When I was working in the trenches people sometimes ask me how I lasted thirty-one years working with young people and adults, some of whom who were challenged in life in so many ways. Fortunately for me I had some good balance within my work of supporting people in a variety of less critical ways too. I also received many intangible and unexpected gifts from people of all ages and other expressions of gratitude in the form of notes, children’s artwork, poems, timely quotes and phrases that promote healing and recovery. “If its fifty miles into the woods it’s fifty miles out” is a familiar term to people working through recovery programs. The phrase has also been useful in my work when dealing with all sorts of issues in both my professional and private life, too.
Fifty miles in
Sometimes it happens. People we love get lost in the woods of life, in very hard places, where it hurts and it seems that there is no way out. And the hard truth is that a few folks never make it out and are swallowed up whole and are gone before our eyes, before a hand goes out and a prayer said or a path appears to lead the way back home.
That was always awful news to hear. Even today my heart holds dear the names and images of those who are no longer with us. But, we know too that the story brightens for those among us who push on, who, through sheer grit, determination and perhaps some luck, refuse to give up, who somehow find their way back from the darker woods of life, through addiction, loss, abuse or despair. These folks are the unsung heroes who have been there and back. And if we listen, we learn that getting their life back didn’t happen overnight. Sure, it’s only natural whenever we turn things around that we want to recover, no matter the illness or challenge, as quickly as possible. But those who have made the journey back will tell us, it will take time.
From Jiffy Lube to Rapid Refill, the odds are stacked against us for giving time, time, for healing slowly and for doing the work of attending to self in today’s modern society.Twenty years ago detox units were based on thirty-day stays. Today, people needing treatment are discharged in less than a week. When longer hospital stays are required for medical issues, we beg our HMO’s for permission for one more day of hospital care. In US public schools the average time for students to eat their lunches has shrunk from 30 minutes twenty years ago to 15 minutes today. Employees of large corporations are constantly seeing their sick day benefits dwindle and bargained against other time off. Taken as a whole it’s not a pretty picture.
Fifty miles out
Finding our way out of the woods and getting back home to the place we belong is hard and heady work. Hard in that the pitfalls are many and it’s easy to slide back down almost without knowing. And the journey back home can be heady, too, because it’s exhilarating, powerful and it creates its own energy which can be good and bad at the same time. Good, because we’re on the right path and moving forward, and risky because we think that we’re doing better than we actually are. And this is where the guidance and support of others comes in and is so crucial. I used to have “If its fifty miles into the woods it’s fifty miles out” hanging as a small poster in my office. A young man of 20 read the poster, who himself was recovering painfully slow from a devastating soccer related concussion said, “Yeah, that’s true. But the fifty miles out feels a heck of a lot better than the fifty miles in. And he would know. As a stand-out athlete playing soccer on a division A soccer, his third concussion since high school needed to be his last. His doctors told him that ping-pong was the only competitive sport he should ever play again.
The way back home
For my young friend, his way back home to living a normal life meant he had to reimagine and then reinvent what his future life would be like. For others, the way back home might mean committing oneself to becoming part of a recovery program and community. Turning things around and getting to a safer place might require leaving an abusive relationship or changing a diet and getting exercise to avoid a stroke that the doctor said was coming. It’s all work. It’s all hard. But I have had the privilege of knowing so many who have found their way back home, through talking and walking, “If its fifty miles into the woods its fifty miles out.
Grief and Loss http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/grief.aspx
Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.) http://www.aa.org
Depression Treatment and Care Info http://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/depression-treatment-care
The National Domestic Abuse Hotline http://www.thehotline.org
Text by Kevin Lee
Graphic artwork created exclusively for Rise This Day
by Ma. Shayne Krizel Zalameda