The Rules of Trek -- and Life
Since the lads are on trek, this seems like the perfect opportunity to discuss the principles we teach on trek and how these translate back into life skills. Our trek program has many benefits, such as building relationships between staff and residents and promoting healthy endeavors. It’s also an outlet for all that energy.
There is also a more practical reason why we trek: the wilderness is the perfect setting to reinforce principles that lead to a healthy life-style that extends well beyond the recovery community. You can’t fake your way through a trek, at least not for long. There is no hiding, and we all need help. So let’s look at six principles that are the backbone of the trek experience.
1. Be Selfless: Think of others constantly. There are many accounts of great expeditions throughout history and in reading them there are common themes. One theme that stands out is caring for each other. In some it seems to be the priority, as they know the whole endeavor depends on being part of a team. The opposite, being selfish, is a theme in some, and the results are often disastrous. Our trek leaders attempt to model selfless behavior, and it can be amusing to watch to grown men try to outdo each other in washing dishes. Being selfless means not keeping score of what others have done or not done and truly doing what is best for the group at that moment. Being a team player has benefits that transcend the trek experience. It makes us better men in our marriages, our jobs, and our friendships. Karma plays a role here. One of my expedition mates may be having a bad day, and by helping him the trip stays on track. I may need him tomorrow. What goes around, comes around. There is also a simpler way of looking at why selflessness is important to those of us in recovery: when I am helping you, I am not thinking about myself, my self-pity or tomorrow. Tuning out the chatter of the ten thousand monkeys in the head is a benefit from helping others.
2. Be Selfish…..In The Right Way: Yes, we just discussed being selfless and now we are saying be selfish. The overused metaphor of the parent in an airplane putting on his mask before putting on his child’s mask works here. You cannot be of use to anyone if your ‘stuff’ isn’t taken care of. We see this (or the lack of this) in the mornings on trek. Those who wake up, immediately putting their sleeping bag in its stuff sack and changing into their hiking clothes, have better mornings. Then there are those who wait until the last minute; they have a hurried morning focused solely on their own needs with little or no time to give to the group, placing a greater burden on their fellows. If you do not take care of your basic needs, you become a drain on the group. This translates to recovery quite well. Once we have been relieved of the obsession to drink and use chemicals, we owe a debt. That debt is paid by helping other suffering addicts and alcoholics and in order to do that we must first take care of ourselves. Some well-meaning people do a lot of damage by trying to help others before they have made enough progress in their own recovery. Remember, this is about the basics. We don’t need to be sober for twenty years before we help someone; we can start rather quickly, but the basics must be in place: sponsor, daily disciplines, meeting attendance. Conversely, we just need to take care of the basics to be a functioning member of the group. Take care of yourself, have your things packed, be ready for the day, pull your weight.
3. Business First, Play Second: Trek is all about taking care of basics so that we are well organized, fed, hydrated and sheltered. We trek in some extreme weather conditions and we also have an amazing safety record. It all comes down to business first. The instinct is often to ‘chill’ first after a long day of hiking, but this can have progressively negative effects on one’s quality of life in the wilderness. The residents are at this moment on the coast of the Pacific Ocean. If you look at a map of the United States, go to the top left of Washington State, right on the ocean; that’s where they are. It is an amazing place with powerful forces coming together. The ocean and the rainforest meet with a diverse weather system. We have seen sun, wind, rain, snow and sleet…. all on the same trek. So, after a long day of hiking, the first goal is to preserve the body heat we have built up by putting on layers of clothing. The next order of business is to get camp set up. Up go the tarps and tents. No matter what Mother Nature throws at us, we can cook and go to sleep in shelter. Once that is done, we fuel the furnace by eating. Then its time to relax and there is plenty of time to explore, lie back and take in the sights. Recovery and life work the same way. Do the dishes and clean the kitchen so that the when it is time to cook, the kitchen is ready. Complete your daily recovery disciplines so that when life throws things your way, you can navigate it without using. Take care of your personal business so you can focus on your job.
4. Take Care Of Your Gear And It Will Take Care Of You: When we are on trek, all we have is what is in our packs. There is no re-supply. It is imperative that we take care of our gear. Respecting what you have is a principle that applies to life, not just the outdoors. In recovery we talk incessantly about gratitude. Gratitude is an action, and how it begins is by treating our possessions, people and the environment with respect. All to often, we try to think ourselves into right acting, but what we need to do is act our way into right thinking. A lack of gratitude is a sign of unhealthy recovery. Acting like things matter, like they are important, changes our view that our world is somehow disposable.
5. Always, Always, Always Go To Bed Warm And Dry: We stress this principle over and over. The trek the guys are on right now is located in one of the rainiest locations on in the United States. (This is where the Twilight Saga takes place). We are prepared for rain, wind, snow and sleet. Some days are long, cold and wet, and these can be endured if there is the assurance that warm, dry sleep will be coming. This requires forethought and preparation. Knowing that a safe environment is available when it is time to go to bed is enough to get guys through the worst of days. In recovery this principle translates to having a safe home that is supportive of recovery. This is why sober living is so important in early recovery. While we are navigating dealing with life without chemicals (no small feat!) and all the ups and downs that go with it, knowing that we have a safe place to land at the end of the day can be the difference between using and not using.
6. Prepare: Preparation determines what kind of experience one will have in the wilderness. To go into the experience without preparation is to invite failure. We check and recheck gear, weather reports, communications gear, route conditions and food. Why would you enter recovery without a prudent plan that gives you a realistic chance for success? We believe that planning and practicing for the next step is essential if sobriety is to be achieved. At Gray Wolf Ranch, our residents practice life skills and recovery disciplines that lead to success when they leave. That practice also comes in the daily structure and on trek.
Trek isn’t just about being out in nature. It reinforces recovery principles that transcend the treatment experience. Preparation, problem solving, self-care and helping others are all part of life. Many of our alumni point to trek as one of the first places where they recognized the importance of these principles. So while the guys are out on the coast, remember it is not just an outdoor experience; it is a life experience that will serve them well for years to come.