One of my favorite pastimes is camping. I enjoy the stories others share around a campfire, the whistle of the wind, seeing animals roaming through the trees, hearing loons calling out and the potent smell of campfire smoke in my clothing. Camping provides a gentle break from the high heels, makeup, hustle and slight madness of the city. I didn’t always value this pastime. It’s different now. I’m a bit of a camp-a-holic! Something changed inside me. Attitude, perhaps?
At a younger age, when I lived in Montana, my parents would occasionally take me out camping and hunting. I still remember how annoyed I would get that I couldn’t stay home to party, stay up all night talking to older high school boys, go on cruises on “the drag” in downtown Missoula or just plain find something to do so I wouldn’t be stuck with myself. I wanted to escape. Despite my disinterest at the time, I do have vivid memories of enjoying the sunrise over the Bitterroot Mountains while feeding our horses and the way my mom’s beef stew tasted out of a bread bowl. I think these memories are now my favorites.
In my twenties I moved to New York. I didn’t know a soul and was scared, but I was determined. I thought I was going to conquer that city! I was going to school during the day, babysitting at night and drinking every chance I got. I was curious about people yet starving for attention.
Sometimes I had to get away even in the latest hours of the night. I’d hop on the subway, ride it down to Battery Park, step onto the Staten Island Ferry and enjoy the peace and quiet of the harbor. I can still remember the smell of the salty, humid air, the creaking sounds of the ferry and the dazzling city lights in the distance. It was on that exact ferry that I made the decision to live in that bustling metropolis.
In that city I found out I was not the center of the universe, there was a God and I was not Him. This was a rude awakening. I learned that other people just like me had hopes, dreams, loves and desires and that maybe some were actually really happy. I realized this while waiting for a “walk” signal on the corner of 23rd Street and 6th Avenue. Everyone was busy getting to where they needed to go. Everything got quiet, and I was frightened and humbled. I went home to my basement floor apartment in Astoria, Queens and went to sleep!
Three years later, when the tsunami hit Thailand, my heart felt broken. I left my California apartment and headed for the Pacific Palisades. When I arrived at the beach at sunrise, I prayed for all the families that had been affected. This was an improvement from earlier years of not understanding how much devastation was around me and in other people’s lives. There, on the beach, at age 23, I wasn’t as self-absorbed, although I had a suspicion that something was not right with me. It was so quiet that morning. The gentle waves crashing were all I could hear, as dolphins came close to the shore. It was so majestic! I had never seen dolphins in nature. I found out they arrive the same time every morning and afternoon. This was my new favorite place for peace and quiet.
On November 7th, 2005, on the majestic Whidbey Island in Washington State, I gave up booze. On that foggy morning I realized I was about to sabotage my entire life, and I immediately asked God for help. Today in Minnesota, I treasure the bird songs in the morning, the beauty of fall colors, the crunch of glittery snow beneath my feet in the winter and the sound of truth and laughter. I don’t live a perfect life, but I am grateful and carry an attitude of gratitude as frequently as possible. Giving back has been essential to my recovery. The shift in attitude helps me value my beautiful, sober life, and I especially value it when I’m in the peace and quiet. With a s’more, of course!