In January 1995, I found myself drowning in a morass of lies and chaos. I no longer had anywhere to turn. Through what I believe was divine intervention, I was presented with a single moment of clarity and utter desperation that only the dying can know. I picked up the phone and called my father to finally admit to another human being that I was an alcoholic and drug addict. At 24 years old, I found that my disease had progressed so far that I couldn’t get through any part of the day without something to “keep me right”.
In actions that seemed to occur without my involvement, I found myself attending AA meetings. Hopeless, helpless and spiritually bankrupt, I wanted the happiness that everyone else in the meetings had. I saw people around me enjoying life without the need for drugs or alcohol just to get through the day. I followed their suggestions and began seeing my life through new eyes. Although life was getting better, I had a feeling of “is this it?”. I was genuinely happy and loving sobriety, but I needed more.
Back in 1986, there was a group of young people in the Englishtown, NJ, area who attended weekend retreats together. The retreat center had organized many fundraising events in the past, but an excursion that included camping and canoeing seemed unlikely. A young John “Goose” K. took the reins and planned a trip that soon took on a life of its own. That trip was well received and loved by all who attended. The Camping Trip began in a Barryville, NY, campground and grew slowly over the years.
In January 1995, I thought my life was ending, one hour at a time, in smoky church basements. In May 1995, I learned my life was just beginning. A friend handed me a flyer for The Camping Trip. It was a clean and sober outing on Memorial Day weekend. When I was drinking and using, I had been camping before; but those excursions usually concluded with park rangers advising us that our activities and behaviors were not welcome in the parks. Because I was sober, I was willing to give it another shot.
I arrived at The Camping Trip in Barryville, NY, barely four months sober. All I had with me was a tent with more holes in it than Swiss cheese, a sleeping bag, a change of clothes and a little food. Unfortunately, it began to rain; I was wet and a little chilly, but I was also feeling more alive than ever before.
Surrounded by almost 100 other alcoholics, carefree and enjoying life, this trip opened my eyes to the fact that there were no limitations to what I could do in recovery. I fell in love with the trip and within a year, found myself involved in organizing it. With trips on Memorial Day, 4th of July and Labor Day weekends every year, it has become a spiritual retreat for people from all over the country for 28 years now.
In 2005, The Camping Trip had to move to a new location. After an exhaustive search and an entire weekend of touring nearly 50 campgrounds, we literally stumbled across a campground that was not on any list we had. We had found our new home in Bangor, PA, within five miles of Columcille, a spiritual retreat center. The campsite had an amazing energy. It is near the Appalachian Trail with lush foliage. This campground has been a loving home for us ever since.
In 2011, I was blessed to be a part of the largest group The Camping Trip has ever seen. The 25th season of The Camping Trip kicked off with 244 clean and sober campers enjoying a special anniversary pig roast.
For me, memories of proposing to my wife in front of the fire at the Saturday night big meeting, raising my two beautiful children with the extended family I have found on these trips and the spiritual refreshment I receive during each trip has given me an appreciation for life beyond my wildest dreams.
Michael W. can be reached at http://thecampingtrip.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.