The Camino a Step at a Time by Dolores Marlene Stephenson | Magazine | Tell Your Own Story | Writing & Me
Dolores Marlene Stephenson

Dolores Marlene Stephenson

In 2018 I attempted a 900 km walk that started in the Pyrenees in France and ended in Muxía on the northwest coast of Spain. I completed the entire journey on what was to be my first pilgrimage, The Camino de Santiago.

Yet the pilgrimage of sobriety has been a much longer and tougher journey. One which I failed at on my first attempt. There were to follow many relapses along the pilgrimage of abstinence from alcohol and other mood-changing ‘recreations.’ I have walked this path for many years and fallen many times before making it to my ‘Santiago of Sobriety.’ Yet finding holy land on the trail of alcoholism, mental health issues, and my recent diagnosis of stage 4 incurable lung Cancer has been hard going, to say the least.

Of these three, my long journey of substance recovery has resulted in nine years of sober living. But even these nine years have been an arduous walk. I once heard, ‘It takes five years to get your marbles back, but another five years to learn how to play with them.’

These were the marbles I brought with me on the Camino only three years into recovery. Three marbles; I stuffed my pitiful and regretful ‘past’, my grateful and hard-earned ‘present,’ and my uncertain yet hopeful ‘future’ into a backpack that carried all I would need for a journey by foot that lasted just under six weeks. I walked just over half a marathon a day, seven days a week. And I did most of it alone during a time when online support groups for addiction weren’t available.

The Camino a Step at a Time jpgYet walking the Camino de Santiago gave me a strong foundation for sobriety that I believe has saved me from future risk of relapse, (but only as long as I nurture what I discovered along that path). However, I also believe you don’t need to be on a journey of recovery to benefit enormously from the Camino. We all have issues. The Camino is one of the most ancient ways of facing them head-on. And apparently, it still works.

I am also an artist. A creator of things. I like to make stuff. I brought the gifts of my artistry along with me. My writing was an unfolding result of the Camino and its preparation, as was some poetry, and music. Apart from the sketchbook and art equipment I brought along, my manuscript was a miraculous accident. However, my reasons for going on a pilgrimage were set in stone.

  1. The unhealed wounds of a fractured family.
  2. My drive to connect with the power within.
  3. A desire for self-acceptance.
  4. And finally……a spiritual search.

Although I was in full awareness of why I wanted to walk, and what I wanted to face along the path, I must admit, I don’t quite remember what or who sparked my initial interest in The Camino. Nonetheless, I believe my reasons for facing my demons reflect the same demons most of us want to withdraw from; The daily grind that minces out a filtered version of ourselves and distracts us from who we truly are, or at the least who we want to be; whether it be a career we grow into, the changes we know in our hearts we want to make, patterns of behaviour that bring us pain, or the strides we need to take that will lead us to a life that is our birthright, and the happiness that results from such an epic journey. A Camino can do that. You will discover inner resources and resilience you never knew existed. They will flow and spring forth from your fingertips, literally.

Entering the world of the author was a direct result of my pilgrimage, as was The Artist’s Cove, (my gallery, gift shop, and tea lounge, 2019 – 2023), my short stint at music college, my singing hobby turned semi-professional, my ability to face toxic relationships, (some within my immediate family), and much more.

Walking the Camino doesn’t suddenly make life easy. We still live alongside our neighbours (and I don’t mean the ones next door – I’m blessed there.) I mean everyone, our friends, our family, our work colleagues, and yes, sometimes our neighbours next door.

Even if you never get the chance to walk a Camino, most of us can walk within our communities with an attitude of mindfulness. Yet, The Camino – a Step at a Time will transport you into the world of the pilgrimage. It will give you an idea of what is involved and who you will meet. It will introduce you to many characters along the way, and through their stories, (including mine), you may meet the most important character of all; you.

That is who I met. The ashes of the old ME were discarded along my pilgrimage. I experienced in my Camino’s short lifeline all the emotions of one lifetime. Yet the pilgrimage isn’t all sweat and tears. I guess it’s a bit like alcohol. Although alcohol often left me feeling like a broken-down car wreck, there was much fun in those drinks too. I wouldn’t have drunk for so long otherwise. And there is a lot of fun along the Camino. You can drink as much or as little of it as you choose.

Apart from getting sober and facing a terminal illness, the Camino is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Yet the rewards have been monumental, as were some of the spiritual experiences during the walk itself, (one being out-of-body in nature). The Camino has given me the life I have today. A life I now see is worth the rocky road in which it is embedded.

(c) Dolores Marlene Stephenson

The Camino a Step at a Time jpgThe official book Launch of The Camino a Step at a Time, takes place in Cobh Library, County Cork, on Saturday the 13th of April at 2pm.

Please contact Cobh Library for more details: 021 481 1130

Guest Speaker: Hugh O’Donovan.

Order your copy of The Camino a Step at a Time online here and here.

About the author

Of Irish and Dominican descent, Dolores was born in London, where she trained as a textile designer. In 2002, she moved to Cobh, in County Cork to follow her creative dreams. Her journey as a portrait and landscape painter, combined with her own personal struggles of addiction, mental health issues, and recovery, has led her into the realm of the written word, where she explores the story of human resilience and personal growth. That resilience has never been more important with the recent diagnosis of advanced lung cancer (Sept 2023). It came in the same month ‘Dolores Marlene’ made her solo debut as a jazz singer in her hometown of Cobh.

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