Recovery Trekking: A Spiritual Approach to Recovery from Addiction

Recovery Trekking: A Spiritual Approach to Recovery from Addiction


"I realized at some point along my own journey that alcohol was not my problem; I was my problem, and I was unconsciously using alcohol to change my reality."

I recently completed the last 100 km of world-famous pilgrimage route El Camino de Santiago, a journey that numerous pilgrims from across the globe embark on each year for a variety of reasons. In my case, it was to guide another young woman not only along a physical path, but along a path to recovery from alcoholism. You see, I was fortunate enough to discover at a young age that I suffer with what I’ve come to see as a "spiritual malady," in other words, a disease with a spiritual component, which I believe requires spiritual treatment to be overcome.

Having benefited enormously from the work I’ve done on myself over the past four years, which has involved digging deep inside myself to discover the root of my problem, I decided I wanted to help others and pass on the wisdom that was passed down to me. I realized at some point along my own journey that alcohol was not my problem; I was my problem, and I was unconsciously using alcohol to change my reality. Once I was aware of this, I was able to begin an ongoing process that would help fill that void and make me an overall better person.

In the summer of 2017, I met a woman through the 12-step fellowship who had decided to take the steps and combine them with the ancient tradition of pilgrimage. Over time, this idea materialized into a reality. Recovery Trekking was born. I was honored to be selected as a guide for a young woman, Jessica, in early sobriety, and blown away at how well the concept works. The transformation that took place in this young woman over the course of just one week was staggering.

Jessica was a willing participant, ready to face any personal demons. She had two women with her who could relate to her journey and guide her. And all three of us did 12-step program work each day, as well as journaling and meditation.

Moreover, we were sharing this experience in one of the most spiritual settings on the planet, following in the footsteps of the thousands of pilgrims who had walked before us, all in search of answers, a greater meaning, and a spiritual solution to their own problems.

One man we met, Anthony, was carrying out the trek in order to help himself recover from multiple addictions. He trekked along with his 70-year old father, who had already completed the Camino four times. He shared his story with us and subsequently we shared ours, much to the relief of his father, who was so grateful he’d found people who understood him and were able to help him. That evening, the pair joined our meeting and Anthony’s father described our encounter as his “greatest moment of all the Caminos.” That was enough to make my eyes well up with tears.

Part of the healing process involves dealing with the painful thoughts and memories that occasionally rise to the surface, as there are very few ways you can distract yourself along the Camino. In this instance, Jessica was with people she could trust to help her process this stuff carefully and gently work through it with her. On the day we arrived in Santiago de Compostela, she had tears streaming down her face along the last stretch, clearly overwhelmed by the mix of emotions she was experiencing after such an intense week of hiking and personal development. While this may sound daunting, it is such a great gift to have this scope for self-reflection.

Among the many benefits of a spiritual trek for recovering addicts is that the process slows you right down; the focus here is on the journey, not the destination, and when you’re hiking roughly 20 km a day, you no longer bother rushing to get there. All of a sudden, you start noticing your surroundings, taking in all the different sights, sounds, and smells. For me personally, the absolute greatest benefit was this: Life became simplified, reducing an enormous amount of anxiety.

Besides the 12-step work I was doing with Jessica and getting to the next stop on the road, I did not have to worry about anything. My daily routine became very straightforward: Eat, hike, sleep, repeat. I began to feel grateful for the little things, such as stumbling on a cafe that sold fresh pastries, or an albergue with a bathtub, and I believe gratitude is one of the most important tools for those in recovery—if you can be grateful for what you have, your desire to escape reality through drinking or drug taking slowly disappears.

If you are struggling to get or stay clean and sober, and think you might benefit from a more spiritual approach, I urge you to get in touch with us at [email protected].

Keep reading:

Buddhism and the 12 Steps

The Ways of the Pilgrim (subscriber login required)

All names have been changed to protect privacy.

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