In the summer, Pacer and I are always coming and going: off to the mountains, returning to Boulder. My camping bin stays permanently in my car. When I decide to go, I pack my clothes, food, grab Pace, and GO.
When i write it like that, I sound like a true wanderlust gypsy. The real truth is though, I’m not the romanticized traveler that leaves in the spur of the moment. A lot of things are planned out ahead of time, especially the food. I make sure I take at least a few days worth of healthy, wholesome plant-based meals with me. Clothes goes by a bit quicker, especially later in the season, though some thought goes into the necessary layers.
As for the actual leaving of the city, I typically leave an hour later than planned. When I finally do get into my car, it’s never without a bit of fear, albeit a lot of it has to do with my 2002 Subaru not breaking down on the way their. Then, there is getting lost, weather, and not knowing what expect. There’s leaving safety and comfort behind. A warm bed and locked doors. Wifi. Daily showers. Shelter.
Last, ther is saying goodbye. It is a blessing and a curse to have someone to miss. I’ve never been great at goodbyes to loved ones, no matter how temporary it is. My throat constricts, a heaviness fills my heart, and the sadness lingers in me as I drive away. The brunt of it slowly dissipates with the miles.
Things start to change when I reach the mountains, when Pacer and I are long amongst the trees. Fresh air, the breath of Mother Nature, fills my lungs and helps fill any voids in my heart.
My nerves start to calm. I don’t have the lure of the computer to draw me in and keep me up at night, just a book and my journal.
While I still miss the ones I left behind, it’s easier for me to remember that I return after my adventure. The fear of the unknown turns into excitement. For now, the loneliness (in addition to Pacer) is another companion.
Back in the arms of Mother Nature, her embrace feels like a source of security. I know she’ll never leave me, though in the hustle and bustle of the city I all too often forget she is there. In the mountains, I remember. I set up my tent, Pacer and I snuggle in, and I am home.
Going back to the city (even though it is Boulder) is a different story.
At the beginning of the summer, for me it was like the umbilical cord attaching me to my Mother was being ripped off. Again I was lost.
Funny, because the day before I leave, I’m always looking forward to a hot shower, cooking with an normal stove (though I do love my Jetboil), and a cushy bed. But then, as I leave the mountains, watching them get smaller and smaller in my rear-view mirror, the choking sadness of goodbye comes back. I’m leaving my loved ones, the high snowy peaks, the valleys of wildflowers, the music of the trees, behind.
When I get back to my “space” in Boulder, I dread the emails that await me, the drive down the street to the grocery store, the flood of constant noise.
This is what I call “society adjustment disorder“. I first learned of it after hiking the Colorado Trail in 2015 and briefly broached the subject in my blog:
“In the 30 or so hours after completing the CT, I am fully immersed, but feeling quite awkward and separate, in normal society.
I’ve already experienced over-priced motel rooms (though the shower was greatly appreciated!) and food, cigarette smoke, dining partners getting ignored over cell phones, and drives going too fast and swearing down the road despite the background of majestic mountains. After seeing Steve [my then-boyfriend], he quickly updated me on the big news I missed in the world- reporters getting shot, another child rapist, wild fires around the country.
This is what I wanted to come back to?”
If I’m not careful, it’s easy to get depressed, lost in thoughts of why humans have created things to be so complicated, losing the joy of simplicity.
The blow of society is softened by having someone to come back to, a lover to embrace and let me know I was missed.
Still, I am careful not to let the bliss of re-uniting bypass the wisdom that I know underlies the sadness of my return back to society. There is something in that sadness that I have to learn from, though I’m can just grasp the meaning now.*
What I do know is this: While I may drive away from the heart of the wilderness, Mother Nature never truly leaves me, for our hearts are intertwined. Second, the sadness I feel when leaving the mountains is the same sadness I feel when leaving a loved one. They are really 1 of the same, with love at its’ roots. I also know it is up to me to seek beauty elsewhere, not just in finding it in the foothill trails of Boulder or the trees that line the littered block. No, the beauty that I seek can only be uncovered in the hearts of the people I pass by. It is often not as apparent as the beauty I’ve found in the valley of wildflowers, just above tree-line, and mountain lakes, but it is just as deep, just as pure.
Within a few days back in the city, I’m back to my normal routine and my withdrawal symptoms fade. I find happiness in my morning runs and a re-connection with other human beings as well as the nature around me. The mountains still call, and I know I will go again. For the time being though, the wilderness and love in my heart and in the hearts of those I walk past (even if they can’t see it for themselves) keeps me hanging around a bit longer.
*Not to go too far off topic, but I also have a theory on this. If you know psychology, you’ve probably heard of “attachment theory”. Basically, it describes how our early attachments affect our attachments later in life. Most of use have grown up with a severed attachment to Mother Nature, but if we are lucky enough to find it as adults, we can begin to heal. I think are natural (no pun intended) connection to Mother Nature is so strong that when we leave, we feel the pain of once again separating from our Mother.
Months ago, I remember hearing this statistic in a podcast*: 1/3 of people with an eating disorder (ED) never recover (and many die), 1/3 of people recover, and 1/3 of people stay in a gray area.
This gray area is what I want to explore.
The gray area goes largely unmentioned (and possibly unnoticed) by professionals in the field, though a few forward-thinking therapist and psychiatrist have recently looked into the matter more. Just as bad for those “in recovery”, this issue also goes largely ignored and misunderstood by family, friends, and mainstream society.
I put “in recovery” in quotes for a reason because that is nearly impossibly to define.
This is where the gray comes in.
This question encapsulated my mind. I had recently been exploring it on my own in regards to my own journey after dealing with and getting over the symptoms of Anorexia from 6th grade to my freshman year of high school. (At the time, I was also exploring my body in a different way, having gone from ultra-runner to lucky-to-run.)
The symptoms, of course, involved being significantly underweight, severely limiting my intake of food, and needing to exercise everyday.
After threats of “we’ll stuff a tube down your throat”, “you’ll heart will stop” and “you’ll never play basketball again” I played the game. I fooled my therapist (despite giving her the silent treatment for the majority of my sessions), my doctor, and my parents. I gained the weight. They got off my back.
But my mind remained in shatters. My thoughts were still occupied non-stop by food and how my body looked. When I became a tinge overweight during my senior year of high school, stuffing down my emotions after another bad basketball performance with peanut butter and jelly bagels with an extra side of peanut butter, I wanted to crawl out of my skin. Once I even tried to cut myself out of my skin, but I lost the nerve and admitted not being brave enough to actually do it. (Now, I realize this was a positive sign that somewhere in me, I still had enough self-love to keep me from damaging my body.)
So what remained after the outward symptoms of the eating disorder disappeared?
The actual causes.
The OCD, the anxiety, the perfectionism, the depression.
Under that remained the underlying root: I believed I wasn’t enough. And I felt guilty for who I was.
No one ever addressed these issues with me. No one understood that Anorexia-Nervosa isn’t a disorder of low body weight, but of low self-esteem. A lack of self-love. It’s about the games the mind plays, the things it suggest you do to “make you worthy”, that you can never really live up to. This is what drives a person crazy.**
The majority of my causes remained until my early twenties. The healing process only began when I realized I had no other choice. It was either figure out a plan to get better or go back down the dark path I had been keeping a toe down for years.
There were several things that occurred when I chose*** to get better, I wrote in my journal, I repeated mantras, read self-help books, spent time in nature, and I started volunteering. But the main thing is, I chose to get better. I wanted more for myself.
Clearly, at least in my mind (contrary to the opinion of many traditional doctors), I was in the gray area the nearly 10 years between gaining an acceptable weight and deciding on my own to get better.
So where am I now? Sometimes the answer to that changes by the day. Normally I think of it as sunny skies (recovered) with passing gray clouds. And honestly, sadly, I don’t think I’m that far off from how most women think of their bodies.
Most of the time, I’m pretty accepting of my body. I appreciate what it does for me. I thank it for the runs it gives me and even praise my legs for getting me up mountains. I try to treat it well, feeding it plant-based foods. I still push it hard sometimes, but I try to balance it out with Yoga, foam rolling, and rest.
My best times are when I’m in the woods, no mirror, when I can only judge my body by what it can do (taking me to some of the most beautiful places on Earth) and for how it feels out there in the wild: strong, powerful, beautiful.
But then I get back to civilization, to full-length mirrors, to pictures of sleek runners with rock hard abs on my Facebook feed. I upload the pictures of Supergirl and myself from our adventure and force myself to post the ones where I think my legs look to large.**** I eat too much, following my dinner an hour later with a large snack and extra chocolate. I try not to cringe when the man I’m dating touches my bare thighs, where my stretch marks are highlighted by my Colorado sun tanned legs.
I’ve even dropped so low, last year during my brief relapse with depression, as to wish I was Anorexic again, or at least had the same will power to stay away from food. But that’s what mental health challenges do to a person. One can lose all rational, lose sight of the light that lies within.
Recently, my sister recommended to me a new movie out on Netflix, To the Bone, which portrays the story of a female with Anorexia and some of her struggles. She wanted to know if I thought anything was triggering*****, both of us knowing that many well-intentioned movies, articles, and speakers can set off many negative habits, like talking about weight and “tricks” used (when hearing of another’s low weight, a person with an ED may make their goal to reach that weight or one lower.) While there were several triggers (though I believe necessary to portray at least a partial true picture), Sandi may not have guessed the one that I found personally reminiscent, though not triggering (obviously, Sandi knows I am healthy and happy in who I am, now being on the path to obtain my master’s in counseling so I can help others who face the same challenges I once did): the lead character Ellen/Eli often measured her arm by wrapping her thumb and pointer finger around her bicep. I used to do the same thing, taking pride when my finger and thumb met. It’s a habit I still catch myself doing from time to time. I still have to remind myself that it is muscle that inhibits my hand from completing the full circle. (All in all, I found the film to be a hopeful vision to a path of recovery and a much better start to telling the story that some documentaries I have watched.)
Despite my idiosyncrasies, I still allow myself the label of “recovered-with some clouds”. After reading of my nuances above, some might think this is a bit of a stretch (while, on the other end of the spectrum, others may feel this whole blog is a stretch as my eating and body weight are relatively “normal”). However, I have not mentioned the key factor, the factor that will keep me from every going back to an eating disorder:
I love myself.
And because, after years of searching, I have found that unconditional love****** for myself, I only want health and happiness for myself. I may be disgruntled when I feel like I am on my heavier side, but because my heart is rooted in love, I can handle it. I also know that my life has a greater purpose. I’m still here so I can help others spread their wings, to realize their own strength and beauty, and to reach their highest peak. I know I am more than my body, that I only shine bright when my soul is on fire with passion and purpose.
I had one profound experience this past spring, nearing the end of my first semester at Naropa. I was in session with my practice student therapist, who I had spent several sessions with talking about physical challenges (athletic injuries) and past history. As usual, she asked me how I was feeling about my body. Before I even processed my response, the words “I love my body” came spilling from my lips. I was surprised. Not because this was the first time I had ever said this (I had repeated this line to myself in front of my mirror many times) but because I actually meant it.
I still think of myself as flawed. I may have done irreversible damage to my body. I have big feet. My mind spins and I get lost inside of it. But my flaws are part what make me, ME. My flaws have helped me grow. They enhance my light. In spite of them I shine.
And if some clouds comes in, I can deal with that too.
But that is because I chose this path for myself. I worked for it. I have a sister and a dog who showered me with love. Not all people with EDs have that.
Still, there is hope. There’s YOU. You can shower others, not just those with EDs, with your love and light. Letting then know the are ENOUGH, just by being who they are, no strings attached.
One last note: Not all women/men who are pressured with ideals of a specific body image get EDS, nor does all people who try a drug or drink alcohol become addicted. Contrary to the sad but popular opinion that this is because those people are weak, I would suggest that it is because that these people are especially sensitive, suffering, and have a huge capacity to feel in all depths. These people are actually like barometesr to what is going on in their lives and in society at large. If, at the beginning, we start honoring these people and their gift, they can help show the rest of the world when things are off-balance. *******
Love & Light,
*I have to say more about this podcast as I believe it is one of the best out there on eating disorders. This discussion was held by Running on Om and features Lauren Fleshman and Melody Moore. While it is directed towards female runners, it holds lessons on how we treat ourselves and talk to all people in regards to body image. The quote begins at 1:02:45.
**Some people who put a lot of weight into semantics would be indignant with my use of the word crazy. Thanks to my therapist who, when I apologized for using the word”, told me I can say what I want, I really don’t care. In my personal dictionary, I consider crazy to be defined as a feeling of losing control, not necessarily or always related to mental illness.
***This is important for any family member dealing with someone with an ED/addiction. Recovery has to be a choice. Until a person makes that choice for themselves, all you can do is offer them your unconditional love for them (though I realize that for some, needing to step away from the person with addiction may be necessary for ones’ own self-care. It’s not selfish, because when the person does decide they want to get better, you’ll be able to offer your full self and support.) If you are able to love her/him despite the ED/addiction, they might be able to find love for themselves too.
****It’s true, I often still wear short-shorts that really only (but fully) cover my booty. But I am still often uncomfortable in these shorts, especially when I see myself wearing them in pictures. “Then why wear them?” you may wonder. Because they give me some sense of being attractive enough, fit enough, to wear them. So next time you see a girl walking down the street wearing shorts that you think are way too short for her, realize that she probably has a more meaningful reason to be wearing them that most would care to acknowledge.
*****The truth is, everything is triggering for someone with an eating disorder. Food is everywhere. Images of perfect bodies is everywhere. And, most likely, reminders of “not being enough” are everywhere. No film that discusses the subject could ever not be triggering nor would I recommend watching this film with someone currently with an eating disorder, at least not without supervision and leaving time to talk about emotional scenes. While the film was limited to the struggles and journeys of someone with and ED, I believe it gave an accurate portrayal and kept in touch with the film makers and actress’s personal stories. No film on this difficult subject matter will ever be perfect, but lets applaud those willing to take the risk and keep the conversation going.
******Special thanks to Supergirl for her lessons on unconditional love.
*******Check out Gabor Mate’s work for more.
At the end of 2nd grade, I dressed up in a white dress, looking like a slightly pudgy doll. This was all so I could walk down the aisles of my Catholic church with my classmates, in front of a scary number adults, so I could receive the Eucharist, the body of Christ. (Insert quotations where you see fit). This sacrament is of course after Confession, where I told my 8-year old sins to a guy dressed in black and asked for forgiveness (I’ll skip the part where I was born with “original sin” for Eve eating an apple as that is not what this blog is about) so I wouldn’t go to Hell…
Just like in school, the boys got to wear pants, whereas in the classroom I had to wear a pleated and itchy dress with shorts underneath so the boys wouldn’t couldn’t get a glimpse of my undies going up the stairs…
Needless to say, this didn’t encourage me to wear skirts or dresses any more than I had to, and after 2nd grade, I ditched them as best I could save for the school uniform I was forced to wear.
Actually, in 7th grade I went the ultimate dork route and traded in my skirt and knee-high nylon socks for a pair of khaki, ill-fitting pants that hid my then skinny legs and bony hips.
By that time, I was already disillusioned by the feminine ideal. I did’t want hips or boobs because I wanted to stay fast for sports. I didn’t want to get married only so I could have babies, which my religion teacher said was requirement of the sacrament. I didn’t want to wear a skirt and give consent to the norm of being female, where it seemed that women were always second to men. (I was one of the kids questioning why a woman couldn’t be a priest in the Catholic church.) No man was going to lead my life, albeit a priest or a husband.
And I wasn’t going to be forced into a skirt. I saw those pictures of women playing basketball in shin length skirts. It not only looked uncomfortable but completely unpractical. Eventually those women would fight to wear shorts. In the office, women would fight to wear pants (the Netflix series “New of the Week”, while an overly-dramatic yet insightful series, featured a scene where the attractive lead wore pants to work on her birthday and was told to go back to a dress the next day). Pants proved we were equal.
In my mind, skirts were “anti-feminist”.
That’s not to say I never wore a skirt again. I had a few dresses for school formals (I went to two, including prom) and my cousin’s wedding, all which I now remember as being hideous dresses. As soon as I could, I quickly went back to my below-the-knee basketball shorts.
I eventually bought a pencil skirt at the end of college for a charity event and my first office job (while it was with the United Way, I was happy it was a temporary position!)
Then in Tanzania, women had to wear skirts or at least pants that went past their knees. I did my best to fit in. My then boyfriend bought me a beautiful but too-fancy wrap skirt to wear there, but I also had an old skirt lying around, plus had 2 colorful skirts made by local women in the village, one to wear my to volunteer job and another short skirt to wear back home (which the seamstresses must have thought of as scandalous!).
It wasn’t until a few years after that when I realized how freeing a skirt could be.
While working with Girls on the Run and holding an event with one of their partners, Athleta, I bought a purple knee-high skirt. Stretchy, comfortable, but nice enough to wear to a meeting. Perfect for a job at an organization empowering girls and women.
Then I bought a cheap sun dress at thrift shop in Jackson Hole,WY while exploring with Sandi. I threw it on and was instantly casually dressed up. Easier and more comfortable than jeans!
From there, I bought another sun dress, my “hippie”/Naropa full-length skirt, and my favorite Patagonia feather-patterned skirt that I’ve only washed once in 7 months.
I admitted to myself that I actually like wearing skirts.
They were not only comfortable, airy, and convenient, but I felt like I possessed an explicit feminine power whenever I put one on. I couldn’t quite explain where the feeling was coming from.
With a bit more thought, I realized that when I rejected all skirts and dresses, it was another way for me to reject the feminine side of myself. the part of me that was nurturing, compassionate, and a warrior of love.
As I mused more deeply, I came to see that skirts weren’t “anti-feminist”. Only the label I had given them was. I reality, being a feminist meant wearing whatever the f*** I wanted and allowing other women to have that same choice.
Once it was easy to see women wearing running skirts* and think “really?” but now, while I still don’t foresee myself wearing one, I can assume that they are ultra-comfy and quite practical. Even if they are “stylish” that’s okay! I’ve seen guys wear a matching outfit too. While I myself am perfectly happy to get dirty and go without showering for days in the woods, I believe a certain level of awareness and effort put into how one dresses is sign of healthy self-care and esteem rather than a purely narcissistic endeavor.
* Recently, I met Nicole DeBoom, Founder/CEO of Skirt Sports in Boulder, CO as well as former pro-triathlete. If anyone needs proof that strong women wear skirts, simply look to her.
If we take just a moment to look at some of the strong women athletes who wear skirts, we break the “delicate myth.” The first images that appear in my mind are Venus and Serana Williams. Quads bulging, grunting with the power of their swing, dominating the sport of tennis and inspiring millions of girls, women, and men, all in skirt. On the running side of things, I have images of Krissy Moehl, Anna Frost, and Cat Bradley, just to name a few, completing ultra-distances in a skirt.
While I note the skirts, as that is the subject of this blog, I want to highlight that all the women are badasses because of their determination, courage, and strength. The skirt was just part of their Wonder Woman outfits, giving their muscular legs room to move and flex.
On the business and political spectrum, we’ve got role models like Sheryl Sandberg, Arianna Huffington, Hilary Clinton, and Michelle Obama, all who are able to rock it in skirts one day and own it in pants the next.
With all of these prevailing women as role-models, I have finally come to understand the power of a skirt. With that understanding comes the knowledge that the power isn’t actually in the skirt, but in the woman who wears it.
Whether women choose to wear pants, shorts, capris, dresses, or skirts, we get to choose to unleash the feminine strength and beauty that lies within. The clothes don’t claim are equality but can be accessories to finding that power until we can call upon it for ourselves. Then still, we get to choose to wear whatever the f*** we want.
No matter who you are or what you wear, remember to honor the Wonder Woman inside of you. (And if you are man reading this, huge kudos to you. Remember to honor the Wonder Women in your life and honor the feminine side of you as well.)
Me and Supergirl in Cloud Peak Wilderness, WY.
One day as I was driving home from class, I had this thought…
Actually, before I go on, I should add some context. When you’re in grad school for a counseling program, particularly at Naropa, you usually leave class in one of two ways: 1) completely confused, befuddled, questioning the world and everything you thought you knew or 2) completely ecstatic, vibrant, and ready to go out and “transform the world” as we Naropians say.
On this particular sunny Boulder day at the end of February, I was headed home from my Counseling and Human Relationships (HR) class. HR was one of my favorite classes that always reminded me how lucky I was to be in a program where my job one day would be to go on personal journeys with others, hopefully help them see their own strength and beauty, and probably grow with them along the way. And so, it was in this state of bliss, stopped at a red light in my silver 2002 Subaru (aka “Surry the Subaru”, short for “Surrender”) listening to my favorite modern rock station, when the thought popped into my mind: “If I just had a man in my life right now, I’d be on Cloud Nine.”
Instantly I rejected the statement. While the words never left my lips, the thought still left a bitter taste on my tongue.
Inherently I already knew the truth. I knew that self-love had to come first, at least in my case, before I could ever let a man in. I knew that the love for and from my family, close friends, Supergirl, and myself was really all that I needed to be happy.
By this time, I had been single for months. In December, I had briefly dated a guy from my school who, while a good guy, was totally wrong for me. His idea of attaining enlightenment was to go to an Ayahuasca ceremony while mine was to grab my dog and venture as far out into Mother Nature as possible. I also think Pacer would have bit his head off. But in the end, I think we both needed a sexual release and it was nice to briefly feel wanted. Before that was my love and self-destruct relationship that I was still healing from. That’s where I learned that it was nearly impossible to ask someone to love me when I could not yet love myself. And I was now on a path that was teaching me self-love, with Pacer as my guide, showing me what unconditional love truly meant .
So, when this thought popped into my mind, I realized I still needed a mental shift. I was content with my life, but I wanted happiness. I wanted to get there myself, with only Pacer by my side. Actually, that’s not completely true…by this time in my schooling, I had learned that some healing can only occur in relationship with others. I knew my cohort/family as well as my sister, friends, and blood family would be part of my path to reaching my own cloud nine. Still, the power to get there was under my control. (“Then, maybe then:” I thought, “I could allow a boy in my life.” This statement would later come back to me for another lesson, and a part two of this blog.)
The attainment of this goal, the goal to reach my own Cloud Nine, easily carved out my trail for the next few months as I sought love and joy in my own life. As usual, it was this simple perception shift that made the biggest difference.
A week before, I had spent my Saturday evening with Pacer, dressed in sweats and watching Netflix. I felt lonely, wanting. The next Saturday, after my perception shift, I made the choice to stay in my sweats all afternoon and once again watch Netflix (and found a much better movie) with Pacer in the evening. This time, I felt at peace.
I also spent time (amongst burying myself in transpersonal readings and papers for school) cooking warm, nutritional meals for myself, having family dinners with Sandi and Sage, going on snowshoe trips with Pacer, cheering on Sandi at a half marathon in Salida, and even going out a few times in the evening with friends (as someone on the extreme side of introversion, this was a big step).
Finally, I had one important conversation with my therapist. She asked if I felt like I was part of the world and connected to my peers. After some thought, I said I had connections, but no one I was super close to. I felt a bit out of place in the busy world around me. In my head, this implied that something was wrong with me. Of course, my brilliant and wise therapist said to me with enthusiasm and certainty that I could not argue with that my connection was with the Earth and my dog (knowing that I still loved and deeply cared for all people). There was no judgement in her statement or indication that something was wrong with this. To her it was beautiful, it was perfect.
I finally realized that I was enough. Yes, I may be a little messed up, but in whole and amazing sort of way.
By May, I realized I had reached my Cloud Nine. Pacer and I just moved into a new place. She slept on the pillow by my side, we had a summer planned full of mountains and adventures, and despite initially dreading it. I was enjoying my 10-day Wilderness First Responder course even though it required almost constant interaction with others.
Of course, that’s when I met a boy. Actually, I met 2 boys, but that’s another blog…
When I was a young girl, I’m assuming around the age of 12 or 13, I stopped my period. Actually, I kept it from even beginning. I starved my body, and my soul, to keep it from happening. Without a conscious thought of doing so, I rejected both the soft and powerful feminine side of myself.
Sometime during my freshman year of high school, the blood, my river of red, slowly started to flow out of me. It was not a joyous moment. I did not take it as a sign that my body was now “healthy”. I hid it as best I could, save for the missing tampons in the bathroom which I’m sure my mom eventually noticed.
Throughout the next 13 years, from being a teenager and into womanhood, I continued to reject the river of red inside of me, keeping it barren and nearly dry. It showed up 2-3x a year, during my off-season from athletics. I dreaded it, but at least it was light, short, and enough to tell somewhat fabricated truth when asked “when was your last menstrual cycle?” by doctors.
In my mid-twenties I thought maybe, maybe, I should embrace this feminine part of me. Maybe I could learn to embrace my river of red. As so, I tried reading Dr. Christine Northrop’s book Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom. I really tried to dig into it, to grasp on to her ideas and research on what she revealed of of the feminine body.
In the end, I once again blew it off. I liked not having to deal with the “mess”. Plus, I had never wanted kids. It was like having an extra and free form of birth control. As long as I ran at least 60 miles a week, I didn’t have to worry about it.
Then I pushed my body too far. I stopped running. Soft curves, while not significant, appeared on my body, giving me a slightly more womanly figure.
I hated it. Though not regular, my river of red began to appear more frequently. Once again, I tried to stop it from flowing. I took birth control, which messed up my already frayed and fragile hormones even more. I was left with panic attacks in the middle of the night, knees bent and rocking back and forth with tears streaming down my face or into Pacer’s fur.
I should have realized that by rejecting my river of red, the feminine power within, that I was rejecting a part of myself too. Without all of its parts, one can never be whole.
Even when runner Tina Muir came out with her story a few months ago, as happy as I was for her and that this was being talked about, I was still ambivalent to my own inner spring. Even when Tina interviewed two women on her podcast, Dr. Nicola Rinaldi (author of No Period. Now What?) and marathoner Heidi Greenwood, I still didn’t see the point of having a period. Again, I didn’t want to have kids and was otherwise healthy, knowing that I did not qualify for the female triad and my bone health was just fine (especially because of being vegan).
Now and then, I continued to let my mind drift back towards the subject. As usual, my thoughts returned back to Mother Nature. I thought of Her rivers. Powerful and strong, I had seen them flowing through the mountain valleys I hiked through. Her waters were nourishing the forest, responsible for the blooming wildflowers as well as the ancient Evergreens looming above me. Her wild rivers, cool streams, and gentle lakes all giving life to the plants, animals, and humans that inhabited Her land.
…except where man has tried to harm her. To poison Her waters and dam Her rivers. “Am I truly unlike those men?” I wondered. Trying to squelch and poison my own river so I can have control, because I am scared of the feminine fortitude that lies within?
I imagine Her raging back against these threats, causing tsunamis and floods in wrath of the injustices against Her.
Will I ever fight for my own river?
Despite that fact that I am still not convinced of any serious physical consequences, I wonder if my own river of red, my own blood, is responsible for a different kind of nurturing within me. Does it possess powers that can not be seen or even proven by science? (Ironically) My female intuition says yes.
This isn’t the first time women’s safety in the wilderness has been discussed. In fact, there are quite a few well-done articles about it. Particularly, I am familiar with those articles on Trail Sisters that are more specific to women runners, like Fearful for your Safety. The contributors of the article give sound advice on how to protect oneself that I don’t mean to repeat, but I would like to join the conversation, adding a bit more to the wilderness-adventures side of things.
In August of 2015, Pacer “Supergirl” and I started out on our 500 mile thru-hike of the Colorado Trail (the trail is actually less than 500 miles, but by the time we got lost, added on a peak, got lost again, we were well over 500 miles). A common question was “what are you doing for safety?” and “are you scared?”.
To answer the latter question first, yes, I was scared! Mainly because I had never done such a thing before. The only time I had ever backpacked was for one night on the Appalachian Trail with my then-boyfriend. By the time I started the hike, I had also completed five 100 mile races. I knew I could do the distance. Plus, I had my 4-legged adventure partner with me.
As for the first question, I very much new what I had with me for safety. I often listed these items in my head when I was hiking late in the evening: bear spray, hiking poles, dog, knife (only taken because my then boyfriend made me), running legs.
But these items weren’t really about the animals I might encounter: the bears, moose, mountain lions, and big-horned sheep (in truth, the second scariest animal I met on the trail besides the cows, who I dreamed trampled on me in my tent the night I set up camp much too close to their pasture). These animals did cause me some apprehension, but I had been prepared.
You see, like most women who venture out in to the wilderness by themselves, I wasn’t going in naive (as some “macho” men do). Like the many other female solo adventurists, I did my research and asked my friends (often female) for advice.
I knew that if a black bear and I crossed paths, I should freeze and raise my arms, making my 5’4″ frame seem a little bigger. If one should attack, I should fight back, particularly with my bear spray that I always kept in my pack’s water bottle pocket. I also knew this was very unlikely. The bears in Colorado really just want food (not humans) so I safely hung my food in an Ursak (almost) every night.
I knew simply to stay as far away as possible from moose. Like the bears, they too just wanted to be left alone. On a rainy afternoon as two walked past my tent towards the lake, I simply held onto my dog’s muzzle so she wouldn’t bark and watched as they slowly picked their way through the trees.
A few days later, when I saw a bobcat watching me through the bushes, I simply hiked on a bit faster, keeping my dog moving so she wouldn’t see it. I skipped the photo opportunity, knowing it was more afraid of me than I was of it, but also knowing that if threatened, it might (just like Pacer) attack.
To be honest, the nights where I held my knife closest to me was when I thought I heard someone late one night hiking past my tent, or when another male hiker set his camp a little bit too close to mine.
The threats to women out in the wild* have little to do about nature. After all, as I stated in Women of the Wild; Part One: Reclaiming Our Place women ARE the wild. Every woman is inherently part of Mother Nature. Being inside of the wilderness is our birthright.
*As most of you already know, it is still far more dangerous to roam around a city alone.
Sadly, the biggest threats come from a few of our brothers, who too were born from Mother Nature but somehow lost Her wisdom to power and greed. They forgot how to respect Her and other women too.
While the dangers of being a woman in the wild are not to be taken lightly, it would also be contradictory to suggest that a woman should not venture out on her own (or with a few friends). This would not only cause a sense of loss inside each woman as her connection to Mother Earth was strained, but it would also be a huge step back in the progress of women, once again making her appear to be “delicate” and “vulnerable”. The truth is, the wild brings out the warrior in women and girls. It brings us back to our primal selves, both as nurturers and fierce protectors of others and what is just.
The solution then?
As my friend Silke wrote in her Trail Sister’s article, what women need is RESPECT.
First we need to teach our brothers that women are strong, intelligent, and capable. Women can throw up a bear hang, use a compass (albeit, not my strong point), light a fire, and use our common sense to figure out solutions in the wild. Women don’t need the safety and guidance of men. To be honest, because of a women’s intuition and natural inclination to consider various needs and possibilities, we are often more prepared than our male counterparts.
One of my male classmates, with a clear and honest want to support us wild women (who make up the majority of my cohort) but grew up with the fragile woman concept, asked me “how do I support women out on the trail?” The answer is simple really. Let women lead the way.
To my male friends reading this, all you really need to do is talk to your friends, sons, hiking partners, boyscout troops, etc. Make it known to them that women deserve respect out there and not to be questioned with “are you sure it’s safe for you by yourself out there?” (both creepy and disrespectful). Encourage them to support women on the trail. Don’t always pitch the tent or start the fire because, in all honesty, “we got this.”
And to my female friends, keep encourage our sisters and daughters to get out there and explore. If they are new to the outdoors, let them know the things they need to be aware of and consider. Again, the article Fearful for your Safety offers some great insight. As another example of how to promote safety but not instill fear , my sister asked me not to post the departure of my thru-hike. It was sound, considerate advice I would not have thought of myself.
So let us all, both women and men, hike, row, climb, cycle, ski, paddle, and run in the glory and protection provided to each and every one of us through our connection to the Earth.
Special thanks to all the women and organizations leading the way (women now make up nearly 50% of people participating in outdoor recreational activities) such as: Trail Sisters, Women’s Wilderness, Green Girl, Gudy Gatskill (mother of the Colorado Trail), Jennifer Phar Davis, Cheryl Stayed, and so, so many more!
I saw him yesterday, like a beautiful gazelle running in the wild, though this time on bike path off Broadway going up The Hill. I froze for a second in a wave of awe, pain, want…regret.
Then, I had a fuck fest in my car. By fuck fest, I mean I screamed and swore to the heavens in the safety of Surry, my silver Subaru.
It wasn’t fair. Why did I have to see him if I can’t have him, if he doesn’t want me?
Later, the question turned to “why does it still hurt so much?” Again, I thought “this isn’t fair.” I let the pain subside as the tears rolled down my cheeks.
Fuck Fest (Part 2)
(This was written a few months later, about 2 weeks after I had once again seen “the gazelle” when we passed on bikes as I was dropping off a library book. Apparently my first fuck fest had worked…I said “hey” with only a tinge of lingering pain.)
Fuck. I’m falling for another boy…and it will be at least 3 weeks until I see him again. Does he like me? I think so. But I’m not really sure.
We had hours fly by with just us talking. Does that mean anything?
I want to write more, but I’d be going around in circles.
Fuck. I don’t want this. But I do.
Regardless, I have a dog.
Her breath courses through my long brown hair,
causing it to blow across my cheek.
In gentle whistles through branches and rustling of leaves,
She whispers secrets in my ear.
Her light beams down on me from the sky,
warming my skin and illuminating my heart.
At night, She twinkles and glows,
reminding me that I am not alone.
Once again, She exhales.
I feel Her breath embrace me.
I inhale and feel my lungs expand.
I pause, startled.
I exhale and inhale again.
I realize that Her breath is not separate from mine.
Her and I are one.
Yesterday, I was sitting with a friend at an Outlaw Yoga class, ready to get into my first downward dog of the day but patiently awaiting as Mark, our large, bearded, motorcycle riding instructor delivered his inspirational message of the day.
His message was about leaving what we no longer needed behind, turning the page, picking up the pen, and writing our next chapter. I smiled, knowing that my plan for that afternoon was to work on this blog.
As Mark spoke, I also realized that my own turning of the page had taken nearly one, beautifully devastating year. Essentially, I had been on a journey to re-define myself, never losing the core of who I am, but changing the outward expression of my being.
Letting go was hard. There were tears and prayers to the heavens. Most of all, there were many long hikes with Pacer.
Then I got the idea for this blog. I felt my energy excite with this new creative pursuit. There was just one hitch; I knew I’d have to give up my blog since undergrad, Valley Girl Adventures. Over the years, I had put a lot of myself into that blog. It chronicled my running adventures, several 100 mile races, performance tips, and book lists. But in the last year my posts had been changing, growing more intimate and thoughtful and less about the lesson I learned while running. Alas, it sunk in that I was no longer that young twenty-something girl running 20 miles on weekend like it was nothing, winning races, or even competing as all. I didn’t want to let go of her.
In actuality, I know that she is still part of me. Because of the foundation she has created, I am able to turn the page and begin this next chapter. With the lessons she learned on the trail, I can now look past the running, the extreme, and get to the heart of the matter. Of course, the wilderness and trail will always be a large topic of my writing. Mother Nature will always be guiding me with every step. She is no longer separate from me, but with in me.
I wonder what adventures this new chapter will bring?
Smiles and Light,
Ray & Pacer ❤