June 26, 2012 The start of 2012 was tough for me. Living in southwestern Virginia, I had chosen to go back into the closet and felt isolated, and then in January, my college boyfriend and I broke up. I felt trapped; my world felt small so I fled to San Francisco for the summer. I had hoped to find something or someone there to reinvigorate me and the Pride festival was where I had pictured it happening. I've said elsewhere on this site what I can say about that day: it shattered my worldview and my confidence.
June 26, 2013 In college, I did a study abroad program in Ireland that focused on the importance of place within art, and therefore to our lives. I felt called to revisit and reclaim the place that felt so full of pain, but didn't yet feel ready to return to San Francisco. I spent most of the year feeling small and fragile, weak and weary. I was tired of feeling beaten down by what had happened, and instead was determined to beat it. I set off hiking the John Muir Trail in California with my cousin Shannon, hoping that somewhere between the exhaustion of climbing mountains and the awe of nature, I'd find a way to feel whole again. The hike itself was amazing and my relationship with Shannon transformed into an even deeper bond. And while I felt stronger than ever before, while I learned to trust myself again, while I now had incredibly positive memories in California, I wasn't able to wipe away the pain from a year ago. As I triumphed over the trail, I began to realize that I would need help to truly heal.
June 26, 2014 Starting therapy was clearly necessary after the JMT, but I didn't have a clue about how to actually do that. Claire, one of my best friends, was my biggest advocate for finding help and connected me with a service through U.Va. that was affordable and flexible. It was a short term provider--similar to CAPS for U.Va. students, and I started seeing my therapist, Logan, in November. Before starting, I had imagined therapy like glue--together we would slowly reassemble the broken pieces of my life to get me back to where I was before. Instead, I learned to sit with the hard emotions I had spent so long pushing away and burying. I allowed myself to feel pain: to realize that being strong did not mean being numb, but instead having the courage to exist in this flawed and beautiful world. Logan and I worked together (and I mean truly worked--I'd often leave her office feeling completely drained) for a few months. This particular day was one of our final sessions, helping me to see how far I had come but still felt I had so much more to do to feel complete again.
June 26, 2015 It took me some time to find a new therapist that was affordable, worked with my schedule, fit my personality and needs, and was taking on new clients (hence why I've created Next Steps--please donate if you can!). Still, I continued the work of balancing my urge to "conquer" what happened with the need to understand how I feel and how those emotions affect my life going forward. One of the hardest parts of healing were the times when my emotions didn't match the present experience. Something would set me off, often unexpectedly, and I'd feel rage or sadness or confusion that I couldn't explain to those around me. This day was the highlight of that issue: the Supreme Court announced marriage equality and yet I wanted to crawl into a ball and weep. As friends across the country reached out in glee about this validation of my identity, I was brought back to that day--my first Pride, the day I had hoped would bring me a new-found confidence and instead broke me. I called a friend, Kimmy, who I knew would be able to listen and help me express for myself the complexity of my own experience. I've grown more comfortable letting an emotion wash over me, and then letting it go.
June 26, 2016 Today was in many ways unremarkable on the Trail, but because it was this day--the four year anniversary of my trauma, it was different. I've spent the day hiking with a new friend; it's the first time in weeks that I've had an entire day of company and we spent it entirely in conversation. How nice it was, to be able to silently reflect on the past few years, but not feel like today was defined by sadness or pain. He pushed me, both intellectually and physically, and I'm concluding my night on top of a beautiful mountain, watching the sun set and the stars creep out. It's the most stunning spot I've found on Trail.
I find it remarkable, the power of a day. Since that terrible incident, I've hid my pain behind strength, learned to ask for help and receive it, become comfortable with all of my emotions, and finally, started to let it all go. The path toward healing has not been straight. There is no cure for trauma, no magic pill to take me back to before the pain. Instead, I've followed the trail, rocky as it may be, and give thanks that it's led me here.