Surf Therapy for Addiction
What Is Surf Therapy?
I was one of those hard cases, you know the one that thinks they all have it figured out.
The one that doesn’t need help. It was a fluke that I was able to get help at all. I just happened to live near South Shore and walked by one day. That day just happened to be the day that I had hit rock bottom and I was on my way to my parent’s (where I lived). I walked in and I didn’t look back. But that didn’t mean my attitude was good.
I knew the benefits of exercise on mental health. I had been a surfer ever since I was a kid. I loved the ocean. But then, in high school I found the attitude that had gotten me to being a good surfer with a lot of friends, was the same attitude that had me start doing drugs. Booze was always my favorite drug, and it nearly ended my life.
I resisted change even after walking into South Shore Recovery. Luckily the staff was used to my type and after getting to know me awhile they were able to get through to me. It was my therapist who reached me, she learned that I had used to surf and suggested that I try Surf Therapy. I couldn’t believe my ears; I had no idea there was such a thing.
The Benefits of Surf Therapy for Addiction
Surf Therapy is relatively new as a form of eco-therapy. A typical session would include going out and learning how to surf. The reason why this is thought to be effective is because it teaches you self-efficacy, you get exercise, and the one of the best parts is that you are in the elements. There is nothing like the sun, sand, salt, and water on your skin. There is also an element of danger to surfing that I think really appeals to someone who is going through recovery. A lot of us were searching for thrills, we wanted the next high. That was why I started using.
I had the sense of adventure in me when I first started surfing. The people at South Shore Recovery led me to the right place when they suggested Surf Therapy. They led me to my passion. But anyone can try this kind of therapy and it could be effective. I’ve met plenty of people who have never surfed before until their first therapy session.
Surf Therapy and its Utility for Veterans
I knew several veterans in my recovery program at South Shore. Some had PTSD or other issues. Two of them tried Surf Therapy and it really stuck on them. When I asked one of the guys how it was going with surf therapy they told me that they loved it because it was therapeutic to put themselves in a place where they didn’t have complete control but a series of tools to help them adapt in any condition. Both veterans I knew had talked about how they had learned to crave a rush because they had both fought in combat.
After they came home, they didn’t know what to do with themselves. That rush of adventure was gone, and regular life was not at all what it was like in the military. Their friends and family couldn’t understand why the simple act of life wasn’t enough and why they always seemed to need more. According to the NIH surf therapy can help prevent addiction and help those in recovery. It’s an activity that causes a similar chemistry in the brain which is why adventure type therapies can be extremely effective.
In the case of the vets I knew; Surf Therapy was able to fill a hole in their lives for adventure where there hadn’t been. They learned to reframe how they thought about tasks. It wasn’t about the enemy anymore, and anyway the enemy in this case were the elements. There is no sense in trying to control the elements.
Brain Chemistry and Adventure Therapy
There are other types of adventure-based therapy like wilderness therapy if you aren’t into surfing. Wilderness Therapy is about reconnecting to the earth and doing activities like hiking, rock climbing, and camping. I’ve tried both Surf and Wilderness Therapy and I’d say that they were both effective for me. But that is what is so great about recovery programs like the one I went to at South Shore Recovery. The staff can help and guide you to the right treatment for yourself.
If camping in the middle of nowhere doesn’t sound therapeutic to you, they can help you find something effective that will. One thing I had to keep in mind when I was going through the beginning of my recovery program was that I might have to try and fail a few times at different things before I found my rhythm. That was true. I tried music therapies at first and it didn’t speak to me. I needed something that was outside. Somewhere that I could find myself again, and for me that was surf therapy.
Wonder is the Salt of the Earth
As I looked out into the ocean one beautiful Sunday morning, I remembered the story about Siddhartha (by Herman Hesse). Herman’s Hesse book was a story about Buddha. Disclaimer, if you haven’t read it this is a spoiler alert.
Siddhartha, a young prince, has everything, then loses everything and then finds his connection to all once again when looking at his reflection in the river. He can see his reflection moving, swiftly, always changing, yet always in one place. I was at the ocean that day to surf, but I found so much more to nourish my soul.
The Ocean as Therapeutic
I was 100 days sober, and it felt amazing to be out in the elements, the sun on my skin, coarse sand on my feet, the sound of the waves crashing on the shore and the thick salty air enveloped me. I thought of the connection I had to everything around me, and how soon the waves would be carrying me through the water. I realized as I stepped into the cold Pacific, that wonder is the salt of the Earth.
I wasn’t always this way. I didn’t have these thoughts when I was drinking. I didn’t have many emotions at all. I think that’s the biggest reason I used, maybe it’s the biggest reason anyone uses, to numb their pain. Luck was one of the reasons I was able to recover. That and going through the outpatient program at South Shore Recovery.
Evidence And Data to Support Surf Therapy
The CDC mentions that spending time outdoors can help boost mood. It’s because of that Vitamin D which you certainly get a lot of when you are surfing. The NIH mentions that Surf Therapy can help boost mood, self-esteem, relieve stress, and produce feelings of self-efficacy. Although relatively new, I feel like adventure therapies will grow in popularity.
It is a way for people to find themselves again. It’s a way to feel challenged and part of something larger. It’s a way to meet new people. I had a ton of friends from surfing when I was a kid and when I started again during recovery, I met a lot of other people.
Surf Therapy as a Part of a Routine in Recovery
I have needed a lot of support outside of Surf Therapy. South Shore Recovery was able to help me find that support. I am part of AA, I surf, and I am thinking about going to school one day to become a therapist myself. None of these dreams seemed possible while I was in the middle of my addiction. Now it seems like anything is possible if I take it step by step.
When you learn to surf, you can’t just go jump on a board and know what to do immediately. It takes time. You must follow a series of steps to learn what to do. I didn’t just jump into the deep water not knowing anything when I first learned to surf but I figured it out. It’s the same now, I relearned how to surf and through that process I learned how to live my life in recovery again.
The Psychological Effect of Nature and Awe
I look back and see how lost I was when I was using alcohol. It replaced all the feeling of adventure in me. I had convinced myself that it was an adventure to find booze, to drink as much of it as I could, and destroy my life in ways I didn’t even know were possible. I almost lost everything. But I was able to find it again by going through South Shore Recovery and finding Surf Therapy.
I hope everyone who is suffering from addiction has the same chance that I did to find hope and light again. Recovery through what you love is the best kind of recovery, whether it be music, exercise, or simply just practicing the steps of daily living. There is something to be learned in every experience and trying adventure therapy can help you realize that. It helped me realize that the real adventures in life were the ones I was entirely sober for.