Michigan Recovery – Hiking Your Way to Sober Success!


I was at a presentation last month. An august fellow in a well-cut suit was so excited about his topic (convincing us that voting to legalize recreational marijuana was a bad idea), he actually jumped up and down at the podium. DO (jump)! NOT (jump)! ALLOW (jump)! THIS TO HAPPEN IN MICHIGAN (jump, jump)!

Sometimes I feel like a broken record…

I’m kind of like that guy, but with a different passion… I am always looking for new ways to convince people that Michigan is a great place to hike and hiking is an excellent way to stay sober. And I’m so convinced about the positive results, especially in early recovery, I want to jump up and down to get attention.


Walk with me in Michigan…

One of my favorite jaunts is the trail at Rosy Mound Recreation Area. It is also a favorite Excursion for the residents at Sanford House. Rosy Mound is a dune in Grand Haven, Michigan with about a “7” degree of difficulty, but with benches along the way and a manicured path. I have walked this trail in every weather condition, including dead of winter. And in winter, the 400 steps are so laden with packed snow, it’s like a flume ride. If the flume were frozen and you had to walk instead of sit in a boat with a seat-belt…




Brrrrrrrrr…. But, walking and hiking are a big part of my own recovery, and it’s summer, so let me list for you (once again) the benefits of hitting the trail. Walk with me…


Watching our clients crest the hill after all those stairs and the pure joy they experience makes Rosy Mound one of my favorite Excursions. The sense of freedom observed as they run and jump on the beach after the long climb is great! Everyone feels so good about their accomplishments… And for just a few minutes, they are free from all worry, sadness, or guilt. Amazing day trip!




Walk/Hike at your own pace…

When you go for a walk, you can set your own pace and rev up all your senses. And if you cannot manage long distances, walk as far as you can. Find a bench and soak up the splendor. Half of the benefit of hiking in nature is, well, nature. Take the time to look around, smell a flower, watch a squirrel leap from branch to branch…


Practice following the rules and reading the signs…




Is it okay to bring my dog? Do I have to pay to enter a park, or put a sticker on my window? Following the rules seems to fall by the wayside during active addiction. So, a walk in a state or county park is an opportunity to practice reading and following the instructions. And with more than 100 State Parks in Michigan, there’s plenty to choose from!




Hiking improves your mood! Lessens depression and anxiety!




I may not feel like going for a walk on a sleepy Sunday afternoon, but I am always glad I did. All you have to do is round a corner, come upon dappled sunlight and be present in the moment. Science has proven that viewing the beauty of nature will lighten your mood and lessen anxious thoughts. Exercise improves memory hardware, memory formation and focus.


Walking in the out of doors can actually solve your problems…




Remind you of a poem? And sorry I could not travel both… When you are walking a path, one foot in front of the other, thoughts begin to bubble up. Problems are solved. Decisions are made. The senses are flooded with a dopamine rush. And you think clearly and creatively.


Your glutes will thank you…




A long walk is time consuming – something that comes in handy in early recovery. Also, walking up hills or on unsteady ground occupies the brain. You are busy thinking about where you are going to step next, not where you might drink or use next… And let’s face it, rigorous exercise makes you look better. Walking the stairs will tighten your glutes and trim your thighs…


Going for a brisk walk helps with weight control and overall wellness – blood pressure, heart health, cardio-vascular endurance!


Challenging yourself builds self-esteem…

Whether you start out walking slowly around the block or free-climbing El Capitan, meeting the physical challenge will make you feel good about yourself.




And other than a state park sticker, hiking is free – no memberships required.


Reward yourself!




I hope you will allow me the heavy-handed color correction above, because this is how it feels to get to the top of the hill. The air is fresher, the colors brighter. And while you are walking, it’s a great time to think about the things you’re grateful for – tune up your positive thinking, mindful meditation and spirituality…




Hiking makes you feel like a kid again!

Being in the moment, especially when you are alone, allows you to tap your inner child! You can be amazed by a bug, fascinated by a flower… You will feel hungrier for nutritious foods, sleep more deeply and wake energized – ready to start the day.


Walking in a group inspires the four “Cs”:



…community, connection, conversation and commitment! If you join a walking group (or form one) your friends will keep you on schedule. They will make you accountable. And healthy activity with sober pals is relapse prevention. You carve out time to talk about any issues, laugh and begin to establish a lifestyle that is not conducive to drinking or using.




Practice Practical Skills!

I have added a caveat to my pro-hiking sermon – be careful. This is born of a foolish, avoidable fall and the fact that those of us in recovery, especially early recovery, must practice being realistic in our approach to life.


I fell on a challenging, root-bound trail because I was (foolishly) wearing wedgie flip-flops. It was avoidable because I had tennis shoes in my trunk and didn’t bother to put them on. And when I looked in my first aid kit for Ibuprofen, as I was a couple miles from civilization and in considerable pain, I found a couple soggy bandages, an ancient power bar, a snakebite kit and a flair…




So, take it easy. Restock your backpack. Let someone know where you will be, charge your phone, check for cell service, look at a map and assess the degree of difficulty and wear the correct clothing and footwear for weather and terrain. And while I’m at it, look at the weather forecast, pack plenty of water and health bars and don’t set off in wilderness by yourself without safety gear or pepper spray.


There’s a fine line between solitary communing with nature and fashioning a crutch out of a fallen log and whimpering barefoot like those people on Naked and Afraid.


It’s Still My Favorite Thing to Do…

I am not deterred by my momentary misstep. And I’m back on the trail, because hiking in the Michigan woods is still my favorite recreational pastime. It’s also my number one go-to recovery tool. It took a couple years, but I have rewired my brain to think of walking (not drinking) when an emotionally triggering event occurs.


And the reason I keep talking about the benefits of walking in nature, is because I want it for you (jump, jump…). Because, I know that with a good pair of hiking boots and Pandora tuned to Bruno Mars Radio, I am not only getting the immediate positive effects of rigorous exercise. I am safeguarding my life-giving recovery.





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.