The past week was one of the best experiences of my life and I owe it all to recovery. It was a very simple thing really. Nothing in comparison to some of the bragging rights of my past, but far outweighs any of those ego driven experiences. I went on vacation with my family. Nothing new, I’ve done this many times. What was different? Me.
I, along with my husband, four daughters, and the dog packed up the car a week ago and drove to the Outer Banks. It’s unique and undeveloped by comparison to other beach destinations. We stayed on Hatteras Island, the lower portion of the 200-mile stretch of barrier islands. I took the photo above on the bridge that leads to the lower islands. There’s no filter and it’s from my iPhone in the car. It’s just that wildly beautiful everywhere on the islands. There are several towns in this area that are separated by a few miles on a highway called 12.
The Outer Banks have a rich history here on the east coast. I love history and historical places so this was a wonderful destination for me to be part of. Here are a few facts about the Outer Banks, which were first settled by English Europeans. The first person of English descent, Virginia Dare, was born on Roanoke. Her colony vanished from the island in 1587. The Wright brothers flew the first plane in 1903 at Kill Devil Hills. The pirate known as “Blackbeard” found refuge on Okracoke, and island still only accessible by ferry. He was also killed there in 1718 in battle with Virginia troops.
Because there were no bridges before the 1930’s, the only way to access the islands were by boat. That kept the islands isolated and immune from becoming overly commercialized. It also allows the herds of feral horses, called “banker ponies” to exist in the wild in the northern islands around Corolla. They are said to be shipwrecked from the Spanish and supposedly swam ashore. The ponies in the southern islands have been fenced off to protect them. You can even “adopt” one for $28! The money goes entirely to the care of the ponies. Here is a photo of my daughter in front of the ponies on Okracoke.
The other less historical fact about the Outer Banks is that the Nicholas Sparks movie, Nights in Rodanthe, starring Richard Gere and Diane Lane was filmed about 20 minutes from where we stayed. I snapped a photo of the house used for the exterior shots. At the time of filming it was literally in the ocean and then condemned because of beach erosion. It was kept from being torn down by a married couple who were such fans of the film they had it moved it down the road.
Now that I’ve used up most of this post as a history lesson on my new favorite islands, I’ll tell you why it was such an amazing experience. It boils down to the fact that I was sober and present in my life. The first morning there I was at a grocery store half an hour before noon. We have laws in North Carolina that prevent the purchase of alcohol before 12 pm on Sundays. People were not thrilled at all about that law. I was imagining they were stocking up for the day and ready to get on with their vacation drinking. The store even made an apologetic announcement over the intercom to let everyone know how sorry they were for this inconvenience. I laughed a little to myself just remembering how past family trips would have been spent drinking and escaping the beauty of my life. It was one of those very spiritual, gratitude moments. There were many of those during this trip.
I got to meet some amazing people from the recovery community on the island. I felt instantly connected to them and it just made my trip that much better. I knitted, I played (and won!) monopoly with my family, I fished for crabs on the sound that backed up to our rented house, I meditated everyday, I watched cable tv which I don’t have at home, I worked on empathy when a neighbor’s dog chased after mine (who was appropriately leashed) and almost attacked him. The owner absolutely did not care that this was happening and instead of angrily confronting her, I just calmly handled the situation and put myself in her shoes. I made new sober women friends who were also on vacation. I rode a ferry for the first time in my life, I watched my daughters play in the ocean and exude utter joy without escaping to my phone as I would have done in the past. I ate donuts. OMG, I ate donuts which I allow myself to enjoy once a year generally. These were very special donuts that are made by a mom and pop company on the island. I made a very intentional decision to indulge. I surely felt it the next day but that’s what this whole balance thing when it comes to food is all about. Can you see how excited my daughters were for this very special treat?!
I relaxed and allowed myself to feel everything. I cried…a lot. Not out of pain, but because of joy and love and coping.
At just over 13 months sober this time and after 12 years out of recovery, I still feel like a child at times. As a kid, I learned how to cope with trauma and escape my feelings as self-preservation. This whole new idea of being present in my life, being okay and sometimes better than okay in my skin is still really hard to get used to. I am often overwhelmed by emotions, but I’m grateful to feel and experience them. I feel all of these things in my day-to-day life, but it took the break away to really experience some intense spirituality and connection to life. I didn’t leave it behind either. My heart is bursting with the love and life I experienced last week and I intend to keep experiencing it to the best of my ability in my daily life. Hopefully, it will be something I can call on when the days are long and my serenity is less. Here is another one of those little spiritual nuggets I found amongst the recovery community of Hatteras Island. It was certainly true of the people I met there and it is true in my life today.