As a teenager I spent three summers racing a Sailfish on Sunday afternoons on Delaware Bay. The extremes of sailing offer a couple of parallels to living with active addiction and an addict in recovery.
Sailing “close hauled,” involves taking a zigzag course that brings the bow of the craft within 35 to 45% of the direction that the wind is blowing. Sometime this is the only way to advance your course, and can be a strenuous, white-knuckle ride in high wind with rough waves and whitecaps. More than once I’ve I have had the Sailfish sail out from under me as I hung to the windward side as the boat heeled sharply, trying to keep it from capsizing.
I equate sailing “close hauled” with living with active addiction, which any parent knows to be a white-knuckle ride with an actively using daughter or son. You never know what will knock you and your offspring off course or when, but you hang on for dear life (yours and theirs), running “close hauled” as you conserve your energies to navigate upwind through the choppy waters of relapse.
“Running before the wind” I equate with living in recovery. In sailing, the wind is blowing directly from behind, the mainsail extended as far as it will go in a 90-degree angle to the craft. On a Sailfish, which has only one sail, this could be on either side. Many times have I rounded a buoy after tacking close hauled in a race, and let the sail out to run down wind. The ride is exhilarating and peaceful, the relief palpable. You can pull up the center board which you no longer need it to direct the course. Suddenly the wind is doing the work as you move with the elements, not countering or managing them.
Enjoying the peace of a daughter or son no longer using is like running with the wind. Sure, our 12-Step programs instill that we can become “happy, joyous and free” whether the addict in our lives is using or not. The reality is that when our children stop using we cannot help but feel blessedly released. But this joy ride is no sure thing.
A sailor knows to keep a watchful eye the elements while enjoying the seemingly easy ride down wind. The slightest swell in the water can cause the mast to sway forward and backward, possibly knocking the wind out of your sails that is “luffing.” It can also throw you into a jibe, and mainsail swinging abruptly across the wind from one side of the craft to the other — which can violently rock a craft, and certainly capsize a Sailfish.
A watchful eye is essential for anyone in recovery — parents and children. Addiction, like the sea, can rock our world at any time. Addiction is what it is. We can remain vigilant by keeping our expectations in tact — expectations being “resentments waiting to happen” per a recent 12-Step meeting I recently attended. The only certainty we have is change — on the water, in recovery, and in life.
We can enjoy tranquility when it floats around us without attaching to it. Relish the ride when the wind is at your back. Don’t look for trouble, but keep your eyes open. Recovery can be a great ride. But a good 12-Step program can provide the rudder we need for whatever course we are called to navigate.