Living the Dream

by Tim Walsh, Founder and CEO of Adventure Recovery

Very early in my recovery, someone challenged me with the statement, "Face your fears and live your dreams." That statement has since been a driving force in my recovery and in my life as a whole. I am now in my 25th year of recovery. I could think of no better way to celebrate this milestone than by facing my fears and manifesting a 20 year old dream—Adventure Recovery. With my collaborators, some trusted friends, and my brilliant, supportive, saint of a wife, we have created what we believe to be a bold new direction in recovery.

Adventure Recovery is the culmination of my career as an addictions professional, outdoor educator, recovery coach and most importantly—a man in long-term recovery. I would never have reached this milestone in life, let alone in recovery, were it not for the sage wisdom of many teachers along the way.

My first dream in recovery was to "suck every bit of life outta this thing and leave nothing for anybody else!" Thankfully I was quickly reminded, "You have to give it away, in order to keep it, kid—now go peel some potatoes." Cappy D., my first boss and mentor in recovery, was always quick to remind me where I came from. In my first month of recovery, I was given a job as a cook at Highwatch Farm, 12-Step retreat center, where I learned about the tremendous power found in service. I cooked, I listened, I hiked, I learned, and I served. Occasionally I attempted to argue, but was always reminded that I don't have the best track record for making rational, adult decisions.

After a completing a full year of service and practicing the basics of early recovery, I decided the next dream: "I'm gonna be a punk rock star" (oxymoron, I know). After realizing that, even for punk, my voice sucked, I jumped into the dream of becoming a pro-snowboarder. I actually came close with that one (there were probably only 95 snowboarders in New England at that time). A back injury ended that dream which lead to the opportunity that would lay the foundation for my entire future.

The snowboard shop where I worked sold all types of outdoor equipment. The owners, Jack and Linda Maxwell, were incredibly generous and supportive of my recovery. They trusted me despite knowing my history. They gave me the chance to learn firsthand about rock climbing, mountaineering, whitewater kayaking, and the amazing life skills that bolstered my self-esteem. And this, all while earning a paycheck—radical. While working at OSC, I was introduced to a program called The Mountain Workshop.

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This program takes kids into the woods and teaches them outdoor skills, the values of teamwork and leadership, and exposes them to the wonders of the natural world. Again, I was lucky enough to be offered a job by Corky and Sue Clarke, the owners. They too, despite knowing my history, offered me an opportunity to learn outdoor leadership, travel extensively, and most importantly, earn back the adolescence my addiction stole from me.

Since the Mountain Workshop did not run programs in the winter,  I spent my winters snowboarding, traveling and working with youth groups. It was during these winters that I was introduced to YG. Once again, despite learning about my history with addiction, the youth pastor at the time, the Rev. Skip Masback, hired me to go on a mission trip as a chaperone. I subsequently was hired as the Youth Director for the church—managing up to 150 kids at a time—now this seemed plain crazy. I have since been involved in the organization for 18 years and I am incredibly blessed to have shared the experiences of over 30 mission trips with these amazing kids. The most significant opportunity in this time has been the experience of the Middle School Youth Group's 16-year-running annual mission trip to Mountainside Treatment Center.

As a founding member of the Mountainside treatment team and director of the Adventure-Based Counseling department, I was able to convince the founder and original CEO, Terry Dougherty, to bring a group of middle school kids into the lives of the residents to share a weekend of service work and life lessons. This would not only have a profound effect on the choices these kids make, but perhaps more importantly, could offer the residents a chance to recover a bit of their adolescence and give back. Again, a person who believed in me gave me a chance, mentored me, and provided me with the tools to eventually become the Executive Director of Mountainside. This individual was Bruce Drever. Bruce was a legend in the northwest corner of Connecticut. And my wife and I loved him dearly.

Through all of these incredible opportunities, I learn from compassionate, intelligent, and successful mentors. Hence, I built a professional toolkit. The skills in this toolkit have helped me to create a meaningful, productive, and thriving career. I help as many people as I possible can along the way. With Adventure Recovery, we offer a model of mentorship that provides the compassion, life-skills, outdoor education, and reverence that was so freely given to me. We started with a couple of yahoos and some kayaks and today we have a team of 10+ who are rocking it. In addition to our recovery-focused adventures, one-on-one mentoring, we facilitate groups, provide program development for adolescent and adult treatment centers, schools, and other institutions. Also, we work in prevention, education, and support around addiction and substance abuse. This is humbling work. Consequently, we are making a difference. And this is the miracle.

Today, I celebrate the mentors and the life they have helped me to earn, by offering these gifts to the next generation of leaders in recovery. Face your fears, live your dreams.