Voyage on the Peace River

Voyage on the Peace River

Florida in the fall is a blessing. The blazing heat of summer recedes and we welcome drier air and slightly cooler temperatures with a return to the forest and fresh water rivers of the interior. We journeyed inland to Polk County to paddle the Peace River, a place favored by adventurers interested in fossilized shark teeth and prehistoric mammal bones.
The men paired off into canoes and we paddled along the river for several hours, pausing occasionally to observe wildlife before stopping for lunch on a sandy bank.
Florida is home to an incredible diversity of wildlife but there are many creatures here that don’t belong, referred to as non-native or ‘invasive’ species. Animals sometimes accidentally migrate from their native ecosystem to a foreign one, such as when they’re kept as pets and then released, or when they stowaway in international shipments.
An example of an invasive species found in Florida is the armored catfish. There are several species of catfish that are native to Florida, but the armored catfish should only be found in the Amazon river basin. Here in Florida it is dangerous and destructive; it decimates native wildlife and flora, causing damage to the riverbeds that has a widespread impact on the other animals that make their home in or near the Peace River.
Invasive species throw off the natural balance of an ecosystem, but if you remove them, the native population can flourish once again.
The armor-like plates on the catfish’s body protect it from would-be predators, making it tricky to keep in check. Native catfish will bite a baited hook or even fall for the “noodling” technique, but the armored can only be netted or speared.
Thanks to the many hours spent in the water with John, our guys are gifted and tenacious spear fishermen. Our men took turns wading into the chilly fresh waters of the river with a gigging spear. Though the armored catfish might wreak havoc to our local ecosystem, they were a welcome treat when roasted over an open fire on the sandy, sun-dappled banks of the Peace River.

On the journey of recovery that young men begin when they come to Voyage Recovery, they don’t venture out into the wild alone: they go there with the support and guidance of our clinical team, standing shoulder to shoulder with their brothers.
In active addiction men develop harmful attitudes and behaviors like dishonesty, risk-taking, and manipulation. Addiction can destroy a man’s relationships with his family and friends, and totally derail his momentum at school or work. Addiction can cause a man to risk his freedom, his health, and even his life just so he can use. These behaviors are perfectly suited to a life of addiction, but absolutely unsuitable to a life of recovery.
The attitudes and behaviors associated with addiction are similar to an invasive species: perfectly suited to one ecosystem but dangerous and destructive in another.
Going beyond the decision to abstain from drinking or using drugs, recovery is about identifying the attitudes and behaviors that made it easy or normal to use and purging them.
Just like the beautiful and sensitive wilderness along the Peace River, a man can’t just go in and detonate his life. Men must make their approach with the right tools for the job, carefully removing the invasive attitudes and behaviors, while preserving the elements that make him who he is.
At Voyage Recovery, no man ventures out into the wilderness of addiction recovery alone. Each man is guided by his primary therapist and our whole clinical team who share their experience, insight and expertise in helping him and his family navigate this journey.
Together we root out harmful and destructive thoughts and perspectives in individual therapy, group therapy, and experiential therapy. Our staff are the front line, but each of the men works hard on himself and lends support to his brothers to lay a foundation of recovery.
Just as the men found that it was the most fun sharing delicious roasted catfish that they caught together, the work they do on themselves is best when they’re together too. When they leave us and return to the community, they’ll rely on their church groups and local Twelve Step fellowships for the same kind of compassion and strength.
By hurting and healing together our men are learning how to trust a fellowship.
There are more armored catfish in the river than the ones we caught. The lifelong journey of recovery requires vigilance, awareness, a commitment to maintaining a healthy and meaningful balance. The issues our men identify and process while they’re with us are just the beginning. They’re gaining the tools and insight they’ll need for the rest of their lives to continue along their path to healing.
Call us to learn more about how we help young adult men and their families overcome addiction (772) 245-8345.

The art of recovery

The art of recovery
Gyotaku is where trophies meet art, where celebration meets reverence. John led our guys in a new kind of experiential—less pulse-pounding and more thought-provoking—making Gyotaku.

More than a hundred years ago, fishermen in Japan developed a specialized printing technique to record their prized catches called gyotaku. The premise is fairly simple: dab ink or paint along one side of a fish’s body and press rice paper against it.
Gyotaku became a way for anglers to settle disputes over fish, but also grew into an art form all its own as the practice focused more and more on understanding the physical subtleties of each animal and memorializing them with reverence and appreciation of their sacrifice.
We fish a lot with our guys—off-shore, underwater, and even from our dock—and they all share in their catch, eagerly posing for pictures and debating over how to prepare the fish for their dinner.
As the men work their way through early recovery, they’re learning to be more present, to look for joy in their activities, and to thoughtfully consider themselves and their environment.
The most beautiful and intricate gyotaku are the product of reverent contemplation of the animal—its coloration, the shape of its body, and its strength and movement in the water. We learned that by adding more or less ink to the fish’s body we could capture it as we remember it: scales gleaming in the sunlight, muscles straining in the fight, fins slicing through the water.
Learning gyotaku is just another extension of the lessons they’re learning in the group room. Because the practice can be very simple, or it can be very elaborate. Each man is left to contemplate his own experience of the catch and express that through his art.
We think the results are stunning.
New to recovery, it’s hard for most guys to imagine they’ll be able to enjoy themselves without drugs and alcohol. And that’s why our experiential program is so much fun—we show our guys that an awesome life in recovery is within their reach.

The practice of gyotaku fits seamlessly with our approach because it focuses on slowing-down and the contemplating the details of that man’s experience and of the fish’s role in that experience.
Call us anytime to learn more about how we help young men get clean and find their passion (772) 245-8345.

Diving deep into recovery work

Diving deep into recovery work
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 then men get into the pool in teams and take turns ducking underwater to carry a 40lb weight from one end of the pool to the other. Every few steps he’ll come up for air and the next man will carry 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 recovery—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’s got to 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. A man’s body will demand it, his thoughts and feelings will try to trick him into it. And 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, once a week, will go play basketball. Not all the guys participate, but everyone tries at least once just to see how it goes. 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 go despite believing he’s going to be terrible and hate it, and 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, because 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 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.
Come visit the Voyage house, meet our staff and learn about our program. Call us at (772) 245-8345 or schedule a call back.