In June of 2007, I took a group of teenagers to Panama City beach to a youth camp. The trip was planned long before I began my journey in sobriety. By that point, I was a full 74 days sober, so I was well, right? We drove in a rental van. It was 5 days of student ministry adventure. I was good on day 1. I was shaky on day 2. So, I did what I had been taught and I found a meeting in the area.
Going to meetings when you travel is such a great experience. You meet people who have walked a similar road and yet our different places and paths are unique. The meeting I found that day was in a beach hut and most of the people had been sober for 15+ years. I was an adorable newcomer. They were warm and kind and totally understood the path that brought me to this place. It was great. We were strangers and long-lost friends.
I went back to the camp that afternoon and felt strong. Day 3 was good. And then Day 4 came. I was struggling. And the schedule did not allow for me to make a meeting. So I took a walk on the beach for a few minutes and played my music loudly in my ears. As I walked, the tears began to fall. I wanted to be better. I wanted to be whole. I wanted an instant fix to what I knew was not a one day treatment plan.
As I struggled to make sense of this place in my brain and heart, I was looking for shells on the beach. I’m not naturally a sucker for nature, but full shells on the sand of a beautiful beach can get me. I watched the teenagers produce these gorgeous spiral shells from their trips in the water. And as I was walking, they just didn’t seem to make it to the shore. I walked in as far as my shins and still no whole shells. There were beautiful pieces. They were shiny and colorful, but not full. I was feeling brave and desperate and made my way in a little further to see what I could find. Nothing.
With stubborn determination, and a real fear of the ocean water and creatures, I waded to the first sandbar. Bingo. The shells were trapped on the backside of the canal between the shore and the first sandbar. Sandbars are ridges of sand built up in the water along a shore or beach by the motion the of waves or currents. In this season, I felt like I was living on a sandbar created by the waves of alcohol. It was an unknown. It was a fearful new home. And I was living with jello legs praying that the next wave would not knock me to my drowning death.
As I stood on that sandbar, I faced the reality that the sinking sand of my soul would require another surrender when I got home. I had known that things were far from right, but I didn’t have the strength to express what was happening. So with all the feeble strength I could muster, I let the next wave take me under and reached for the shells on the bottom of the ocean floor. When I surfaced, I had shells – whole, beautiful shells. So I did it again. And again.
I came home from Florida with a jar of large Lettered Olive shells. With those shells, I carried the knowledge that I needed legs. Legs that were stronger than jello. Putting bones in my legs would require another level of surrender. And, oh, do I hate surrender.