One of the greatest gifts of sobriety, besides the mental clarity, rocking sense of humor, and loads of money saved, is a growing love of hiking. When I was drinking I hiked about 4 miles a week, and generally I was hung over while attempting those miles so you can imagine the amount of cursing that happened in those short miles. After getting sober that number jumped dramatically. With a new sense of ease in the miles I started to plan bigger hikes. Like crossing England last May or attempting the AZT next April.
One of the reasons I wanted hike across England, and do the AZT, was that I wanted to “find myself”. I read Wild many years ago and decided that Cheryl Strayed was so wise because she walked. Maybe there is some truth to that but also maybe she is wise because she was born that way. I’m realizing more and more that the trail doesn’t give you yourself or wisdom. It gives you challenges and lessons to help you learn who you are and not find who you are.
Last night we went to a local outdoor store to hear Heather “Anish” Anderson* speak. She is one of National Geographic’s adventurer of the year and she is the first woman to complete the triple crown. Something she said really struck a cord in me. She was talking about how we don’t find ourselves on the trail. The trail won’t hand our truest selves to us. It’s already in us and we will find it when we look inside. Or she said something like that.
What hit me hard was that I am constantly looking outside of myself to figure out what makes me tick. Give me all the self help books! Let me see all the speakers. Someone tell me who I should be!
When I walked in England I loved the pace of the trail. I loved the routine of getting up, coffee, breakfast, pack up, walk. Every day the same. The trail wasn’t always the same but it was still just me dealing with whatever the trail gave me. It’s easy to be introspective and enjoy your own company without choices or distractions. It’s easy to go inside in that time on the trial.
But what made me think about what Heather said was to really know you, and find you, is to go inside while you are living your everyday life. It explains why when I returned from walking I felt so warm and fuzzy and peaceful and then life happened and everything got crazy. I lost myself to dishes piling up in the sink, kids college questions and answers, older kids dealing with real life in big scary ways, other family and work emergencies. My trail zen was lost to living my life.
What I’m realizing most of all is that if I can dig deep into who I am in the chaos of real life then my walks on the trail don’t need to be about “finding myself” they get to be about reconnecting with myself and enjoying nature. I remember at one point in England I made a little video diary moment where I was asking myself if it was worth it. Did I learn anything? Did I grow or change at all?
I did. I learned so much on that walk. I learned that I can do hard things. I learned that I can walk a very long ways. I learned that I like myself and who I’m becoming. Maybe I’ll never arrive at who I am, and maybe I will always be becoming, but I learned that it’s okay to be in that place of growth and change. It’s okay to be who I am today. I like who I am and grateful to the gift of sobriety for letting me learn all these lessons with clarity and grace.
I interviewed her for our podcast before her book came out.