As we were wrapping up our first ever Sober and Unashamed Couples Retreat in Grand Lake, Colorado, on Sunday, one of the the attendees told me that he and his wife wanted to go to Estes Park before their flight home Sunday night. He showed me the route that Google suggested to him, and we discussed his options.
The summer drive from Grand Lake to Estes Park takes you right through Rocky Mountain National Park on Trail Ridge Road, and is among the most beautiful 47 miles of scenic roadway in the world. You crest the majestic Rocky Mountains, are likely to see moose or elk, look across clear mountain lakes and experience views that are unmistakably Colorado. It is a winding road full of switchbacks and steep ascents that will take well over an hour to traverse, but the drive is the experience, and you won’t mind if it takes all day.
The winter is another story, entirely. The summit of Trail Ridge Road in the heart of Rocky (the affectionate name we Coloradans have for our beloved national park) is over 12k feet, and the route is impassable and closed in the winter. So this past Sunday, in order to get 47 miles from where we were standing in Grand Lake, my friends had to drive their rental car over 150 miles – out of the mountains and back to the plains of Denver, then back into the mountains to the north – for the next four hours. The drive would include lots of Interstate 70 and staring at the back bumper of a car moving 15 miles an hour (if they were lucky) down a crowded highway of frustrated skiers. No elk. No mountain lakes. Maybe a snow plow or two, and the chances of spotting or experiencing a fender-bender were extremely high as new snow started to fall.
As my wife, Sheri, and I drove back to Denver on that same gridlocked I-70, I couldn’t get my mind off my friends who planned to slowly extricate themselves from the mess, then jump right back into it with their drive north and west into the snowy mountains. I felt bad for them. If only we had a helicopter or a snowcat or passenger-friendly pterodactyl that could traverse the mountains and get them from point A to point B in a semi-direct way, they wouldn’t have to suffer the pain and gruelling exhaustion of the slush-covered asphalt that laid before them. And since we had just spent the weekend talking about recovery from alcoholism, I couldn’t escape the irony.
I said the word, “patience,” 1.7 million times at the couples retreat. I talk about the excruciatingly slow process of growing sobriety muscles so much these days, that I have started apologizing before I say the dreaded P word. “Pardon my language, but P******* YOU!…will have to find,” (I often talk Yoda-style when dropping P-bombs).
Newly sober person: “I feel all X, and I can’t stop Y-ing.” Me: “Please be patient, and that will pass.” NSP: “My sleep is a mess and I can’t eat enough sugar.” Me: “I remember that phase so very well. You are breaking patterns and making new ones, and that requires a lot of patience.” NSP: “I just want to rip my husband’s head off if I can’t have a drink to help me tolerate him.” Me: “I know. Me too. Your husband’s an asshole.” No seriously, me: “Irritability is unavoidable in early sobriety. Give it time, and your anxiety will pass.”
I want everyone in early sobriety to have what I have. My life is not mermaids and cotton candy, and I would never pretend that’s what permanent sobriety is all about just to garner likes on social media. That stuff makes me want to vomit more than the thought of drinking warm tequila from a dirty ashtray.
I have sadness and loneliness. I have financial stress and teenage kids that cause me to worry excessively and 15 pounds I can’t seem to shed no matter what I try. My marriage is way better, but there is still a lack of trust caused by my alcoholism that I’m not sure we’ll ever fully overcome. And yet, this is the best stage of my entire 47 year life. I have a huge support network, I have such loving and thankful readers and I survived a disease that kills millions of people every year. This is truly the life of my dreams, complete with lots of ups, but also all the messy downs I can handle. I would never dream of trading places with anyone. And that’s no rainbow. That’s no unicorn. Anyone who knows me understands that permanent sobriety has made me unimaginably comfortable in my own skin. What more can we ask for from the human experience? Honestly.
And if you are newly sober, you can’t get there from here.
Well, you can, but not directly. You are in for a winter slog from Grand Lake to Estes Park. Point A to point B? You’ve got to go all the way out, turn around, start over, and trudge hopelessly back in. No shortcuts. No pterodactyls. Just a whole lot more patience than you think yourself capable of mustering.
Newly sober person: “I want to go over there. Right over there. I can see it, and that’s what I want. I’m intelligent, eager and determined. What do you mean telling me the road through Rocky is closed in the winter? I’m a good driver. I’m sober, and I’ll be careful. The idea that I can’t just drive those 47 easy miles is beyond my comprehension.”
Here’s the thing: Our time on earth is a personal human evolution taking place from birth through death. When we drink, we stifle that growth. When we stop drinking, we’ve lost the capacity to grow in a healthy human way. We don’t know how to evolve. It is kind of like losing the use of our legs due to a spinal injury. Maybe we can recover, but we won’t be running today or tomorrow or next week or next year. Before we can run, we have to learn to walk, and we have no idea how to put one single foot in front of the other.
My cousin, Lexi, got a divorce last year. Earlier this month, she shared publicly about the painful personal growth that she experienced through the process of ending her marriage. She wrote of empathy, compassion, hurt, sorrow, loneliness, love and genuine gratefulness. I’ve never been divorced, but I understood her message as though I had shared every moment of her experience. Lexi has evolved. I understand, but only because I’ve been blessed with the chance to evolve, too.
Divorce. Alcoholism. Lots of other traumatic, crushing events. Sometimes your choice is to evolve or die. It’s really not much of a choice at all.
Sometimes, taking the long way home is your only choice. Sometimes it seems you can’t possibly get home from here. You can, but the evolution will require patience you don’t possess. You’ll have to learn it along the way.
And when you get home, the messy, flawed humanity you evolve into will be the most wholesome imperfection you could ever ask for. You won’t want it any other way, and you’ll be thankful for the arduous journey. The regret will linger as a necessary reminder, but if you’re lucky, it won’t kill you. It’ll make your sobriety muscles so much stronger.
Are you ready to evolve? Are you ready to go home? I’m ready to help you on the journey. I hope you’ll join us in the SHOUT Sobriety program for people trying to navigate early sobriety. I’ve made the trek, and I’ll share with you everything I learned along the way – even the messy, hopeless snow-covered-mountain parts. Click the button below to check out SHOUT Sobriety. We are a donation-based program, and we request a $25 per month recurring donation to keep us alive for the next person who needs us. To enroll, for more information or to make a donation, please click the SHOUT Sobriety button.