by Nancy King
I have braved terrifying border guards on a train to Russia, was almost blown off a cliff by fierce winds in Patagonia, got lost in Bangkok, and avoided molestation by a group of French creeps, but nothing approaches the intensity of the trip I’m taking now.
Childhood trauma lives in my body and nervous system. Freeing myself from the tentacles of the past has been a lifelong journey of therapy, mantras, workshops, bodywork, and more. I want to be able to respond to the present in the present instead of being shackled to my past. I’m not only tired of feeling bad about myself, I’m tired of feeling bad about an important family relationship. I want to be free to be who I am without apology.
Hiking has always been a source of comfort and release; it’s medicine for my soul. On this cool morning, I start walking on a stony path up a local mountain—eight miles round trip with an elevation gain of about 2000 feet. I feel heavy and lethargic but I don’t ask myself why I’m hiking; I know I’ll feel better after a while. As I walk on the path I see a heart stone and pick it up, momentarily comforted, momentarily better. Why, I wonder, do I only feel release when I am hiking? Why can’t I make it last?
As I near the top of the mountain I feel weird—a different sensation from any I have had before. It makes me stop and take a deep breath. I rub my fingers around the heart stone. I take a drink. It feels as if a current of electricity is snaking up through my body. After it passes, I feel strangely calm and light and loving, like something dark and heavy has been dissolved. A hiker passing by asks if something is wrong. I thank him for his concern and tell him, “I don’t know what just happened but it feels good.” He hesitates, his concern is obvious, but I can’t tell him that I’ve just experienced a snaking current of electricity moving up my body and I haven’t a clue as to what’s going on. I convince him I’m okay and he reluctantly leaves.
I sit at the top, gazing at the 360-degree panorama of the mountains around Santa Fe. Something inside me has changed but I can’t define it. As I hike down the trail, I test myself by bringing up memories of painful times with my family member, when I stayed silent rather than speaking up. No matter what buttons I push, what memory I trigger, the anger and bitterness and frustration are gone. What’s left is a feeling of love, of compassion. For him.
I’m deep in thought when a dog bumps into me. I’m so startled I yelp. The owner apologizes and I tell her, “I guess the dog didn’t know I was in a trance.” The dog wags its tail and I ruffle its fur. The dog’s joy feels like a healing omen. As I continue hiking, I recognize I’ve done my best with my difficult family situation. I can’t make him treat me with kindness and love but I can treat myself with kindness and love. I might have to end all contact with him but I can do it with love and a heart full of grief.
I have written many letters to him, explaining how I feel and what is not working for me in our relationship. He ignores what I write. He doesn’t listen to what I say. He is right. I am wrong. I am the problem. He says that if I want him in my life I have to stop talking about feelings, that there can be no drama. In essence, I have to be the person he wants me to be. I’m tired of twisting myself into a pretzel in order to be acceptable to him. People talk about the importance of family. But at what price?
In the past, after I hiked up mountains, capered over rocks, walked along the edges of cliffs—the longer the hike the better—I felt momentary relief, but when I came down from the mountain the good feeling dissolved. All too soon the bad feelings about myself returned.
This time is different. The hike is over. I am down from the mountain, back in my life, but what I experienced on the mountain—feeling clean and clear and loving –seems to be lasting. Am I finally free? Was there a miracle on the mountain? I don’t need to explain it. What I need is to know and believe it can last.
Nancy King’s newest novel is Opening Gates. On her website, www.nancykingstories.com you can read excerpts of her five novels and learn about her books of nonfiction that focus on the power of stories, imagination, and creativity. She lives in Santa Fe where she writes, weaves, and spends time in the mountains. She leads workshops in creative writing, memoir, exploring imagination, the healing power of stories, and discovering our inner stories, in the US and abroad .For further information please contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org