magical for me, and I believe God was there with me every step of the way, rooting me on, cheering for me.
Today, the life I have been granted is one beyond my wildest dreams. Had I never stayed in St. Paul, who knows how things may have turned out. I experienced more growth in that first year of recovery than I had ever expected, and I did so spiritually during my walks in St. Paul.
That day I decided to take the long way home, and I think that stands as a great metaphor for my sobriety. The greatest gifts in my recovery were the result of time spent moving forward. There isn't a ton of short-term return in sobriety, it's mostly long-term yield. I think that's hard for some people to swallow. I've had to put work into my recovery and invest time into my growth. I found that if I was willing to take the time to change, to grow, and to connect to whats going on around me, that good things happen. Sure you can take the easier, softer way. But I don't recommend it.
-Chris B. (admissions and outreach at The Augustine)