In 2018, my family and I were blessed to take a three-week, self-led European pilgrimage. We started in England, where we visited both the Tyburn Convent, built to honor the Catholic martyrs hung on London’s infamous Tyburn Tree, and then the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham in the English countryside. From there we went to Lourdes, France, but not without first making a two-day rest stop in the city of Arles, in the south of France. We finally ended our trip at the World Meeting of Families in Dublin, Ireland.
The holy sites were amazing, of course, but there was also something special about that one stop in rather secular, slightly run-down Arles. It just felt like a place where people lived, and we were living among them as they went to work, played on their phones, and swept their narrow, dusty, well-cracked sidewalks. Maybe it was because we had been rushing about, and I needed to take a break in just a regular town where I could practice my French, walk winding streets first paved by the Roman Empire, and stop at the boulangerie-patisserie for all those world-famous French baked goods.
See, on this pilgrimage, I was still living with my eating disorder. Recovery wasn’t even a dream at that point. I prayed for miracles at every shrine, especially for the miracle that God would make me thin without my having to work too hard at it. Of course, our next restaurant stop was on my mind through every procession, Mass, and Rosary. After all, we were on the trip of a lifetime! Surely all these new sights—and foods—would make me feel better, and God would fix me.
Of course, writing that now, I can see the insane thinking I brought with me on that trip and every vacation I ever took as an adult. I thought that I’d be happier and better and everything would change if I could just go somewhere else and eat somewhere else for a time, whether that somewhere else was the drive-through, the beach, or the World Meeting of Families.
Of course, all of our recovery old-timers are reading this and saying, “Ah, yes, the geographical cure.” We food addicts along with our brothers and sisters in other fellowships know what it’s like to think that our problems are place-specific. When we are afraid to face our problems, we think we’ll leave those problems behind if we move to a new house, go on vacation, or just go out to dinner. We think if the problem is place-specific, then we just have to get out of this place and into the geographical solution, right?
The Big Book references this “geographical cure” twice. Of course, until we choose to chase the solution, our problems go with us. That was certainly true of me on pilgrimage in 2018.
In spite of my brokenness, however, that pilgrimage did provide a wealth of graces. Seven months later, I began my recovery journey. Three years to the day of our visit to Walsingham Shrine, I reached my 100-pound weight loss goal on the Feast of the Transfiguration. Yes, I brought my problems with me on that trip. However, after our return, I learned how to find home and stay home within myself long enough to discover that there is a new way to live, wherever my travel plans may take me. More importantly, recovery has taught me that I don’t need to try to control my problems with travel plans in the first place.
In fact, one sunny day last summer, as I walked the cracked and dusty sidewalks of my rather secular, slightly run-down Pennsylvania town, I remembered the regular people walking around Arles, and how their town, which to me was going to be a geographical solution, was simply home to them, just as my dusty, run-down town was home to me.
Recovery teaches us to be present where we are. Through our recovery work, God opens our eyes to the simple gifts all around us, and we are freed to see that this whole life is an adventure, with or without a plane ticket.
Are you ready to stop running from your problems? Is it time to sit with the solution? Catholic in Recovery offers in-person retreats throughout the country. Find a retreat that works for you.
Erin McCole Cupp is grateful to be recovering from compulsive overeating, binge eating behaviors, and developmental and betrayal trauma. She writes and speaks about mental health and addiction recovery from a Catholic perspective. Check out her course “Filled with Good: Theology of the Body for Food Addicts” at erinmccolecupp.podia.com.