Soul Searching on South Sister

Everyone I had talked to who had done this hike told me it’s a total slog. Having lived in Bend for a few years now, I felt it was rite of passage as a “local” to trudge the notoriously arduous scree-slope to the summit of South Sister. I left at 6 AM to try and beat the weather that was forecasted to roam into the scene around 4 PM. From the trailhead, the root-bound switchbacks flowed like palace steps through the forest and opened up into a long, wide path cascading knoll after knoll while the eldest Sister, formerly known as Charity, feigned innocence under a wispy, white halo.

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Hiking as a sport in itself held my attention about as much as nine holes of golf or watching somebody else knit. But I needed something to keep myself active and busy while recovering from a shoulder injury that immobilized movement of my left arm to rotate above my head – an overuse injury from not knowing when to take a day off of rock climbing. My physical therapist suggested that if I continued to climb on it, I would risk further injury with a much longer recovery time. I bitterly called all my friends and cancelled a trip to Colorado that I had been anticipating all summer. I sang sad songs until I let out a robust and cathartic, ugly-face cry.

I then turned to my next source of comfort for my grieving: Google. I disappeared into WebMD, Mayo Clinic, Wikipedia and a gallimaufry of strange personal blogs that all painted the picture of “worst case scenario”.  I tortured myself relentlessly over articles about the anatomy of the shoulder, expected recovery times, and what kind of life I would live with permanent damage. I worried about the strength I would lose from taking weeks off of climbing and went out and bought a handheld grip strengthener that I would never use. Then I recalled a saying that carried me right passed all the self-centered melancholy: “Don’t waste five minutes worrying about something you won’t remember in five years.

I shook my head and wiped the blue glare, computer stare off my face. I closed my eyes and I swear I heard the sound of the sun shining. It’s an indirect noise, all the growing and thriving, that is only alive under an energy powerful enough to bring life to it, as silent as it may be alone. Across the street, a couple of slack liners were bouncing around between two Junipers. Every step, their body explores the capacity for balance, and with every fall, their body becomes more acquainted with the boundaries of it. The body is always seeking balance, through every change and setback. I would not let this injury keep me out of line for long. That would be a choice against the very grain of all the rules of healing.

What I needed was a goal. Something that would push me, make me sweat, maybe bleed, and ideally be kind to my recovering shoulder. I began perusing through guide books of the Washington alpine and drooled over routes in the Cascades. Shoulder or no shoulder, if was ever going to get out to Prusik Peak, I would need to train my hiking endurance for the ten mile approach – a warm up to the 8,000 foot granite summit in the Enchantments. Setting this as motivation, I chose four peaks in Oregon and was righteously cavalier in giving myself five days to summit them as training for my Pacific Northwest adventure.

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Steeper and steeper, and with each step less ground than the last, I grinded my way up the slope of South Sister holding those Washington Alpine routes as motivation through misery. I pulled over to let a young man pass me. He looked at me and out of his mouth poured “fuckkkk” as if to put a word to the experience we were both in – separately, but together, and definitely with a total lack of social grace or care. I might have grunted. I’m sure it wasn’t cute.

A day previous I had set out to summit Mount Thielsen. I was told that it was a way more gratifying alternative to South Sister if you want to get on top of a mountain. I knew there would be a little bit of scrambling near the top and I assumed, since I am a “climber”, I could do whatever these “hikers” considered climbing, no problem.

Thielsen hikes up at a constant, but very gradually incline for the first­­­­­­ three miles. It was the first time I had used trekking poles and I was imagining myself to be a giant praying mantis straight out of a science fiction novel. I got lost in the “flow state”  as thoughts floated in and out of my mind like soft exhales of quite sleep. It wasn’t until I had my peak in view that I became set on my prize, the summit. I spent nearly an hour slipping back through scree before I met the base of the vertical rock with a single stream thought repeating itself over and over: I’m going to get to the top

The wind has a way of making everything feel more eerie and lonely, carrying messages to scare you away.  As it blew whistles by my ears I had this overwhelming feeling like I was trespassing. I scrambled up and dropped my pack to evaluate the weakest line to the top. I heard a rustling near me and blood pushed into all my extremities in one powerful shock. Mountain lion! …No, just my pack falling over on its side. Why was I so scared? I’m not even climbing right now, I told myself haughtily. I began the class five scramble over slab for a few feet and then peered over my right to see a 500+ foot drop off down to a steep scree slop that I would not survive. I humbly down climbed and sat 30 ft from the summit in despair knowing that I would not get to the top without either some kind of protection or more boldness than I could muster.

Since South Sister is said to not have a “technical summit”, I expected she would help soothe my summit fever and heal a bruised ego over my failed attempt at Mt.Thielsen. I dug my trekking poles into the ever loosening ground, picking into the wound of braided trails that scar her ever-seasoned body. At around 11am, several hours earlier than expected, her mood took a dramatic shift. I stopped to unload the small rocks from my shoes and while retying my laces was slapped with a mouthful of mist mixed with dirt and debris. The temperature began to plummet and, despite a couple hours worth of built-up cardio heat, I noticed goosebumps rise through the sheen of unnecessary bug spray. A thick fog unloaded unto the mountain, but I was determined to keep moving. A dozen or more descending hikers passed me with words of caution, which I arrogantly threw to the wind.

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I made it to an unnamed glacier lake and found myself, once again, eager, afraid, and so close to the top. Two guys erupted out of the opaque fog in a downhill scurry and were in and out of my view like a lapse in reality of sound and sight. I struggled to get my arms into my jacket as it flapped in the wind and plastered itself to my sweaty skin.

I could have been completely alone in the universe. The warmth of life that is brought with sunlight was extinguished by a cold and merciless sadness that hovered with each molecule of moisture in the air – a grey nothingness polluting the sky with withering hope. I couldn’t bear the thought of having a second failed summit, but as I staggered up the tiny lava rocks, I had to wonder why: why was it so important that I reached the very top of the mountain?

I dug my poles into her bountiful body. With each step I felt a familiar guilt surge through me as I violated a space where I was clearly not welcome. The fog began to spit a mix of ice and rain and I tried to create a little pocket in front of my mouth to breathe fresh air. I was not supposed to be there, and yet I continued to push myself up the mountain. And for what? To get to the top to say I had done it? To prove to myself and everyone else that I am capable of pushing hard in the face of challenge? In the midst of the fog that surrounded me it became transparent that I had lost sight of my values in an automatic mission to soothe my injured ego. I was trying to take something that was not mine in some kind of redemption for past failures. It needed to stop.

At that, and with a well deserved humility, I collapsed my poles and began my trek back down her velvet red skirts. I pulled off my hood and let my hair flow freely in the mist as I skiied down the scree twice as fast as I’d come up. As if to release me, the clouds opened up and I walked across the ridge with views of Moraine Lake and the surrounding valleys. I found my flow again and laughed out loud several times thinking about how foolish I had been.

“It is not a the Mountain that we conquer, but Ourselves”.

I’ve seen this quote lingering about many a computer desktop screen or facebook feeds without credit, but it was actually words spoken by Edmund Hillary shortly after him and his companion, Tenzing Norgay, returned from the first ascent summit of Mount Everest in 1953. Even after summiting the tallest mountain in the world, they reported their experience as an internal transformation because, although you expose yourself to some of the most adverse physical conditions through mountaineering, you ultimately end up revealing some of the most difficult truths about who you are, and letting go of those long-coveted parts of your ego that didn’t survive the journey.

While South Sister and Mount Theilsen are no Everest, the confrontation with seeing my true self was similarly profound. Despite feeling quite lethargic, I woke up the next day and set out for my third peak with a much greater sense of reverence for the mountains. I brought a small amount of climbing gear, just in case I would need it for the summit, and checked the weather for a clear forecast. Everything appeared to be in my favor, but I approached the hike with a sense of ease and excitement to just be getting out there. I moved slowly and chatted with a majority of hikers in passing. When I made it to the top there was a crew roping up to the summit. Had I been an hour sooner or later I would have missed my opportunity to get a belay. But on this occasion, I felt invited to the summit.

As it turned out, I was unable to get out to my fourth Oregon peak objective before my life swooped me away in another direction. Needless to say, I was not disappointed in my adventures, despite only seeing myself to the summit of one peak.

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Let go, fall, rise again

I must be 60 feet from the ground. No… 100 feet. My legs are shaking like each of them drank their own french press this morning and there’s enough sweat in my palms to wash a cat with. I’m nearly to the top but I don’t think I’ll make it there in this state. My arms are pumping with acid as I paw desperately at each chalked hold, none so good that I might stand up and catch that glorious jug just out of reach. Why am I up here, anyway? Why did I think I would be so strong as to get on this wall. Only fit people rock climb, not me. I don’t belong here.  I should be at home with my cat and coffee.

“TAKE!”

This is not an uncommon dialogue that runs through my head when I am rock climbing. The feelings of weakness are undeniably intertwined with panic and uncertainty. They are emotions that have accompanied me through many processes of life, not the least of which has been my recovery from disordered eating.

Just saying “disordered eating” makes me cringe a little bit. As a title, it is so specific and simplistic that it misses the joy-sucking, life-debilitating, career derailing tragedy that it is; as if it were just about “eating” and having some preordained “order” gone askew. It is so much more insidious than that. It is its own identity that has hijacked the otherwise healthy, vibrant soul of the body.

At its very heart, it’s about control. I don’t consider it a random coincidence that I developed this obsession during a time when I had very little control over some of my most basic needs. In four years’ time, I had lived under a friend’s bed, in my ’92 4Runner, five different guest bedrooms, and a “Harry Potter” closet under the stairs. I was constantly “the new girl” at work, training to do the same service job at a different location. I had no established home or job and I felt a desperate need to establish some semblance of order. So I gripped food and exercise like it was my lifeline. As long as I didn’t let it out of my grasp, I could control my strength, my confidence, and my reputation as a diligent and disciplined athlete. But the security of control survives only briefly, if at all.

Maybe you’ve found yourself in this false sense of control in your obsession with your body like I did. While it comes as a comfort to do whatever you can predict your outcomes, it ultimately limits your potential to only those possibilities that fit within the framework of your desired expectations. The daily diligence to decisions made around food and exercise become toxic to all the other parts of a joyful life because, unless you’re going to climb the same route every time you go outside, you are going to be challenged to make moves that are insecure and unpredictable.

When you’re on the wall, climbing leaves you two options at any moment: keep climbing or fall trying. Since neither of these options offer a sense of control, I often see my clients come to a challenge and fix themselves rigidly to their position – too afraid to go up, too scared to fall, and too ashamed to give up. For some reason the mind misleads us to believe you can stay exactly where you are, frozen in a vertical plank, as if there is some aspect of control as your grip slowly fails you, your strength quickly slipping away.

For years I held my body in a place of control, constantly monitoring calories in/calories out and constructing a rigid schedule around food restriction and exercise binges. After a few years my body started failing me, despite my perceived control over its’ functions.  I lost my period for over two years, suffered multiple stress fractures, and developed an insatiable appetite that ultimately lead to rapid weight gain. I was stuck holding onto everything that I knew I could control while my body deteriorated along with my quality of life and overall wellbeing.

Looking up at the wall above me, it can seem like moving up is actually impossible. I don’t see any clear path ahead of me or any positive holds that might illuminate one. Often times I find myself checking the same bad holds over and over again – No, that’s not good, that’s not good either, maybe the first one was better… no it still sucks, what else is there? At a certain point, you just have to commit to an insecure hold and move! Choose any hold, the worst will do, and power to the next best looking opportunity. It’s improbable, at best, that I’ll catch the next hold, but when I’m willing to take the chance I know I’ve exited fear and entered into a whole new version of myself filled with empowerment and adventure.

These were the kinds of moves I had to make in order to flow through my recovery with disordered eating. Keep moving on even if you didn’t make the best decision for dinner, skipped a workout, or spent all day in front of a computer screen. Keep moving. Pursue a new career even if you’re “damaged”. Go on that date even if you feel bloated and ugly. Not all the conditions are going to be perfect for you to reach your fullest potential, so take the risk and see what happens. Curiosity mixes well with taking risks and while the outcomes are unpredictable, the exposure reveals parts of yourself that your soul has been searching to discover.

That is not to say you won’t fall trying. In fact, it’s likely that you will fall and I hope that you do! I’ve noticed that beginner climbers want to do whatever they can in their power to not fall. They have convinced themselves that falling is the most dangerous part of climbing, and while I’m not disagreeing with this, it is an essential part of climbing and life. At the risk of sounding cliché, falling is where we learn and grow as individuals. The scariest part about growth is that is requires change, and change is not cultivated in an environment of control. We have to be willing to let go.

Change Theory suggests that there are six stages to creating new habits, and it revolves in a cycle. Briefly, the first five are Precontemplation, Contemplation, Determination, Action, and Maintenance. These are concepts I cover much more in depth during our Body Positivity clinic in August, but for now I want to specifically look at the last stage of change, which is Relapse.

If every route you get on is a process of growth and change, then every fall you take is a beautiful and insightful relapse. It’s the point in your journey that you succumb to your weaknesses and discover the most about yourself. It’s where you learn to fall gracefully and fearlessly, knowing that each fall is a part of the process to becoming more in tune with your body. You begin to find yourself more comfortable with not knowing what the outcome will be, maybe even excited.

My recovery from disordered eating has been a spiraling series of lessons in relapse. Going through the process of building motivation and determination to take action for change is hard work. It is absolutely the hardest thing I have ever done. And just when I feel like I’m finally getting somewhere I get faced with another challenge and I fall off the wagon (or fall off the wall, shall we say?). Now that I have learned to fall, I am comfortable with it. When I go out to climb I mean to get on routes that I will fall all over. Over and over again, until I figure out a way up the spiral.

In my long journey of recovery, the rock walls – sitting silently in crags and canyons – have been my gentle guide to remember who I am and what I believe in. Without climbing, I would watch my life lessons recycle themselves over and over again without casting an enlightened perspective. But within the humility of climbing, I am reminded of the immense amount of courage that is required to face the unknown: to let go; to fall; to rise again.

Recovered, Thanks.

It was a slow realization when you found yourself so disconnected from your body that you didn’t know how, when, or what to eat. Perhaps you over-exercised and then under-ate only to pendulum to day-long binge episodes, too tired and ashamed of yourself to get out of your pajamas. The balance with food and body seemed to be a razor-thin edge that you cut yourself on every time you passed over it in your “all or nothing” mindset. Back and forth you’d go, one painful day after the next, and you wondered to yourself, will I ever find peace with this?

But what if you just played with this idea: right now, today, at this moment, you have a perfectly healthy and balanced relationship with food and your body.

I know that for me it was somewhat of a slow process to come around and admit that I was not happy in my body. I had lost weight and, objectively speaking, had the body I always wanted. But as I pushed to become even thinner, I developed a gripping fear around food and became unreasonably protective of my exercise routine. Dinner party at 8pm? No way, dude. Kitchen closes at 5. You want to join me for a walk this morning? That’s cool, I’m just going to run while you walk, meet you back at the house for some breakfast rice cakes. I would take my gluten-free/vegan snacks to the public library where I would scour the shelves for books on nutritional healing and then privately, perhaps even secretly, write notes on how this or that nutrient would calm inflammation or detox your kidneys. Then I would take laxatives to “cleanse” my gut. I shit my pants on more than one occasion.

Still, I considered myself a self-educated professional. I filled journals with “study notes” on amino acids, lipids, carbohydrate timing, supplemental nutrition, and metabolic performance.  The idea was that I would become a health coach and help other people find “health”. But ultimately, I was always just looking for more ways to lose even more weight in the crest of my plateau.  While I wanted to lose weight, I was losing everything else: my boyfriend, my friends, my period, my purpose, my sanity! Not to mention, I was hungry ALL THE TIME. And yet, I had this idea in my head that I was going to tout “health” through diet and exercise and charge people money for it.

That was me at my sickest point. I was not only the thinnest I had ever been, but I was pretending like there wasn’t something deep inside me that knew this was not true health.  The doubt crept in like a tiny seedlings’ roots can slip through the loam of the earth. Deep in me, I knew that I was living a lie. Not only that, but I was the silent glue helping to hold together the 66 billion dollar fairy tale narrative of the diet industry! I was so embarrassed.  Where on the outside it looked like I had achieved the fruits that come with discipline, delayed gratification, and self-control, on the inside I was like a house of cards, obsessively protecting the fragile framework of a “healthy” lifestyle.

Now, it’s very possible that some people have followed whatever weight loss endeavor fed to them by mass media to lifelong weight maintenance and overall health. Good for them. But do you ever wonder how many of them are just silencing that little seed of truth in them as they go on counting their macros, miles, lbs, and minutes until their next low-carb meal bar?  How many days have I wasted spinning widdershins over the energy calculations of my body?

The deconstruction of this fortified fiction has been, without doubt, the hardest thing I have ever done. Harder than the days on months on years that I starved myself through restrictive dieting. When I started to feed my body again, it was difficult not to binge every time I ate and within just a few months I had gained all of the weight back and more. I believe this was a necessary part of my process because I had to get through my biggest fear: my fear of getting fat again. But for everyone it will be different. Whatever it is that is bringing you through your recovery, the question looms above all of our heads: Is recovery even possible!?

Maybe you’re still skipping meals, counting calories or waking up with a binge hangover, surrounded by wrappers of those cookies you told yourself you’d never buy again. You keep making promises to yourself that “this is the last time” you’re going to stick your finger down your throat but then you told yourself that last time, didn’t you? You don’t feel like you’ve recovered from this at all because no “normal” person would do these things to themselves.

Yet, here you are, reading this article. You’ve already read over half of this rant not just because it’s relieving to relate to someone else’s experience, but because you more or less agree that the biggest sickness in this whole thing is in our relentless commitment to the myth that weight loss is the answer to all your problems. Perhaps you found out the easy way, by realizing that your perceived body image did not improve with the definition of your triceps. Or maybe you had to find out the hard way when you wound up in the hospital, literally dying to be thin. Either way, you have come to realize that your health and happiness are not built upon things so insufficient as Body Mass Index.

This realization doesn’t suddenly sedate all of the behaviors that you developed in your membership to the “body project”, as habits die hard. I still compulsively count the calories in my breakfast, and I have to work daily to control my urges to overeat. But somewhere in there, there is balance. And as long as I know I am nourishing that seed of inner wisdom, I can let myself flail all over and know that health will find me.

Perhaps it is not so much that we are “recovered” as much as we are “enlightened” by an inner wisdom that has exposed the chaos of our body obsessed culture.  As it is, we cannot “unsee” what has been revealed to us, and we will always be working to find that a healthy relationship with food and body in the same way that we are trying to find balance in all other aspects of our life: in our partnerships, in our careers, in our intimacy, in our bravery to explore our limits and expectations of ourselves in action.

“Recovery” is not something to be attained and held onto like the many diets and protocols we adhered to in our blind search for fitness. It is something you already have. It is in you in every mistake and relapse, in every part of your being and identity as you stumble wildly from one extreme to another. You are more whole than ever, right now, with all your flaws, with all your misjudgments, with all your dirty desires and bumps in the road.  Your body is not perfect, but you love it anyway. Your judgment is not always perfect either, do you have it in your to love it, too?

Emoceans

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I wish I could catalog the disaster out of me.

I’d plunge deep into that churning disorder, erupt with both hands full of problems. I’d unlace them from the seaweed and delicately lay them on the beach. Each item I’d date, label, and dissect. Then I’d see how they like each other. What happens if I breed one with another. How can I pair the yin to yang.

I’d do all this and then the tide would rise again and all the work I’d done would wash away

The Fermentor’s Violet

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Today is an angry day. I’m allowed to have them. So are you. It doesn’t mean I can’t laugh and smile and go on with bored conversations about the routine of it all. The coffee machine gargles its last drips into the pot and I impatiently force another boiled egg into my mouth. There are eggshells on the keyboard. I’m a mess.

Like a serious mess. The kind you find in a master fermentors kitchen… bubbly little experiments in jars all over the counter tops, herbs growing in the window sill, beans and seeds on racks, everything festering, seasoning, becoming. It’s chaos. Some things have been forgotten and have started to form growths on its growths, while others have been too tempting to not touch incessantly.

As is the case for the dying African Violet.

The precious purple pedals were the image ideal. I kept it on the island table for everyone to admire and it was remarkable at first. So striking, in fact, that my chaos went unnoticed, as well as unattended to. All my other beautiful projects, abandoned. And now the violet fades and I am left with a mess that quietly and violently rocks my world.

So I am angry at myself for isolating my attention and care to something that would prefer to be left alone. I am angry because I put so much energy into keeping something beautiful in it’s off season only to watch it become sick and sad. Meanwhile, the wine is sour.

But the jam is sweet! It is time to become the master fermentor. Unscrew the lid to let the other parts of my life breathe and release and spill over. Let it pop and fizz and hiss. It’s a transformation I can’t afford to resist.

 

 

 

She Moves with Wild and Weightless

“I can’t do it!” she cries.

Who is she talking to? To us? To herself? To the hollow space between distant huecos? Another check on my belay device: locked.

“I’m with ya!” I yell, trying to send my focused breath through the taught rope extending from my belay device. Her legs quake and she sends a shiver back down to me. I steady it in my hands. I’m holding her fear, her doubt, her life’s worth of hesitation.

“Breathe,” a grounding voice exhales into the October air, and the wall absorbs all echo.

***

An hour previous, fifteen ladies, mostly strangers, approach the dusty crag and circle between sage and juniper. The agenda is to climb some tacky Smith Rock tuff with the guided assistance from She Moves Mountains. Finally! A day at the crag with just the girls! I am especially excited for the day because the organization Wild and Weightless is co-hosting, and there will undoubtedly be some juicy discussion on body image and how the outdoors can be a healing space, particularly from our perspective as women.

I sit on the dry earth with my elbows propped against my bent knees. I find comfort in the warmth of my down jacket and how it conceals the rolls of belly fat that come together underneath it all. I don’t like this part of my body: don’t like it to be seen, or touched, or thought about. As our guides set up top ropes we share around the circle. I express these painful insecurities. When it all comes cascading out, I have nothing else to say… the silence that lingers behind it is painfully raw.

“Me too,” she says. Relief. I am not alone.

Too big, too small, too tall, too much! Our insecurities pour out like ankle deep scree down the mountainside. The collective heart opens so wide that each woman has more to share about their bodies than we have time to explore. I take a moment to look around at all of these ladies: vulnerable—but confident, brave, and humble. Are these not the qualities that we should take with us on the wall every time we climb?

Feeling powerfully exposed, I slip into my harness. A high wind moves the clouds around until the sun burns through and I confidently remove my puffy. I tie my eight, follow through, and go over the safety checks that our guides have just demonstrated for us. Ready to rock climb! Almost.

I close my eyes. When I step onto the wall I am choosing to expose myself to the unpredictable and undiscriminating playground that Mother Nature provides. Taking a deep inhale, I remind myself of the risk I am subjecting myself to both physically and emotionally. A flush of fear pumps hot blood into my fingertips. I may fall, or worse, be too scared to fall. Everyone will be watching me struggle. I’m afraid my weakness will be a circus show of desperation.

While fear is a powerful presence, I break a smile, remembering that love has brought me here. A crest of gratitude overwhelms all my doubts, and with a style refined by grace and patience, I climb.

I climb like I am weightless: like a vine to the sunshine. My movements are motivated by curiosity to explore the obstacles of the rock specific to my own body. There are no comparisons of body size or appearance, just opportunity to create a unique bond between myself and the wall. That bond grows as the ground gets further away. When I look down at the hollowing space between myself and the ladies below I find myself as naked as ever. It’s a shameless kind of naked.

Sweat leaking through the chalk on my fingertips, I become aware of what real physical insecurity feels like. All of my weight is intricately balancing on the tips of my toes and fingers. Any slip of the foot or lack of judgment could eject me off this rock. Or the rock itself could pop off. My mind’s eye skips to a scene where my foothold tears off its conglomerate to rage into the uncertain arms of gravity alongside all the weight of my blood, muscle, skin, and bone.

I snap back to reality. My anxiety shifts from how my body looks to how it can provide me the strength I need to move up this wall.

A high foot would do here, I think to myself – I may have even said it out loud. At 5’2” I am always looking for the convenience of small crimps and high feet. But I see nothing. I begin a desperate exploration of previously chalked holds. Squeezing a sharp, thin pinch in my left hand, I paw for relief on my right. My elbows chicken wing, I’m losing my grip. Searching helplessly for a way out, I’m losing control.

I look down at my last bolt—it’s a safe fall but still not a comfortable one. I start weighing my options, of which there are only two: I can fall, or I can take an insecure stab at the jug rail just out of reach. One thing I can’t do is stay here, paralyzed by fear, taken by the terror of my own making. I want so badly to have control over my body and every move I make on the wall, but climbing is far more cryptic than that.

I am going to have to trust – that no matter what I look like I will be loved, that if I gain ten pounds I will still be invited and respected. I can only have so much control over my appearance, my diet, what my friends think about me, who I will fall in love with. The magic is in the mystery. I am going to have to go for it and trust the hold is good.

“C’mon!” she calls out, and I punch through the pollution of panic inside me, driving up and out toward the unknown.

This is the moment when a woman comes out of her comfort zone: out of her house, out of her family, out of her mascara, her jewelry, her impossible spanx… There is no confinement for the wild and nasty woman who gives herself openly to the wonder of the mountain. The wall becomes the public sphere for the naked shape to form movement through curious and intimate adventure: the kind of adventure that reestablishes our bodies as a part of the whole, not one that is peeled away to be refined, disguised, and judged.  

“Hell yeah, Sarah!” I hear them celebrating, “Stuck it, girl!”

“Yeeeeehaw!” I explode with laughter and liberation and assess the situation. At this point I’m well above my last bolt—a scary distance, actually. But all the fear has rinsed out of me and I climb the rest of the route liberated from anxiety. I reach the anchors bursting with love. Relaxing into the secure seat of my harness, I know that I am so much more – so much more than a little sister, somebody’s ex girlfriend, or a number on the scale. These are the moments that make everything worthwhile. I have power and purpose and they can be realized through all my doubt and insecurities.

***

As I hold the belay for a woman I only met this morning, I feel as though I have known her my whole life. She is my sister, my mother, my teacher, my child. I know the greener pastures she dreams of and the walls she’s built in front of them.

“I can’t do it!” she calls out again. I sense she is giving up but the ladies beside me won’t have it. I watch as the steady flow of emotional support restores her power, “You can do this! Keep climbing!” they resound.

Resituating her feet ever so slightly, she’s able to reach just a little bit higher, taking just a little more for herself on her journey to be the woman the universe wants her to become. The woman who she wants to become. From fear, through support, she finds the ability to trust the uncertain and move bravely upward and outward.

I am reminded that I am not alone in my fear. The wall I have built to protect the fear in me has only closed me off from opportunities of growth, and today I am tearing that wall down. I want to be vulnerable. I want to challenge fear, climb higher, and feel my body shiver for the thrill of life.

Poetry Snacks – A Passing

The first sentence doesn’t always have to be so enticing. Sure, a perfectly delicious bite – one which probably incorporates a hot/cold combo kind of experience – will certainly keep a readers mouth watering for the next sentence, but sometimes a cook can only slap a meal together at the end of a long day. Then again, sometimes I just come home and snack. Well snack on this:

A long cycle begins to find its way back around as I find myself on my evening walk, it’s Thursday again. I haven’t hacked anything yet. Trash cans and mailboxes, the dog barks in the window. I don’t care about how I look, I’m invisible and buried under two layers of down puff – I’ve tucked myself in for the night to be alone with my thoughts.

My breath follows my tempo’d steps which syncs seldomly and reminds me of a song I was obsessed with right after I graduated from college.  The texture of the rhythm and melody so sweet it’s almost silent – a beat that carried me on a long road through the Colorado Rockies. And yet I’m back in Oregon among Ponderosa pines incessant, turning blocks anonymously. I’m the unfamiliar face here. This is not my home.

I step out into the road to cross it. What’s this? Running perpendicular to the road are two cracks. Like a bridge on fire, the cracks are lit with freshly picked dandelion heads, guiding me across. Both cracks stuffed so full of weed blossom a driver mistakes it for a speed bump, breaks for momentary intrigue, then rolls over it leaving a few yellow heads to flee after it only half heartedly. Unnoticed, like a tumbleweed through a forgotten Nevada highway.

So it goes that no one notices me step out to cross a bridge laced with the notoriously invasive lawn weed – the same weed that is held as a holy detoxifier of the liver and kidneys. I let the path cleanse my past sense of unease and the grip of dissatisfaction I’ve held for the Oregon high desert. Arriving on the other side of the road I begin to giggle and I look around to see if anyone notices me now. I’m imagining a young girl with curly blond hair watching me from her window while cuddled on the couch with her cat. Did she lay the pedals for my safe arrival back in this uncertain place?

I let myself be seen here in my new state of purity and then walked home refreshed. This place can be anything now: a home, a vacation, a purgatory, a transition, a revelation in process. Whatever it is, I left my baggage on the other side of the pissenlit bridge where the buds have since wilted. Homeward bound, wherever that may be.