I spent the first week of my journey in Yosemite, one of my favorite places in the entire world. It is where I first fell in love with being outdoors, where I found a sense of confidence working as an outdoor educator, and where for the first time, I felt truly weightless and free from my eating disorder. I expected my time in Yosemite to be nostalgic, comforting and effortless. I left with pain, discomfort and anger.
I started my adventure on the road on my 29th birthday. Most comments about my birthday have sounded like this, “29, so how do you feel about that age?” Yeah, sure there were many “happy birthdays” and memories shared on Facebook. But most comments were somehow related to the fact that I am entering my last year of my twenties. Like its a final good-bye to youth, and social acceptance to be jobless, and partnerless. What makes this message even harder to hear is that it’s true, I do seek security. A job that pays me regularly, a partner, a dog, a house, a morning routine and a gym membership. There is nothing like the emotional roller coaster ride that comes with a birthday.
On my birthday, I hiked to the top of Mount Hoffman, located right above May Lake, a breathtakingly beautiful part of the park. I was joined by my dear friend Sophia (a true adventure partner in crime) and her brother who was visiting from the middle of the country and seeking adventure out west. We hiked to the top, enjoyed our sandwiches and birthday beers and headed back down to the lake to jump in. I did not jump initially, not because I don’t like water, but because I don’t feel comfortable in minimal clothing. There is so much sadness around this topic, and it is still something that I have not yet been able to shake. Since this moment there have been a number of invitations to jump in a lake, take a swim in the river, and I find myself sitting on the side. Watching and wishing that I felt free enough to let myself dive in.
A few days later I found myself with yet another invitation to take a dip. This time in some pretty iconic hot springs outside of Mammoth. It has taken me 29 years to get there, so I figured I shouldn’t pass up on the opportunity. I sat watching the sunset over the Eastern Sierras, calm, happy, blissful. As we sat, somehow the conversation turned to my appearance, and I was mortified. Through years of teasing, when someone begins to talk about how i look, I feel my stomach drop, I am filled with fear, and shut down. One of the women with us commented on my curves, and told me that I look like “Old Hollywood.” She continued, “You know, before people cared about being perfect and thin.” I couldn’t really tell if it was a compliment or not. And although I knew that it wasn’t malicious, it hurt me. I know I am not perfect, I know I am not thin, and those two things are what I feel most sensitive about because of my eating disorder. So any acknowledgement of that feels devastating.
The rest of my time in Yosemite, I felt extremely closed. I did not laugh as much, I did not feel free like I did however many years ago, and I was angry. This was supposed to a place where I felt safe, free and joyful. This moment taught me that I could not flee from my issues, no matter how fast my truck can go.
Suddenly, I was hyper aware to all of the body comparison that existed around me. Hikes with the ladies turned into hours of conversation around what they would like to change about their bodies. I noticed strangers on the trail comment on my pace, or how sweaty I was when I got to the top. I overheard the climbers outside of the little market comparing the pace of their assents up the face of some piece of granite. Comparison seemed to be fueling all of Tuolumne Meadows, my base camp, and “home” for the week.
One morning after breakfast I cried. I cried like use to when I was 13 and someone would make fun of me at school. I cried because my week in Yosemite showed me how much work I still have to do on myself. I wish that I could own my curves, talk about my body without shutting down, and wear a swimsuit without hesitation. I realized how much my body affects my life, my mood, and my relationships. I believe that I am more lovable when I am thinner, and so when I am feeling heavy I retreat so I don’t need to feel rejection. It is what I believed at 13, and what creeps into my thoughts in my darker moments, when I reminded that I am 29 and still without a partner.
This first week brought so much doubt and so many questions:
Am I running from problems by jumping back into my car and driving through the North West? My issues are sure a lot easier to deal with when I am traveling. And my it seems to be signature move, when things start to get hard I tend to seek out adventure and distraction. Is being in the outdoors simply a bandaid for the deep work that needs to get done? Of course being active, breathing fresh air and the rush of adrenaline makes me feel good. But is it really helping me battle the reminisce of an eating disorder? Why am I still feel so much shame around my body? Is it just a distraction? What if I am not ready for this? Do I have any right to preach loving our bodies when there is still so much that I battle with internally? There are moments when I feel fake. I do not have all of the answers to self love and acceptance...like at all.
On a long drive through Nevada, I was listening to a podcast with Brene Brown and Elizabeth Gilbert. Brene (the Goddess herself) who speaks to vulnerability and shame through personal stories from her life, stated that she doesn’t share stories until she has fully worked through them. She is not looking for validation or comfort from her audience. This stuck with me, because after this experience I wanted very badly to jump on my computer and shame anyone who regularly comments on other people’s bodies, who lives a life fueled by comparison, and is careless with their words.
But I didn’t.
I took time to hike. To process. To breathe.
And I found compassion.
I found compassion for the woman who made comments about my body. I actually consider her a friend, and I know that the comparison comes from a place of pain. I also acknowledge and give space for miscommunication. A better option instead of stewing over a total of 10 words, would be to talk about it. Yes, I don’t think that we should comment on other people’s bodies because we don’t know their story, their history or what kind of trauma is linked to it. But in that moment I did and said nothing, only leaving more room for anger, and self-hate to grow. And I even have compassion for myself that in that moment for not knowing what to do. It reminds me of the little 13 year-old who still lives inside of me, who is deeply sensitive and fragile, who grew up in world where her appearance has been the driving cause for pain in her life.
With this compassion I have again found a sense of purpose. The doubts and questions about my mission and goal are still there, but with a deepened knowledge that the times that challenge me most are how I will grow and learn. These unexpected lessons are what I hope to share with you and the future generations of women who find healing in the outdoors or are involved with Wild and Weightless.