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Recovery in the Wilderness

What started as a revival of my outdoor passion, Recovery in the Wilderness has now turned into an innovative approach in our area's alcohol and drug addiction recovery efforts.

By: Matt Johnson + Save to a List

As a young kid, backpacking and the outdoors were an important part of my life. I loved the wilderness, the escape from the craziness of everything back home, and the freedom nature gave me. But as a young adult, I quickly found another love in my life - drugs and alcohol. Over the remainder of my adolescence into my young adulthood, alcohol and drugs took on an exhilarating and important part in my life. My chief concern moved away from where we'd hike or ski the upcoming weekend, towards where I'd get my next fix or which liquor store I had to purchase from to not draw suspicion. At 22 years old, I found sobriety and recovery in a community of people I would not normally associate with. Over time this group of fellows became family, and I began to put my life back together. 

Over the next four years things got better. I found my place in sobriety, in recovery, and in life. I found employment working in my career field, friends that I could count on, and a community that would support me no matter what. However, something was still missing for me. In recovery, unfortunately, the people you associate with can tend to come and go. From relapse, jail sentences, overdoses, and death; the faces you grew to know can change over the years. At times it can get hopeless. We fight together to try to make this "recovery" thing work for everyone, but everyone doesn't make it. At this time, the last time I threw on my pack and was early on before addiction took over everything. I was in my parent's basement when I found my old backpacking stuff. Rummaging through the packs, tents, bags, and gear, I felt that fire to hit the trails again. I had moved from Colorado to Wisconsin (not exactly the epicenter of the backpacking world), but I was eager to try to find those same experiences I remembered from my past. 

So I started to hike again. I began hiking whenever I had free-time from sponsorship, meeting attendance, work, and friends. Of course I would post some nature shots on Facebook and Instagram, and surprisingly to me, people from the recovery community responded with interest. "Where's that?, That looks awesome!, I wish I could do that!" Over time, I started to invite others with me on these hikes, and interest spend more and more. Now I was known as "that camping guy" around the area, and more and more people wanted to do the same. 

One of the main responsibilities in recovery is service work. I got involved with our local recovery non-profit after returning to school and completing my degree, and continued to increase my involvement over time. In 2016, I had moved up and became the Programs Director, and had a wonderful idea. Instead of hiking alone or with others that already hike, I should share this with members of our community that haven't experienced this before. So the idea flourished. The idea to share this with people new in recovery started to come into fruition. This spring, it came to life. In our first year, we have completed four trips, and helped introduce the outdoors to people from many neighboring halfway and sober living programs. Our program has also sought local grant funding and is looking to expand our offerings to surrounding areas. 

Giving back is one of the most rewarding things I can do today in my recovery program. But being able to give this passion I have for the outdoors has done even more for me, and seeing that excitement grow in others has been beyond my expectations. So we will continue to hike, find new trails and sites to see, and hopefully help others to discover the outdoors like we have. 

To learn more about Recovery In the Wilderness or to donate used gear to our efforts, visit www.sri-wi.org/wilderness

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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