Over on the campus of the drug and alcohol treatment facility where I work full time these days, there’s a short walking path that cuts through the woods from the upper parking lot down to the Caldwell Center, where the dining hall is located and most of the treatment groups meet.
The goal is to eventually add a lengthy walking trail along the perimeter of our 25-acre campus, but our activity therapist, Joe, is doing it mostly by himself, with help on occasion from alumni and volunteers, so it’ll take a while. This particular short path, dubbed “Serenity Trail,” is just far enough from the drive that in the spring, the forest canopy through which it unfolds seems to envelope it like the wild hands of a protective mother.
Through leaves fat with water from a recent rain, you get glimpses of asphalt and concrete and buildings, but off to the left, a narrow ravine cuts down toward the Little River, and the woods are dim and cool and tranquil. I take this path frequently, and I often stop to clear my head or gather my thoughts when I need to write. The other morning, I was on my way to a meeting, however, when it struck me: Honeysuckle, in full bloom.
It’s an unmistakable fragrance, a sweetness that fills my head and takes me back to the wooded hillsides below my grandmother’s house in rural Mississippi. It’s spring, and my brother and I are tromping through mounds of decaying leaves still wet from the morning’s rain, out of sight of the house, young and free and untroubled. The honeysuckle is thick, bursting from the surrounding overgrowth in vines thick with cream-white blossoms that draw insects by the dozen to drink of their nectar.
Later that night, I’ll lie awake on the couch, and I’ll still smell that perfume on my fingers as I drift off, the sounds of a Mississippi night drifting through the screen of the open window: croaking bullfrogs and budded branches rasping against one another in the wind, the distant hum of cars on the nearby highway, my father’s snores from the guest bedroom. Everything is right and good, and all of the troubles of my addiction are still several years in the future.
It’s funny how such a smell can take me back. I found myself standing there on the trail, drinking it all in, and a song came to my head: “Golden Riverside,” by Bonepony.
“I want to taste every flower, want to breathe in every sea, I want to feel the cold stones of the garden on the ground beneath my feet …”
The guys in Bonepony have been around for almost 30 years now, making a racket out of Nashville that’s jubilant and glorious. This song, actually, comes from an album titled “Jubilee,” entirely appropriate, given their penchant for singing about better days and celebrating the things in life that we sometimes take for granted ... like the smell of honeysuckle.
“And when the night is finally over, and the morning light comes so pale, I’m gonna shed this skin of ashes and slither out of hell …”
I couldn’t help but think how apt those lyrics were in that place of recovery. Recovery from addiction, the way we do it and the way it’s done around the country, is about repairing broken people. We help those who come to us shattered, unable to appreciate the things that we take for granted. They don’t know how to shed that skin, and the memories of the past are often tainted by the specter of darkness that accompanies addiction.
We help them find clarity and show them a window to those times that can be viewed without the grime of their disease distorting the image, so that one day they might be able to think back, as I do, and smile at the boy who was instead of lamenting the things he’ll one day lose.
“There’s a place of complete surrender, a land where the truth resides, I want to lay there my trembling body, by the golden riverside …”
Recovery is that golden riverside. Whether it’s through treatment or in a 12 Step program or at Celebrate Recovery or at private therapy, there is a way out. Life can be a walk by that golden riverside on a warm spring afternoon, when the smell of honeysuckle fills the air and you feel a renewed appreciation for just how beautiful life on the other side of addiction can truly be.