How Recovery and Rock Tumbling are alike

Sara Johnston on  Unsplash

Sara Johnston on Unsplash

On a recent family vacation, we were doing the typical touristy thing to do by hitting up the “hot spots.” As we decide on this totally kitschy store that sells everything (seriously, it reminded me of one of those convenience shops in Japan) but… here’s the kicker… on the backside, it had a bear exhibit with rescued bears. And yes, it was as amazing as it sounds. 

I digress.

Right next door to the adorable Three Bears General Store, there was a little building with a big ole MINE YOUR OWN GEMSTONES sign. The curious, inner child in me has always wanted to mine for gems. So I decided to check this place out and immediately felt compelled to buy a bucket of dirt and try it out myself. I knew I wasn’t going to get anything too crazy (it wasn’t that expensive of a bucket!) but I was paying for the experience first and anything cool I found was a bonus. 

© Pigeon Forge Gem Mine

© Pigeon Forge Gem Mine

At the first glint of a solid rose quartz piece, I gasped a little. It was so beautiful in the raw. It had a soft pink ombre effect where the hazy pink bled into the clear crystal. And don’t get me started on how pretty the amethyst and sodalite gems were.

So, yeah, I geeked out a bit. Not only was I appreciative of the experience and the beauty of what I collected — I became genuinely curious about how the rocks and gems were formed over time, how they get their coloration and textures and what made one more valuable than another. My curiosity and research led me down the rabbit hole of rock tumbling.

Rock Tumbling Kit from Hobby Lobby

Rock Tumbling Kit from Hobby Lobby

Rock tumbling, I’ve discovered, has a bit of a cult following. I had no idea. I wasn’t even sure if I was going to be able to find a place in town that carried them (spoiler alert: Hobby Lobby FTW!). Naturally, I consulted my friend, Google to do some research and found the gold mine (pun intended) that is YouTube Rock Tumblers. It’s a thing, you guys! And it’s amazing. 

As I was working through a batch of my newly tumbled rocks, I had an “aha” moment and made the connection that my experience with rock tumbling so far has been similar to my recovery. 

My first experience with the tumbler was…well… upsetting. I overloaded it with rocks and the cannister flew off the machine, spraying rocks, water and Course Grit #1 all over me, the floor, the wall, etc.

So I tried it again. This time, the cannister was definitely lighter, but… I didn’t get the inside lid that seals it tight enough. So now, the canister was still on the base but the liquid leaked through the top and sprayed everywhere. Yup, you guessed it… with coarse grit #1. 

Rock “slurry”

Rock “slurry”

[Sidenote and quick tip: coarse grit #1 is the first and most abrasive grit in the process and it’s used to shave and round the rocks. When mixed with water and rock sediment, it becomes like sludge and hardens if aired out. That’s why they say not to pour it down any drains.]

So as you can imagine, I’m getting a little irritated at this point. This was not the kind of “you get it right on the first try” kind of activity. I’d ruined two bags of coarse grit #1, cleaned up the mess twice and didn’t know what I was doing wrong. I felt silly but also kind of stupid for thinking that I could just magically do everything right on the first try. 

So I enlisted my husband’s help and together, we tried again. And you know what? It worked! The canister hadn’t stopped and for one night (until we moved it) it sounded like glorious thunder as we slept in the room below where it was stationed. 

I felt so proud and I couldn’t wait for the morning because I wanted to take them and see them so badly. 

But as I got ready to open the canister, I read the instructions (you know… like I should have done the first time) and I looked at the timeframe:

Step 1: 3–7 days in coarse grit #1

WHAT?! I had to wait at least three days? A whole week, even?!?! 

[Sidenote: My husband and I rarely exchange gifts on the actual day they are meant for. We’re impatient. Okay, I’m impatient.]

I didn’t want to wait. I wanted the stones now! But then I reminded myself that without manmade tools like the rock tumbler, the same rocks I held in my hand were formed over hundreds, thousands or millions of years. Nature took that long to make something so beautiful, so I guessed I could wait a few days. 

Flash forward to the end of the cycle for coarse grit #1 — and I’m cleaning all the tools and rinsing the gemstones and that same damn thing happened when I pulled them from that slurry mess — awe. 

Raw Amethyst

Raw Amethyst

I had my eye on this oblong shaped amethyst that was stunning in the raw. I couldn’t imagine what it looked like with just one week in the tumbler. And I was right — when a lavender shape came into focus, it was even more beautiful than I had imagined. 

I knew at that moment that I had to trust the process. No matter how long it’s supposed to (or will) take to make these rocks into beautiful stones, I just have to trust that it will take as long as it takes.

Maybe you’re making the connection already, but if not, I see so much of this process in my recovery. 

I started off with no idea of the things I didn’t know. And as I learned more and more, I became excited about the progress and the future. But of course, there are setbacks. I’ve had moments where I spend the day wishing it was tomorrow and ruin an entire day instead of taking pleasure in the now. Like finding that amethyst in the middle of the process…it was such a delightful feeling to find joy in the process. I held onto that. And likewise, when I experience a recovery “high” I find joy in the process. 

With rock tumbling, it’s a gamble you take on how long it’ll take to get you what you’re looking for. Each batch of rocks and gemstones are different so you’ll never have the same thing twice. You never know what kind of process it is until you’re in it. And ironically, the most beautiful stones that come out of the process are usually the ones that weren’t all that pretty to begin with. The ones with flaws and fissures and spots are overlooked for the natural beauty of the other gems. But don’t underestimate the power of deliberate and slow work. The grit and sludge and constant tumbling turn even the ugliest of rocks into gorgeous gems.

The first batch of tumbled and polished rocks and gemstones

The first batch of tumbled and polished rocks and gemstones

I think this same thing is true to recovery. The starting place may not be pretty, in fact, it may be pretty darn ugly… but with some grit (both literally and figuratively) and patience, the ugliness is replaced by clarity and beauty. Just like rock tumbling, some parts of the process are going to take longer than others and you may not be able to see what the end result is going to be, but you can certainly learn to take joy and comfort in the “becoming.” 

I’ve learned to appreciate the nuances of rock tumbling and I’m grateful for a new hobby that encourages reflection as much as it does joy because it’s really a beautiful thing to see evolution and progress regardless of if it’s in the human variety or igneous rocks.