My snowboarding journey has been long and challenging…longer than I ever expected it to be. I first tried to learn 8 years ago, the last time we lived close to Flagstaff's Arizona Snowbowl Resort. Zach taught me. He had the patience of a saint, although I’m still surprised our relationship survived that winter! I was an uncoordinated, out-of-shape, alcoholic perfectionist. I expected myself to get good at lightning speed. Needless to say, I didn’t, but by the end of the season I was having fun sometimes? And at least not injuring myself every single session out.
But then we went to South America and then moved to San Diego and took a long hiatus from the mountains. At most we’d go 1 or 2 times per year, some years none at all. I definitely didn’t progress. I stayed at that same level of being able to make it down the mountain on my back edge, feeling slightly terrified, pretending to have fun.
Flash forward to 2018. Zach’s parents manipulated us into definitely coming home from Sri Lanka by buying us season passes to Arizona Snowbowl. When we thought about staying longer in beach paradise, we thought about those passes. We couldn’t transfer them to anyone else. It was to be a winter of snowboarding! Our first real winter in 8 years. My first sober winter.
This season, the progress started coming almost immediately. I’m in way better shape than the year that I first learned, that’s for sure. And sobriety, wow, does it make a huge difference or what? We used to put PBRs in our pockets and slam them on the way up the ski lift. “Liquid confidence,” we said. More like “throw you off balance but you won't feel it when you fall juice.” This year, all of a sudden everything just started clicking. I wasn’t sure I would ever make progress but suddenly I did! It’s like all the past tumbles and falls and bruises suddenly added up to enough experience that I could finally turn with confidence.
My second time out this year, I went up to the mountain with a new sober girlfriend, and could barely contain my glee at how much more capable I felt on my board. And it’s just gotten better and better. I got a new shorter board and am starting to be able to speed bomb my way down the mountain with the best of them. My scary, daredevil goal for next year is to learn how to jump!
Every time I’m up there, experiencing the happy feeling I get from the rush of wind and beauty of the snowy pine trees, I can’t help but feel proud of myself for not giving up on something I thought I’d never figure out. The parallels of my snowboarding journey to my sobriety journey are not lost on me.
Trying to learn how to do it was so awkward, challenging, and physically painful. I fell all the time. I hurt myself. Sometimes I wanted to quit. I felt like a loser, a failure, and kept comparing to myself to all the snowboarders barreling down the mountain with ease. I didn’t think I’d ever get there. Just like trying to learn how to live without alcohol made me feel like a toddler learning how to walk for the first time.
Eventually, the progress seemed to come out of nowhere. I surprised myself with sudden confidence! I almost didn’t recognize myself. Who was this person who could flowingly turn right, after years of so much jerky-jerk fall-down failure! It was like I seemed to be making no progress until all of a sudden the progress stared me in the face. I could turn. It was evident. I couldn’t believe it used to be so hard! Just like, suddenly, one day, a few months into my recovery, after a few months of isolation, I could laugh and feel connected to people again.
The similarities are so obvious to me now. In learning to snowboard, as in learning to be a sober human after years of dependency, we don't get the skills we need overnight. It takes a lot of awkward and painful stumbles and falls and tears of frustration. We can see people doing it, but we assume they just have some hidden secret we don't possess. Yet we keep trying because we really want to learn, even when it feels hopeless. And suddenly, one day, things just start to click. It starts to feel easier, and maybe even FUN! We start to understand why everyone always told us "Keep going, it's so worth it!" We start to say that to other newbies. It's just one of those things. It's hard until it isn't. It's awkward until it's natural. There's no way of knowing when that switch will come, but it will come, in time, for all of us.
Just keep trying.