“What if I forgave myself? I thought. What if I forgave myself even though I’d done something I shouldn’t have? What if I was a liar and a cheat and there was no excuse for what I’d done other than because it was what I wanted and needed to do? What if I was sorry, but if I could go back in time I wouldn’t do anything differently than I had done? What if I’d actually wanted to f*ck every one of those men? What if heroin taught me something? What if yes was the right answer instead of no? What if what made me do all those things everyone thought I shouldn’t have done was what also had got me here? What if I was never redeemed? What if I already was?” ~ Cheryl Strayed, Wild
To the woman trying to find herself.
This is for the woman trying to find herself when there is no trail to hike. When you do not have 1,100 endless miles stretched out in front of you; when you do not have 94 days of solitude to lose yourself in. When you do not have nature in all her wildness and beauty to soothe and heal your fragile soul.
To the woman trying to find herself somewhere amidst work, family, and other responsibilities. Somewhere between the 6 a.m. alarm and the late-night crawl into bed—exhausted once again.
Somewhere in the lonely hours of the night when your mind moves too fast, the minutes too slow. Somewhere in the hustle of each day when you are captured by a fleeting beam of sunlight upon skin or the evanescence of sea breeze upon warm summer air or the breath of wind as it stirs the crest of pine trees above your head and you know you are being called back to yourself, but cannot get there. We can never get there—it seems.
To you, dear woman, who is lost and without a trail to find your way home. I know what it means to be lost. Lost somewhere in the middle of the woman you once were and the one you are yet to become.
To long for a wilderness that is not yours to have; to be challenged, stretched, and broken. To ache for a pilgrimage or just for a holy moment that defines you—heals you and transforms you.
To yearn to break free from the smallness of this pedestrian life; to lose yourself amongst something so much bigger than you will ever be. To scream anger and rage to mountaintops that will embrace you with their solidness. To weep bitter tears of grief upon rivers that will carry your pain out to the ocean. To leave behind years of regret and sadness on dust-blown paths and feel yourself become lighter as each step widens the distance from you and the pain you no longer need to hold.
Dear woman, I know you do not have a trail to hike. Neither do I. But this is what I do know. We must learn to heal inside the lives we have. We must learn to go deeper—not wider.
We must find stillness in the busyness of our lives and learn to sit in that stillness. To lean into our emotions, acknowledge them, feel them, and process them. We must, at times, be selfish—to covet time for ourselves when we can turn inward and reflect and meditate on what the universe is wanting to teach us and not allow that time to be snatched away by the demands of life and others.
It’s not easy to do the inner work without a trail to hike, without weeks or months of solitude away from our everyday lives. Most of us will never have such a holy pilgrimage.
But what if everything we have lived—all our seemingly wrong choices, our mistakes, our regrets—what if they have been our trail? What if they have always been everything we have ever needed to find the truest version of ourselves?
What if I was never redeemed? What if I already was?
What I know now is the journey back to ourselves is the same, whether found on an endless hike or curled up on the bathroom floor at 2 a.m. It’s forgiveness and grace for who we have been and the things we have done.
It’s letting go of the shame that shackles us to our past selves and living in the freedom of our messy, beautiful humanness. It’s accepting we will always be a little bit broken and loving ourselves all the more because of that.
But mostly, dear woman, it’s about knowing our redemption was never about needing to be saved—but needing to be found.
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