There are many different pathways to recovery. Some are tried and true, evidence-base approaches, others are perhaps not. What we know, is that when we put down the drink or drug, and grab a hold of addictive patterns, we can change. First, we acknowledge what is happening in active addiction, how it is influencing our lives, and then we decide—to change ourselves, and our lives, for the better. Today, let’s discuss healing in nature.

Studies show that spending time in nature significantly affects our emotional lives and our behavioral patterns. Nature-based activities can be a powerful teacher and healer. Evidence is proving this in many ways. For example, green therapy as it’s sometimes coined, is a relatively new applied technique that is being used in modern therapy, but based in ancient practices. There are many different reasons why natural environments impact our mind and mood, but therapeutic time outside is an approachable way for folks to come together and experience new modes of healing.

With plenty of opportunity here in Vermont to connect with nature and get outside River Rock Treatment has recently incorporated Adventure Recovery programming into the curriculum. Adventure Recovery (AR) uses adventure and nature to help people recovering from substance use disorders and other mental health conditions to navigate the external wilderness as a modality to better understand the internal wilderness. AR was founded in 2014 by Tim Walsh to provide an alternative to the traditional model of treatment for substance abuse and mental health issues – he calls it “wilderness outpatient”. Walsh, with 25+ years of experience both personal and professional, hopes to teach and help participants incorporate new behaviors and perspectives into their lives using wilderness as the medium. Adventure Recovery defines adventure as “a journey of exploration through the internal and external wilderness”. AR provides guided experiences led by expert guides and professionals who are also in recovery in their own life. Through intentional,  outdoor experiences that accentuate life-affirming practices and community, we can access deeper parts of ourselves and heal the aspects that created self- destructive patterns.

With opportunities like fire ceremonies, rock climbing, river rafting, and overnight camping trips, so far, the adventures have been powerful—for staff and participants alike. Adventure Recovery holds space for individuals to build connections, learn effective communication, practice being present, build self-esteem, challenge limits, and experience some deep belly laughs.

Empowering participants with skills for the adventure at hand helps build agency that translates to everyday living. Trusting the guide and giving or receiving support to and from peers might be a new concept for many in recovery. These concepts translate quickly into action when rock climbing and depending on your spotter to guide you to the next foot hole. These moments

ignite powerful opportunities to shift common patterns many of us experience in active addiction, such as isolation, self-saturation, and distrust. We simply must place our trust—in the rope, in those around us. Being anywhere but the present moment also proves difficult when climbing a rock face or paddling down the river. It’s hard to be in the problems from home when adrenaline is pumping, and endorphins are flowing!

“We’ve seen individuals come out of their shells and experience a part of their personality that had previously been locked. Boredom and an idle mind can be a common trigger for many in recovery and AR helps discover passion and excitement. It means a great deal to us here at River Rock to be able to offer distinctive programming that really teaches us how to live healthy lives.”
Jae Bowman, River Rock Treatment

Participants can access courage when fears come up (which they will) by acknowledging the fear and still taking the next, scary step forward, with support and guidance. Accomplishing hard things and getting out of the comfort zone are skills that last us a lifetime. When we explore new challenges and show up for ourselves and others, we help shift perspectives and outlooks on life. This is powerful. It can be a humbling to be in nature. In addition, when we push ourselves past complacency, we tap into greater aspects of experience, including those that are out of the realm of human control. This builds on our strength, our resiliency, and our well-being overall. To be a part of something larger than oneself builds perspective and makes us realize we don’t make the river run or create massive rock faces. The sun rises each day, with or without us, and we are given the gift of a life beyond the constraints of addiction. This is why we do what we do.

If you or someone you love is struggling, you are not alone. River Rock Treatment serves the greater Burlington, Vermont, Chittenden County, and beyond. If we are not the right fit, we will absolutely help you find support. Contact us to learn more about our programs.  888-308-2624

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