Guide Real Talk: A Guide's Guide to Addiction

Loving Loneliness, Asking for Help, & Finding Freedom

Words by: Marisa Mirviss

I won’t lie to you and say that being in recovery from addiction as a river guide has been easy or that it is the best path for an addict or an alcoholic. There are likely safer and easier options out there. But I will say there is nowhere that calls to me, inspires me, or gives me purpose like the river and the wilderness. After spending most of my teenage years and my early twenties embattled with addiction, nearly dying in overdoses and car accidents, I got clean a little less than 5 years ago. I am writing this to share my story and how I have learned to navigate recovery as a guide, so that someone may find hope in their own fight with addiction.

I have thrived. My life today is filled with unimaginable beauty. I get to wake up in the morning and see the sunrise, have meaningful relationships, and be a valuable friend and teammate. And then, there are moments of loneliness. There are nights where everyone around me, my chosen river family, are partying, and I feel isolated and distant because I no longer have the desire to drink. I pause to remember my consequences, and I recall the darkness to which one drink will eventually lead. There is no one to blame for my feeling left out, especially not myself. While there are many guides who have struggled with drugs and alcohol, those of us who have decided to be completely abstinent are few and far between, so I have had to learn to be alone. I have had to find a way to be fully present and grateful for every moment I am alive and blessed with this way of life, no matter how uncomfortable I feel.

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Discomfort can be the seed of boundless growth; discomfort can serve a lesson about myself and how I fit into the world. When I run a new rapid, my heart pounds as the horizon line approaches, and while I have an idea of what line to take, I also know that isn’t necessarily where I will end up. In boating and in recovery, I’ve been around for just long enough to know that I don’t know sh%#. The unknown always looms ahead of me. I let go of my ego, my expectations, and I push forward, leaning into what is downstream, whatever that looks like. In recovery, I trust my values, I trust my commitment to myself, I trust this trail I’m blazing, and I trust that the discomfort won’t last and that it’s good for me.

Sometimes it’s beautiful. I have learned to walk away, go sit on a rock by the river and just be. I have learned to enjoy my own company, and enjoy this place I am so fortunate to experience every day. I’ll go to bed early and read books, write letters or draw the river, plants, or birds. I get to wake up with a full engagement with the crisp air, the aromatic sage and ponderosa, the sounds of waxwings and nighthawks, the touch of cold sand and the songs of the river, not with the fog of a hangover or withdrawals or regret from the night before.

If you are struggling with addiction and alcoholism, here are some of the ways I found relief:

  • Give yourself a break from drinking and using drugs.

  • Talk to someone you trust.

  • Ask for help: Redside can connect you with counselors and other resources; they want to help you!

  • Seek out a peer-help group, 12-step group, or group counseling.

  • Ask yourself: am I being honest with myself about my problems?

  • Connect with other guides in recovery, and support one another.

  • Focus on social activities that don’t revolve around alcohol and drugs.

  • Take a break from guiding if it you need to stay away from substances until you have a foundation in sobriety.

  • LaCroix. Lots of LaCroix. No, seriously. No one offers me a drink when I have a drink in my hand!

  • Practice saying “No, thank you!” If someone can’t respect your choice to be sober, you don’t need them in your life!

Above all, I have learned this: it is good to ask for help. As guides, we are constantly helping others, we are constantly the experts, we are constantly carrying other people and their stuff into uncomfortable and vulnerable situations, and we are there to be that force of guidance and reassurance. In these uncharted waters of our own minds and hearts, remember: we are not all-powerful. It’s ok to ask for help. It’s ok to need help. It’s ok to say thank you. It’s ok to say “I can’t do this alone, I don’t want to feel this way anymore. I don’t know what help looks like, but I’m going to ask for it.”

Before I got clean, I was asked “What are you afraid of?” I was afraid I would lose my freedom. There was nothing free about my life then, controlled by drug and alcohol abuse. Since I have asked for help and accepted it, I have not only experienced a life beyond my wildest dreams, but I get to have a choice. My decisions, my livelihood, and my wellbeing are not dictated by a dependency on a substance or anything else. When I was in rehab, we had to watch a video about addiction, which happened to be filmed in the Utah desert. Scenery of whitewater and red-rock canyons filled the background. The images in that video may have saved my life. I realized then, I couldn’t go back if I continued to do drugs and drink. My love of guiding, of the sparkle of the sun on eddy lines, watching mergansers surf perfect waves, and running new rivers was the light in the darkness of my addiction. Recovery held a promise of going downriver again, and for the first time, being true to my authentic self. This is what I held onto in the hardest moments.

I encourage anyone who is struggling with their drug and alcohol use, take a break. Stop for a while, educate yourself, call the Redside helpline and talk to a counselor. It can’t hurt. You have nothing to lose. If you are struggling to keep your head above water, eddy out. Find a safe place, sit there for a moment, gather your support around you, scout the next rapid, and make a choice about your line.