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Lessons of the Locked Gate

Updated: Nov 30, 2021

I was out on a run with a group of the newly sober, training for the LA Marathon. The unexpected happened. There was an obstacle in our path. I observed three different responses, three successful strategies for moving forward. The three ways people overcame this obstacle struck me as a metaphor for handling obstacles in recovery and in life. Here’s what happened.

Members of the team were running, jogging, or walking, everyone going at their own pace. We were on a well-traveled bicycle path between a tall fence and a polluted waterway. In other words, the only safe way to go forward was to continue along the path. As the coach, I had started out with the fastest people, then slowed down to join those who were further back. A few miles into our route, we came across our obstacle, a locked gate. It should have been opened by that hour, but it wasn’t. What would the group do?

We stopped at the gate. Since this was an out and back run, and I hadn’t seen anyone coming back, it seemed to me that those out in front had climbed over the gate and continued on. They had overcome the obstacle on their own.

As we stood in front of the locked gate and more team members approached, they all looked to me for guidance. It wasn’t a particularly high gate, only about 5 feet. It was one that should have been open and which could be easily scaled, so I said “Let’s climb over.” I went first and encouraged the others to continue. One by one, team members made it over the gate, some quickly, others more slowly and deliberately. We gathered on the other side, waiting for each person to overcome this obstacle. Once everyone was together on the other side, we would continue our journey.

As I watched, I noticed a team member frozen in place. She wasn’t getting ready to approach the gate. A look of fear passed across her face as we made eye contact. “I’ve never climbed a fence,” she said, her voice trembling. “I don’t know how. I’m scared. I don’t think I can do it.”

Acknowledging her fear while offering hope and support, I responded. “No problem. “We’ll help you.” I climbed back over the gate as did another team member, while the rest of the team stayed on the other side. As she approached the fence, we stood on either side of her, ready to catch her if she slipped. “Hold on here with your right hand. Put your left foot there. Shift your weight to your left foot and put your right foot here.”

Her teammates on the other side looked her in the eye and offered words of encouragement. As she crossed over the gate and began to climb down the other side, those teammates gathered protectively around her. The words of support kept coming as we continued to provide step by step instructions.

The look of fear on her face began to melt away. Her voice began sounding more confident. She was moving more quickly. She made it safely to the other side. With support from her team, she overcame her fears and the obstacle in her way. Together, we continued on.

As I reflected on this incident, I saw it as a metaphor for overcoming obstacles. There are numerous strategies, and each person needs to choose what works best for them at the time.

1) If you feel confident that you can overcome the obstacle on your own, go ahead.

2) If you’re not sure, look for a role model to guide you. You are not alone. People who have gone before you can teach you how they overcame similar obstacles and continued on their paths to success.

3) If you want to move forward, but you’re scared, reach out to your support system. People who care about you will feel good when they have the opportunity to help you succeed. It’s a win-win.

Life is full of challenges. Sometimes obstacles get in our way. We can all find ways to overcome them.

When obstacles block your journey, what strategy works best for you?

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