Living within walking distance of Tyler State Park is right up there at the top of my gratitude list, next to “super-supportive hubby,” and I’m in the park so often that I’ve become quite adept at stealthily squatting in the woods.
The bathrooms are closed, I assume because of COVID, and you gotta do what you gotta do, and there are plenty of large trees to hide behind in the off chance a family of bikers appears out of nowhere, as they always seem to do when I’m in the middle of saying my prayers out loud to the sky.
Yes, I’m a literal tree hugger who talks to nature. And however peculiar this might look to the random passerby — as far as I know, I haven’t traumatized anyone with my brief displays of public semi-nudity — this is how I stay sane at nearly 15 1/2 months sober.
I officially chose nature as my “Higher Power” when I started following a 12-step recovery program back in July 2019 and discovered, to my delight, that I could make that choice for myself. I didn’t even have to think hard about it — what a relief! 🤕 — because as far back as I can remember, and long before I could actually identify what was happening, being outdoors has made me feel a special connection to something bigger than myself.
Some might call that thing “God,” or “The Universe,” or “The Dharma,” or “The Kinship of All Living Things,” but it’s all the same concept to me. A great, expansive life force you can tap into and transcend the mundane minutia of physical existence — aka, get out of your own head: that is spirituality.
After a lifetime of trying to fill my inner void with things/substances/people, and getting more hopelessly lost in my own dark tunnel of shit as a result, I finally understand that a healthy spiritual life is the gateway to beating addiction, finding my purpose and doing something meaningful with my time here on Earth.
Easy peasy, right? 🤣
Despite my 42-year failure to apply it, I think I possessed that knowledge, deep down, long before I hooked up with a recovery community that hits you over the head with “God as you understand Him” at pretty much every turn. As I’ve written before here in this blog, I clearly remember feeling a stirring in my soul when I was a kid playing in the fields on my grandparents’ farm or camping and hiking with the Girl Scouts. It was a “full” feeling that’s nearly impossible to explain.
Sitting here now, I’m recalling the service trip my church youth group (I considered myself a Lutheran until age 18) took to Pine Ridge, a Native American reservation in South Dakota. I can tell you, being in “Big Sky Country” was a much church-ier experience for me than sitting in a pew on Sundays, or even on Christmas Eve…if that makes any sense.
So, the spiritual “thing” was there, and I felt it out in nature, but I never had any idea how to…you know, stop clinging to my Earthly comforts and control freak tendencies and world-weary cynicism and have, much less actively practice, faith.
I still don’t, really. Half the time when I’m striding through the woods at Tyler, listening to some podcast or audiobook and trying not to think about how I have to pee, I’m completely entrenched in my clenched-up little world, instead of open to what the universe might be trying to tell me.
If I do break free from my thoughts long enough to start a conversation with the clouds, I’m (obviously) the one doing the talking.
But there are those moments, when a refreshing breeze will blow across my sweaty skin, or a leaf will twirl down from above, close enough that I can catch it, or a random turtle will just appear on the path, or a person walking the other way will pass with a smile and a wave, and it hits me. In that moment, I get the message.
What does it say, exactly? Something like this:
Yes, everything does relate to an HBO show, in my mind. Great art is supposed to stir the soul, right? It’s supposed to make us contemplate the biggest ideas and the deepest, most complex concepts, and cut to the core of the human experience — while also, of course, titillating us with blood and gore and T&A.
And that brings me, at long last, to my “Game of Thrones” tattoo.
When I first started watching the show (a good eight years after the rest of the world), I was instantly intrigued by the religions of Westeros, particularly as they related to nature. The striking, somewhat haunting weirwood tree with the face carved in it that stood in the Winterfell “godswood” held a sacred significance for the characters that I just had to investigate.
So, I googled. I listened to “Binge Mode,” The Ringer’s deep-diving pop culture podcast, and I bought “A Song of Ice and Fire,” the George R.R. Martin book series upon which the show is based.
The more I learned about the “Old Gods” worshipped by the Stark family and their ancestors in The North — the gods with no names that “lived” in the trees and on the breeze — the more I knew that the beautiful red-leafed weirwood tree was the symbol I’d been searching for. The so-called “heart tree” at the seat of House Stark was a place to pray, to be open and honest, and to connect to that great and powerful life force that flows through all things.
I could certainly relate to that concept, on a deep and meaningful level. This tree was the perfect one-year-sober tattoo I’d been thinking about since my earliest days in recovery.
Nature feeds my spirit and helps keep me sane. It’s my refuge. It’s my church. You might say I’ve worshipped the “Old Gods” all my life. They have never been more meaningful to me now, as I walk this (tree-lined) path of recovery and learn, little by little, how to get out of my own shit and really live, without ever again having to reach for a drink.
I might lose my way now and then, but it’s going to be really hard to forget the overall message, with this iconic, sacred symbol now permanently — and, if you’re wondering, not very painfully 😉 — branded on my body.