The recovery program at Voyage is built upon two big ideas: an innovative experiential program and an engaging therapeutic program.
We’ve written before about why we value experiential so today we want to talk about the flip side of that approach: diving deep and processing experiences in group therapy.
Processing experiential activities means we discuss and examine what happened, along with each guy’s thoughts and feelings about the day. It’s what you might expect from any day’s activity—just as we might chat with our friends after a day of surfing, a round of golf, or a baseball game, analyzing the wins and losses, the hits and misses. It’s a really normal thing to do that happens to have some really powerful therapeutic qualities.
Some activities have inherent therapeutic value—rock walking for example. It’s an exercise where the men get into the pool in teams and take turns ducking underwater to carry a 45lb weight from one end of the pool to the other. Each man will carry the weight as far as he can, then come up for air while the next man carries the weight a few steps.
The men are pushed outside of their comfort zone in this activity that puts stress on their bodies, challenges what they believe about their own abilities, and forces them to communicate, to trust, and to be trustworthy. It’s about teamwork, self-control, and holding the line in the face of triggers like fear and anxiety.
In group we explore how the men stay calm, persevere and push through in the face of all of that.
Put in the context of addiction, these guys are used to waking up everyday already looking for a way to use drugs or alcohol. Everything that happens from the first moment of his day to the last is directly or indirectly related to using, including all the moments when he’s not using but is lying, pretending, stealing or manipulating to get back to where he can use again.
In recovery he must learn ways to challenge all of that. Every habit, every behavior, every perception of himself and his world has to change. He has to force himself to get up out of bed knowing that the goal that day is to not use. His body will demand it; his thoughts and feelings will try to trick him into it. Instead of giving into those radically powerful urges, he’s got to persevere through the physical stress of it, to challenge those thoughts and feelings, and to reach out to his brothers for support.
In group we explore the various ways the guys experience fear and anxiety, as well as whether and how they use their new tools of recovery to push through.
Other activities have more obscure therapeutic value. There’s a group of men at the house who play basketball once a week. It’s not part of the curriculum but something the guys organize themselves because it’s an activity they enjoy. While there’s no expectation that the whole house of guys will play, the core group who drive the weekly games will encourage guys who have never played before to come out and try.
Sometimes a guy who doesn’t typically play will go and later reflect that he didn’t like it, that it wasn’t for him, and that he wouldn’t go again. And sometimes a guy will play despite believing he’s going to be terrible and hate it, but he ends up loving it and having a great time. They all support each other and laugh through it because the point isn’t being the best, the point is showing up and doing your best.
Processing these activities in group later isn’t about identifying an individual or singular experience. It’s exploring all the experiences that happen individually within the group.
The group dynamic is vital to a man’s long-term recovery. After they leave us they’ll need to attach to a community-based support group, whether it’s a Twelve Step group like AA or NA, or a church group. Learning how to process thoughts, feelings and experiences at Voyage teaches our men how to take important risks with expressing themselves by being honest and vulnerable in a group setting.
The Voyage residence houses just 15 men in a beautiful three-story waterfront house that meshes quiet areas with common areas, and provides a bridge to our natural environment. Guys can swim, fish and launch paddle boards or kayaks off the end of our dock. The guys all participate in keeping the house clean and preparing their own meals (sometimes even catching their own dinner!) It’s a place where we help young men launch their lives as clean and sober guys contributing to their community in a meaningful way.
We look for ways to infuse life with passion and purpose—experiential is a crucial part of that. Each week our Experiential Leader John takes our guys out for organized adventures on the water, in the back-country, or in the community. Every activity is followed by a conversation in group to hash out thoughts, feelings and experiences and help the men make sense of a world that doesn’t include drugs and alcohol.