I Read a lot of Books …

Of the 33 books I have read so far in 2014, Michael Koryta’s Those Who Wish Me Dead has touched me most deeply. Two of my favorite authors, Harlan Coben and Lee Child have review snippets on the front cover. Coben says, “Warning: Michael Koryta’s wonderful, riveting, and harrowing Those Who Wish Me Dead may just move you to tears. Enjoy at your own risk.” And Child says, “Outstanding in every way … Don’t you dare miss it.” With those two recommendations, I was primed to like the novel, but not to get what I got out of it.

The protagonist, Jace Wilson, witnesses a murder and is subsequently pursued by the killers. He is pursued all the way from his Indiana home to Montana, where he has been sent to participate in a wilderness camping program, which will presumably hide him from the bad guys.

Having been involved in wilderness camping myself throughout the years, I was immediately drawn to this aspect of the story. I vividly remember the muscles used to rappel, rock climb, canoe and hike. I remember learning backcountry skills like orienteering (before GPS), map and compass, reading a topo map, starting a fire, cooking, making water safe to drink. I remember the little treasures — gooseberries along a path, a beautiful sunrise, the wonder that is Lake Superior.

In chapter 8, not too far into the book, which I was alternately reading and listening to, I heard the narrator say, “Anyone remember the chain? The order of our [survival] priorities? … Positive mental attitude, wilderness first aid, shelter, fire, signal, water, food. My mind connected these paragraphs with my son, who is currently in rehab for issues with heroin. I saw how a positive mental attitude would be essential for survival in his situation. And I realized that just as the two killers were tracking Jace in the book, so the killer heroin has been tracking my son in real life.

The wilderness leader, Ethan, was teaching the boys how important shelter is in the wilderness. “With shelter, the environment is no longer in control.” With drugs, when you have any type of shelter from the drug environment, the environment is no longer in control. How essential then for anyone trying to recover from drugs to find their shelter, which could be and probably is all inclusive of a physical shelter, a mental shelter, a spiritual shelter, and a social shelter.

As Ethan taught the boys how to survive in the wilderness, he taught this important concept about recovering from mistakes they might make in the wilderness: “Anticipate and recover, anticipate and recover. If you could do the first well, you were ahead of most people. If you could do both well? You were a survivor.”

Is this not applicable to recovering from drug abuse as well? And, actually, life in general. Although we cannot anticipate everything, I appreciate the approach here which is suggesting that we are intentional about looking at what we are experiencing, and thinking about situations we may face.

Take for example the simple situation we all face twenty times a week; having a time we are supposed to be somewhere. I may not be able to anticipate the exact traffic jam that is on the highway when I am driving, but I can certainly anticipate the possibility of it happening, and when I anticipate that, and leave ten minutes earlier, I’m that much closer to being on time. And when the traffic jam lasts 15 or 20 minutes, and I can recover from the frustration, I am even more than a survivor. I thrive.

In situations of life and death, which drugs most certainly bring about, anticipating where we might get tripped up, by identifying triggers and urges, puts the recovering user ahead of most people who haven’t thought about those things.  Getting connected with others who have traveled this road and who are intent on supporting the recovering drug user into a meaningful life puts the socially connected individual ahead of those who try to go it alone.

Mistakes happen. In drug recovery, relapses happen. But when we anticipate and recover, we have a chance to survive.

Lastly, Ethan gave this speech to the boys, which was instrumental in saving the lives of more than one of the characters:

There is no such thing as quitting time. Remember that, boys. You rest, you sleep, you pout, you cry. You’re allowed to get mad, allowed to get sad. But you’re not allowed to quit. When you feel like it, remember that you are allowed to stop, but not to quit. So give yourself that much. Stop. Just stop. And then, remember what STOP is to a survivor — sit, think, observe, plan. Spelled out for you, right there at the moment of your highest frustration, is all you need to do to start saving your life.

Preach it.


This isn’t just helpful for people recovering from drug abuse or addiction. Can you think of five situations in your own life where this would be a wise plan of action? I love the idea of being able to stop when things are stressful or disappointing or I’m struggling. I’ve always thought stopping meant I was quitting. But if I sit, think, observe and plan, and then get back into action, stopping is simply that — a stop. It’s a step on the journey.

I used to think that me seeing connections and applications like this was enough. That if I could see it and somehow just say it with enough conviction and clarity, he’d get it. He’d apply the idea and stay on the path of abstaining or recovery. I know now everybody has their own path, and it’s rather unlikely that he would see these things even if he read this book. But, what a great addition to my toolbox for life wisdom to consider, apply, and share where I can, like on this blog.

So, go on and survive. Instead of quitting, stop if and when you need to, and fortify yourself for the next curve in the road.

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