They say you need to hit rock bottom before you can clamber toward sobriety. To an extent, that was true for me as well. The difference is that I remained at rock bottom for many years before I even contemplated sobriety.
At 23 I was already a heavy user and my rock bottom came in the form of a sentence for drug charges. Despite that, it wasn’t until I was in my late twenties that I finally got a hold of my life and finally sobered up. It was a long road, one with many struggles, many relapses. But in the end one of the things that helped me the most was something you just won’t find in your typical recovery story, and something that definitely isn’t in any 12 step program.
That something was surfing. Sounds crazy, right? Bear with me and it’ll start to make a lot of sense as I describe my 4 reasons to consider surf therapy while in recovery.
One of the reasons I suffered so many relapses in my early years was because I missed the thrill that meth, my drug of choice, provided me with. Or at least, that’s what I thought when I was struggling with sobriety, because the reality was never that simple. When I was sober I would remember meth as this wonderful, life-changing, life-affirming drug, and that kick-started the cravings. When I relapsed and took my first dose, I experienced mere minutes of pleasure, followed by weeks of regret and disgust.
You experience pleasure differently once you’ve been addicted to meth and I didn’t think I would derive pleasure from anything again. But then I discovered surfing.
It was pure coincidence really. It was summer and it was so hot I was uncomfortable in my own skin. I was also bored out of my mind and looking for a distraction. I asked my neighbor if he wanted to go out, he told me that he was going surfing and said I could go along. The rest was history.
At first, there wasn’t a lot to enjoy. I was rarely on the board and spent more time swimming than anything else. But in time, I began to love every minute I spent on/in the water, and even during those early days it was still something that took my mind off my recovery.
These days nothing excites me quite like surfing does. That’s not to say that I still have issues experiencing pleasure, far from it, it’s just that I get so much pleasure from surfing. Once you’re on the water, with the cool waves beneath your feet, the power of Mother Nature behind you and the sun beating down, you don’t think about the drugs you used to take or the recovery you’re going through. In fact, you don’t really think about anything, and that’s a rare treat for a recovering addict.
There is a certain stereotype regarding the surfing community. They are labelled as air heads. Idiots. And, for the most part, drug users. That’s not true. Surfing is as diverse as any hobby and while those people do exist, they are the exception as opposed to the rule.
For the most part, the people I have met surfing are energetic, care-free, intelligent, funny people. They are great to be around. They are supportive. If not for the help I received from these people I don’t think I would be where I am today.
For me, and for many others in recovery, one of the hardest things to deal with was the fact that most of my friends were drug users. They lived to get high and it seemed like I had two options: I could either get high with them and remain friends. Or I could walk out on them, at which point I would be sober but alone.
Even though it doesn’t feel like it, the latter option is always the better option, because there is always a different group of friends waiting for you. There are always friends out there who won’t use you for drugs, won’t expect you to get high every day and won’t treat you like a freak if you tell them you’re in recovery.
The Health Benefits
Addicts aren’t very health conscious. Drugs like meth destroy your health, and this is exaggerated by the fact that you don’t pay attention to what you eat when you’re using. When you’re high, you don’t really feel the ill effects of a bad diet. In recovery, however, it eats away at you and drags you down.
It’s hard to stay fit and healthy because it’s hard to find the motivation to do so, but this is where surfing helped me. I was getting plenty of exercise out in the open. I was getting plenty of sunshine. And because I was more active and surrounded by people who were equally active and people who looked after themselves, I began to eat better.
I know from experience that’s it’s very difficult to make it through recovery when you’re not in the best of health. I’ve had problems with my teeth, gums, skim, hair and bowels—all relating to vitamin deficiencies and bad diet—and this was when I wasn’t using. When you feel like hell every day and you just can’t find the motivation to do something about it, it’s easy to turn to the drug that you know will make it all go away. But if you watch what you eat, if you exercise and get some fresh air and sunshine, you’ll help to keep those cravings at bay.
I hated myself every time I relapsed, and the more I hated myself, the more I used and the longer those relapses lasted.
In my mid-twenties I sobered up for a few weeks and then applied for a job that required a drug test. I knew that meth doesn’t remain in your urine or saliva for very long, so I thought I would be safe. As it turns out, they took a hair sample, which can detect the drug for up to 3 months.
The irony is that if I had only been clean for a few days, as opposed to a few weeks, it wouldn’t have shown. Nor would it have shown it they used a different test. But it did show, and the resulting failure, followed by the loss of an opportunity I had pinned a lot of hope on, sent me into another two years of addiction.
I had hoped that job would give me a reason to wake up in the morning, and I was distraught when it was taken away from me. I have known many friends who have slipped into relapse because of similar heartbreak, whether through the death or a parent or a child, the loss of a job or a house, or even a partner walking out on them.
With surfing, not only did I find a reason to wake up in the morning, but no one could take it away from me. I knew that if I lived by the beach and had my board, I would always be able to surf. Even if I lost my apartment, even if I had no money and no friends, I would still find a way to surf, and that gave me a sense of purpose that I had never experienced before.
One Wave at a Time
Recovery is about living one day at a time. You’ll have bad days. You’ll have good days. You’ll have days when you feel on top of the world and like you’ll never use again. You’ll have days when you just can’t imagine ever being completely sober.
I have been sober for 8 years, but I still have the occasional bad day. Just know that the more time you spend in your own head, the worse those bad days will be and the further away from sobriety you’ll become. And if you can clear your head and fill it with the joys of sun, sea and surf, then it’ll all be plain surfing from that moment onwards.