How the Outdoors of Southern Nevada Keeps Me Sober

By “Sober In Vegas”

Banner image by Hailey Hirst

Las Vegas isn’t the first place you think of when you want to get sober. Actually, I’m not sure what I used to think when I thought about getting sober, but it certainly wasn’t my hometown out west. I moved back to Las Vegas in 2015 with four weeks of sobriety under my belt hoping to heal the fresh wounds of being laid off from my dream job working for a world-renowned theatre in Chicago.   

February is the perfect time to move to Las Vegas. It’s sunny, dry, and moderate, the complete opposite of the midwest in winter. Upon arriving back to a state I’d only spent about a year in over the past decade with no job, few friends, and a gaping hole where alcohol used to live, I tried to figure out what I used to do before I drank.

How did I pass all that time when I was younger?

Sitting outside on the patio at my mom’s house, I was flooded with joyful memories of my teen years. I recalled hiking, spending time in the mountains, and being at the park until sunset. I remembered jagged orange and copper colored boulders, crisp forests of pine, the expansive undeveloped Mojave Desert behind friends’ houses, and the smell of creosote.

Okay, so, the outdoors. Yes, the outdoors. Returning to the outdoors. Maybe this could fill the hours alcohol used to fill.

I started small.

Sunset Park

I frequented a local favorite, Sunset Park, walking along the lake that I’d walked as a young adult. Breathing in deep, this park came back to me: playing catch with my dad, flying kites with my brother, fishing in the lake, high school graduation barbecues. I realized I’d spent many hours of my young life here and hadn’t even thought about them in over ten years.

I was also reminded what that 15 year old girl was like and why she loved the outdoors.

She was anxious to grow up but socially awkward. She loved being involved in social gatherings but didn’t know how to talk to people. I thought about how many group hikes I’d gone on growing up, and how easy it was to talk to people outside. My parents had always been outdoorsy-types (they met working together one summer at Yosemite) and my dad had worked for nearly 20 years for the Boy Scouts, so we spent most of our weekends outdoors. When you’re walking, it’s so easy to talk with people. Sounds from the endless skies, hidden creeks, and diverse birds easily cover any uncomfortable lags in conversation.

Sunset Park

Attending college in the midwest most social gatherings were indoors. Probably due to weather, but likely also because of underage drinking, all of a sudden my weekends were no longer for exploration but instead for recovering from hangovers. Weekend hobbies turned into weeknight hobbies turned into drinking alone. It was so much harder to cover up conversation lulls, talk to love interests, get to know people without the generous and forgiving cover of a hike outside. And drinking had made it so easy!

After those first few weeks walking at Sunset Park, an old friend introduced me to the Clark County Wetlands. It is quite literally an oasis. Miles and miles of multi-use trails, marshy areas, rocky areas, dry areas. And birds. So many birds. I spent New Year’s Day watching a Great Blue Heron fish along the water.  

Desert Skies at the Wetlands

Walking at the Wetlands each week gave me new strength. When I wanted to meet up with a friend, rather than grab a drink, I suggested we go to either the Wetlands or Sunset Park for a walk together. And just like when I was a teenager, connecting with people was easier with the aid of the outdoors. I didn’t need a few beers, I just needed the beautiful scenery hidden throughout Las Vegas.

If I can make it through 10 miles of rocky wilderness, of course I can make it another day without drinking.

I’ve continued to explore the Vegas area, or should I say, re-acquaint myself. Each place I visit, Mt. Charleston, Red Rock Canyon, Calico Basin, Lake Mead, Valley of Fire  all bring back thoughts of my younger years of wonder.  

As I continue on my path to sobriety, I crave more and more time outdoors. I push myself to go further, hike a little harder. Outside I’m strong and I’m capable. If I can make it through 10 miles of rocky wilderness, of course I can make it another day without drinking. The landscape that reassured the gawky pre-teen girl I once was now heals the recovering 33 year old woman I’ve become.

Like the Nevada state motto, I’m battle born.

**Author’s note: People have many different relationships with alcohol. Please do not think I have any judgement on others’ decisions involving alcohol–it just isn’t right for me anymore.**

About the author: She writes about seeking sobriety and mindfulness at Sober In Vegas. She is on a mission to help get the word out that Las Vegas is so much more than The Strip. The She Explores website and podcast have been a favorite of Sober In Vegas’ author and serves as a source of strength and encouragement during dark days of self-doubt.