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How To Win At Life: Swapping Addiction For A Passionate Climbing LIfe

Author: Margo Talbot

January 10, 2018

I often get asked whether climbing is a path to self-knowledge, or just another addiction. The truth is, any activity can either bring us closer to ourselves—or take us further away. It all depends on our intention.

On a cold February day back in 1992, when a boyfriend said “Hey, do you want to try ice climbing?” I had no idea my decision would forever alter the course of my life. As I scaled Meltout, my first-ever frozen waterfall, I felt joy for the first time in my life without a heavy dose of something like mushrooms, LSD or cocaine. For the first time ever while I was sober, I was freed from the emotional burden that I carried constantly around with me.

Although I didn’t know it at the time, that first day out on the ice I had discovered my passion. It was this experience that showed me that instead of just numbing my pain with substances, I could actually fill my life with things that brought me focus, purpose and joy. For the first time in my life, I found something bigger than my addiction. Something I loved more than getting high.  And something solid that I could count on. And I used this discovery to literally climb my way out of drug addiction and suicidal depression.

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Looking back on it, I had inadvertently stumbled upon a healing modality called adventure therapy, which I now use in my work with other people struggling with addiction and mental health issues. Physical movement isn’t just an option; it’s an absolute necessity. The antidote to stress, for me, is movement. In order to move forward from trauma, we need to engage the part of our brains that were compromised: the executive part that helps us plan and take action toward a goal. Engaging in activities with a logical, progressive order to them—like ice climbing, yoga or martial arts—helps us learn those skills.

Another reason movement is crucial to healing is that body-centered action brings us into the present moment, where the focus of our attention is on what we are doing right here, right now. Depression can mean living in the pain of the past, and anxiety, the fear of future events. Therefore, it makes perfect sense that the antidote to both of these states is living in the present moment, where we feel a deep sense of aliveness, or joy.

Add in the simple act of being outside, away from the noise, clutter and distraction of modern life, and you have a powerful mix. Mountain adventure has been at the center of my decades-long journey to self-knowledge and self-empowerment.

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If you're looking to fire up your life, consider this:

  1. Find a passion—even if it resides in seemingly purposeless activities. Climbing a frozen waterfall has no inherent meaning whatsoever. But if the activity allows you to focus while stabilizing your fragile brain chemistry, then it has great meaning indeed.
  2. Realize that there is no inherent purpose to life other than what you decide it to be. You are the director of your life’s movie: Choose each scene as purposefully and wisely as you can.
  3. Never look for a needle in a haystack. Become the needle, and the haystack disappears. The needle is your fundamental power; the haystack is everything that would take you away from this.

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Photos by Forest Woodward and John Price.

Margo Talbot

​Born in New Brunswick and heading west at her earliest convenience, Margo’s world was transformed the day she swung her first axe into the ice. The immediacy, focus and joy of the activity has been her passion ever since. Margo credits physical activity and her relationship with nature as the driving forces in her healing journey through addiction and depression, a journey chronicled in her tell-all expose, All That Glitters.

Margo lives in Canmore Alberta, surrounded by the beauty of the Canadian Rockies. When she’s not out playing in the mountains, Margo spends her time speaking, writing and teaching people how to climb. Her goal is to introduce as many people as possible to the activity that literally saved her life.