When I was early in 12-step recovery and trying to get my head and heart around Step Two (as if Step One hadn’t been mind-blowing enough) my sponsor asked me, after I was adamant that working with a traditional ‘God’ concept wasn’t going to cut it for me, to make a list of everything that was inherently more powerful than me. It was a long list.
Yet abstract notions like ‘love’ or ‘the Lifeforce’ or even the collective power of the ‘rooms’ didn’t work for me either. I sat in the local park, still newly raw and wide-eyed from being clean for the first time in 20 years, and realized what I was searching for was all around me. Nature, Mother Earth, the whole ecosystem of which we are a part, was a Power Greater than myself which I could easily access. While I had been getting high and getting low, the grass had continued to grow, the flowers to bloom and the tides to turn. Somewhat tentatively I discussed this idea with a few people in my home group and found it wasn’t anything new – GOD was used an acronym not just for the oft-repeated Good Orderly Direction or Group of Druggies but also Great Out Doors. I had found my way ‘in’ to the spiritual aspects of the steps.
But could this Power Greater restore me to sanity? How would I turn “my will and my life” over to the Earth which, as beautiful and awe-inspiring as it is, surely doesn’t care whether I get clean or don’t? The sanity part at least turned out to be completely practical. Using nature to restore mental and emotional well-being, including to treat addiction, is nothing new either. Rehabs have been offering wilderness therapy, animal-assisted therapies and restorative time in nature as part of their programs for decades, and recent research into the affects of eco-therapy bears this out. A recent study at the University of Essex in the UK that discovered higher rates of low mood in those that moved from ‘green’ areas into urban ones, and increased positive moods in those who did the opposite. Another British study found that the mood boost provided by time in nature was particularly pronounced for those who had been clinically depressed at the start of the study. The positive effects of time in nature on children with behavioral problems such as ADHD is also well documented. Nature is good for our mental health.
What about ‘turning over my will and my life’? I was never comfortable with the religious language of Step Three, so I knew straight away that for me it was going to be about letting go of the need to control, relinquishing my ‘small self’ or my ego-driven insecure persona in favor of who I was – who we all are – at our core. Part of a greater whole, part of the web and flow of life. My new awareness of the natural world helped make this notion more tangible, grounded in the world I could see and touch around me. For nature, researchers are discovering more and more, is completely interconnected and growth relies on collaboration more than competition. The disconnection and isolation of addiction is in stark opposition to this natural interdependence. And so Step Three for me became – and largely still is – about letting go of my addiction and all that accompanied it and realizing my place in the Web of Life.
Not everyone will share my idea of Nature as the ultimate Power Greater. Not every person in recovery feels the need for a Power Greater at all. Whatever our personal recovery journeys however, the healing power of nature is readily available to us all.
Photo by Riccardo Chiarini on Unsplash.