Y’all ride this out with me. My brain is weird and wired differently than most. Oh wait, that’s true because trauma literally rewires your brain. Anywho.. I’m sitting in the sunroom of our cabin in Pigeon Forge, TN as I write this. My family is on a Spring Break trip and a much needed getaway. Hubby and the younger two are over at the indoor pool. The teen has commandeered a space upstairs, playing on their phone.
On Sunday, the mess hit the fan over on social media. I made the horrible mistake of attempting to engage and let someone know how their post comes across to people struggling to process trauma. It did NOT go well, at all. I’ll add that my friends’ list shrank a little that day. It sucks, but it’s the reality of this journey. I did have a good number of people support me, validate my feelings, as well as offer encouragement. True to me, I haven’t been able to let it go. My brain continues to play the situation over and over and over again. My emotions go from one extreme to the other. It’s Tuesday, honestly right at typical session time with my therapist, but I’m not home. Even though I could do Zoom and meet, I’m doing the other thing I do best when I need to process; I’m writing.
My brain loves analogies and metaphors. Most revolve around football, yep the “Good Southern Girl” that I am. I also love analogies that involve the outdoors. People who know me well and even my therapist tell me I am a better and happier person, in nature, especially on the water. The metaphor my therapist uses frequently with me, is an onion. There are a ton of layers to an onion. Just when you think there can’t be another layer, Ta Da, there it is! So, my brain doing what it does, managed to combine food and the outdoors to explain the following analogy.
Here we go….
Make sure your Timberlands are laced up tight. The terrain is a bit too much for my beloved Chacos. I hope you like trail mix. You know, the one with the raisins instead of the M&Ms and lukewarm water in your bottle because that’s all we have. The car is parked in the parking lot and the trail head is just before us. The view at the top is supposed to be breathtakingly gorgeous. The thought is, “This hike can’t be too bad, if the reward at the end is a Gordon Ramsay Steakhouse.” Walking to the trailhead the trail looks pretty. The woods are full and green. At the moment, the sky overhead is clear blue. This could be a great day. The reward at the end will be worth it.
My hiking partner is an expert. She knows this mountain like the back of her hands. She knows the risks and the rewards of this hike. She has led many like me on this journey. She is honest on the front end about the expectations. She tells me there will be times when I won’t want to take another step. She tells me there will be times when the rocks will shift and I will slide backwards. She tells me there will be bumps, bruises, and even some pretty nasty gashes before all is said and done. She also lets me know that I will never be alone. Even when I feel like she has left me because she is out of my sight, she will be there to guide me to the top. My attitude is “Cool, just a few hours and I can trade my trail mix for a Chef Ramsey steak. Let’s GO!” My guide shakes her head and we start off.
At first, things are easy. Nothing scary. The conversation is easy and surface level. This journey is going to be a piece of cake! Oh, cake, that would be a great dessert at the end of this. I can totally do this. The hike won’t be hard and the meal I’ve had my heart set on is waiting. It’s not long into the hike and things are getting a little rocky. Ok, I can do this. The path levels out and the trees are pretty and green. Oh look, a great distraction, there is a beautiful creek just asking to be played in. We can stop, right? My guide tells me to stay focused, we still have a ways to go and the next stretch will require more work than I’ve put in so far. That does not sound like a plan to me. Let me take a break and play and avoid what’s coming. It will only be a few minutes and then we can keep going. My guide is patient. She knows what’s ahead and will humor me for now. After a while, she tells me we have to keep moving.
The next stretch is a little rougher than I expected. My thoughts are telling me this will be too hard. Maybe, I should just turn back and forgo what’s waiting at the top. My guide is gentle, encouraging, but firm that we must keep moving forward. I have doubts and am not sure I really want to do the work to get to the top. Walking away seems to be the easiest option. Instead of anger and frustration, I’m met with more encouragement. Reluctantly, I keep following my guide. She really is amazing, but I don’t like the things I’m being asked to do.
We round the next bend in the next part of the hike. The view is actually kind of pretty. I mistakenly assume we are close to the top. My guide, again kind, tells me we are just getting started. I don’t like the sound of that, not even a little bit. As we continue on our way, we see another set of hikers. Perfect, a distraction and maybe an excuse to take it easy. Can’t let someone do this alone, right? They need a guide as well. My own guide allows me to drag this extra hiker along with me for a little bit. I realize the connections I have to this hiker. I feel loyalty to the hiker. As I continue along with the extra hiker in tow, my guide is helping me to see how much extra work this hiker is for me. This hiker is also out for themselves. They state they want to see me succeed and make it to the top of the long awaited dinner. Instead, I realize the longer I allow this hiker to stay with me, the more banged up I’m getting. I’m not really moving. This hiker doesn’t seem to appreciate that I have made a great deal of progress to this point. They are trying to convince me that I am ok and my guide is unnecessary and I start to struggle. Technically, I could go back down to the trail and forget about the goal ahead. A part of me struggles because I really want the long awaited steak dinner, prepared by Chef Ramsay. I look at the trail mix and wonder, if I really deserve or even should want better than my trail mix. The hiker reminds me I’ve never had the steak dinner, so I should be content with the trail mix.
As I think about my trail mix. I realize, I can’t stand raisins. I’m also up set the trail mix I was given doesn’t have an M&Ms, or even cashews in it. I have a Nalgene, which is great for holding water and is pretty indestructible, but it hasn’t kept my water cold, or even cool. Now wondering why I didn’t grab my Piper Lou, stainless steel water bottle instead. When I comment to the other hiker, they laugh and tell me how it was for them with their water bottle and I should be grateful, I comment about what kind of trail mix I wish I had. Again, the other hiker makes me feel less than. They had it worse and again, they point out they don’t like the fact I have a guide. My inner turmoil is ridiculous. I don’t like feeling like this. I want to find a large rock and hide. Stopping, shutting down, and not talking is the way I cope. I was too easily distracted and now I’ve lost track of my guide. I’m pissed. My guide is patient. She seems to know exactly where to find me.
My guide and I start to have a scarily, real conversation. I don’t like where this is headed at all. For the first time on this hike, my heart and mind are at odds. I don’t know what to do. I know what my ultimate goal is. I know I’m hungry and the trail mix isn’t cutting it. I’ve had dreams about the Chef Ramsay Steak at the top. I’ve worked my tail off to get to this point on the trail. My guide gently points out the mile marker on the trail. I want to cry and scream. I have been trying to move forward for several hours and yet, I’ve only gone about a half a mile. It’s decision time. My guide isn’t one to give ultimatums. She doesn’t tell me what decisions I need to make. Instead, she listens to me whine, fuss, and somehow process the things. Somehow, in talking and walking with my guide we’ve actually made it the next mile marker. I’m finally open and honest and tell my guide, I need to let the other hiker go. I need to let them find their own guide. When I let the other hiker know that I’m moving on with my guide, the anger is scary. The comments let me know the other hiker isn’t safe. Because I’m the person I am, leaving someone behind goes against everything inside of me. I know I need to keep moving forward. Did I mention, I know my husband, kiddos, and inner circle are waiting on me to join them for this amazing dinner? I really need to let this other hiker go, if I want to be with the people I love and care for the most. Shouldn’t I be able to let this hiker go with me to the top? Shouldn’t I be able to care for someone other than myself and still enjoy the long awaited dinner? I continue to try. I can’t leave the other hiker alone. I can’t let them continue on this trail by themselves. Several hours later, my wonderful guide points out, we haven’t made it to the next mile marker. I feel like an ass on a couple of fronts. I don’t want to leave people behind. It’s not who I am. I also want to be with my people at the top of the mountain. I really want to enjoy my steak dinner. I’m hot, sweaty, gross, covered in scrapes, bruises, and have some nasty cuts that may eventually need stitches. I get mad at myself and know I have to move forward. I tell my guide, I need to let the other hiker figure things out for themselves. For the first time on this hike, hot, angry tears fall. Decisions like this should NOT need to be made.
Because my guide is as experienced as she is and has seen this situation over and over again, she begins to ask questions. Now, I know I “hired” this guide, but this is really personal. Why do I need to open up to my guide like this? Shouldn’t I be able to do this and just move on? Do I really need a guide to process this and move forward all at the same time? I break open like a dam. The words are just flowing. I’m emotionally exhausted. This is stupid and I want to be done. I’m starving, and all I have is this stupid trail mix. My water hasn’t been cold in hours. The sun is setting and my guide tells me it’s time to set up camp. Wait! What? Set up camp? Umm.. NO thanks! I have the people I love waiting on me. I don’t have time to stop and deal with this. My guide is now asking really probing questions. I feel totally exposed. I really want to run. There is not enough sun for me to get down the trail. If I stop now, I will never make it to people I love. I freeze. I don’t know what to do. After a meltdown, reluctantly, I listened to my guide and set up my tent. The tears are hot. I’m grateful I can’t see the other hiker. I pray I don’t see the other hiker for a good, long while. At this point in the hike, I’m not sure I want to see, or talk to the other hiker again. I have a crap ton of guilt about that. The guide and I built a fire. She surprises me with hotdogs. I inhale them. I’m still mad I’m not eating my steak dinner. The guide wants to know if taking on the other hiker is worth sacrificing the people I love and the steak dinner at the top. My head is saying “Hell NO!” “My heart hears a ton of Bible verses about this particular hiker. We talk until the wee hours of the morning. I finally curl up in my sleeping bag and fall into a fitful sleep.
The next morning, I woke up and didn’t know which way was up. I “know” the decision to leave the other hiker behind was the best choice for me and the ones waiting for me at the top. The guide and I talk over lukewarm water and trail mix at breakfast. At this point my anger at the other hiker is almost scary. I know I can’t go back and get the other hiker. I can’t carry them and their sack, along with my own and reach my goal. With tears in my eyes, I pack up with my guide and move forward. I have a new determination and a little more pep in my step.
As we move along, the conversation seems to get a little bit easier. As my guide asks questions, I answer them honestly. I’m a little terrified at the revelations made. I’m angry with what the other hiker told me. As I trudge forward with my guide and meet up with other hikers along the way, I realize how many lies the other hiker told me. I also realize some of the things I missed out on because of the actions of the other hiker. These revelations renew my spirit and give me a much needed boost. The other hiker never really cared for me. They really didn’t care if I made it to the top to get to my husband, kiddos, and friends. They wanted their needs met, but had no desire to do any work and would only fight me, as I tried to make progress. My emotions are high, but the guide and I are making progress. She points out the next mile marker and lets me know how far I’ve come since morning. I’m thrilled, but know there are still many miles left on this hike. How many more miles could I have made it on day one, if I would have let go of the weight of the other hiker when I realized they didn’t have my best interest at heart?
The next several hours seem to fly by. The hike is not even close to being easy. The hike gets harder and more steep. I slip more times than I care to admit. Yet, every single time, my guide is there to give me the tools to get back up. She helps me see how much progress I’ve actually made. She won’t let me give up on myself. She won’t let me quit, even though there are times when I’ve really wanted to. She’s given me permission to take a break. She gives me time to take in the view. I look up and want to cry. Why are we not at the top? I can’t believe the sun is getting ready to set again and there is NOT a steak dinner waiting on me at sunset. It’s aggravating and frustrating. My guide tells me that even though this was not the “couple hour” hike I expected, my people love me and they will wait for me at the top, no matter how many days this hike takes.
Again, I set up my tent and cry myself to sleep. I’m now two days into a hike I thought would only take a couple of hours. I’m angry with myself. As much as I trust my guide, I wish I had known ahead of time how this hike was going to be. All I can think of are the people I love and how I am now craving my Chef Ramsey steak dinner. I convince myself that now that I’ve agreed the other hiker was not the best for me and I’ve made this much progress, that surely I will have my reward the next day. The morning dawns and then the sun sets on the next several days. Now, the feelings I’ve kept buried are really bubbling up. Even though I’m not truly angry with my guide, I start to share big feelings and tell my guide how much I hate the feelings, she has the audacity to PRAISE me and congratulate me on these feelings. I look at her and ask “What the actual hell?” She assures me that feeling all the things is a huge part of the hard work on this journey. I’m brutally honest with my guide and call it “bullshit.” There is NO way the emotions need to be processed as a part of this hike. My guide assures me they are just as important, if not more so than the other work on this hike. Now, I’m pissed all over again. I’m too far up to give up and turn around. At the same time, the next stretch is straight up. I don’t know whether I’m coming, or going. I’m not sure I want to keep on going. I don’t know if I can keep going. I want my people and my steak dinner, but this is just too damn hard. Jumping off the cliff seems to be the easiest thing to do. When I think about my people and the steak dinner, jumping doesn’t get me there. The guide and I talk about the desire to jump and I’m afraid of being chained to a tree, so I don’t get stupid. My guide lets me set up my tent. She hands me a couple of hotdogs, tells me to eat and get my tail into bed. This is definitely not going according to plan. I struggle to see why I should have to work this hard to see my people and enjoy a steak dinner. Pretty sure if I eat one more raisin, in my trail mix, I will lose my ever loving mind.
My guide and I go on for several more days. Then, there is a group of seven more hikers. They spent several days with us. Three of these hikers I really connect with. We spend hours talking with each other, their guides, and my guide about where we’ve been. While I don’t necessarily like sharing this hike with that many people, the miles, and the days are flying. Shockingly, I’m making great progress with this group of seven. One evening the group, their guides, my guide, and I had a hard. open, honest conversation. I was shocked to learn we had a great deal in common. I was shocked to listen to the stories of these seven and all they experienced. I realized we all struggled with a group of city dwellers who didn’t have any respect for hikers. The city dwellers had caused a great deal of damage and hurt not just our group of hikers, but large groups of hikers all over the place. If the city dwellers had their way, they would control us, continue to cause harm to us, and refuse to give us permission to hike. These city dwellers only like and respect those who look like themselves. Those of us who are hikers have broken the “rules” set forth for us. As hikers, we want the freedom to explore and see what else the world holds for us. Yes, we actually like “The Gov” over the city dwellers, but they see us, as hikers, as rebels, and those who refuse to conform to the expectations of “The City.” We know “The Gov” and know He didn’t expect all of us to be city dwellers. He knows some of us are different and are ok with being different. We like our jeans, t-shirts, Timberlands, being book nerds, and desiring to be fully ourselves, and not conforming with the rest of the city dwellers. We don’t fit in “The City.” These seven hikers and I share a history of not only being harmed in a specific manner, but also a horrible struggle with city dwellers. None of us are huge fans of these city dwellers. Some of the seven have found their place among the country folk. Others, like me, are still trying to find our place. The seven and I know city dwellers are not safe people. My guide knew I had been through a lot. She knew how tired I was and suggested a night away from the seven and their guides. I agreed. While trying to get some time to myself, I unknowingly ran into a city dweller. This person claimed to be a hiker. It didn’t take long for me to realize this person was not a hiker. This was a city dweller who took it upon themselves to convince hikers to return to “The City.” This person wanted to convince me that my thoughts and emotions weren’t real. They wanted me to believe I was better off in “The City” and “The Gov” preferred me to be a city dweller and not a hiker. Even though I missed a hotdog dinner with the seven, I was able to gain some clarity. Y’all city dwellers are NOT safe people! It’s past time to move on and not fellowship with city dwellers.
Honestly, I’ve been on this hike for more time than I care to even think about. I’ve lost track of time. My hubby, kiddos, and friends are patiently waiting for me at the top. For now, I will continue to eat my sad, pathetic, raisin filled trail mix. I will continue to drink my lukewarm water and trust my guide. I am not done with my hike. My guide assures me I will eventually make it to the top. I wish I could end this story with my Chef Ramsay Steakhouse dinner, but I’m not there yet. My people are amazingly patient. I know the more I climb with the seven and work with my guide, the more confident of a hiker I will become. Eventually, one day, I will reach the top. Once there my hubby, kiddos, and friends will be there waiting for me. I will eventually get to trade in the raisin filled trail mix and lukewarm water for my Chef Ramsay steak dinner. At that point, I will have the most fabulous bone in ribeye steak, with caramelized onions, delicious butter, sautéed mushrooms, a loaded baked potato, delicious honey glazed carrots, and the smoothest glass of semi-sweet, white wine I have ever tasted. There will be a dark chocolate slice of cake that tastes like heaven in my mouth to end the most perfect evening.
I have shared this entire analogy just to say my story is to be continued… I can’t wait to see how my story ends. I can’t wait to tell you, if I become a country folk, or a suburban folk. Not sure where I’ll land, but I know for certain I am NOT a City Dweller. “The Gov” and I will also remain in communication and I know He will show me where my community is and where I will fit in and be accepted.