Why Quitting Alcohol During a Pandemic Led Me to the PCT
It’s 2016. I’ve just completed my first two backpacking trips ever, including an unreal excursion along the PCT in the North Cascades, camping at remote alpine lakes and watching the sun set over the jagged peaks.
I’m also hooked on the rollercoaster ride of an emotionally immature and, at times, abusive relationship. This ex-partner is not a bad person, far from it, but we were not good for one another, leading to a twisted tangle of trauma, hurt and damage that would take years to unwind. She showed me the beauty and magic of being out in the remote wilderness, but I had to rectify that with the feelings of inadequacy and unworthiness that were frequently brought to the surface during our time together.
Not feeling safe or secure, I began using alcohol to find intimacy within this emotionally-fraught relationship, coping with my inability to be vulnerable or share my truth by quite literally drowning this voice with alcohol.
When our relationship ended a year later, I was raw, frayed nerves, forced off my antidepressants, working night shifts, and attempting to rebalance my life.
Trying to rebuild my community, I found friends that were just discovering their love of the outdoors too, and we began filling our summers with backpacking trips all over the state, including hiking almost the entirety of the PCT in Washington in sections.
But through all this, I had found a truth and a lie:
- The outdoors are where I am happiest and where I belong.
- Intimacy cannot be achieved without alcohol.
It’s July 13th, 2020. We are four months into a global pandemic. While we are past the initial Tiger King-sourdough-we get to stay home-phase of the pandemic, it hasn’t yet reached the gloomy cynicism of working another seemingly unending wave of Omicron-Delta-whathaveyou at the hospital. I am in another relationship with another good person, but again riding the overwhelming wave of incompatibility and a dying partnership.
It wasn’t until this morning that it occurred to me that alcohol was putting a wall between me and those I craved intimacy from the most. It turns out that blacking out is not a sustainable form of communication, and an adult relationship cannot be built on a foundation of half-truths, broken promises and meager attempts to “be better.”
On this morning, I wake up early, my head spinning, my mouth full of cotton, and an empty space in the bed next to me. My heart races as I look through my phone for any texts I would regret. My first search finds none, but the cold pillow next to me tells me a different story.
I rush out the door to meet my good friend for a planned hike. Bile rises in my throat as we ascend the steep trail, both from the physical exertion and from knowing that my relationship is most likely over. As we crest the top of the small summit, I look out over the expanse before me and begin wondering what’s next. The tightness in my chest and the sinking feeling in my gut tell me a turning point is coming, and I can’t help but notice that this revelation comes to me on the top of a mountain. I vow to never touch alcohol again.
Now here I sit, three days away from my start date at the southern terminus in Campo, snuggled between my two fur babies. I am almost 21 months free of alcohol, not having touched a drop since that fateful day in July of 2020. While the scars and hurt from past trauma are still part of me, they are a smaller part, my heart and mind healing every day. I understand vulnerability now, and the true gift of living life unaltered. I have been able to ask for help, to say no to people and things that I don’t need, and set boundaries that keep me healthy.
Most importantly, my body and mind are ready for the challenge of walking 2,650 miles. I have faced some truly scary demons and reached into dark parts of my past experience that have haunted me for years. Enduring the journey of living alcohol-free has prepared me in a unique way for taking on the trials and tribulations of a thru hike. I have learned that I am strong, I am capable, and I am enough for whatever comes my way.
I hope that by being transparent and vulnerable I can inspire others to start their own journey, whatever that means to them. I hope that you see a strong, independent woman setting out on her own but with the strength and support of the hundreds she calls her community.
Let’s go on this journey together.
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