"Experience is not what happens to you, it is what you do with what happens to you." ~ Aldous HuxleyWhen I penned Part 1 of the Letting It Happen reflection my wife and I were preparing to send our youngest on his next great adventure - his entry into university as a college freshman. Feeling compelled to share how this hand off and our subsequent trip to the Smoky Mountains had so dramatically changed my life, I was surprised to see I had laid the groundwork for this travelogue post months before. In this adventure I would stretch personal boundaries, overcome negativity and one somewhat scary fall to move further along my own recovery pathway.
There are no coincidences, simply a universal synchronicity we MUST surrender to.During my mired years I would never have entertained the possibility of letting go of the struggle to enjoy a quick side-trip to a far off land such as the Smokies, a realm as foreign to me as the Midwest might be to a Central African. A life-long flatlander - as I was called only once, thankfully - I would have presented a long list of reasons for not going. This list would include money, time, work considerations, self loathing, the perceived need to be there for our child, money, and a sincere belief that the "F" word, FUN, was not only unattainable, but disallowed.
A parent mired with The Addiction has neither the time, nor any entitlement to FUN.
Thankfully, this has all changed. We are, my wife and I, well along on our recovery journeys. Though moving along separate pathways, we are, again thankfully, on the same path, though often separately diverted along our way from time to time. We are human after all.
A trip to Gatlinburg after dropping our son off at his university was the perfect getaway, a five-day adventure at the gateway to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. We immersed. We threw ourselves into the beauty, the wonder and the splendor of the town and its surrounds almost to the point of exhaustion. My wife's exhortations to take full advantage of our brief time in the mountains became our battle cry and a frequent source of comic relief.
This trip became a metaphor for our recovery and a joyous, reflective and often lighthearted reminder of why we continue. Thankfully we were both in training for a half marathon. Gatlinburg can kick your ass. Gatlinburg is uphill, both ways.
I allowed my first impression of this new world to be be uplifting in so many ways. Gatlinburg is a very inclusive town, surprisingly so at least to me, nestled as it is in the north central region of the bible belt. The area folklore is all about stills, moonshine and bootlegging, the surrounding hills and valleys having provided perfect nook-and-cranny hideaways for the mostly eradicated grain alcohol industry. The vibe, however is more about inclusion than intoxication. Southern hospitality is everywhere inviting all to partake of a true slice of Americana whether you be American, European, Middle Eastern, African or Asian. We were among Muslims, Hindus, Jews and Christians. The word is out, Gatlinburg is world-friendly and embraceable, whether out of necessity or the very nature of the character of the residents. Gatlinburg is what all of us can be when we are at our best.
This was Letting Go life lesson number one learned from the hill country.
Everyone is in the same boat when existing between 1300 to 6700 feet above sea level - depending upon how much one is inclined to "embrace the climb." All of us were together in this no matter our backgrounds, journeying up and down the elevations, breathing the same rarefied air and battling gravity in measure equal to our individual wellness and fitness. Gatlinburg with its hills, ridges, slopes and vistas is the great equalizer and a gentle taskmaster to humankind!
As I mentioned previously this mini vacation was an encapsulation of where our recovery journeys have taken us. We left the exhilaration, sadness and trepidation of dropping off our youngest at university to embark on an adventure of self discovery. We pushed boundaries, explored and experienced.
On our first hike to 6600 feet, in our first mile as we began a downslope and I transitioned from the previous constant uphill I became complacent. I clipped a protruding rock with my boot and performed a headfirst slide that any major leaguer would be proud of. After being called "safe" by my wife I continued, bloodied, but better for it, better for the fall.
Thankfully, I fell on a hard bed of pebble gravel, not the baseball to SUV-size rocks and boulders we would soon be navigating. You see, the Universe will never give us more than we can take and for some reason, after my stumble the Smoky Mountains became more magnificent and joyous than I was previously willing to acknowledge.
We rode horses, not my thing, but the six-foot perch atop my selected mount provided a perspective of the ridges to the higher elevations I may never have experienced. Our second hike, twice as long as we had planned, became a lesson learned in letting go - letting go of exhaustion, negativity, resentment and competition. Limits reached for both of us on the downhill return leg of our 5-1/2 mile trek, we both gave in to the beauty of our surroundings in the misty confines of the mountains. We slowed our decent, accepted and beheld what the Great Creator had presented to us that day. We allowed other travellers, more adept at mountaineering than we, pass us by. There were those we overcame, possibly newer to the journey.
Always, knowing nods and smiles were exchanged between the fellow travellers.
Each time our return to civilization was a time for quiet jubilation. We had done it! We had travelled beyond our wildest expectations.
Personally, I had stumbled, fallen, and wore a bloody badge to remind me of how I did not, would not quit. My wife and I traversed the same paths up to and back on each of our hikes, but our journeys were markedly different. Footholds were our own, individually to choose. Routes up or down, to the right or left of rock outcroppings were very seldom the same. She, more adept at the downhills bounding down the trails like a pixie, and I more comfortable with the uphills, created an odd dichotomy that kept us both going, uphill as the air became thinner, cooler and more precious, then, downhill as we fought fatigue on the way home.
As parents of addicts it is important to remember each phase of our journey may not take us where we wish to be or where we believe we should be. If we SEEK and SEE what is truly ahead we just might find what we are looking for. We can accept our negativism and dismay, we can succumb to the struggle of the uphill climb that so often is what life brings, and then, we can look around. The splendor does truly await us.
We'll stumble, fall and learn. We'll wonder why we ever took that path, accepted that challenge, until we reach the clearing to our personal Charlies Bunion, Rainbow Falls, Clingman's Dome or return to civilization.
Our struggles are temporary. They forever become a part of us so we may embrace and internalize what we've learned - scars and all.
Where there is life, there's hope for our children. We'll catch glimpses of each other along the switchbacks of our recovery trails. We can, by persevering, inspire them to take the path less travelled, that next step, to pick themselves up after a headlong dive back to the abyss. We can TRUST as we continue on, they too will reach their higher elevation, look down on rainbows from 6200 feet and feel the elation of seeing, finally, what The Universe has awaiting for them.
Let it happen. Let them push boundaries, explore and experience. Let them win and lose and learn. Let them stumble. Let them fall and soon, just maybe, their eyes will open to the possibilities, the splendor and wonder life can bring.
It's worth the trip!
"Life is simple, everything happens for you, not to you. Everything happens at exactly the right moment, neither too soon nor too late. You don't have to like it, it's just easier if you do. ~ Byron Katie