During a recent road trip this summer, Midwestern Mama gave some thought to “rules for the road,” as her son drives toward recovery.
In Minnesota, we joke that we only have two seasons: winter and road construction. Our winters are notably terrible – often lasting from November (sometimes even earlier) until (at least) May, and the driving is perilous. Our summers are exceptionally beautiful – provided you can get where you’re going in spite of single lanes, out-of-the-way detours and other nuisances as road construction crews spend the entire season to repair potholes, repaint lines and create roundabouts purported to save lives.
It’s not as simple or as dreadful as it sounds. Since there’s not much anyone can do about weather or road construction for that matter, we can complain or we can joke. Even better, we can accept it and ride it out along with our fellow drivers.
My 20-something son is 11 months into sobriety and recovery, and as I’ve come to realize it has some parallels to winter and road construction – neither of which we can control nor can we change.
He’s behind the wheel navigating the icy spots, avoiding the potholes, taking a few detours, and getting to his destination – not necessarily when he wants to arrive, but when the roadway deems it the right time.
Here are some of my realizations about recovery:
Maps are great but not always reliable.
Whether a tried-and-true printed atlas or a digital GPS system with all the bells and whistles, maps are just that – a map. Nothing about a map guarantees that you’ll get from point A to point B; a map is a guide and it’s up to you to follow it or adapt it as you see fit.. As a driver, you may want to consult several maps and then be ready and willing to make adjustments as road and weather conditions present. There is almost always more than one way to get to your destination and as much as the straight and narrow might seem like the best route, it may not be the route you find yourself on.
Keep your eyes on the road.
One of the cool things about a road trip is the chance to see the world. Some of it is quite beautiful, but not all of it. Some of it can be quite distracting and if your eyes wander, you may risk driving off the road. When you’re in recovery, it’s important to concentrate; one small lane change without signaling can be detrimental.
Detours do happen.
Early in my son’s addiction journey, he did try a few treatment programs. One he arrived at and ran away from nine days later. He was using again almost immediately, and whatever respite he had from using did not drive an interest in sobriety. Midway through a second program, this time an out-patient one, he started using. His interest in sobriety was still a long ways off. A few years later during a successful in-patient stint followed by a halfway house, his sobriety lasted a bit longer and he finally had a bead on the horizon. He wanted to change, but didn’t want to follow the rules of the road … thus, he relapsed and this time its effect was almost immediate – he was once again homeless, jobless and penniless.
Don’t forget to refuel.
Safe driving takes energy and concentration. Just as you need to keep an eye on the fuel gauge and to use the right type of gasoline for your car, it’s imperative that you pay attention to your body’s and mind’s dashboard. Are you eating and resting well? Are you feeding your soul? Are you exploring new ideas?
Stop when you get tired.
Experts say that tired driving is, in fact, impaired driving – as potentially dangerous as driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Odd as this may sound, I think too much focus on recovery, will wear you out; it’s too intense to take on recovery 24/7/365. Too many meetings, too many counseling appointments, too many forced interactions – it can zap your energy and your ability to see straight. Instead, to help all the positive content sink in, you need to take a rest and do a few other things.
Some of the things my son likes to do include taking the dog for a walk, playing Frisbee golf, going to a movie, visiting his grandma. He doesn’t do these things naturally – he’s more inclined to play hours and hours of video games – so my mom instinct is to remind and encourage him to do something else. I’m hoping he’ll start rollerblading again this summer – something he’s always enjoyed; we got him a new pair about a month ago when he successfully completed a semester of college.
Have a destination in mind.
When my kids were little, we would often take a family drive on Sunday afternoon. My husband always called it, “seeing where the car takes us,” and the kids loved the surprise element. Sometimes we would end up in a small town and find a fun place for burgers and malts. Other times, we might end up on a nature walk or at the beach (after all, Minnesota is the Land of 10,000 Lakes).
Rather than a hard and fast geographic destination, the destination we had in mind was “family time,” and we always knew when we arrived. I think this is a key distinction for recovery. Having too specific a vision of where you want to head is the opposite of recovery, which is a time of healing and discovery. You’ll know when you’re on the right road, and if you detour, you trust that you’ll get back headed where you need to go.
Right now, I’d say my son has a loose destination in mind (sobriety, recovery and independence). He has a map (but he’s not clutching it too tightly and is open to the road-trip approach). He detours from time to time (fortunately, not as a relapse these past 11 months), and then he gets right back on the road. The road behind has my son’s destination.
He’ll know it when he gets there and we will, too. For now, he’s driving the car and his eyes are on the road.
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