Why is Blackberry Picking in a Thunder Storm Good for Recovery?

photo blackberry bush


This title is not a trick question or a riddle. Although rainy day, blackberry picking and addiction recovery do sound as dissimilar as a raven and a writing desk…


Addiction Strips Us of our Interests

I conducted a group session on Friday about “Interests”. We talked about our passions, and how addiction strips us of all the things in our lives that make us, us. Each of us delved into the reasons substance use hijacks our brains. We talked about how drugs, alcohol and other addictive substances take over the body’s reward system. How the heightened “pleasure” of these substances dims the pleasure of life’s simpler pursuits.


And woman after woman in the group (myself included) listed the things that defined them before addiction got the upper hand. Cooking, gardening, children, work, hiking, running, journaling, reading – the affects of vital, healthy lives. It was as if we had taken a big, red marker and crossed out curiosity and personality.


Then I asked the group to think about what they’d like to do in their free time, now that they are sober. Addiction is time consuming. And recovery is all about reclaiming family, career, hobbies and physical fitness. Someone said she wanted to take up knitting because it occupied both hands (good call). Another said she wanted to do the “normal, fun things” with her children. Still another said she wanted to get a job.



Claiming and Reclaiming Our Lives

No one said they wanted to go blackberry picking, but I extrapolated… My Friday afternoon group sessions are a love sandwich. We start with some laughter and community, then get to the meat of the issue, and finish with a fun group outing. One of my favorite things about sobriety is the renewal. It is so refreshing to explore old passions with newfound vigor and to begin bold, fresh activities. I love to introduce the women of Sanford House to the limitless possibilities.


When we boarded the van to go to the orchard, the sky was looking doubtful. But people in early recovery are a stoic group and they loaded up like they were getting ready to invade the beach at Normandy. A couple of the women said they had picked berries before, but for most of us this pastoral pursuit was new.


By the time we reached Blok Orchard, the sky looked like the scene in The Wizard of Oz before the house “began to pitch”. Black thunder clouds shrouded the apple trees and berry bushes. The heavens rumbled. I parked the van on the grass by the barn (that’s a sentence I never expected to write…). When I breezed in to ask the orchard owner for buckets, she looked at me incredulously and said, “You aren’t going to go out there are you? The storm is supposed to hit at 3:15.”

It was five minutes to 3:00. I said, “I have a van full of women who are planning to have blackberry pie for dessert tonight, so yes.” I was thinking that she must have consulted the almanac to see when it was time to hightail it to the root cellar…


She pointed and said, “Well drive on over there – you can just leave the van on the road…”


When we got out of the van with our buckets, the air was thick. We trooped up a small, rocky hill. There were row upon row of laden fruit trees, bushes with ripening berries and tomato vines. We scattered and went to work like we were getting paid by the bushel.



The Value of an Orchard Outing in Recovery

Here is why berry picking is so beneficial:

  • Community – When is the last time you got on a bus with a group of adults to do something new? There is anticipation, comradely and the singing of songs by Pink.
  •  Experience – It is unlikely any of us will go on to become farm hands, but there is something wonderful about learning new tasks. My heart was warmed by the industriousness of our crew – the sharing of advice.
  • Toughing it Out – Not one person said, “I don’t think we should do this in the rain…” With the exception of the actual farmer.
  • Making Decisions – It’s calming to choose your own space, select the ripest fruit and gather the bounty in a bucket.
  • Working Together- We consolidated everyone’s fruit into bags: tomatoes, nectarines, blackberries. It’s nice to share…
  • Knowing When to Quit – No more dangerous decisions. We packed it in when one of the women spotted a bolt of lightening. The heavens opened a moment after we got in the van…
  • Sharing the Fruits of our Labor – Back at Sanford House, Chef Katie greeted us with a big smile, decorative baskets and the promise of “something delicious”.


Redefining Our Lives 

In recovery, we begin to find joy in the small things; hope peeks around a corner. We rekindle relationships and start to trust our own judgement. We redefine ourselves. Why is picking blackberries in the rain good for recovery? Because getting our hands dirty, snapping a ripened fruit off the vine, tiptoeing between the raindrops, laughing at a friend who is eating more than she is picking, is a celebration of life.


And life, my friends, is what we are about to start living…



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Marilyn Spiller is a writer, sober coach, recovery advocate, and student of the world. (She also holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and Creative Writing). Seven years sober herself, she penned one of the first sobriety blogs, "Waking Up the Ghost" in 2013. The blog garnered an international following, allowing Marilyn to communicate with thousands of folks in all stages of recovery. Marilyn is Sanford's Director of Marketing and serves as Editor-In-Chief for the Sanford online magazine, "Excursions". She also developed and hosts the podcast Anatomy of Addiction.