Braving the Journey Home Learning to Trust the Process of Transformation

Addiction is one of the main reasons our clients come to us at Rites of Passage Wilderness Therapy. It was one of the main reasons men found their way to the chapel in prison, too. And like prison, it’s easy to be sober when you are cut off from your supply and surrounded by people who also want to be sober. The real challenge, the fear, is going home and staying sober.

Once the fog has cleared, almost all of our clients (and the men I worked with in prison) want to be sober. They know they are better people with more hopeful futures when they are sober. The problem is that they have tried so hard so many times to get sober and stay that way, and then failed, that they don’t believe in themselves anymore. So looming just on the other side of their departure date – a victorious date that marks all they have accomplished – is the dark specter of relapse and failure waiting to devour them. 

Sometimes it’s not addiction that looms on the horizon. Sometimes it’s a chaotic, wrecked home life. Maybe it’s abuse or neglect, or maybe it’s the dark confusion of a mental disorder. Whatever it is, it’s something they have no control over, and that’s why it’s so scary. Because they know that they can’t out-hike what’s inside, and being able to light a fire in the rain with nothing but flint and steel on moss doesn’t mean they’ll be able to control their addictions or families back home.

That fear looms up cloaked in self-sabotage. We’ll see clients who have been doing well as leaders within the group start acting out, getting angry, and giving up. One young boy was terrified of his addiction, convinced that no matter how well he had done at ROP, he was certain to succumb upon his return. He wanted to stay in the woods.

I had the chance to sit down with him on the beach and share a lesson I was learning about facing the fear of transformation, daring to move forward as a new person.

“The seed is not responsible for the tree that grows,” I said. “The seed just needs to die, to give itself completely, so that the tree may become, but growing and bearing fruit is up to the tree.”

The lifecycle of birth – death – rebirth is all around us in nature, immortalized in our religions and stories. It is the way forward for all living things. And it’s terrifying because it’s more than just shedding bad habits and past failures so that our aspirations and best features can grow. It is a complete death of the old so that the new can fully be.

When we give ourselves as the seed to the hope of a new beginning, a transformation, we give all of ourselves. All our past failures and future hopes. All our dreams and expectations. We pour all of ourselves into the dying, and we stop trying to control the outcome. On this side of transformation, we are the seed that needs to die.

On the other side of transformation, we are the tree that needs to grow. And this is key.

“When you go home, remember that the new you is enough because all you have to be is you.”

The tree grows free from all of the seed’s past hopes and dreams, failures and aspirations. Everything has died. We are enough because we don’t have to fulfill any expectations of our old self. The whole point of the death and rebirth cycle is that we don’t have to be anything from the past. We are free to grow into the future.

Being free to grow is a much more hopeful proposition than being expected not to fail.

While we may have to deal with certain remaining consequences, we can do so with the detachment of one who takes responsibility for another’s decisions. We can take responsibility without shame. We are free to love those whom we hurt, understanding their anger or bitterness with empathy, compassion, and sincerity. We are free to forgive those who hurt us while we were still a seed, for the pain is no longer ours. We are free to love without fear.

Not being in control of the future is still a scary thing, but when we stop trying to control the outcome fear loses its grip. When we look around at nature, we see that we can trust the process. We see the living world thriving and we learn that we can replace control with faith and be the better for it.

A teacher once said that Spirit fills all things, and all things are full to the brim. We are, and we are enough.


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