Foreign Small-Town Living in Recovery

Being a San Diego native, I have never experienced life out of my sunny-skied hometown. San Diego is well known for beaches, perfect weather and friendly faces. I have loved growing up there but it is also a hot spot for booze and late night partying. Being in recovery, I thought a change may be the perfect solution to start over. I mean, why not? Right?

When I looked into places for people in recovery I was given a lot of advice on the benefits of “fresh air” and comfort of tightknit communities. Well, being the city girl I am I couldn’t wrap my head around the components of “small-town” life. I imaged what it would be like living there through stereotypical references like the television sitcoms I used to watch- Dukes of Hazard, Gilmore Girls, Dawson’s Creek, and Buffy. Obviously none which actually capture the reality of what it would be like unless I plan on slaying vampires.

I decided to take a leap during my travels to Europe and settled into a small village in Italy, I did not realize at the time how microscopic a small town could be. I spent months living in Quadrelle, a tiny community in the province of Avellino- population 1500. Never heard of it? Neither has most everyone else including the local Neapolitan residents. Initially, I had reservations about my impulsive plan but I started to see it as an exciting new challenge.

 

  View from my balcony

 

Being a typical American I was naïve to my own presence and exuding culture but soon after settling in, it was clear that Americans were a rare sighting. Stares of confusion and amusement shot at me as I checked out the town. It was clear that my stripes were showing amongst spots. It didn’t help that I couldn’t speak the language very well (I grasped to my background in Spanish to help me stammer through the basics). Fortunately, I soon realized the looks were not of disapproval- more of inquiry and curiosity of why an American would chose to move here.

Used to traffic noises and late-night drunken sailors, Quadrelle is the polar opposite of San Diego. After 9pm, the only sounds you hear are that of the stray animals facing off in territorial battles. At first the silence was almost eerie but it soon became soothing. My nights were peaceful and content.

Quadrelle only has a handful of restaurants. Your options are limited and vary from casual to medium-casual dining. What I loved though was the familiarity and friendliness of having a weekly spot to eat. “Fantasia’s” was my go-to restaurant- it was relaxed and I always got the warm welcome from Giacomo- my server. In San Diego, I didn’t have a spot. This was truly a small town perk.

As an exercise-enthusiast, a new focus in my life since sobriety, I struggled with working out in a village with no gym. Coming from a world of 24 hour fitness’ and YMCAs, small-town living requires a little more self-motivation. I will admit, I did stand out in my nylon shorts and neon sports bra but I was greeted with innocent humor and encouraging words as I zigzagged my way through the town. I will warn that jogging down narrow dirt roads with headphones isn’t the safest option in many cases.

Finding a passion in the culture and food was an eye-opening experience. I spend my days circulating and people-watching and my nights creating authentic Italian dishes. The new-found spark for cooking was a great way to stay focused in my recovery- cathartic and creative. I wrote all my recipes down and started my own little Italian cookbook- including my Garlic-infused Caprese Salad.

 

 Garlic-Infused Caprese Salad

 

I also spent hours on the internet Googling Italian etiquette and phrases. Soon enough, I was able to tell Giacomo what I wanted to eat in Italian and make small talk. One day I found myself getting carried away in a conversation for 45 minutes with the post-lady in Italian- who knew? After only a month, it felt as if the world of possibilities opened up to me.

I will say, that foreign travel is difficult when you are in recovery. I found that it required a lot of hobbies, self-motivation, as well as outside travel. Each weekend I would hop a train and go to places such as Rome, Florence and Cinque Terre. Without the ability to leave, I would had felt the weight of my struggles.

Being only 20 minutes from Naples, the city life is near. To be honest though, Naples wasn’t my cup of tea. I found it too fast and overwhelming even for a San Diegan. However it was nice to have options like the mall and other surrounding towns for a local night out.

Meanwhile, back home, it was Over-the-line weekend. Over-the-line is a beach and booze-based event that imitates softball but the adult version. San Diego has adopted this tradition for over 50 years and it attracts the locals. Here in Quadrelle, traditional games are also celebrated. The kids here challenge the surrounding local Avellino towns to festivities and the entire village comes out to watch. The festival looks like it is straight out of a Harry Potter movie. Flags representing each team strung along the streets, will the kids wore their colors proudly. What a refreshingly old-fashioned and fun celebration.

After returning to San Diego, I felt like I conquered the “Quadrelle Challenge.” I spent months immersing myself in the culture, food and language. I also proved to myself that you can take challenges in recovery- as long as you develop a plan and create safe boundaries. Adopting new passions and making an effort to fit it helped me be comfortable in these new surroundings. I will miss the festivities and even the late-night stray dog fights which are now replaced with the sounds of roaring cars and the red reflecting lights of 24-hour fast food. Even though I’ll miss my table at Fantasia’s, I must admit I do love coming home to the convenience of a gym and grocery store on every street corner.

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