Hiking to Heal – Facing My Demons One Step at a Time

Hiking to Heal – Facing My Demons One Step at a Time

This is a guest post by Bethany Hutson from All The Passion Strings

I hike to heal.  That may sound a bit strange, especially being that by the time I get off the trail, I’m typically covered in scrapes, bruises and blisters, and bug bites.  But despite the physical ailments coming off the trail, I always emerge better than I went in.

No matter the difficulty of the hike, the discomfort, the frustrations, by the time I am sitting in the car headed home, I already miss the mountains.

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I haven’t always loved hiking the way I do now.  I would have told you I loved it, even if I didn’t.  When I first got into hiking, I was in love with the idea of it, the story it told, and not the journey itself.  I liked the idea of being a hiker, but when I was on the trail, I just wanted to get to my destination and be done.

Hiking hurt, and I didn’t know how to truly appreciate the process.

I’m not really sure what switched in me, or exactly when it happened, but at some point in the last few years, I developed a hunger for the trail.

A hunger for the mountains.

A hunger for a bigger challenge, always wanting a little bit more.

A few weeks ago I got three long hikes in in one week – I was constantly sore, but constantly excited.  The following week I didn’t go hiking at all, and I thought I might just go insane.  I couldn’t stand being inside; I had to get out.

Hiking for me has developed into something so much greater than an outing that allows me to see something pretty.  It has become something I do to cope, to deal, to heal.  I’ve begun to hike to heal, from everyday life, as well as life’s tragedies that will forever follow me.

The longer you are alive, the more exposed you are to the hurts that life throws at you.  I’ve come to learn that we are all broken people.  We all have scars, wounds, imperfections.  They are a part of all of us.  Whether or not we see them on each other, we all are venturing through this life carrying things that intended to break us.

We are all broken.  We all have hurts.  We all have things that we need to find healing from.

Perhaps I love hiking so much because of the extensive metaphor it provides.  Imagine you put on a backpack every day.  You fill your backpack with pieces of your life, pieces of your past.  Some of them are really good things, and some of them are not.  Some of them are very heavy.  I shove a lot of mine down to the very bottom, where I won’t have to notice them.  Way down deep so I can pile everything else on top of it.  Memories.  Burdens.  Joys, heartaches.  The backpack gets loaded up.  And then we zip it up tight, and put it on.

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We walk through every day carrying this backpack.  We get to pick and choose what we take out and show people.  We get to choose if we even let anyone know how heavy our pack is.  But we all wear one.

What’s in your pack?

If I’m being honest, here are a few things in mine:

  • A lot of joy. I am very blessed.
  • Fear of failure. It’s hard to put yourself out there.  Rejection is heavy, and I’d rather not keep adding the weight.
  • Current stresses from everyday life – we’ve all got these.
  • Memories of my little girl, who is in heaven now. If I’m being completely honest, this part of my pack varies in heaviness and location based on the day. Sometimes I bury it, because it just hurts too much.  Sometimes I keep it at the top and I get joy from taking it out and showing others.  Sometimes the anger brings a heaviness that makes walking very, very difficult.  It’s a part of me that is always there, and will always be there.  It is something I carry.

Those are just a few things I carry.

What’s in your pack?

These packs can really weigh us down, carrying them day after day.  You know what I mean – you carry yours every day too.

When I’m hiking, my pack feels lighter. 

And with every step I take, my pack continues to become a lighter load.

This may sound insane, especially for those of you who backpack.  You know for a fact that the pack actually feels heavier with every step.  And yes, literal packs do.  I’m well aware!

But when I’m hiking, I’m surrounded by nothing but nature, I’m removed from technology, from responsibility, from the worries and woes of the world, and suddenly I feel like every step is one step closer to freedom.

With every step, it becomes easier to breathe.

With every step, a little bit of weight is removed from my pack.

When I’m not on the trail, it is too easy to allow distractions to keep me from facing the heavy parts of my pack.  It’s too easy to pick up my phone, scroll through random social media accounts, find something that needs to be cleaned, to use anything and everything to fill my mind so that I don’t have to allow it to go to the places that hurt.

When I’m in the wilderness, those distractions are eliminated.  It becomes step after step, moving in one direction, mile upon mile.  I become overwhelmed by the beauty surrounding me, and I finally allow my mind to wonder and ponder.  I finally allow myself to face the thoughts I’ve been avoiding.

Physical pain is the pain I fear the least.

Pushing through physical pain on the trail is rewarding.  It is gratifying.  It is satisfying in a way that you can only know through experience.  When you push and push and push, mile after mile, and you are not defeated by the mountain, it is empowering in ways like none other.

To be able to look back and say “I did that” gives your mind and soul an image of what they are capable of overcoming. 

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If I can climb a mountain, I can keep getting out of bed every day.

If I’ve faced the mountain, I can face the weight of the pack I carry.

The splendor of the mountains puts my thoughts into perspective.  I feel small, tiny, insignificant against the backdrop of wilderness.  It helps me realize what is truly of value, what really matters, what is worth my energy.  The result is a greater understanding of what doesn’t matter, what I don’t need to worry and stress over, and what is not worth the time and energy of my heart.

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My pack begins to get lighter, as some burdens become less significant.

And finally, I allow my mind to go to the deepest, darkest parts of my heart; the places I’ve conditioned myself to avoid.

I let myself think about the actual condition of my self.  How am I really doing?  What fears am I not facing?  Why am I avoiding certain things?  Why am I so scared to feel?

This typically results in me thinking about Ayden Nicole, my daughter who went to heaven May 22nd, 2016.  My favorite human.  My greatest source of joy and equal sorrow.  I allow myself to think of her more on the trail, because it’s safer there.  It’s safer to be vulnerable in the wilderness than it is to be surrounded by the normalcy of life.

Do you have thoughts and memories you are more willing to face on the trail?

See, the thing about healing, is that in order for it to happen, you have to feel.  I think that’s where a lot of us get confused.  We think that we are healed from something when we no longer feel anything in regards to it.

If that’s the case, I’ll never be healed.

I think healing is when you are able to feel, and you find a way to be okay.

There aren’t always safe places for us to allow ourselves to feel.  To feel those deep, dark monster feelings.  The feelings we desperately want to avoid.

But then we find ourselves in avoidance, not healing.

I’m crazy good at avoidance.

Feeling?  Not so much.

When I’m in the mountains, I let myself feel.  I don’t let myself live in avoidance.  I don’t let myself hide. 

I feel everything as it comes.  I acknowledge every feeling.  And I keep putting one step in front of the other.

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I had a conversation with a friend on a hike recently.  We were discussing the importance of solitude, and how it allows us to face our demons (or feelings…or both).  We also discussed how you have to be willing to face your demons, and know that you’re going to defeat them.  If you try to face them and you don’t believe you can win the stare down, it can result in an out of control downward spiral that you have no idea how to pull yourself out of.

It isn’t healthy to acknowledge feelings and stay there.  Sometimes we have to sit in them for a while, struggle through them, wrestle with them.  But it’s another story altogether to dwell in them and never fight your way out.

I’ve stared despair in the face.  I’ve felt it, I’ve lived it.  But I fought and clawed my way out of it.

The same way I’ve fought and clawed my way up mountains.

Being lost in your emotions is like being lost in the wilderness.  You are there, and you must acknowledge that.  But you also have to find your way out.  That doesn’t mean you will never feel those things again.  It just means you don’t let those things destroy you.  Defeat will not be the end result.  You will not stay lost.

Facing these things while I’m very literally putting one foot in front of the other works for me.  I’m literally moving forward, literally pushing through the pain, literally creeping towards my destination.  For some reason facing difficult emotions and thoughts while doing this works for me.  It gives me the courage to keep feeling and facing the heaviest items in my pack.

As I said earlier, physical pain is the pain I fear the least.  And when I realize I can overcome the physical pain that comes with climbing mountains, it gives me the courage to face the pains I fear the most.  The pain we are all so used to hiding.  Hiking empowers me to face each day knowing I will survive.

I’ve summitted mountains carrying my pack.  Literally and metaphorically.

I hike to heal.  Why do you hike?

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