Sober and Curious

Last night I skied under a bright half moon, high up along a spine of small mountains up the road, where the snow is just thick enough on the ground. There was a slight breeze; the trees – mostly hardwood, old sugar maples and yellow birch – creaked and popped, and cast long, crooked shadows on the ground that I often mistook for fallen branches. The air was cold and the snow was fast and I felt the way I sometimes do when I ski at night deep in the woods, in the cold, alone: Like I’d stepped just slightly outside myself. Like I could just go and go and go. But eventually I turned back, so as not to worry those waiting at home (turns out I needn’t have been concerned), and traced my tracks back to the truck, where I sat in the dark for a moment, letting the big engine warm itself, feeling beads of sweat roll down my back, watching the thermometer slip from 11 to 10, and the clock roll from 8:31 to 8:32. Grateful to be alive. 48 years now, right at that age where some would say I’m old, and others would say I’m young, and the funny thing is, they’d both be telling the truth.

I’ve been teaching (well: More like facilitating) a writing workshop through an amazing program called Writer’s For Recovery, which offers free, 10-week programs for anyone in the recovery community, no matter what they’re in recovery from. I love it. The people, especially, and the stories they tell, and the unselfconscious way they have of talking about their lives and their feelings and failings. If any of you are in the northern VT area and would like to join us, just leave a comment and I’ll get back to you. Anyone can participate; all that’s required is that you show up sober and curious.




16 thoughts on “Sober and Curious”

  1. I’m so glad you are working with this wonderful program. Gary Miller’s a hero of mine. Your talents will support others in many meaningful ways. (& it’s likely you’ll never know a lot of the good you’re doing). Thank you for this contribution! ❤️❤️

  2. Wonderful descriptions…I could have been right there in the woods with you (walking, not skiing, however:) Sounds like important work you’re doing with the writing program, and I’m sure you’re very much appreciated.

  3. Hey Ben, reading about your writing course reminded me of a qoute from I dont know who that goes ‘the opposite of addiction is not sobriety; the opposite of addiction is connection’. And so I thought what better person to help people to reconnect then you, whose writing is often overtly or covertly about connections in all their infinite manifestations. Thanks for being a constant reminder of the connections all around us.. Enjoy the winter!

  4. Oh Man, would I love to be in that class – although I’m not recovering from anything except bad financial choices – may not ever recover from that!

    I can picture that cold Vermont. Glad I’m not there in a way. Today we’re under water. Standing water everywhere. Little green weeds poking their heads out of the (previously) hard ground. Now I can put the fiberglass insulator poles in and get the hotwire fence repaired!

  5. Ben,
    This is an amazing thing you’re doing! The only thing I am recovering from at the moment is a serious addiction to food, and an incessant desire to spend a few hours away from my overzealous and often intense toddler on occasion. It would be wrong for me to attend, but I would be happy to spread the word. Happy holidays to you and Penny!

  6. Hi Ben….Wonderful to read your post! Being under a bright winter moon in the woods at night provides a feeling unattainable by any other means. While I’ve never been on skis I have been on skates countless times, back when the thought of breaking a hip was never entertained. Decades ago I would skate in a deep ”bowl” behind my home carved out of the Cape Cod ground by enormous chunks of ice during the ice age. It was wondrous and most joyous on single digit nights in the wee hours lit by only the moon while everyone else was in deep slumber. The sound of the skates cutting the hard ice gently reverberated off the sides of the surrounding bowl. It was the only sound and it held such beauty. Above was clear, deep space looking down at me, speaking with occasional shooting stars moving in silence.

    In my experience in my own recovery I found those doing the same thing to be the most self-honest people I have ever met. Not a lot of people have the ability to look in the mirror and actually see what they’re doing to not just themselves but those around them. Not only did they set an example for me but facilitated my own recovery. Kudos to you for being instrumental in this regard. Wish I could join your group but it’s a few too many miles from my home in China. Maybe I can get there this winter when I visit New England.

    Thanks for this post. Time to read it again.

    1. Thanks, Tom. Since you’re going to read it again (or have read it by now), tell me what you’d change about it… just for fun

      1. Ben….I just read it for a third time and don’t see any need for change. The way it is sinks right into me, even on the third read, so it contains the feeling and resonant power that impacts and remains with me the reader. I don’t think I can improve on that, it’s terrific just the way it is. But just for fun I’ll think about this a little more when my head clears, I lost my US Passport today which is a major problem I must deal with immediately and I’m quite upset with myself and stressed out. Thanks!!

  7. I enjoyed your story about skiing at night under a full moon, as it reminds me of doing the same with my high school sweetheart nearly 50 years ago, back when xc skis were made of wood and about as fragile as a butterfly’s wings.

    ‘Hope that your workshop will do some good for the target audience. My experience attempting to help addicts get back on their feet has been woefully unsuccessful, so I sincerely hope that your efforts aren’t wasted on people who lack the will to do the hard work that recovery demands.

      1. If you don’t have any expectations, you won’t get hurt. I let myself get sucked in by the sad stories and naively believed the promises. Addicts are like the flame of a candle, let yourself get too close and you’ll get burned.

        ‘Hope that you and your’s are all happy, healthy, and of sound mind.

  8. OK, Ben, I’ll give this shot but I’m no Hemingway:

    Offering exhilaration and a cloak of peace simultaneously, I enjoyed skiing under the watchful eye of a brilliant half moon last night, high on the spine of small mountains…or maybe they are big hills…up the road where the early December snow was just enough to aid in propelling my skis across the Northern Vermont ground.

    Accompanying the soft moonlight was a gentle breeze, zephyr like, that caused the old hardwoods of primarily sugar maples and white birch to creak and pop like the knees of an old man who worked too many decades. The light finding its’ way through he treetops cast shadows of deceit on the snow painting crooked branches on the white background that made me think of Halloween and fooled me into thinking that fallen branches were all around me. The air was cold, frigid almost, making the snow fast without resistance and I felt the way I feel when I ski at night singularly in the deep woods: out-of-body as if looking back at myself as an observer and not a participant in an almost beautifully surreal environment that was somehow full of magic.

    I felt as if I could go on and on without the need to stop for anything; maybe ski into the edge of dawn but knowing full well that others may take note of my lack of return at an appropriate time.
    Returning home I found that I could have brushed aside my concerns and stayed in the woods longer. Next time.

    I traced my tracks back to the waiting truck and I sat in the disturbed quiet as the big engine warmed itself as beads of sweat rolled down my back while I was witness to the temperature descending from 11 to 10 and the clock creep forward to 8:32 from 8:31. I had this tremendous feeling of gratitude to be alive in this moment at this time in my life where some would say I’m old; some would say I’m young. The funny thing is this: they would both be right in speaking this truth.

    Thanks, Ben!

  9. Love your insights and descriptive writing. I’m in California but your recovery writer’s group sounds amazing! Lots of stories to tell, I’m sure.

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