In late January of 2019 Jaywalker Lodge clients embarked on the winter Hut trip. I had high hopes that the clients would be able to strengthen their group ties, foster willingness to work collectively, be vulnerable with each other, and have fun sober. We left the comfy confines of the Lodge and were greeted with strong winds, frigid temperatures, and gray skies at the Vail Summit. We quickly strapped snowshoes to our feet, threw 35-40lb bags on our backs, and a few generous clients strapped 50lb. supply sleds to their waste. Simultaneously, 13 dudes experienced something new…backcountry winter at 11,000 feet. It felt awkward, difficult, foreign, and exciting. The illusion of control was instantaneously stripped from us. We formed a single file line and ploughed a trail into the backcountry with goal of reaching the hut. It took nearly two hours of team work to arrive at our destination. The feelings of joy and relief were palpable. We made quick work of starting a fire in the farmhouse oven, organizing and rationing the food, and starting the sauna.
We started day two hiking the Shrine Ridge Trail to the peak at around 12,000 feet of elevation. I feel that this hike allowed the men to take inventory of his stamina, resiliency, and willingness to be imperfect. The snow pack was 3-4 feet deep, the altitude was extremely high, and we all felt the upward incline. Emotions ran hot as we journeyed to the peak, yet again instigating team work, peer support, and compassion. The amazing view was hard earned. It emphasized the deflation of ego and the nourishment of humility. We were little dots on top of a giant peak looking at a multitude of giant peaks.
I strongly believe the experience of the Shrine Ridge Trail was the catalyst instigating the men on this trip to bear witness to their truths in group on day 3. The stage was set with fatigue, hardship, and the isolation of nature to allow vulnerability to take root. Men admitted how strange and foreign it is to feel emotions after sedating that part of life for so long through substance use. How it seems unsafe, unmanageable, and unknown to embrace the hidden emotional wounds. Yet, the men identified how their perseverance, reliance on each other, and confidence in their guides had resulted in accomplishments beyond their assumed ability. The men identified the parallel to their recovery. If they engaged in the recovery community despite the necessary vulnerability, awkwardness, and difficulty of the unknown they would accomplish things beyond their own ability.
We literarily had the sun on to our backs as we traversed down the mountain back to the sprinters. Spirits ran high as we made quick work of the 3 mile hike in under an hour. I was pleasantly surprised with all of the chatter that I heard among the men as they made plans for their next adventure together. The joy and camaraderie among the group was best crystallized by the incessant laughter emanating from the back of the sprinter as we drove back to the comfy confines of the Lodge.
Richard “D.J.” W. Bishop Jr, MA, Registered Psychotherapist
As Chief Executive Officer Bill provides leadership and manage all day-to-day operations of Jaywalker Lodge, an extended care residential addiction treatment program for adult men.