Gifts from the Hiking Trail – A Life Passionately Lived

passionate hike solo

The realities of a life passionately lived …

Last week, I grabbed coffee with a friend in recovery. He had returned to the US after completing Camino de Santiago, a 500-mile hike across northern Spain. Not only is this an incredible physical feat, but also one of grit, spiritual growth, and refocus. According to my friend, hiking the landscape of Spain with only a backpack and an open spirit does a man good.


“I’m seeing the world through new eyes… I’m questioning everything.”


The Necessary and the Mundane

While my friend views the world with childish wonder, I find myself bored and bogged down by the responsibilities of November and December. Winter is seldom a time to focus on our own fulfillment. It’s cold and dark in Michigan, and that makes it difficult to leave the house. Many of us complain of a general lack of energy and motivation this time of year. But during one of my evening walks, admiring other people’s Christmas trees and trying to prevent my double-layer wool socks from slipping into my boots, I thought about the reality of a life passionately lived.


I introduce this idea in my Art Therapy sessions at Sanford House at Cherry Street. Establish a passion project, develop a skill, find meaningful ways to spend your time. Rediscover something you’ve forgotten. Pour your soul into a new purpose as a sober person.


My friend has certainly done this. But am I following my own advice? I often push passion aside in lieu of mundane and necessary activities (like, say, the very unsavory task of dusting my baseboards). I use the demands of everyday life as an excuse to ignore or devalue my fulfillment. If it’s between cleaning the house and penning the great American novel, cleaning the house will always win out. It’s only responsible, after all. Soon, I find myself drowning in the “mundane”; and losing myself in the “necessary”. And when it comes to maintaining our sobriety, we may become particularly fatigued.


passionate hike Camino


Passion and Convention

Once we make the decision to stop using, recovery is an incredibly involved process. Many folks choose to admit to a residential program… complete outpatient treatment… attend meetings… work with a sponsor… involve the family… restructure their home and schedule and ways of relating. Even take a 500-mile hike. But active addiction is a full time job.


Obtaining/using/hiding our substance not only takes significant time and energy, it also takes priority. And I’m wondering, maybe it’s not that we lack the energy to maintain our sobriety in moments of weakness. We have energy in spades, we proved that in active addiction. No, perhaps if we’re able to re-frame how we spend
time, why we spend time, and redefine our priorities, we can re-frame our mindset. A shift of focus, and an enriching change. It’s not that we don’t have the energy and wit, it’s that we are using them in a new way.


Choosing Between the Passionate and Conventional

When I choose between the passionate and conventional, perhaps I’m refusing to live in a world in which I can accomplish both. What if maintaining a living space that is conducive to my productivity and mental health is passionately living? If loving my family is passionately living? What if taking responsibility for myself and feeling grateful is passionate living? And what if chipping away at tasks, both necessary and soul deepening, is passionate living? How am I defining “passion,” if not “caring for myself?” Is passion inherently all-consuming? Sparkly? Big?


What if sobriety is my passionate love letter to myself? Permission to live life authentically and willingly? What could be more fulfilling than that?




Life Passionately Lived – Wisdom from the Trail

I’ll leave you with my friend’s comments:

“I wish I would have pursued hiking the Camino years ago. Thinking back, I don’t know what stopped me. There’s no use in being angry at myself… But it’s frustrating, imagining the time I wasted making excuses and acting resentful. The trail was always there. I was the one creating barriers.”


“We have one chance at this life. I know that seems like a platitude. But we have one chance and it’s our choice how we spend it. We can choose to spend it with a chip on our shoulder, or we can choose to be creative and open and brave. I chose the former for far too long.”




Author Jess Kimmel has always had a passion for art and when she discovered art therapy it just made sense. Jess is an Art Therapist who serves as Clinical Manager, Sanford House at Cherry Street for Women. Jess has a B.S in Psychology and an M.S. in Art Therapy. Art therapy allows her creativity to shine through her work and she thrives on seeing the confidence grow in the individuals she works with at Sanford Behavioral Health. Jess is from Hartland, Michigan and currently lives in Grand Rapids.