Written by Cole Bressler

My Sober Travel Experience in Costa Rica

I am sitting on my couch in Los Angeles, and I am riding high.

It’s been a week since I arrived back home, returning from our inaugural Choose Life Sober Adventures journey – a nine-person trip to Costa Rica. And the gratitude I have feels life-changing.

Since I was a young boy, travel has brought me joy. I’ve been fortunate enough to have traversed much of the world from Australia to Africa and from the Arctic to Ecuador, and I’ve appreciated every minute. But as I embarked on this adventure, I was troubled over this big question:

Why would these people spend their hard-earned money traveling with this unusual adventure company that I created?

I felt self-conscious, as the “imposter syndrome” can be strong in those of us in recovery.

In earlier years I hadn’t had much success in what I had attempted. Addiction made sure of that. So why should this be different? Those anxieties racked me as I prepared for the arrival of our first guests, and I couldn’t see the big picture – I couldn’t see the forest for the trees.

But by the second day, after a tubing excursion down a pristine river that ran from the side of a volcano, we rode the bus laughing, joking, and trading stories like old friends, even though we had only just met a day prior. At that moment, a switch flipped in my brain. I suddenly fully understood why individuals from around the country journeyed with me to Costa Rica. 

It was not simply the promise of recovery that encouraged my fellow sober travelers to embark on this adventure, but the promise of a sober community. To share the thrill of travel with others who share a common past and hope for our futures.

While the activities were important, it was not because they were exciting – and they were! – it was because we experienced them together. A sober adventure is not just the thrill of zip lining or kayaking along the beach or walking through the forest with howler monkeys sounding off overhead. That stuff was exhilarating and peaceful and meaningful. But a sober adventure is about doing all that in the company of those with whom you share a similar story, with those who support and “get” you – a community. Without support from others, recovery is next to impossible. It is the sober alumni around me that fill me with strength. They guide my next step and keep me from harm, just as the shepherd watches over his flock. 

If you went back in time to my days of active addiction and told me that leading sober travelers on life-enhancing adventures to such places as Costa Rica, Machu Picchu, and Kenya was my future, it would have been simply far too absurd to grasp. But now, as I approach Thanksgiving, I have a special experience of gratitude. My new form of travel – my “work” travel – has given me the opportunity to build new sober communities of people in recovery who share a love of adventure and travel.

I still pinch myself that this is my life now. And I’m still learning how to understand and appreciate the individual trees, but now the forest is turning out to be more beautiful than I could ever have imagined.