Three Strategies For Staying Sober

Updated: May 18, 2018

Written By: Jeff Burgdorfer

I spent some time with my friend Mike over the holidays.  Mike likes to climb mountains, and he is really good at it.  He had recently guided a team up Mt. Rainier in Washington, and earlier in the year he successfully summited Mount Everest for the 2nd time.  The picture below is Mike at the summit of Everest – on top of the world – proudly displaying a Greenville Drive flag.

Jeff's friend Mike at the top of Mt. Rainier
Jeff's friend Mike at the top of Mt. Rainier

Climbing these mountains is no joke.  Dangerous terrain, altitude sickness, and unpredictable avalanches are a constant threat.  Not everyone makes it out alive.  So why does he do it?  I ask him this all the time.  In addition to enjoying the leadership responsibilities, he talks about “being able to survive with just the tools and supplies on my back.  Knowing I can exist in those conditions with the enormity of the mountain.”

I love talking to Mike about this stuff – His accomplishments are a testament to his discipline, commitment, and courage – he’s inspirational! 

It’s also fascinating for me, as an addiction Counselor, to see how the journey climbing a mountain parallels with an individuals journey in recovery.  Mike encapsulates this perfectly by saying “The summit is just icing on the cake, and it is only the halfway point in a climb!”  This is a good analogy for life since “the struggle continues after the summit.”

So what 3 skills / techniques can we use to successfully navigate both challenges?

It’s easy to remember – they all start with the letter C.




On Everest, climatization is the process your body goes through adjusting to very high altitude with reduced oxygen content in the air.  Proper climatization is essential for a successful summit.  It is a gradual process that requires methodical planning and an ability to reject the natural desire to want to summit ASAP.  Climbers that do not effectively climatize will experience altitude sickness, and their journey ends early.

In recovery, climatization is the process your mind, body, and spirit go through adjusting to life stressors without help from drugs & alcohol.  As an addiction Counselor, when I meet a client for the first time it is not uncommon to hear “this is the worst day of my life.”  They are like climbers standing at the base of Everest and they have a natural desire to want to summit ASAP.  They want to stabilize and resume their ‘normal’ lives right away.  But I remind clients that recovery is a gradual process, and too much too soon is not a recipe for success.  The various stages in recovery are all unique and present people with different challenges.  It is critical that clients work together with a trained professional who can help them climatize to each stage before moving forward.

“I have peace in the process and I have joy in the journey.”

Regarding courage, it goes without saying that you need quite a bit of it to climb Everest.  Climbing 29,000 feet over treacherous terrain, high winds, temperature below zero, constant threat of avalanche…not exactly a walk in the park.

What about individuals in recovery – do they have courage? I believe they do, in abundance!  Healthy, long-term recovery requires a commitment to change.  And not just one thing…EVERYTHING.  It requires learning new skills, meeting new people, admitting that you need help.  It means shifting to a new lifestyle that demands sacrifice, dedication, commitment.  It takes courage!

“The longest journey begins with a small step by a brave person.”

mt. Everest
mt. Everest

On Everest, your survival depends on the strength of your connections.  Not even the most experienced climbers make it to the top alone.  You need to surround yourself with a team of expert guides & Sherpa’s – there is strength in numbers!

In recovery, your survival depends on the strength of your connections.  I often remind clients there is no extra credit for doing this by yourself.  If you want to become an expert in something (football for example,) you find others who are good at that (Coach Lombardi, Parcells, Belichick,) and you study them, learn from them, model your behaviors after them.  Individuals that are supported by Counselors, sponsors, and most importantly FAMILY have a greater chance of success than those that travel alone.

“Surround yourself ONLY with people who are going to lift you HIGHER.”

Whichever mountain you are climbing, remember to stay strong, stay focused, stay grounded.  Together, we can conquer any & all obstacles – one step at a time.

Thanks for reading.

Jeff Burgdorfer, LPC, CAC

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