“I will not abandon you.”: Coming back to Myself in the San Juan Mountains

(Note: This is an edited version of my journaling. The other pages were messier and free-flowing, allowing me to move through my anger and fear. While I’m happy to share many of my thoughts, some things are personal and sacred. I also apologize for the going back and forth with tenses. This is a mix of journal entries and reflections.)

Day 1

The San Juan mountains greeted us with clouds, drizzle, and 50 degrees. A comfort. Mother Nature reflecting the emotions living inside my body. A storm of beauty, gratitude, and grief.

“I will not abandon you.” She whispered.

Day 2

The next day, I cried. Balled might be a better word. As in balled my eyes out as I stumbled down an alpine trail.

You see, I don’t just cry. I ugly cry. I could never be an actress daintily crying in a movie, even though tears come easily for me. They always manage to make crying look like such a pretty act. I cry more like the comedian impersonating the actress crying in the movie, wailing, hiccuping, and sniffling.

“I hate having such a big heart.”, I nearly texted a friend before choosing not to.

This happened several times throughout the day. Each time I thought the pain might break me. “How can my 5’4″ frame bear so much hurt? I’m going to be ripped apart.”, I thought. But after a few minutes, I’d feel the space in my chest expand, the pain would settle, and a smudge of clarity would take its place.

**********

After the evenings misadventure that included a failed attempt at backpacking (which turned out to be good luck), a cloud enshrouded us. It felt good to be consumed. The hug I had been wanting. Later it started raining. It was nice knowing that Mother Nature was crying with me. That I wasn’t alone, not with Her and Pacer by my side.

“I will not abandon you.”, we whispered together.

She reminded me not to self abandon. I keep saying this “I will not abandon you” to myself as my body tried to go numb. I so desperately want to, but I was determined to feel. To not abandon myself, my body, or my Inner Child who always felt like her emotions were too big and needed to be hidden. I had learned through my older sister’s passing that I can survive this pain, this “breaking open.”

And as the darkness enveloped, I could rest.

Day 3 (Colorado Trail)

On the 3rd day, I was mostly tearless as long as I was moving. (I had intentionally planned the day to be moving for half, then napping, journaling/writing, and reading in the second half.) Sad, but more hopeful moving through the sacred mountains. There was clarity in the remote space. Thankfully, Mother Nature decided to wait to cry until we were back at camp. There, we cried together. And that crying opened up space within me to write.

I have so many regrets, but I know I was doing the best I could with how my nervous system was reacting. I have to forgive myself. And if this leads to his healing and happiness, I can find joy in my suffering.

And then I got my perfect moment. Pacer and I were napping (well, I was resting while Pacer was on and off snoring) in the car, mostly dry inside, as the rain fell around us and pitter-pattered on the car. Pacer grabbed my hand with her paw.
(I always new if I were going to get married, it would be in the San Juans. -Note: Humor coming back).

Maybe what he had given me was a gift.

I noticed that even though it was still raining, the sky wasn’t that dark.

“…nothing beautiful in the end comes without a measure of some pain, some frustration, som suffering. This the nature of things. This is how our Universe has been made up.” -Archbishop Desmond Tutu (The Book of Joy)

Day 4 (Colorado Trail)

I woke up in the middle of the night trying to get comfortable, frustrated and sad my time in the abyss was being cut short. The stars were out.

Today’s intention: find joy.

(Later) Still no sun, although I see it trying behind the clouds. A little more gratitude. Enough light and joy to feel Amanda again.

It’s funny how both grief and love can feel so all-consuming. Well, maybe love isn’t the right word. Fear-based love. I never understood the “fear God” concept in Catholic school, so its interesting to me to see I’ve still clung to the ideology in adulthood. Can I let it go for good?

Love, while everywhere, is spacious, not confining. Its Mother Nature saying to us humans “Even though you hurt me, I will still give you wildflowers, just as Father Sky presents you with the Perseids meteor shower each August.”

No tears. There hasn’t been thunder in a few days. Still clouds. Yet a clearing. No sun, but stars.

(In my isolation with Pacer, I was also blessed to meet with a friend this day, a kindred spirit. The perfect break in my retreat inside myself.)

Day 5 (Handies Peak)

Sunshine.

The first time we’ve seen it since arriving in the San Juans. A butterfly from my sister. Still clouds, but so much more sun. A friend commented on a picture of me and Pacer on Handies Peak, saying that we/I looked so happy. (Pacer is almost always happy). I reflected: I was. The type of joy that only comes from suffering. After forgiveness, with gratitude and acceptance. Unfiltered light.

While I was never in a labeled relationship, the inherent love was always there, right from the start. It just had no space to grow. Not because we didn’t hold unconditional love for each other, but because we held conditional love for ourselves.

“I will not abandon you.”, I whispered to myself.

****

The most courageous human act is to choose to love again after your heart as been broken.

To live, to truly live, is to have your heart broken. At least once, but often many times. After, it is a natural survival response to guard it. After all, it is the holiest thing we possess. But once we are aware of this mechanism, we have a choice: to put walls up around our hearts, to defend and protect, or to let our hearts be broken open and allow for even more love to be let in.

****

Final reflections:

  • Part of me feels like I have simply repeated another “non” relationship from several years ago. Another part of me realize that I have pulled back yet another layer and met with a deeper truth.
  • A few days, mostly alone in nature can help me feel, explore, and grow more than a few months’ time at home. Somehow, in the arms of Mother Earth, healing is accelerated. I feel closer to Me again. (For me, the San Juan mountains* appear to be my go-to: https://adogandhergirl.com/2019/09/10/heartache-and-healing-in-the-san-juans/) *These mountains played an important role when Pacer and I backpacked the Colorado Trail in 2015 as well.
  • A lot of the pain had to do with the “second arrow“, that voice that asked “why doesn’t he want me?”, that believed I wasn’t enough. Ultimately, stepping into that pain and following the thread of that false belief is what lead to my healing.
  • I have rarely ever felt this close to myself.

Wildflower

You, exquisite beauty.

Vulnerable, but not fragile.  Mostly just fierce.

Fierce in your light.  Bold in your colors.  

Strong in storms.

Serene in bluebird skies.

Grace.

Gracing the Earth for such a sweet, short time.

Everlasting in our souls.

Blessing us with courage to face the dark.

Columbines, paintbrushes, larkspurs, wallflowers, fireweeds, and sunflowers.

Saying your many names is like speaking to a goddess.  

Trying to tame you would only dampen the awe you create.  

Beauty that only grows in open spaces.

Set free. 

Asking no permission to be wild.  

A teacher.

A gift.

A fuck yes to life.

Not mine.  Not yours. Never to be owned. 

Belonging only to her Mother and herself.

A celebration of unboundedness.

Wildflower.  

As I was writing this poem (over a period of a few days), one thing I was evoked to think about was how my parents never told me how I had to live my life.  Sure, I always felt the societal pressure, especially in the midwest, to work a lot, get married, and raise a family.  And while perhaps my parents never said that to me simply because we’re “midwestern nice” (aka passive-and-sometimes-aggressive, insert eye roll here), they never told me what I had to do.  When I go back to Ohio now, I never get asked “Did you meet someone yet?”, “Don’t you want kids?”, “When are you going to…xyz.”  I know a lot of people do have that constant pressure from their families, a pressure that is very much inconsistent with their own values.  Now my dad just asks me “Are you happy?”  There were certainly many struggles that led me to becoming a strong and resilient wildflower, but I feel blessed knowing that my parents have resolved to leave me untamed.  

Summer

In summer, I sing. 
The hummingbirds and I as one.
I dance with the wildflowers, 
instructed only by the wind.

My mind takes a break from over-thinking,
giving space
for my heart to be free.
My soul on fire,
aching in the delight of the light.

The sun rises, rays coming through my window,
like a knock on my door, a friend asking me to come play.
Later, the moon shines down like courage,
a lover asking for a slow dance.

Meet a Mountain.
Rush with the River. 
Sleep on the Dirt.

We meet each other as we are,
Beings of love and light.

And as the last glimmers of sun disappear beyond the Horizon, 
I am reminded of my internal summer.

Pain & Freedom

Rarely does my therapist let me go into existential crisis mode. And rightfully so- I could theorize and deflect all day.

But last session was different. She let me go there, probably realizing it was intertwined with my pain. The physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual pain, all wrapped up into one.

I gave my “fuck you” to god. “I feel so much pain, why can’t you just give me this one thing that lets me feel free?” My dance. My connection. My flight. My stride.

Of course I know God/Spirit/The Universe has given me many things, such as Pacer, a twin sister, friends and family, etc.- but any time I travel down that rabbit hole I’m led to feeling guilty for not feeling grateful enough, and that’s a whole different part of myself I need to work on. My higher self reminds me not to conflate gratitude with guilt, that I can feel many things at once: pain, anger, sadness, and gratitude.

The funny thing is that trying to stop the physical pain has led me to unraveling my emotional pain.

After running on and off in pain for years, I finally decided to call it. Annoyed because I had already worked on this and accepted I may never run fast again. But not run at all? I felt all the stages of grief, often multiple stages at once: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

I try no to let my negative voices belittle myself. “It’s just running, after all.” Truly, I (choose to) identify more as an explorer than a runner anyway. But I can’t deny that running has always been my best and favorite way to feel free, the feeling I most crave in life. Each stride, grounding and flying in a single second.

I’m not quitting. I’m just surrendering. Accepting. Realizing I can still try to heal my pain while accepting the pain my never go away. But I’m not going to force myself to run in it anymore. Which is a whole other type of healing.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ui8kUKuLBaU

Thanks


I thank Mother Earth and Father Sky for this beautiful spring snow. Moisture that will help protect us from fires, nourish our plants and soon-to-be-birthed summer wildflowers. I offer my gratitude for the snowflakes who will lose their singleness to the life-giving waters of the streams and lakes that surround us. I give thanks to the trees, providing shelter and warmth to the birds and animals. I dance with joy and thanks for the beauty of the Earth.

A Gift for Me

I bought a hummingbird feeder today.

For myself.

This one is made from glass, not plastic. Beautiful in its own right, but will be majestical when the birds come to visit. A gift that will provide me with happiness for months to come (provided that I make the sugar water, put it outside, and remember to clean it out).

For most of my life, buying gifts for myself felt selfish. Actually, as a kid, when it came to anything besides basketball shoes, I even had a hard time allowing my parents to buy things for me. Even when I knew my mom really wanted to buy me that shirt, I just couldn’t say yes. Even now, gifts that don’t come on birthdays or holidays feel like too much.

I know I need to just accept the gift and say “thank you.” I know giving gifts makes the other person happy. But it’s challenging to accept them when my underlying story has always been that I don’t deserve it. I’m not worth it.

While I know logically and spiritually that the story is not true, I need to continue to unravel it so the story dismantles from my heart.

And so I buy myself, and the hummingbirds, a feeder. I also buy myself a new running shirt with birds on it, a shirt that I will probably wear several times a week, while still remaining grateful for all the hand-me-down clothes from my sister. Still sensible. A step outside of my practical*. But for me.

*The previous year I contemplated getting a hummingbird feeder, but rationalized that all my neighbors had them. Plus, I felt guilty about the plastic one that had been gifted to me that I had to throw out because I forgot/didn’t know I had to clean it. And planting flowers would be better anyway…but I’ve never been able to grow anything in my life.

The devil in me

When I can only access the lower, insecure self, I feel like life is a game I don’t know how to play. The rules are written in an unknown language. Maybe that’s the devil in me.

When I’m allowing my Higher Self to come through, I can see that I only have to follow Mother Earth’s guidance- surrender to the flow of life, be kind to all living beings, stand tall and true like the trees. Then there’s freedom. Maybe that’s the god in me.

The Land of In-Between

Here on Earth, we wander in the Land of In-Between. Between Mother Nature and Father Sky, soil and stars, between joy and pain. I think this is really what was meant when people first spoke of purgatory, the space between joy and pain, but Catholics made it something else. Something “bad”, that’s really not bad at all. It’s a land of growth. One where we will all surely make mistakes. Suffer. Cry new rivers. A Sacred Beauty, really. As I type those words, I can’t help but think of the passing of my older sister passing away from cancer at 36. My family was gathered around her. The experience brought us to our knees. As my teacher said, the “sacred is whatever brings you to your knees.” My sister went Somewhere Else. Her body in the ground, and her spirit, I believe, to the Heavens. Wind, the Great Connector, connecting us to all worlds, Mother Nature and Father Sky, all living being and all beings who ever lived.

Normalizing Rain

Rain.
One of Mother Nature’s greatest gifts. Earth’s life flowing. The source of our food and spring flowers. A gift we often complain about. We stay inside and close the shades.

Tears.
One of greatest gifts. A release of emotions, born to flow. Forthcoming gratitude and growth. This rain to is often shunned. We turn away and choke back the rising energy in our throats. Shunned.

For as long as humans suppress their tears I fear that Mother Earth will suppress her rain, leaving all of us to burn.

Where I live in Northern Colorado, our relationship to rain is changing. With wildfires now a yearly occurrence that has no seasonal bounds, many of us now praise the late spring snow and perform rain dances weekly in each of the other seasons.

All of us have stopped in pure awe of a miraculous mid-summer rainbow, born only after a late afternoon thunderstorm. “Let if fucking rain” we all scream, curse, and pray simultaneously.

I wonder too…what would happen if we started to praise our own tears? Thank them for their magical healing powers. Let them just flow…I wonder what type of rainbows humans could create.

Driving to the canyons of southern Utah a few weeks ago, I came into awareness of how many times I had felt my throat tighten over the past few months. The energy it took to dam those tears up. The damage it cost me to dam them. Now when I start to feel my throat tighten and the energy start to rise, I consciously remind myself to surrender to my emotions and let the tears happen. There’s nothing to be ashamed about by my big emotions. When I limit my emotions, I limit myself. And I want to. be. free. expansive. serene.

A list of my rain in the past week…

-Leaving my dog when I left for a trip.
-Searching my sister’s Spotify for a workout playlist and finding one for my (grad school) graduation in 2019.
-Missing my older sister, and knowing my Mom was without a daughter on Mother’s Day.
-Accepting (grieving) my Achilles injury may never go away AND all the times I ran through the pain.
-Learning about a friend who lost her dog.
– Watching a close high school friend get married, then watching her dance with her unabashedly joyous dad, the dad who at one time expressed displeasure when she came out as gay.
-Realizing my shame and fear could be the end a relationship that never had the chance to flourish.
-Saying goodbye to my parents before I returned home to Colorado.
-Giving space for my voice during my therapy session.

My tears are what happen between the joy and pain of life. Between Sky and Earth. They let me know I’m alive.

I want to fucking live. So I let it rain.

The Canyons’ Call

The canyons called.
Feeling the hurt in her heart and the noise in her head,
They said “Come. We will hold you. We will take your pain and transform it.”

Between canyon walls, she exhaled.
She wept, she became present with her soul.
Aware of her humanness.
Aware of her Divine.

Above the canyon walls, she inhaled in Life.
Breathing, she sent her spirit to the world.

To be human is to be trapped between the walls of pain and beauty.
To be a spiritual being is to embrace and stand tall between them.

And so, she left the canyon with dusty, tear stained cheeks. Changed.

Cracked open.
Broken open.
Free.



Mountain of the Misfits: The Adventure of Not Fitting In

“We’re a couple of misfits
We’re a couple of misfits
What’s the matter with misfits
That’s where we fit in!
….
We may be different from the rest
Who decides the test
Of what is really best?
We’re a couple of misfits
We’re a couple of misfits
What’s the matter with misfits
That’s where we fit in!”

-“We’re a Couple of Misfits”, Burl Ives (from The Island of Misfit Toys)

[Note: When I talk about fitting in vs. belonging, I’m often going off Brene Browns work. To paraphrase in my own words, fitting in is needing to change who you are, or making yourself a certain way, to fit into a group. Belonging is being accepted for exactly who you are, free to be your true, authentic self. Often when working with younger clients, I see the need to fit in as something negative. As an adult who can choose to only surround myself by people who accept me for who I am, I wonder if fitting in has value…for example, we choose different groups to hang out with based on interest, hobbies, etc. If we’re a bowler hanging out with a bunch of skiers, I may belong but not fit in.]

For most people, the affirmation “I am enough” is empowering.

The opposite is true for me. I have always been…

Nice, enough.
Pretty, enough.
Athletic, enough.
Smart, enough.

Enough to get by.

Nice and pretty enough to make it through the high school cliques and college clubs. Nice, pretty, smart, and athletic enough not get bullied and move around different groups, without fitting in to any. Depending how much energy I had, I could hide behind athletic gear or school books to stay out of the way or present to the world a facade of looking like I fit in.

I never did.

That’s not to say I never belonged. I have a group of 5 friends from high school (some from elementary school) that I still see at least once a year. While they may still good-naturedly make fun of me and my lack of millennial technological abilities, they have always fully appreciated me for my oddities.

In my late 20s, I joined an intimate group…a cohort of graduate students training to be wilderness therapists. As we were becoming helpers an healers, our program required each of us to go deep inside of ourselves and share our vulnerabilities in the heart of Mother Nature, the one place I have always felt I belonged. My cohort was patient with me. It took me nearly 2 years and weeks of backcountry travel (hiking, climbing, paddling), but eventually I felt like I was part of the group, part of the Whole.

In my 30s, I realized some people appreciated me fore my eccentricities, I think because it allowed them to be more themself too, and it helped me embrace them.

Still, I felt trapped between two worlds…or perhaps, a world I never belonged to.

“If you feel like you don’t fit into the world you inherited it is because you were born to help create a new one.” – Ross Caligiuri

*To be clear, I will admit that part of my current personal work is looking at how I create more distance by the story I tell myself of how or why I don’t fit in and realizing that the distance is a protection/defense mechanism.

The other weekend, I texted a friend: “I’ve told myself I belong 50+ times this weekend so far. Eventually it has to work, right?” (It wan’t even 8am Saturday morning).

He reaffirmed that I was not the ugly duckling, that I did belong, but I misread the rest and somehow came up with the message I needed to hear: You’re right, you don’t fit in.

And that felt good. Right. Comforting.

I don’t fit in, so there is no point into putting my energy into trying.

I don’t have a community like a friend said he finds in the ultra-running world. If I do have a community, its simply of all the other misfits.

Thinking about it more, I don’t know if there’s any other group I would want to fit in with. Fitting in with the misfits. The others who are just themselves.

We might be widespread. Or you might be reading my words. (I’m guessing most people have felt like a misfit at least a few times in their life). Know that I am grateful for you. You help me feel less alone.

In the meantime, I’ve got a wonderful small group of friends and family who love and accept me for exactly who I am. I have a friend who gets my empathic and spiritual side who I can explore big questions with. A friend who has had the patience to learn and understand how my mind works so I don’t have to apologize or explain myself when I’m off on another tangent.* A friend who is gay and non-binary who probably know what I feels like to be an outsider more than I ever will, and has shown me some of the most beautiful, free love I’ve known in this life. A twin sister who is way cooler than I am, but has and always will make sure I don’t feel too left out. Plus a dog who is just an extension of myself (well, maybe she’s my alter ego), who’s shown me unconditional love from day one.

*How many tangents have you counted in this post so far?!

I’m hopeful I’ll get there one day too. A place of more than enough. Or perhaps simply enough for me. Acceptance. Self-love.

On a deep level, when I can access and step into my Higher Self, I know I’m exactly where I am supposed to be and who I am supposed to be. While I may be “me”, the notion that I am separate is a falsity, and one that I’ve seen cause dis-ease in a lot of people, maybe the world. Stepping back into connection with Nature has been the easy part for me. I’ve never felt anything accepted in Her arms and don’t take it personally when I get rained on. Stepping back into connection with myself is an active journey, but I’m on my way. As long as I’m not comparing myself to others (comparison: a fear that tells me “I’m not good enough”) I genuinely like myself…most of the time. Re-connecting with others has been harder, I think because of that fear. Realizing that other humans are an extension of the Whole, the Whole that I am also an extension of, offers me and them a little more grace and compassion.

…And here is the introvert part of me that hates small talk and prefers to ponder and dwell in big ideas. 😉

“True belonging is the spiritual practice of believing in and belonging to yourself so deeply that you can share your most authentic self with the world and find sacredness in both being a part of something and standing alone in the wilderness. True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are.” 
― Brené Brown, Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone