From The Dirt, Into Recovery

By Graeme Aegerter

I raced down the street, bare feet pounding against pavement until asphalt gave way to gravel to grass then the soft earth of the woods. This was my last chance. They were going to force me to go to rehab, so I knew I had to drink to die. Hopeless, defeated, and too tired for my usual suicide tactics, I begged the universe to take me away from this life as I drowned myself in alcohol. I fell to the earth, unconscious.

The universe responded.

Something changed that morning in the woods. A psychic shift, a spiritual transformation, a reconfiguration of consciousness. Whatever words I use to describe it today, all I know is that my life changed profoundly in the depths of my final drunk. I have come to believe that in those hours I spent crumpled in the dirt in a tangle of branches and bushes, my higher power seeped into my being through the Earth. It soaked into my bones through the generous roots of pines and cedars. It drifted down in pollen and dust from outstretched branches. It wove through the boughs on dappled streams of sunlight. The beautiful woods of my childhood cradled my body in its final desperate flails, preparing my spirit for rescue. For rebirth.

In those last days, I struggled to go an hour without drinking alcohol, taking a pill, or smoking weed. Ten months have passed since that morning in the woods, and by the grace of something far greater than my own self will, I have not used alcohol or drugs once. I often struggle to comprehend how this is at all possible. How can all those years of alcoholic drinking so quickly dissolve into sobriety?

I have found my solution to these seemingly incomprehensible questions in a program of recovery that teaches me to get outside of myself, to connect with others, to be of service to those around me, and to cultivate a relationship to the higher power that rooted me to this life when I had given up on living.  I found my answer in surrendering to help and going through inpatient treatment. I see my answer in the sunrise illuminating Mt. Rainier in blankets of purple and golden rays.  I hear the rhyme and reason of it all in the dance of relentless Pacific Northwest raindrops on my windshield. I feel serenity in the warm embrace of my family and friends. I breathe clarity as the spring flowers unfurl in fragrant chorus. I start to understand peace lying in the dirt, humbled by the gift of being.

That’s not to say that I don’t have days where I am consumed by the desire to drink. I sometimes catch myself weaving a web of self-pity and denial, trying to convince myself that I am the exception and can outsmart my allergy to alcohol. I have fears, anger, resentments, insecurities, and pain. Most importantly, however, I have a choice. I get to choose freedom. Instead of smothering those emotions with waves of substances, I strive to revel in their discomfort and grow from their lessons. I can make mistakes, admit when I am wrong, and take responsibility for my actions.

When I was drinking, I was convinced that I needed to be “in nature” to feel peace, joy, and a spiritual connection. In recovery, I am reminded to feel the great spirit of nature pulsing wherever I am, whether in the basement of a church at a meeting, in the echoing chambers of a concert hall, in my cubicle at work, or at the top of a tree in the woods where I first found my healing. The miracle of my breathing, sober body is nature in action. Being in recovery has taught me to cherish and have gratitude for all that life has to offer—the good, bad, and utterly mysterious. Most importantly, I am learning that to keep these gifts, I have to give it back to the world around me.

That morning in the woods, when I asked the universe to take me away from this life I thought I was asking to die. Ten months later, each day of sobriety is a reminder that the universe heard my call -- it took me away from my alcoholic life so that I could find recovery.

In that cry that could’ve been my swan song, the woods composed a prelude. Now we’re writing the score together, piece by piece, day by day.