Ever since I was a little girl, I have loved the outdoors. The house I lived in growing up had a big backyard that stretched out to a lake. The summers were spent waterskiing and inner tubing. The winters were filled with ice skating and sledding. Spring was for gardening, and Fall was dedicated to jumping in leaf piles. It was an ideal place for someone who loved to be outside.
My parents always love to tell the story about how I went "missing" when I was three years old. I was in the middle of a bath, and my mom stepped away from the tub for a moment. When she returned, I was no where to be found.
She recruited my Dad, asking if he'd seen me. He said he hadn't, and they searched the house frantically. Eventually, they turned their efforts to the backyard, where they were terrified they'd find me at the bottom of the lake.
Luckily, they soon found I wasn't at the bottom of the lake. I was, however, borrowing my neighbors tricycle naked. It's all laughs now, but it goes to show that even at three years old, I couldn't resist being outside.
As I got older, my love for the outdoors only expanded. It grew in different directions, too. As a teenager, I'd spend all night sitting out on my dock with a blanket, gazing up at the stars and philosophizing about life. The stillness of the lake and the quietness of the town allowed my soul to rest.
My captivation with nature always stayed with me. I chose a university two hours north of my hometown that was known for beautiful scenery and breathtaking hiking trails. In between classes, I'd find a way to explore new areas, and eventually, they became familiar.
When I studied abroad in Salamanca, Spain, a small city with beautiful architecture and exhibitions, I didn't think twice about the fact that my favorite place in town had become the park next to where I was staying. I just felt like I belonged there.
Even though there were a thousand museums I could visit or cafes I could dine at, I was more than content sitting in a park and watching the birds make nests above me. I was fascinated by all of the different flowers and how they all mixed together to make the sweetest scent. Almost everyday after class I went to that park to clear my head.
I moved back home, and it became a little trickier to find hiking spots that didn't require long drives. Fast forward to moving to DC without a car, and it became even more challenging.
When I started my masters program, time seemed to slip away from me. Juggling intensive school work with a 30 hours work week left little room to explore. During the times I was free, I was usually exhausted, or drinking.
I was working hard towards something, yes. But I also felt disconnected. I felt disconnected from myself and from life as a whole. That's probably one of the reasons that I filled my free time with vodka shots and poor decisions instead of hiking boots and fresh air.
When I quit drinking, I became aware how my free time was pretty much always spent drinking. It dawned on me that I used to have hobbies before drinking started to consume my life. I just had to remember what they were.
Intrinsically, I always knew that I loved being outside. I didn't automatically pick up where I left off, though. I stumbled upon this truth by pure happenstance.
On one of my days off, I decided to walk to a park that was ten minutes from my apartment to read. Walking up the narrow DC sidewalks, feeling the crisp air on the back of my neck made me feel at ease. I allowed my mind to wander peacefully.
I sat on a bench and allowed my bare feet to become grounded in the soft grass. I read for a few hours, feeling more calm than I had in months. When I decided to head home, I looked up and saw the most beautiful sunset unraveling right before my eyes.
Truth be told, the sunset wasn't actually the most beautiful that I had ever seen. Far from it. But the easter pink color swirled among the thin clouds made me feel a gratitude so deep I started to cry.
This was the first time sober that I started to feel the magic of being alive again. I started feeling my emotions come back to me. Suddenly, ordinary things became beautiful. I wasn't numb anymore.
This is what nature has always done for me. It reminds me that it is a gift to be walking on this earth. I am part of the whole. It is a beautiful thing to be alive.
A few months later, my boyfriend and I took a roadtrip up the east coast. We did some city exploring in New York, but my favorite parts by far were when we went camping in Maine, and hiking in New Hampshire. It was in those times that I felt the most connected, grounded, empowered, creative, and alive. It was in those times that I felt like my true self.
Sometimes it's easy to forget the healing nature of the great outdoors. There are times where I go far too long without taking a nice long hike in the woods. After I graduated, I definitely wasn't getting outside enough. I was working a crappy remote position staring at a screen all day. And man, did I feel exhausted.
Luckily enough, I got out of that soul sucking job, and decided to spend my summer enjoying myself. I made a bucket list of things to do, and surprise surprise, the list was filled with different hiking trails. This past week, I've explored two different areas and feel completely rejuvenated.
When I spend time outside, I feel more connected to myself and my partner. It never fails to amaze me how much closer I feel to my boyfriend after some time spent between the trees.
Nature has always played an important role in my life. The more time I spend outside the more alive I feel. It also has taught me that it's okay to get lost sometimes.
About a month ago, I attended a fire ceremony with the intention to release past hurt. Three holistic healers began the ceremony by calling upon the spirit animals, the earth, the sky, and our hearts. Then, we took turns letting go of what we needed to release into the fire.
After the ceremony, I felt internally calm. Even though it was humid, the air felt lighter. One of the holistic healers approached me, and informed me that she sensed I was very much connected to the stars. Even though I couldn't see what she saw, deep inside I felt it. Everything started to connect.
All throughout my life, I have been drawn towards the stars. At 16, I stared at the stars throughout all hours of the night. At 20, I found my favorite painting in a Spanish museum of a man laying on a planet stargazing. At 23, when I dove into my consciousness in a float tank, I found myself amongst the stars.
Here's the thing: The stars aren't as far away as we believe. Stars are within each of us, and we carry their magic with us wherever we go.
The beautiful thing is that Mother Nature isn't going anywhere. No matter how far you stray from yourself, she will be there waiting patiently.
When I got sober, it was Mother Nature that saved me. The smooth rocks grounded me. The tall trees humbled me. The flowing water moved me. The lively animals awakened me. The shimmering stars welcomed me.
If I had one piece of advice for someone who is getting sober, I would tell them to take a hike. Out of love, of course. Even if you don't like nature, it has something to teach you. All you have to do is listen.