Beneath and Beyond

The Homecoming Path

Homecoming – to ourselves, to the imperatives of our growth and healing – begins with facing the problem behind the problem.

This page is part of the addiction series, which provides recovery resources for specific addictions (hallucinogens, opioids, stimulants, alcohol, and cannabis) as well as material on trauma, personal healing, and the journey of recovery. View all of the pages by clicking on the Addictions link in the Categories menu or by scrolling to the bottom of this page.

Each page in this series is structured as a series of stories derived from my professional work. That’s what addiction is, ultimately: a complex, layered, interwoven story of human frailty and resilience.

Addiction is not the primary problem. It does not spring from nothing. This is perhaps the most important – and most difficult – insight to make. Parents resist it. Communities deny it. And the addicted – for whom using serves the express purpose of hiding what’s beneath – cannot open themselves to it. Addiction grows, ever so slowly, easing its way into a life of struggle, offering respite and false clarity, disguising the door that leads inward and outward to healing.

Addiction is what we do instead of facing ourselves. We slide away. We refuse to grapple with mental illness, trauma, and the tangled knot of family legacies. We run, terrified, from the necessary confrontation with our memories of abuse, our marks of violence, our histories of striving and falling. We deny that we have been hurt, that we are vulnerable. We pretend.

And addiction, of course, creates its own tumbled and chaotic momentum of further trauma, abuse, fracturing, disconnection. Layers upon layers, spinning ever deeper into the darkness. No single stroke can crack open and heal this knot of damage and duress. The layers must be peeled back, each one held and explored – safely, carefully, with help from mentors and guides.

The process is complex, expresses itself uniquely in each person. It weaves and folds and yields. Often it switchbacks upon itself, meandering and splitting, then coalescing again. The regolith lies upon the bedrock. The path of healing is to clear the ground.

Homecoming – to ourselves, to the imperatives of our growth and healing – begins with facing the problem behind the problem. And, of course, there are no definitive steps in this journey, no prescriptive actions that will guarantee success. All of human development is mercurial, mysterious, uncertain. Sure, many recovered clients talk about support groups, community connections, bodymind practices, relapse prevention strategies. Then again, some are successful without these. It’s not, finally, about the substances or behaviors. Something deeper is going on. Finding and mapping that depth is the only way through. Many of my clients speak of this process as a journey toward the soul – it’s there, under that spreading sky, waiting for us to find our way to it. Maybe that’s all addiction is: a crying out for the soul. Often it seems that way.

When I listen deeply to myself, when I let go of the pretensions of my various roles in the addictions community, I find that an old and persistent part of me is still trying to understand. That boy within me, who loved his mother and lost her to addiction, has not let go of his bewilderment. And the man, who has become a professional, an expert, who is supposed to have figured it all out – that man has grown accustomed to the surprises, the unpredictability, the quantum mechanics of addiction. No equation solves it. And yet we strive, and grow, and heal.

I pick up a stone and toss it into the water. Small ripples spread across the dark surface. It’s early, near dawn. The lake is calm and smooth. The kids are not yet awake. The cabin is quiet, the squirrels have not begun to chatter, the geese are just beginning to squawk from around the point. Soon they will glide into our bay, in pairs and groups and armadas, and we will watch their wing tips skim and dip as they settle upon the water.

We walk upon the pebbled beach and look for bright, round stones. Every year we come here, Elizabeth and I and our kids. This is our place of gathering, of respite from the messiness of daily life. We come here to rest, play, reflect. Here I am reminded of fundamental and mysterious things. Today, with the distant mountains black with predawn shimmer, I think about my counseling work and its persistent mystery. Addiction is confounding; it resists definitions and structures and simple solutions. Addicted clients are diverse and unpredictable. Sometimes the stone skips, sometimes it sinks. What makes this so? The stone, the water, the one who tosses? And who is that stone thrower, the one who sets it all in motion?

Stretches of sand lie near the water’s edge, but most of the beach is covered with stones. When I was a child, I used to run across such surfaces, as my kids do now. But that was long ago, before the slow accretions of adulthood slowed me down. I must choose my steps with care; some of the stones are rough, or have sharp ridges, or are large enough to press against the soft skin of my instep. I take slow and measured steps.

The number of stones is vast: red stones, black and striated stones, fragments of feldspar and basalt and olivine. Countless hues and shapes amid the scattering. They have been brought here by water, by the movements of glaciers, by volcanic activity surging beneath the land millions of years ago. The forces that delivered any one stone to this beach cannot be disentangled from the invisible throng of its influences; its parents and children and siblings, the full chorus of the community of stones to which it belongs. And beyond these influences there are others that we do not and perhaps cannot see. Wind and light and time. Every stone is like this; a replica in miniature of the universe.

I gather up two stones in my hand. Each fits neatly within my palm. The smaller of the two is almost flat, and the color of northern forests: pale green, faded as with mist and hyperborean light. Tiny, glittering fragments of quartz lie within the stone’s texture. If I were to polish it, the surface would render a high, jade-like sheen. The other stone is dark, almost black, with a single splash of white along its tapering contour. The second stone is heavier, and more round, and would not skip well. But it is as beautiful as the green stone.

Among all the others I select these two stones, as though they are rare prime numbers along an infinite line. If the number of stones is infinite (as the universe itself may be), there must be infinite others like these: beneath countless waters, buried by layers of other stones, resting in plain sight but unseen. They make their way, as do the others, toward their own destinations.

I think about Trench, and the Land of Shadows, and the circuitous paths taken by so many substance users. I wonder about the white bear, and protecting spirits, and the wide tunnels that were carved beneath the mountain just east of here. I consider my own ignorance, my wonder, my faith in this strange business in which I have found myself. I am tumbled along too, by the river and the melting snows.

I hear the screen door clatter as it closes. I look toward the cabin and see the kids coming down the path, sleepy-eyed and in their pajamas. They know that today we return to the city. And though they will be glad to return home, to their own beds and to the cats and to a house with regular plumbing, they will also miss this place: the waters and the forest glades and the night sky of blazing stars. They too are replenished here, and reminded, and carried forward.

The ritual of our leave-taking involves each of us selecting a stone, by whatever means or motive, and tossing the stone into the lake. That stone will remain, and call us back, and become a traveler in our memory so that we do not forget ourselves. The ritual is quiet, and simple, and without fanfare. Yet it has become a symbol for us as a family; a beginning, almost, wrapped up within closure. Here we mark the ending and beginning of our year, not by the calendar but by this straightforward moment in which we consider where we are going. Out like the stone, into the deep waters.

I watch Rowan make her way across the beach: tentative, looking carefully, thinking. She will begin high school soon, and has much on her mind. Avery is younger, and chooses a stone without hesitation, picking one from the jumble at his feet. Elizabeth, as always, chooses with focus and deliberation.

We stand at the water’s edge and take turns. Avery tosses his stone first, trying to make it skip, flinging his arm out. And indeed the stone does skip – once, twice – before settling into the water and disappearing near the diving float. Rowan goes next. She pauses, seems to consider something in her mind, then sends the stone out on a long arc, high and languid. It splashes down and is gone. Then Elizabeth takes her turn. She looks across the water, and at each of us on the shore, and I am renewed in my conviction that she is the caretaker of us all. She lets the stone go and it sails out, low and sure. It slides into the water and is covered, protected.

I take two stones – one for me, one for the addicted – and throw them in turn. As they splash down and slide from view, I make a silent wish for their protection, and nurturing, and homecoming. The ripples of the two stones spread, and merge, and carry onward across the waters.


Ross Laird, PhD RCC

Clinical Consultant, Author, Educator

My work focuses on the interconnected themes of mental health, trauma, addictions, and creativity. I provide clinical consulting, professional development services, and community education for a wide range of institutions and organizations.