Masks

By Megan Christensen

It was May of 2015 and I was in the midst of what I refer to as my dark night of the soul. I was homeless and living out of a tent in the mountains of Colorado above 9,300 feet in elevation. Making my decision to be homeless in the mountains was an easy one because without a rent payment I had more money for booze. It was a difficult lifestyle, but I justified it by telling myself I was ‘camping’ to ‘save money.’ I had yet to see my lifestyle for what it truly was. This particular morning I awoke to the sound of the ravens calling out to one another as the sunlight streamed in through the pines, illuminating my nylon home a golden hue. I remained cinched in my warm sleeping bag as I listened to the sound of Mineral Creek rushing by in all its late spring runoff surge, the powerful current of the water tumbling stones beneath its surface. I felt my head begin to throb in the oncoming of what I knew would be a massive hangover, followed surely by panic if I didn’t get another drink in me soon.

A faint memory just out of reach, but on the tip of my consciousness caused me to bolt upright in my sleeping bag, that familiar feeling of fear returning for a split second and serving as a reminder of what transpired during the night. Was it a dream? I wondered. I pondered hard for a moment as the details began to come back to me. Then in my peripheral vision I noticed a narrow stream of light coming through my tent with dust particles dancing in its ambiance. I slowly turned towards it as the reality of the memory hit me hard and I caught my breath. There was the hole, an exposure in my tent decorated by a thin and flimsy flap of nylon hanging down, providing proof of bear breach. It wasn’t a dream. A bear attempted to get into my tent last night and I had punched it repeatedly through the nylon to scare it off. Its claw left a hole in my tent, meaning I now needed to find a new tent for shelter. I shook my head, partly in disbelief of the event, and partly in stupidity of passing out with toothpaste in my tent and whiskey seeping from my pores.

I checked the time on my phone: 8:45 am. Shit, I thought. That meant I had a good couple of hours until the only liquor store in town opened at 11, which also meant that hard booze was currently out of the question. I would have to settle for bottled beer from the market to hold me over, and that didn’t calm the shakes like the hard stuff. A shot of whiskey was what I needed because I was trembling as the booze was leaving my system, and I could feel that dark terror begin to seep up from deep in my belly where my demons lay waiting.

A cool breeze sweeping through the pines made me shiver. It was still chilly up here in the mountains, with winter still lingering ever so closely, reluctant to release its cold grip and icy fingertips from this neck of the woods. I washed my face in the creek, brushed my teeth, and changed into fresh clothes, all while trying my best to subdue the leering panic that was growing stronger with every sober breath I took.

I hopped in my Jeep and steered it east towards town where I pulled it into the market on the corner. I grabbed a basket and put in my usual: espresso coconut water and a Luna bar, then reluctantly made my way to the back of the store, past the camping essentials, canned foods, and toiletries, to the cooler. I scoped out the selection. Luckily this was Colorado so I wouldn’t have to settle for 3/2 beer, and I chose the six pack with the highest alcohol content. I paced up and down the aisles, pretending to be interested in other products I had absolutely no interest in because I was too scared to be seen purchasing beer so early. Finally and with hesitation, I made my way towards the front of the store to the clerks. They were nice women, but as usual, I avoided eye contact and tried to not breathe too much for fear that they would smell booze still on my breath and person from the night before. Toothpaste can only do so much when this is your lifestyle. The fact that I was purchasing beer at 9 am didn’t help my defenses either. If they disapproved, they kept it to themselves as I thanked them and walked back out into the sunlight, already feeling better that I had something to calm the jitters.

I climbed back into my Jeep and drove a couple blocks up to the hostel, where I usually stopped to shower and clean up in the mornings. I hurriedly parked and made my way to the bathroom with my backpack in tow, as I gently closed the door behind me as to not wake any of the weary travelers who slept behind the doors scattered throughout the long hallway. I quietly pulled a bottled beer out of my pack and turned on the shower so no one would hear me crack the cap with a lighter. I quickly downed the first one and opened a second. Halfway through this beer I could finally feel the panic receding back down to my belly where it would lay dormant until the next time. With a sigh of relief as the alcohol entered my bloodstream, I stripped down and climbed into the shower as goosebumps emerged on my skin where the steamy water made contact. I loved this part of the day. It was the only time of day when the chill would leave my bones.

As the water poured over my body and I began to defrost, my thoughts began to wander. I tried to suppress the old memories, but they crept up from the back of my mind where I did my best to close them off. They were strong-willed and relentless, or perhaps I was just weak. I didn’t want to think about them, yet there they were, their darkness taking over the warm sensation of the shower, over-powering the steamy comfort, and once again that bone chill shot up my spine, making me shiver.

My mind drifted back to the boat. I hadn’t allowed myself to process any of what happened over the course of the last several months, and I didn’t plan to. I hated myself. I hated what I put myself through. I hated the things that happened. I hated who I had become. I was disgusted with myself and ashamed of my existence. I took another gulp of beer, trying to drown the memories that were now climbing, scratching their way to the surface of my consciousness. No, I thought, as I downed the rest of the second beer. Still, a flashback of a man driving me in a tuk tuk on my way to the airport in Colombo, Sri Lanka. The taste of Arrack rum lingering in my mouth. A suspicious gleam in his eye. A detour. A flash of crinkled newspaper. The humid air and feeling so close, but still so far from my destination. The feelings of hopelessness and shame, always shame.

I shook the memory from my head, cracked a third beer, and finished rinsing my hair. I sat down on the shower floor under the stream of hot water, wishing I could remain under it’s comforting flow all day. I wanted to lose my form and sink in through the tiles, following the trail of water beneath the ground and curl up into a warm ball where I could hide and remain out of sight and out of mind. I wished the water would wash away all of my bad memories, sins, and pain. I wished it were possible. I shivered and tried to think of something else. A happier time. A time before I was a drunk, before I felt hopeless and ashamed of who I had become. I held my knees to my chest and wondered how my actions had led me to such a desperate lifestyle.

I’d had a happy childhood. I have fond memories with my family growing up in Texas. I played sports, received good grades, and made honor-roll. I didn’t get in trouble much, aside from the typical sibling rivalry with my younger brother. I was a pretty good kid. But I’d always had an affliction for sugar. I used to steal the maple syrup bottle from the pantry and sneak off to the laundry room where I would chug it behind a closed door. It always made me sick, but that didn’t keep me from going back for more. I suppose that was the first red flag. I didn’t start drinking alcohol until we moved from the suburbs of San Antonio, Texas to the mountains of Durango, Colorado when I was a sophomore in high school. I figured out pretty quickly that the easiest way to make new friends in this small, college ski town was to party.

The first time I got drunk was also the first time I blacked out. I didn’t know this wasn’t normal because it became a normal occurrence for me. I had never cared to learn my limits and I never set boundaries. Throughout high school I partied on the weekends. I would have partied during the week if I could, but my parents kept me under a close eye. I recall a memory of sneaking vodka from their alcohol cabinet while they were at church one Sunday morning. I poured some in a cup and took it downstairs to drink as I soaked in the hot tub. I was drunk-dialing my friends by 11am. When my parents got home, my father somehow figured it out. He always seemed to know everything. I later learned that my father had positioned the bottles a certain way in the cabinet, so that he would know if I’d gotten into them. I became extra stealthy after that and developed a strong attention to detail.

In my junior year of high school, my parents kicked me out of the house after they found my ganja pipe in my purse. During that time I couch-surfed between my boyfriend’s house and my friend’s houses. I stopped ditching class and I didn’t miss a single shift at work. I had more motivation because I had more freedom. However, I was also able to party without consequence and I took advantage of that fact. Eventually, my parents allowed me to come back home after a few weeks, but things were rocky and it took a long time for us to recover from the damage that was done. I was still grounded most of the time, so I spent my free time hiking down to the river a couple miles from our house, while listening to either Led Zeppelin or the Garden State soundtrack. Later that same year, I was expelled after getting caught with a pint of whiskey in my purse at school before the first bell of the day rang. I appealed to the school the following year to allow me to come back and finish out my senior year. They accepted and I graduated early in 2007. After I completed my credits, I took off for Mexico to sea kayak around the Baja Peninsula. It was then that I fell in love with the pursuit of adventure and I decided that I would major in Adventure Education in college.

I entered college in the fall of 2007 and I began to party every night. I figured everyone did. What everyone didn’t do, however, was black out every night. Even though my drinking was problematic to say the least, I didn’t want to stop. Despite the consequences of black-outs, hangovers, disappointment, shame, guilt, and regret, I kept drinking. I made it through my freshman year and took some time off.

In the summer of 2008, I obtained my river guide certification and began guiding rivers around the southwest. I spent most of my days taking tourists down the Animas River and I spent my nights drinking whiskey in the downtown bars using my fake ID. I pitched a tent in my friends’ backyard that summer to avoid paying rent in town. Several weeks into the river season, I was invited on an overnight trip to run the Upper Animas. Because I was a rookie, this invitation was an honor, as well as meaningful because it was the same section of river I frequently hiked to in highschool. I had spent many days on that river bank basking in the sun and reading books. However, I wasn’t guiding this section of river because it was big water with class IV and V rapids, which was well beyond my experience of rowing class III; I was merely a grateful passenger along for the ride.

On the first day of the trip, my initiation was to jump off a bridge into a large eddy below. I’ve never been one to back down from a challenge or dare, so I jumped. I hit the current at an awkward angle and water proceeded to rush into my ear. I later developed a massive earache and was down for the count. After a couple hours of agony, a friend gave me a pill to help with the pain. It worked like a charm and I immediately began drinking with everyone else around the campfire. It didn’t cross my mind that mixing pills and booze was a bad idea. Needless to say, I blacked out and woke up the next morning with that all-too-familiar deep sense of shame weighing me down. I just knew I had made a fool of myself, but I didn’t know how. I then learned that in my drunken state I had said many disrespectful things to my fellow guides in the presence of the guests. Upon learning this, I spent the whole day apologizing profusely and individually to every person on the trip. Somehow I didn’t get fired, but I was in the dog house for the majority of the summer. In hopes of making up for my disrespectful and unprofessional behavior, I spent all of my free time in the boat barn cleaning and completing the gritty tasks no one else wanted to do. My efforts paid off and I finished out the season on good terms. It took months for me to repair the damage I had done in one night.

When the river season was up and summer came to an end, I joined a saw crew with the local conservation corps. I spent my days running a chainsaw and my nights out drinking way too late. During a particularly rough hangover a friend on my crew gave me an Adderall. I discovered that Adderall was an excellent cure for hangovers and not only gave me a great deal of energy to run the saw, but it also improved my precision with pie cuts. Luckily, this was only temporary. I found myself in the doctor’s office one day, while pretending that I had terrible anxiety in order to get my own Adderall prescription. I was jiggling my leg, twiddling my thumbs, and averting my eyes in order to further support my story. As the doctor left the room to write me a prescription, the cold reality of what I was doing hit me hard. What the hell is wrong with me? I thought, as I gathered my things and left before the doctor returned. I stopped taking Adderall after that, but I continued to drink and suffer through the hangovers.

As winter approached and our crew completed our final hitch, I packed up my car and headed south for Patagonia, Arizona, a tiny town a few miles north of Nogales. My older brother was there and I figured I could have a fresh start that didn’t involve alcohol. I continued to drink, just not as much. I worked for free at a local rejuvenation center in exchange for raw vegan meals and evening meditations in the temple on the hill. I lived out of a hippie van in front of a police station. Occasionally, the cops, who were basically my neighbors, would check in on me. They also liked to give me a good scare by flashing their lights and roaring their sirens as they pulled up just to see me jump. I spent these days longboarding around town and listening to Mark Knopfler. I drank from young coconuts and rolled tobacco cigarettes. Life was good, but eventually my desire to drink became stronger. Occasionally, I would cross the border into Mexico for tequila because I wasn’t yet old enough to drink stateside, and my fake ID had been pulled months before. Mexico was only about a twenty minute drive and I thought of it as a little adventure.

One day as I was driving through Nogales, I saw a couple my age thumbing a ride in the direction I was headed. I tried to pull over, but I couldn’t get to the right lane in time. A couple hours after I arrived back in Patagonia I spotted them on a bench in front of my favorite coffee shop. “You guys made it!” I exclaimed. I sat next to them and we became friends. The duo planned on sticking around for a while. That night we partied together and I asked to hear their stories of being on the road, as it was something I always wanted to do. I knew their stories were planting seeds and I watered them, wanting them to grow.

A couple months later they broke up. The guy was pretty torn up about it and I decided we both needed an adventure, as did another buddy of mine. We set plans in motion to hit the road. I put in my notice at the raw food company I was working for at the time, and I then sold most of my belongings. As I lived out of a van, I didn’t have much. Within a couple weeks, we had our thumbs out on the highway with packs on our backs and our sights set on California.

I spent the next couple months traveling across the U.S. by thumb. Although our trio split up a couple times during our travels, I was always with one of my male friends, with the exception of a few days. I began the trip with some money in my pocket, but when that ran out I flew signs on the street for change and washed restaurant windows in exchange for meals. Some of the money I was given went towards food, but most of it went towards whiskey. I was honest about it, too. I flew a sign on State Street in Santa Barbara that read, “Support our whiskey right for a frisky night,” and that sign made us more money than any of the other signs we made. I felt free and liberated. I could drink as much as I wanted when I wanted, and I didn’t have to worry about the opinions of other people. I was living on the street, so no one cared. It came with the territory.

After several weeks of traveling up and down the California coast, my friend and I decided to head east. We hitchhiked to Tennessee and snuck into the Bonnaroo Festival. Bruce Springsteen headlined that summer and I had the opportunity to see Ben Harper and Andrew Bird live. I saw this as the grand finale to my time on the road. I was tired and weary after sleeping on the streets for weeks. I returned to Arizona with the same belongings I set out with, along with an additional one I had hoped to leave behind long ago: my drinking problem, which was now beginning to take the form of alcoholism.

I spent a couple more months in the desert before returning to Colorado to resume my college education. In the summer of 2010 I ventured up to Alaska to work for a nonprofit as a raft guide on the Copper River. I drank wine almost every night during my internship up there. I was immersed in Alaska’s vast wilderness, this wild, pristine land mostly untouched by man, and I was preoccupied by alcohol. That’s not to say I didn’t take it all in and appreciate my surroundings, as I certainly had my moments of complete awe and appreciation. However, I was usually anticipating making camp in the evenings so I could indulge in a bag of wine, which ultimately led to some pretty foolish decisions. Like passing out with a mango inside my tent in the middle of Kodiak bear country. We had curious bears come into our camp, but luckily not that night. I also drunkenly set up my tent in a wash, where with enough rain, I could have been flooded out and into the river that was moving at 500,000 cubic feet of water per second. In addition, I forgot to put up my tent’s rain fly on a few occasions and woke up in puddles. I learned the hard way it’s extremely difficult and nearly impossible to dry out gear in freezing temps and constant rain while camping amongst glaciers. It’s a miracle I wasn’t nominated for the Darwin Awards that summer. These are just some examples of how irresponsible I was with booze and how it interfered with my ability to take care of myself, be present, and fully appreciate my surroundings without the filter of alcohol. I have wonderful memories from this trip, however, many of them are tainted by too much drinking.

After that summer I returned to Colorado to pick up my studies. I was drinking more and more. On my days off I spent my time mobbing around town on my longboard day drinking. On more than one occasion, I wound up home hours later with bruises and scratches on my body from a wipeout. While I preferred to commute with my longboard or bike while I was drinking, occasionally I would make the extremely poor decision of getting behind the wheel. One night in early 2011 I was pulled over and got a DUI, which had only been a matter of time. I spent two weeks in jail and years on probation. But even this didn’t stop me from drinking.

I went through a particularly rough breakup in early 2012 with someone I had been with for years, which propelled me into discovering a new coping mechanism: bulimia. I found that even if I couldn’t control what was happening around me, I could control my weight. I had struggled immensely with body image for a long time. When I discovered bulimia it felt like the answer to my problems, at least at first.

It’s estimated that approximately 11 million men and women struggle with an eating disorder in the U.S. Even though it’s unfortunately fairly common, I still kept my eating disorder to myself and I went to great lengths to hide it. I was ashamed. I had no balance in my life as I swung from one extreme to the other. Binge eating and purging. Binge drinking and blacking out. I had no grey area. I was glutinous, wasteful, wasted, and disgusted with myself, which only fueled these behaviors even more. Just like drinking, bulimia is a vicious cycle. Bulimia gave me a false sense of security and sense of control during a time in my life when I had none. Purging was a release. I felt immense relief and emptiness afterwards. I wanted to hold onto that feeling. In addition, it was painful. It was a mild punishment for my addictions and habits that I felt I deserved. I used bulimia as a mechanism for self-harm and a way to further validate the feelings of emptiness I felt inside. This pattern continued for years.

The breakup also launched me into action. Breakups and heartbreak tend to be excellent motivators, and this one encouraged me to pursue a new adventure. I moved to Sedona, Arizona with the same hopes I’d had for Patagonia. Maybe all I needed was a change of scenery and a new environment in which I could leave my addiction behind and cultivate a new way of life. Maybe I would stop drinking. Maybe I would stop purging. What I had yet to realize is that wherever I go, there I am.

My time in Sedona was sweet. I worked at another rejuvenation center and was accepted into a tribe of amazing people that remain my tribe today. However, I continued to drink and I continued to purge. Several months later I fell in love and I moved back to Colorado to nurture the relationship, although I still wasn’t nurturing myself. I think part of me hoped this new love would repair my broken pieces and make me whole again. He wasn’t aware of my struggles because I went to great lengths to hide them. He was in love with my masks. Regardless, I projected my shadows onto him and we later decided to go our separate ways. The thing is, it’s difficult to truly love another until we learn to love ourselves.

After we broke up in the summer of 2013, I went on a sentimental road trip with my mother. We went north through Yellowstone, Grand Tetons, and Glacier National Park. We stopped to visit my best friend in Colorado Springs along the way, and I decided that town was as good as any to plant new roots in. I packed up my jeep and moved there a few weeks later.

A couple weeks after my move, on October 6, 2013, everything changed. My friend and I were driving back to Colorado Springs from Manitou Springs where we had attended a friend’s ayurvedic class. She was driving and I was in the passenger seat looking out of the window at the highway flying by. My head was still pounding from a hangover when my phone rang. I answered to hear my mother’s distressed voice.

“Megan. Are you sitting down?”

Pause. “Yes. We’re driving. Why?”

“Are you driving?”

“No. What’s going on?”

“Trudy. Your sister… Trudy killed herself last night.”

I don’t remember what I said after that. Everything became a blur as I hung up the phone. I couldn’t believe it. I was in shock. My sister was dead.

When my friend and I arrived back to her parent’s house I went downstairs to my room and sat on my bed. I stared at the floor. I didn’t feel much. I remember trying to feel. Wanting to feel. But I was numb. I wanted a drink. I wanted ten drinks. Never mind that Trudy was an alcoholic. Never mind that she had relapsed and loaded an antique rifle while her partner was away on an Al-Anon trip. Never mind that she had left behind an empty bottle of wine and a note that said, “I just can’t do it anymore.”

I went out and got drunk to avoid grieving the loss of my sister who just lost her battle with alcoholism. This solidified a new pattern for me. I wanted to stay drunk, so I continued drinking the next morning. This certainly wasn’t my first time drinking in the morning, but after this day it became more of a habit. I didn’t want to feel. I didn’t want to deal with emotions. I just wanted to stay numb and bask in a false sense of temporary contentment.

Understandably, my best friend became worried about me. She could smell booze on my breath first thing in the morning most days and I was causing tension in the house. She also discovered my other secret, bulimia. One morning, after a particularly rough night, she brought me tea and told me she had phoned my parents and expressed her concerns. I was relieved. I didn’t know what I was doing and every day seemed to weigh on me more. I spoke with my mother and she told me that she and my older brother had made arrangements for me to enter a rehab program in Sedona. I closed my eyes and imagined the desert sun on my face and I smiled at the thought of being immersed in the cleansing red rocks once again. My spirits lifted and I had hope. I packed my bags and drove back out into the desert.

I was in rehab for about six weeks. It was a great program, but a few weeks later I relapsed. Looking back, I know I relapsed because I wasn’t yet pursuing recovery for myself, I was pursuing it for others. I hadn’t yet wanted it enough. I knew I had burdened my loved ones and I wanted to show them I was willing to change, but I wasn’t yet willing to change for myself. I hadn’t yet reached a point of desperation. I hadn’t yet reached rock bottom. Following my relapse, I reverted back to my old patterns and picked up right where I left off. I put alcohol before everything else in my life. I was drinking every night and some mornings. I was purging every meal. I was sick.

A few months after Trudy passed I began sitting in sweat lodges with a group of people in Sedona. I had hoped that sweating out toxins and integrating more ceremony into my life would help me to get better. But my desire to drink continued to overpower my efforts to the contrary. After a few weeks of sitting in sweat lodges, I was invited to a tipi meeting to sit in ceremony with peyote.

I showed up to the meeting clear-headed and with hopes that the medicine would help me to heal. The sun was setting and the air was growing cold as we all gathered in a large tipi out in the desert and sat in a circle around a fire. As the medicine was being passed around, the “chief” leading the ceremony joked, “Take some when it comes around, and take more when nobody’s looking.” And so I did. I drank the peyote tea and ate the powder. There was no limit on how much to have. And I had too much, although others would say I had just enough. We were encouraged to purge when we felt the need to in order to “get well” and release within us that which wanted to be released, but I held it in and fought the urge. As a result, my stomach churned and I grew incredibly nauseous. What insight I gained was tainted and clouded by pain. We were encouraged to sit up for the entire ceremony so that we could show up to the medicine, greet the medicine, and be more present. This meant that laying down was out of the question. All night I sat like that, rocking in pain as I watched the moon traverse across the sky through the hole at the top of the tipi. All around me drums were beating and songs were being sung, as coyotes howled in the distance and the fire continued to burn. I was freezing and the fire was in the center of the tipi and far enough away that I didn’t feel the warmth. I could see my breath and I focused on my breathing, willing morning to come. It was the longest night of my life up until that point. The sky turned from black to navy to shades of light blue and I began to feel as if I were truly awakening to a new day.

As the sky lightened, so did my spirit. To my great relief the ceremony came to a close and I walked outside and turned my face towards the sun. The warmth permeated my entire body straight to my core. I took a deep breath and walked to the top of a hill. There I sat with my eyes closed, taking it all in. When I opened my eyes, my gaze landed on a stone at my feet. I picked it up to study the rock and my heart stopped when I realized the natural pattern of the stone’s grooves. It looked as if an angel were etched into the surface. Deep down, I knew this was a sign from Trudy. She was still with me and looking over me. Immense gratitude washed through me and I knew that despite what lied ahead in my journey, I would be okay.

It was now early 2014. I continued to sit in tipi ceremonies and work with peyote whenever I was invited. Although I gained a great deal of insight, my negative patterns remained the same. However, through medicine work I caught a glimpse of what was possible. I caught a glimpse of my potential and who I could become, and I caught a glimpse of who I’ve been all along. I caught a glimpse of my true self. I moved back to the rejuvenation center just outside of Sedona that I had lived and worked at a couple years before. My tribe welcomed me with open arms, even knowing my past and present state. These wonderful people were like family to me and had seen me through thick and thin.

I managed to stay sober for a while, but eventually I began drinking again. I drank every single night and most mornings as well. The months went by in a blur. I began to suffer from insomnia and my anxiety levels were increasing. I started having anxiety attacks and simple tasks were getting more difficult to focus on. I developed a physical dependency on alcohol. I began shaking so badly I couldn’t hold a drink steady enough to bring to my lips. My addiction was progressing at an alarming rate.

I continued this way until summer arrived and I was invited deep into the heart of the Peruvian rainforest to be part of a series of plant medicine documentaries. The intention behind the making of the documentary series was to highlight both the sacred experiences and transformative power of two very influential plants: huachuma (san pedro) and ayahuasca. I accepted the invitation with the same hopes I’d had with peyote. Perhaps these two plants would help me to heal. Perhaps I would get better. Perhaps I would become who I wanted to be. Perhaps I could be happy and learn to love myself.

The couple weeks I spent in the jungle with huachuma were beautiful. I felt connected to everything and everyone around me. I didn’t drink any alcohol during the trip and I began to reconnect with myself. However, I was still purging. The shame, regret, remorse, and guilt were still there. I didn’t feel like I deserved to be a part of such a powerful vision. I didn’t feel like I deserved to be in that sacred space among such amazing people with such a beautiful medicine- a medicine that had the power to instill peace among tribes in ancient times. A medicine that opens hearts and cultivates love and unity. A medicine that encourages people to connect with what is around them and witness the divine blueprint within every living thing. Still, I didn’t feel worthy. But once again, I did have hope.

And once again, I drank. I returned home to Sedona for a couple months before I was to go back down to the jungle for the filming of the ayahuasca documentary. A few weeks after returning to the desert, and one week before returning to the jungle, I was invited to sit in ceremony with ayahuasca. I had never experienced ayahuasca before and I was nervous leading up to the trip down to Peru. I knew my journey in the jungle would be on film and I wanted to have an idea of what to expect. My curiosity of the plant got the best of me and I made the spontaneous decision to accept the invitation and sit in the medicine ceremony. I had already been drinking wine, although no one knew this, including the facilitator. I entered this ceremony about as far from integrity as one can be. Unbeknownst to me at the time, this decision marked the beginning of both my journey in recovery and what I refer to now as my dark night of the soul.

My experience that night proved to be the longest night of my life, even longer than my first night with peyote. I was metaphorically hit by a freight train and catapulted into a state of panic that didn’t cease. It was as if ayahuasca was furious with me for showing up to her sacred space in an intoxicated state of mind, consumed by the very thing I longed to heal, and she was teaching me a lesson. A lesson I didn’t think I would survive. I was terrified that by mixing alcohol and ayahuasca I had created my own demise. What terrified me even more than dying, was dying a drunk. There is a reason why ayahuasca is referred to as the “little death.” I felt my soul being pulled upwards and out of my body and with every ounce of my being I willed it to stay. I fainted in the midst of the terror I was experiencing and had to be carried outside, where I lied under the stars, praying like I’ve never prayed before to God or Creator or Source or whatever powers that be to please let me keep my soul in this body. I remained in a state of terrorizing panic until the morning light. I truly did not think I would live to see the sun. I was relieved to be alive, although the panic remained.

After that ayahuasca ceremony, every time I put alcohol in my system I entered a state of panic. This was the result of something far greater than me, and even greater than my withdrawals. While I would experience anxiety and anxiety attacks from my alcohol use, I had never before experienced a panic attack until the night of that ceremony. It was as if ayahuasca had unlocked the door for my higher self to come through, a door I had locked long ago in my addiction. The panic was my higher self-communicating with me that I wasn’t acting with integrity to myself, my purpose, or the world around me. I knew better, but I had allowed myself to become possessed by my addiction.

A week after that ceremony I went down to Peru to film the ayahuasca documentary, and to my relief, my experience with ayahuasca was completely different than it had been in my first ceremony. During one ceremony in particular, I sat in meditation for nearly six hours. I was wholly at peace and in a state of bliss. I was also sober, which I’m sure played a significant role. My anxiety and panic were gone, even if for just one night. I wanted to hold onto that feeling. I was in utter contentment with who I was, or rather, who I wasn’t. My identity seemed to slip away and I was simply being. I was resting in awareness. I was one with myself and all that was around me.

The veil was lifted and all illusions fell away. I had a vision in which my addiction was an entity that had latched onto me. I didn’t need it, I only thought I did. These thoughts were what fed my addiction, and my addiction was keen on surviving. All I had to do was make a choice to cast it off. I only had to embody a mindset of willpower and discipline and stay strong. I remember I was utterly frightened by this realization because I didn’t feel ready. I knew what I had to do, but I felt weak. My addiction had attached itself to me, and thus had become part of my identity. I was terrified to remove the mask of my addiction and witness myself in raw form. I saw that my higher self would be there to guide me and I knew that the choice was mine.

This vision then morphed into a vision of my sister. I saw Trudy as an orb of light floating amongst other orbs in a vessel on the Amazon. I saw that she was safe and at peace. I experienced a deep knowing that no matter where her soul journeyed to, she would always be with me. I was connected with her because she is connected with the divine, as am I. As is everyone. I have never felt more at peace before or since that night. This experience further illustrated the healing power of plant medicine and the importance of showing up to ceremony with integrity and intention.

When I returned to the desert after the filming I tried to hold onto the sense of peace and wisdom I had acquired in the jungle, but I couldn’t. All it took was putting one drink to my lips, and everything I had gained was lost, everything I had witnessed forgotten, as I recurrently became possessed by my addiction. I was like a moth drawn to the flame, enchanted by the flickering fire of self-destruction, beating my wings relentlessly to feel the burn of its captivating fate. I was no longer acting in my own interests or ambitions; my addiction had completely taken over. I continued to drink and my addiction continued to progress. The panic continued to worsen, as once again I picked up right where I left off.

Simple tasks such as brushing my teeth and getting dressed were daunting, overwhelming, and mentally depleting. I didn’t know how I would make it through the next day, let alone the next five minutes. I continued to drink in hopes that the waves of panic would recede, but drinking was the very storm that was causing the waves in the first place. I couldn’t focus on anything and it felt like a dark fog lingered over me and I couldn’t get my head above the clouds long enough to think clearly. I would forget to breathe and when I tried, I felt like I was gasping for air that wasn’t there. I was choking on words I didn’t have, and my thoughts created static between my ears, almost as if my mind itself was short circuiting. I was an absolute mess. One would imagine that a constant state of panic would have been enough catalyst to stop drinking. But I was not yet willing to listen to the messages of my higher self, nor was I done digging to rock bottom.

In the winter of 2014 I flew across the world with a dear friend to embark on a sailing expedition to conduct marine conservation research with sperm and blue whales. We set sail with his family who had founded a non-profit organization dedicated to marine and land conservation work. Once again, I had hoped that getting away would help me to escape my addiction. And as always, my shadow followed me. I continued to find ways to drink when I could, and consequently, I jeopardized my safety as well as the crew’s safety. I fractured my ribs and embarrassed myself on multiple occasions.

On one occasion I blacked out after partying on a yacht with a case of champagne while we were docked in Singapore. I don’t remember what happened or what I did, but the damage I’d done was so bad that the crew never saw me the same way. The next morning my dear friend expressed that he was embarrassed for me with both a look of shame and concern. I knew there was no coming back from that. I saw reflected in his eyes the way he now saw me. My heart broke. I saw myself the same way.

Later that day, the captain and first mate invited me on deck for a talk. My drinking and my behavior while drinking were both big red flags. They were sweet and sincere as they told me they would be happy to support me if I thought I may have a drinking problem. They said there were 12-step programs in Singapore I could attend and they would help me find a way to the meetings if that was something I wanted to do. They handled the whole situation with grace, but I suppressed and belittled my addiction. I was ashamed. I hoped that by not acknowledging the weight of my burden, it would somehow become lighter. I didn’t want to be a burden. I was not yet willing to admit that I had a problem with alcohol. I didn’t even want to consider it because I didn’t want to give it up. I continued to lie to myself. And invariably, I lied to them. I couldn’t be honest with another person if I hadn’t yet been honest with myself. I told them I was fine, they had nothing to worry about, and I promised it wouldn’t happen again. And I meant it.

It happened several more times. Weeks later when I was caught sneaking rum, the captain’s first mate looked straight into my eyes and said in a disapproving tone, “you shouldn’t be drinking this much. It’s not good for anybody.” As she shook her head and turned away my stomach dropped. I knew she was right. And despite this knowing, I couldn’t stop. Despite my shame, I couldn’t stop. Despite jeopardizing a dear friendship, I couldn’t stop. The shame, regret, and remorse I felt only fueled my desire to keep drinking. It was easier to be drunk than to look at who I had become.

My life from there became as turbulent and stormy as some of the waters we were navigating at sea. I got off that boat in Sri Lanka months later, purchased a bottle of Arrack rum, and proceeded to stay drunk for days. I got a ride to the Colombo airport from the wrong man and flew home in the wake of trauma to the mountains I knew so well. I was on a mission to forget it all.

And in May of 2015, that is how I found myself living out of a tent, homeless, hopeless, and desperate, naked and curled up in the shower of a hostel in an old mining town high up in the Colorado mountains, wishing I could be more like the water that flowed over me. My actions had led me to this point, however I wasn’t yet willing to take responsibility for my life.

I pitched a tent in the San Juans because camping would allow me to afford my alcohol addiction so I could continue to forget. I drank to suppress. I drank to numb. I drank to check out. And I drank to survive, although it was the very thing that was killing me. I called my living situation ‘camping’, but really I chose to be isolated and homeless. I didn’t draw a sober breath for three months. I fought off a bear trying to get into my tent. I bathed in the creek every day and lived off of Luna bars, booze, and coconut water. Alcohol became my best friend and my worst enemy. The panic was still there and worsening and I was shaking constantly from either terror or withdrawals, depending. I struggled to breathe because my continuous panic attacks would overcome me. I had a terrible sense of impending doom I just couldn’t shake. It felt like death was breathing down my neck and I had a chronic chill in my bones. My stomach ached in pain because I had developed pancreatitis from drinking too much. I couldn’t trust my senses because I began experiencing delirium tremens. I was seeing and hearing things. I thought I would die, and that didn’t seem so bad. I was alone, lost in the fray, and the edges of my reality were fading.

I didn’t think I would make it out of this state. I feared for my sanity and I feared for my life. I moved back to Sedona in the fall of 2015, and once again my soul tribe welcomed me with open arms. “Are you ready to come home?” they asked. “Yes,” I replied. “Yes.” I moved back into the geodesic dome I had lived in years before. I called it my Dome Home. Once again I hoped things would be different. But that’s the definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. I was trying to outrun my problems. I was trying to outrun my shadow. I was trying to mask my intimidating emotions through drinking so that I wouldn’t have to feel. The irony was that my attempts to outrun my problems only resulted in further pain, which in turn resulted in further attempts to suppress my pain through alcohol. I was trapped in a vicious, relentless cycle.

I know my older sister and I shared similar struggles. I found a poem she wrote years before she passed away. She titled this poem “Masks.” I hear my own story written in her words:

the wind silently

calls for me

urging me

to go on,

it picks me up

and carries me

to the place

where I belong

and when I remove

this false disguise

only you my friend

will see,

the person you have

known so long

is in fact-

not even me…

Like my sister, I wore a mask. I wore a mask to cover my pain, insecurities, flaws, scars, and my addiction. I donned many masks after many years of accumulative false disguise. The more I drank, the further I grew from my true self, and the more masks I wore. My addiction itself had become a mask. I no longer knew who I was. Walking through life not knowing who you are is akin to being lost in the darkest of nights, stumbling blindly as you reach in desperation for something to hold on to, wishing in silent terror for a light to guide your way.

I relocated many times with the hopes of leaving my shadow behind and finding myself. If I felt I’d used up my tickets in one town, I packed up and moved onto the next, justifying my nomadic ways with hopes and intentions that in the next town I would get my shit together. That I would get better. I tried not to get too close to people because I had a tendency to disappoint. Every time I acted on my urge to pull up roots and follow the wind to more promising places, I was met with more despair. As the saying goes, “Wherever you go, there you are.” What I had yet to learn was that there was nothing I could gain elsewhere that I could not gain within.

After moving back to Sedona, I continued to drink and I continued to experience delirium tremens and I truly thought I was going insane. I willed myself to stop drinking, but I could never make it past the withdrawals. What many people don’t know is that if you are deep enough in your alcohol addiction and go through withdrawals without medical attention, you can actually die. Of course, knowing this didn’t help my panic attacks when the withdrawals came.

I was living a literal nightmare. I reached a point where I couldn’t distinguish my dream state from reality. On one night in particular, my delirium tremens had reached a significant peak and it was a night I will never forget. I was lying in my Dome staring out of my window at the pitch-black night while trying my best to subdue the rising panic. Due to my over-sensitive state, the reverberating song of the cicadas outside only heightened my looming distress, and I tried to focus on the beauty of the blooming daturas in my line of sight to calm my spirit. I then became aware of shadows dancing in my peripheral vision. I slowly turned my head, and to my horror, I realized that they were dark, malevolent shadows crawling towards me. I was paralyzed in terror as I watched these shadow demons creep in my direction. Although they were inches away, somehow they couldn’t reach me. I was in a terrible state and I’m aware that hallucinations are part of delirium tremens, but I can’t help but wonder if I was peeking through the veil. Perhaps in my withdrawals I was so close to the otherside that I could see through. Perhaps these demons were trying to take my soul, yet something was preventing them from reaching me.

It took everything I had to focus on my breath long enough for the shadows to wane, but the shadows were there to stay. Eventually, I gathered the courage to sit up in bed and I made a run for outside. Once out in the fresh air I bolted for the main building on the property, known as the Center, and I didn’t look back. I rushed inside and hurriedly shut the door behind me, still afraid to look over my shoulder for fear of the shadows following me. Sometimes in the darkness anything seems possible.

I continued to the back of the building to lay down on the amethyst crystal bed. I closed my eyes and it was then that I entered into a dream that changed my life. I’ll save the details, because all you need to know is that this dream scared the shit out of me and served as my wake-up call. I woke up trembling, and I immediately found a pen and paper and wrote down the dream. I still have that piece of paper and I keep it as a reminder of where I was and how far I’ve come. I keep it as a reminder of how far I have yet to go.

After writing down my dream I felt as if I had a new sense of clarity. I knew what I needed to do. I needed to stop drinking, and I knew without a doubt that if I didn’t, I would surely die. I walked back out into the night, my fear of the shadows gone. When I reached my Dome and settled back into bed, I heard a chorus of angelic voices singing. I knew I was still in the midst of delirium tremens, but once again I couldn’t help but wonder if the veil was simply thinner. Deep down I felt like this angelic chorus was singing in celebration of my soul and my willingness to live.

I chose life over death that night. I didn’t want to die a drunk. I wanted to die with dignity. Thus, I took my fear and suffering and used it to motivate me to get better. If it weren’t for my deep suffering leading up to that point I wouldn’t have reached a level of desperation frightening enough to take action, and I took it very seriously. I realized that the fear was there to direct my attention to the area of my life I needed to change, hence why I had been in a constant state of panic for months on end. I acknowledged my fear and pushed through it. I experienced a tremendous breakthrough that night and I made the decision to seek support and enter recovery. The very next morning I went to my first 12-step program meeting in Sedona.

I found solace in the meetings. I was among people who understood me, who understood darkness. These people could laugh at themselves as they looked back on some of the decisions they made and the things they did while in addiction. I wanted that. I wanted to be so at peace with my past and who I was that I could laugh at it all, and laugh at myself. While I was learning to come to terms with my past, I was also learning to come to terms with my present. Now that I was sober, I struggled to fill my free time. I didn’t know what to do with myself. Then someone said to me, “just keep doing the next right thing.” Hearing these words and feeling the epiphany that followed brought on a great deal of relief. I realized that I didn’t need to think about the next day, week, or even hour. I just needed to keep choosing the next right thing. That’s what helped me get through those days. And it still does. I just focus on the task right in front of me and choose the one after, and pretty soon it’s the end of the day and I accomplished everything I meant to. Even if my biggest accomplishment of the day was staying sober, it was a good day. I’ve realized that so much can change in so little time, and trying to predict the future is exhausting and overwhelming. As long as I keep doing the next right thing I can’t go wrong.

My anxiety levels decreased with each sober day that passed, and eventually the panic was gone. I’d never been so relieved to have “just anxiety” in my life. The panic was terrifying and exhausting, and I was glad to be rid of it. Now that I could think more clearly, I dove head first into recovery and I was high on a pink cloud. I remember one day as I was driving home from a meeting I giggled at something that was said on the radio. My laughter took me by surprise because it had been so long since I’d heard it. I’d spent so much time in a state of constant panic and despair that I hadn’t experienced joy, let alone laughter, in months. I was elated. I felt a sense of tangible hope. Maybe I was getting better. Maybe I could hold onto this.

Things went well for a while. I went to the Rise ‘N Shine meeting in Sedona every morning and I found an amazing sponsor who began to guide me through the steps. After a few months, however, I went to meetings less and less and I gradually stopped doing the next right thing. I had excuses and idle hands, and my addiction began to rear its ugly head. One night, I got a wild hair and the thought crossed my mind that maybe I could handle a drink. I knew deep down I couldn’t, but I ignored both my inner knowing and higher self. And so began my first relapse.

I pondered my urge and craving for a while, and eventually I got in my jeep and drove to the liquor store. I parked my jeep in front of the store and sat there for about ten minutes debating on whether or not it was worth it to walk in. I decided against it and left, driving back home. As I pulled into the driveway, rather than park my car, I turned around and drove back to the liquor store. Again, I sat out front debating if I wanted to sacrifice all of my hard work. Was I willing to pick up another 24-hour chip? And again, I turned around and drove home. I repeated this two more times. That was the insanity of my addiction. It was always an inner battle of right and wrong, good and bad. I was the walking cliche of the devil on one shoulder and the angel on the other. In the end, however, the devil won. I walked into the liquor store, bought a box of wine, and walked out before I could think any more about it.

Three days later I came to. Yes, three days later. That was how I drank and I picked up right where I left off. I woke up dazed and confused in the cabin my older brother built on the property. I knew I was out of alcohol and maybe out of money. I found a little cash and decided to go back to the liquor store to resupply because if I didn’t, I would have to face the withdrawals. And if they were anything like they were last time, I was looking at the shakes, panic attacks, insomnia, and delirium tremens. I knew enough to know that this time around the withdrawals would be worse. Even when I thought the withdrawals couldn’t possibly get any worse, they always did. Even when I didn’t think my rock bottom could get any deeper, it always could. The thing is, until you put down the shovel, you never truly stop digging. And I always had a shovel in hand.

I climbed into my jeep, put the key in the ignition, and turned. Nothing. I tried again. Nothing. My jeep wouldn’t start. Somehow, deep down I knew this was the doing of my dear friend looking out for me. She must have seen me in my drunken state and disconnected my car so I wouldn’t drive drunk. Thank god for her. I took the keys out of the ignition, went back into the cabin, and passed out. When I awoke, the hard reality hit me that there was nothing I could do but bite the belt, white-knuckle my oncoming withdrawals, and hope I would make it out the other side

. The withdrawals were as bad as I suspected and worse than I could have imagined. The delirium tremens were back and once again I couldn’t trust what I was hearing or seeing. I remember being in the kitchen in the Center and slicing cheese while I was preparing a meal for guests. I was shaking so badly I couldn’t hold the knife steady enough to slice. My dear friend looked over and saw me struggling. She looked at the knife and looked back at me, concerned.

“Honey. You’re shaking.”

I didn’t meet her eyes.

“Why don’t you go take a walk.”

She took the knife from my hands and I reluctantly walked down to the creek as the panic continued to overtake me. I felt extremely ungrounded and as if my soul were being pulled upwards from my body once again. I walked barefoot on the trail in hopes that it would help to ground me, but to no avail. I kept my eyes on the trail as figures were dancing in my peripheral vision. I knew better than to look.

When I reached the creek I allowed my gaze to fall on the moving water, hoping it would bring me peace. However, the sound of the current only amplified my panic. It didn’t take much. It was then that I glanced across the creek, and what I saw truly made me think I was going insane. For there, in the flesh and blood, munching on grass, I saw llamas. I’d lived on this property for years and I’d gazed out at this view for years and never before had I seen llamas. I blinked and rubbed my eyes. Still there. I took a deep breath and thought to myself, this is it. I’m losing my mind and there’s no going back. I returned to the Center with my eyes cast down, just wanting to get through the day. The worst part was that I couldn’t ask anyone if there were actually llamas across the creek because then they, too, would know that I was losing my mind. So I kept this to myself for years.

When I got back to the Center in full-fledged panic mode (because llamas), I called up my older brother, a doctor, and told him what was going on (except for llamas). I confessed that I had relapsed and I was scared shitless and I didn’t know what to do. He said that as long as I was over the initial three-day withdrawal period, I would be okay. I eventually told him I wasn’t. He said I should be worried. I could hear both concern and anger in his voice. I couldn’t blame him. He had already lost one sister to her alcohol addiction.

“You cannot allow Trudy’s death to be in vain,” he stressed, his voice shaking. I knew what he meant. She would have died for nothing if I continued to allow myself to suffer at the hands of the same addiction that took her life. As if I had no idea where this road would ultimately lead me.

“Are you scared?” He asked.

“Yes,” I replied. “I’m terrified.” I began to cry.

“Good.” He stated. “Fear is an excellent motivator.”

I sighed and choked on my tears as we hung up.

He was right. I had to be trembling in my boots and fearing for my life in order to recognize the stakes of my addiction. I had to reach the point of being scared shitless in order to be willing to commit to making a change. Later that afternoon I checked myself into detox at the Cottonwood hospital. I knew I needed medical attention, llamas or not. After three days, I returned home post-withdrawal. I wasn’t going to put myself through that again. I was through. I went to meetings every day and I became fully committed to my program. I managed my time productively and kept my days full. My joy began returning once again.

After a couple of months I began to feel restless. I was confident in my sobriety and I longed to be more immersed in nature. I decided to apply for a position to be a wilderness therapy guide in the Grand Staircase/Escalante region of Utah. To my surprise, I was hired. Once again I packed up my jeep with my belongings and journeyed to another vast region of the west. I immediately began my two-week training shift in the wilderness of one of the most beautiful places in the country. Little did I know that a few days into my training I was to meet my future husband, Bryce.

On a beautiful and clear night in early April of 2016, I was dropped off at the base of a small mountain to begin my field training. The previous day we had learned how to make primitive packs out of willow and tamarisk branches, and now as I hiked up this mesa in the dark using my headlamp to navigate, and the awkward wooden frame dug deeper into my back, I realized that I would have to make some much needed adjustments. When I reached the top and arrived at camp, I dropped my prim-pack under a juniper tree and was led over to the group I was to spend the next couple days with. It was a boys group with all male staff (guides), and because it was late, everyone was already tucked into their sleeping bags. I said hello and introduced myself, and everyone in sleep line began introducing themselves as well.

It was dark and we couldn’t see each other’s faces, except for the occasional illumination of a headlamp beam. I was now the only female guide in a boys group and couldn’t sleep next to the students, so I had to sleep on the other side of a male guide. That guide was Bryce. He was very sweet and moved his sleeping bag and sleeping pad over so that I would have more flat ground to sleep on, as we were on the edge of a slope. I’ll never forget how bright the stars were that night as we lay side by side atop that mesa, two strangers whose individual paths in life led us to the wilderness, to share that moment, laughing over I forget what, before the day’s exhaustion overtook us and sleep followed.

The next day we woke up with the sun. Now that I could see him in the morning light, I remember thinking how handsome he was and reminding myself that although he had good looks and a great laugh, I had to refrain from flirting because we worked together. After everyone cooked their breakfast over the campfire, we cleaned up camp, laced up our boots, and prepped our daypacks for an epic hike through a beautiful canyon called Lick Wash not far from where we were.

Before we hit the trail however, the group had a surprise for me. They led me to what they called hallowed ground, in which sticks and branches are placed on the ground to form a large circle. The entrance to the hallowed ground is a gap in the circle that always faces east for the rising sun, and is lined with sage to cleanse each person’s energy as they enter. I followed the boys into the hallowed ground in a clockwise manner, as is the custom. When everyone had a place in the circle we sat down. The senior guide then presented me with a path tracker, which is a leather-bound journal that both students and staff receive. I felt incredibly honored as everyone left me to sit alone and meditate in the hallowed ground, as is the custom to do for the person in which the ceremony is held for. I sat there alone with my thoughts in this wild, beautiful, isolated place, this piece of pristine, untouched land of pink cliffs frosted with snow and surrounded by mountains, and a thought crossed my mind: I have found my tribe. Immersed in gratitude, I gathered myself and walked clockwise around the circle to the entrance that also served as an exit.

When I made it back to camp I thanked everyone, including Bryce, for my meaningful gift as we rigged up for our hike. Bryce and I walked together for the majority of the hike through Lick Wash, sharing stories as we got to know one another and enjoying the scenery of red rocks and high narrow sandstone walls. It quickly became apparent just how much we had in common, and I remember he used the term “kindred spirits.” I couldn’t have agreed more. Before I left the group the next day we exchanged numbers in our path trackers. When he finished his shift (each shift was two weeks long) and was out of the field he sent me a text saying he hoped I would work the B-shift (there was an A-shift and a B-shift), so we would be able to see more of each other. I made a point to make that happen.

I extended my shift to make more money, and after three weeks straight in the wilderness I returned to Colorado for my off-shift. As each shift was typically two weeks long, in turn we had two weeks off. I decided to spend my time off in the mountains to supplement the desert heat, as spring was coming to an end. I also wanted to be closer to my family in Durango because I had been away from home for so many years.

I soon discovered that after spending so much time sleeping outside I could no longer sleep well inside. Thus, I found myself driving north at midnight one night and pitching a tent high in the mountains on a lake, only to wake up to the most beautiful view. I decided right then and there that I was better off camping and I wasn’t about to pay rent anywhere when I was in the wilderness half the time.

A couple months later I was working in a girls group with another guide, and Bryce was placed in our group as a third staff. When I saw him hiking up the steep slope towards our camp with his pack on his back I was thrilled. This meant we had a whole week and a half in the wilderness together and I knew that it would be a blast of a shift. The girls in our group picked up on our vibes pretty quickly and for the remainder of our shift they kept trying to play Cupid, laying down subtle hints that we should be together.

Though occasionally we would flirt, we kept denying our attraction to keep things in the work environment professional. Nothing happened between us while we worked together, but the more I got to know Bryce, the stronger my feelings towards him grew. On the last day of the shift the girls wanted to sign our path trackers before we left. After I passed mine around and said my goodbyes, I climbed into the transport truck after Bryce. As we drove miles down the bumpy dirt road out of the field towards headquarters, I took out my path tracker and flipped through the pages the girls had signed. On the last page, enclosed in a heart, one of the girls had written, “Bryce and Meg Forever.” I glanced at him sitting in front of me watching the scenery fly by, and I thought to myself, “wouldn’t that be nice.” I felt an unfamiliar stirring in my heart and a deep knowing that perhaps my soul had met its match. However, I quickly dismissed these feelings because I didn’t feel worthy of such love, nor did I think I was ready after all I had been through.

The summer went on and Bryce and I didn’t work together for the rest of the season, as we both happened to be placed in different groups every shift. During my off-shifts I continued to return to Silverton and set up camp in my old spot on Mineral Creek. I hung out with the same friends I hung out with the year before, all who drank. I stayed strong for a while, but eventually I gave in. As the saying goes, “If you hang around a barber shop long enough, you’ll eventually get a haircut.” Once again, I picked up right where I left off in what was to be my final relapse in the summer of 2016. I ordered a drink at the rum bar and proceeded to stay drunk for several days during the week of the big Fourth of July celebration in Silverton. People from all over the country travel from near and far to witness the infamous fireworks in the little mountain valley. Overnight, the town grows from a couple thousand people to ten times as many.

I was invited to be in the Fourth of July Parade and ride on the Shady Lady Saloon float. I had worked for the Shady Lady the summer before and so I agreed. I arrived that morning already drunk and continued to drink throughout the parade while decked out in 1800’s saloon garb. I drank all day and by nightfall I blacked out. Some friends and I were hanging out at my dear friend’s campsite in town so we could watch the fireworks. I don’t remember what happened, but what I’m told is that while I was dancing to music a couple guys we didn’t know were eyeing me with what may have been bad intentions. This worried my friend, not so much my dancing, but because I was so drunk that if anything were to happen I wouldn’t be able to take care of myself. The next day she did what any good friend would do, what my other dear friend did years before, and she called my mother. My poor mother. I cannot imagine what it felt like for her to get that phone call a second time. Her daughter was deep in her addiction once again, after doing so well.

Two days later I awoke from sleep in my tent dazed and confused once more. I will never forget that morning, for it was the last time I put alcohol to my lips. As soon as I opened my eyes I could feel that familiar panic creep up from my belly and begin to cloud my mind, that familiar static returning and compressing my being. My breathing was short and shallow. I managed to wash my face in the creek and brush my teeth. After I changed into fresh clothes I cracked a beer, but I was only able to take a few sips. My body was rejecting it. I knew I was in trouble because if I didn’t find a way to get alcohol in my system soon, I would have to face the withdrawals once again. The withdrawals now terrified me even more than death itself.

As I was putting the beer to my lips in another feeble attempt to get it down, I saw movement in my peripheral vision. My heart stopped because I feared the delirium tremens were back. I turned and gasped in surprise at seeing my parents walking up to my camp, and then immediately sighed in relief for the same reason when I realized I wasn’t hallucinating. The three of us sat down around my fire ring and told me that my dear friend had called them and they were worried. They wanted me to come home. I could leave everything and come back in a few days to pack up camp if I just left with them right then and there. Immediately, I said yes.

The next few days were hell. I don’t know how I made it through them, but somehow I did and I was able to get to the other side of my withdrawals. I suffered through the usual delirium tremens, panic, terror, insomnia, and shakes, but deep down I knew that they would be my last. Even so, I was afraid to acknowledge my inner knowing because I had disappointed myself time and time again. I was afraid to get my hopes up, but I was determined to get better.

As soon as I made it through my withdrawals, I decided to pack up my home base in Silverton and move to Cedar City, Utah. I knew by that time that if I continued to hang around my old stomping grounds, I would continue to relapse. I knew enough to know that I was through, and I knew better this time than to say it out loud because actions speak louder than words.

I continued working as a wilderness guide as the summer was coming to a close. I was a couple months sober and I had a new zest for life. I was still pretty shaken from my last binge experience, but the realization that I never had to feel that way again was beginning to set in. I felt liberated from an internal prison I had created for myself. I was breathing deeper and taking in everything. I was sleeping through the night without panic attacks and waking up in beautiful places without hangovers or withdrawals. I was hopeful for the future and excited for what was to come. I was finally free.

I found another amazing sponsor in Utah and she made me promise that I would stay put for a year. And I did. Well, three years actually. I finally allowed myself the space to work through the things I was running from. It wasn’t easy, but it was worth it. I began to reconnect with my true self and discover who I really am. I began to feel worthy. I began to love myself again. And I began to love another.

As Bryce and I lived closer to each other, we began spending much more time together. Eventually we began dating, and after a few blissful months we moved in together in St. George. I was strong in my sobriety. Bryce had five years of sobriety under his belt at the time (he now has eight), and it’s been amazing to share the gift of recovery together. Bryce and I made an agreement when we first began dating that our individual recovery comes first and foremost, even before our relationship. The same is true today: our individual recovery comes even before our marriage. We know that anything we put before our recovery will be the second thing we lose.

I was very active in the 12-step program, especially during my first year of sobriety. I needed the support and accountability more than anything, and my amazing sponsor began guiding me through the steps once again. Often times Bryce and I would attend meetings together, and in addition, we developed new friendships with others in recovery. I found that having a social circle that shared the foundation of recovery solidified my new and healthy lifestyle, as well as my ability to have fun without substances.

Bryce and I went on trips whenever we could and sought adventure every weekend. We were backpacking, hiking, and camping every opportunity we had. I came out of my shell in my recovery. In addition to seeking adventure, seeing new places, and creating new (sober) memories, I explored new hobbies. I learned how to make dreamcatchers and crochet. I began making jewelry, drawing, and creating different forms of art and expression. I began writing more. I tried new things because with every new thing I tried, I learned more about myself.

I’m still learning more about myself, like how I actually don’t prefer to be around a lot of people. I used to think I was a ‘people person’ and a ‘social butterfly.’ I took pride in making friends easily and being comfortable around a lot of people. But that’s because I usually had a drink in my hand in social settings and I relied upon alcohol as a social lubricant. It worked for many years and I went from being socially awkward to being the life of the party. And for a while it was great, until it wasn’t.

I’ve learned that my personal time and space are very sacred to me. I learned that peace and quiet is precious. I’m very sensitive to sounds and particular city noises, so nature continues to be a tranquil retreat for me. When I feel stressed, nature is where I go to clear my head and gather my thoughts. The constant stimulation of urban environments can put stress on our brain and nervous system, and spending time in nature actually helps to alleviate this stress and bring the mind and body back into balance.

Luckily, Bryce feels the same way about nature as I do. After several months of dating, Bryce suggested we take a trip to Kanab, Utah, a small town that we both love and not far from where we first met that April night. We packed up his truck with our camping gear and hit the road. That night we camped right on Kanab Creek in a beautiful and secluded spot I used to always camp at by myself, usually right before and right after a wilderness shift. We fell asleep that night counting shooting stars to the sound of the babbling water.

The next morning, on April 8, 2017, we went to our favorite local coffee shop, where they not only have good strong coffee, but great books and outdoor gear as well. Afterwards, as the coffee warmed our bodies, Bryce steered the truck east of town toward a dirt road that was all too familiar… he was taking us out into the high country where we first met. It was like a drive down memory lane, and I was so grateful to have this amazing man by my side over a year later.

He pulled off the road and put his truck in park at the base of a small mountain. I recognized it as the same mountain I had struggled up as a rookie with my prim-pack the year before. I was in awe that he had found it. We slung our packs on our backs, grabbed the rest of our gear, and hiked up. Yes, it was the very same campsite where we first met. After we set up our tent as shelter from the rains that were headed our way, Bryce suggested we take a walk. He took my hand and I followed him as he led me to the exact same hallowed ground that was there the year before. Although we practiced LNT (Leave No Trace) while working in wilderness, and even went as far as to crush and sift our coals from our campfires, we would always leave the hallowed grounds intact. Even so, I was amazed that it was still there, and that he had found it. He led me through the entrance facing east, lined with traces of sage still on the ground from the previous year. We stood there, in the center of the circle, hand in hand looking out to all the mountains that surrounded us as the rain turned to snow.

As we took in the scenery, Bryce spoke.

“Well, here we are, we’ve come full circle. And I know without a doubt I want to spend the rest of my life with you.”

My heart skipped a beat and I turned to him as he went down on one knee, presenting an open box with a beautiful ring nestled inside.

He asked me to marry him and I said yes.

We married on August 26, 2017 on a river in Pine Valley, Utah in a hallowed ground that Bryce made for us. One of our dear friends, a wilderness guide we had met and worked with the year before was our officiator. After the ceremony, we camped out with loved ones from near and far and shared stories and laughter around the campfire. Bryce and I eventually fell asleep under the stars, listening to the gentle burbling of the river. The best part about our special day is that I remember it all. I’m here to tell you that it’s possible to make it through your wedding day without champagne, and it’s wonderful too, because you’re experiencing everything as authentically as possible. The emotion is raw and the memories are pure. We had a simple wedding in nature, teeming with adventure, because nature feels like home and adventure is what fuels us from this day, and if we’re lucky, to our last.

In the following summer of 2018 Bryce worked as a wildland firefighter and was gone for the majority of the season fighting fires all over the west. When his season ended we took a trip to Lake Tahoe to celebrate our one year anniversary, and a few weeks after we returned from that trip, everything changed. On December 13, 2018, while Bryce was at work, I was attacked in our home by a stranger.

I was returning home from errands and in the process of closing my front door behind me when a strange man rushed at me from outside, pushed me into my house, and tried to shut my front door behind him. I immediately began screaming and fighting back as hard as I possibly could, as he was trying to get me away from my front door and further into my home. My front door was my only way out, and so I clung to that door with everything I had because I knew it was my only lifeline. I could feel his body weight trying to get me down, so by clinging to the door I was also able to keep myself upright. As he was attacking me he kept trying to close the door, and I shoved my wrist between the door and the frame to prevent it from closing completely so neighbors could hear my screams. As this man was much bigger than me, maintaining my grasp on the door was no easy feat. While he continuously tried to shut the door as he was attacking me, by some miracle the deadbolt was still out and prevented the door from shutting completely. Were it not for this simple fact, this story may have had a very different ending.

At one point, my attacker pulled me hard enough that I released my grasp on the door, and he then began pulling me away from my only escape and further into my home. I had a terrible feeling that I was about to be raped or killed, or both, and something inside me unleashed; I fought him both tooth and nail (literally) with everything I had while I continued to scream “Help!” repeatedly at the top of my lungs for anyone to hear. I knew he had ill intentions and I wasn’t going to go without a fight.

With a look of panic, he finally let go of me and bolted outside and down the street. I ran out after him so I could see what direction he went as I immediately dialed 911 and stayed on the phone with dispatch until a unit arrived. One of my neighbors who came running at the sound of my screams witnessed the man run off as well, and recognized him as someone who lived just across the street from us.

With the combined efforts of the St. George police, detectives, an investigative team, and swat team, law enforcement was able to flush my assailant out of his house. This was no easy feat because his family was attempting to hide him. Detectives confirmed the man as my assailant upon noticing a nasty bite mark I gave him and several scratch marks.

This man lived across the street from us, although I had never seen him before, and I no longer felt safe living at that residence. Bryce and I were told that the family had also made threats towards us. I requested a pre-trial protection order, however, I was told that was the most I could do at that time. Bryce and I made the decision to pursue protection and relocation efforts, and we decided to move to Colorado to be closer to my side of the family.

I am one of the lucky ones. My attacker did not have a weapon on him and I survived with only a sprained wrist (from blocking the front door from closing), bruises, and scratches. In addition, my assailant was caught and taken into custody within 24 hours of attacking me. Many women are not so lucky.

You may not think it can happen to you or a loved one. It can. I used to be a fan of true crime stories, however, I never thought something like this could actually happen to me. I like to avoid sketchy places and situations. I try to be prepared. I even had a switchblade in my purse when I was attacked, but it all happened so fast that the thought didn’t even cross my mind to reach for it. The detective later told me it was probably a good thing that I didn’t reach for my knife, as my attacker was much larger and stronger than me and could have easily taken the knife and used it against me.

I’ve learned that attacks don’t always happen as you may expect they would. Assaults don’t just take place in dark alleys or isolated areas. This happened in my home, my sanctuary and safe place. My attacker lived across the street from me, although I had never noticed him before. The attack occurred in broad daylight. It all happened so fast and thank goodness for adrenaline and the fight or flight response. I had nowhere to run, even if I could get away, so I fought.

While I tend to avoid conversations that may promote fear, the reality is that awareness, knowledge, and action is power, and thus empowering. Sexual violence affects millions of Americans and people all over the world. Approximately 1 in 6 American women have been the victim of an attempted or completed sexual assault in their lifetime. Men are also victim to sexual assault as well. It’s important for everyone to learn how to properly defend themselves. Take self-defense classes and really practice to increase your confidence in physical ability to defend yourself if need arises. It’s also a good idea to carry pepper spray in a way that it’s easily accessible. Have your cell phone on you and charged. Trust your instincts and avoid talking to strangers. Walk confidently in a steady pace and always be aware of your surroundings. If you find yourself in a scary situation, fight with all you’ve got and never give up; yell, scream, do all you can to attract attention to your situation. These are all precautionary suggestions I never truly deemed necessary, and I learned the hard way that they are. It’s simply best to be prepared for the worst. Through empowerment resilience grows.

What I’ve learned is that things don’t happen to me, they happen for me. Everything I’ve overcome, my alcohol addiction, eating disorder, high levels of anxiety, and even this attack, have helped me grow into a stronger person. Rather than become a victim of my attacker’s violence, I embodied the characteristics of a survivor. I recognized that I had the ability to use that hardship as a means to build resilience and strengthen my character. Challenges can be opportunities to better ourselves. It all begins with a shift in perspective and believing in ourselves and our abilities. I believe that while not everything happens for a reason, if we look hard enough we can find a reason within everything. I realized that with the right perception, I can take on almost anything life hands me. As author Viktor Frankl wrote, “The last of the great human freedoms is the ability to choose one’s own attitude in any circumstance.”

Moving to Colorado proved to be a blessing. I landed my dream job of working for an amazing organization called Being True To You that helps individuals achieve natural maturation out of addiction, integrate transformational experiences, and awaken to their true selves. In addition, I’m currently enrolled in a 30-level coach certification training with Being True To You to become a transformational coach and work in the field of addiction recovery coaching and psychedelic integration coaching- I’ll receive my certification in January of 2020. As of today, I’ve been sober and in recovery for over three years. Bryce and I have been married for over two. My older brother and I are in the beginning stages of creating some magic to help others in recovery. I honor our sister’s memory every day. My inspiration, motivation, and creativity are abundantly flowing. My dreams are coming true. Life is better than I could have ever imagined and I owe it all to my recovery, support, and hard work. My recovery has delivered everything my addiction promised on false premises.

Relapse is a part of my story. And that’s all it is- a part of my story. I had three relapses before I finally had a strong grasp on my recovery. I did not allow my relapses to define my recovery, or me as a person. I was not a failure. I wasn’t a failure because I kept trying. Because I believed that I was capable of more and deserved a better life. After my last relapse over three years ago, I sought out support and did absolutely everything in my power to prevent another relapse from happening. I did not view my relapses as failures, but as learning opportunities. “If you fall off the horse, you get right back on,” as my mother once told me. I got up, dusted myself off, and kept going. Most importantly, I took a look at what led me to relapse. There are always contributing factors: lack of support, self-pity, avoidance of uncomfortable emotions, denial of the addiction, etc. For me, it was all of these things. When I finally accepted that I had a problem, reached out and sought support, and put in the work, I was able to develop a strong grasp on my recovery. I had reached a point of desperation, and to be honest, I wouldn’t change a thing because it made my willingness in recovery that much stronger. I knew what was on the line. I surrendered and allowed my higher self to guide me. I transmuted my feelings of fear, guilt, and shame into empowerment and action. I used these feelings to motivate me towards a stronger recovery. I knew that in the end everything is a choice, and I never had to feel that way again.

Every day we are faced with opportunities to learn and grow. The biggest difference between success and failure is our ability and willingness to learn from our mistakes. It’s easy to look back on my past with judgment because I know better now. But back then, I didn’t. Back then I was merely trying to survive and keep my head above water every day. And I know now that’s okay. Addiction has a way of stripping us of everything but the addiction itself. I’m not the same person I was back then. I’ve changed, grown, expanded, and evolved. My experiences have shaped me. Just as the relentless pressure of waters and winds shape the desert canyons, my hardships and trials shape me. My hardships erode my weaker characteristics and strengthen my strong ones. I become more resilient in the face of adversity, and more seasoned and wise with every trial I weather. The good and the bad have allowed me to become who I am today. So today, I choose to do the best I can and I rest assured that I AM doing my best. I refuse to judge myself when I make mistakes or take two steps forward and one step back. I’m learning. And that’s the most vital aspect of growth. As Maya Angelou has said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” I’m doing the best I can with what I know. My experiences, the good and the bad, allow me the opportunities to know better, so that I can do better. And every new day is an opportunity to do better.

Having a routine has helped me to do better every day. I wake up before the sun and I begin each day with proper hydration, followed by a guided morning meditation. Meditation helps to cultivate stillness and is an amazing practice to promote awareness and become more present. In addition, meditation is extremely helpful in reducing anxiety and stress.

After meditation, I then go for 14-mile mountain bike ride around the lake we live on in Colorado. Doing so keeps my energy levels up and helps me to clear my head. Exercise releases natural endorphins that trigger a positive feeling in the body and helps to combat stress and anxiety. Exercising outside further enhances the health benefits of exercise because you’re increasing your oxygen intake, absorbing vitamin D, boosting your mood, and connecting with nature. Spending time in nature alone helps to reduce stress and improve overall feelings of happiness and well-being. Following my bike ride, I take the dogs out so they can get some exercise in as well. After all this, I am in a more positive mindset to begin my work day.

Part of my routine is also eating healthy and balanced meals. Eating healthy is crucial, especially in recovery. For example, studies have shown that proper nutrition has a greater positive impact on mental health than prescription medications. Bryce and I use organic, whole-food ingredients and prepare our meals at home. We also greatly reduced our sugar intake because sugar has a tendency to cause mood swings and fatigue.

Just as exercise and diet improves mental health, so does cultivating a healthy lifestyle. Bryce and I sold our TV’s, his PlayStation and Xbox, sound equipment, and all of our DVDs in order to rid of digital distractions. We kept our computers and phones for our work and personal projects. Our moods have improved, as well as our productivity, motivation, creativity, and inspiration. It’s amazing what magic happens when we rid ourselves of distractions and create the space needed to cultivate our dreams and goals. In my free time I enjoy reading, working on personal projects, and spending time with Bryce and our animals. We seek adventure every opportunity we have.

I’ve found that creating and maintaining a healthy routine helps me to be better prepared for hardships that come my way, be more productive with my time, uphold a positive state of mind, and remain strong in my recovery. Often times when I’m having a difficult day or week, it’s usually because I’m slacking somewhere in my routine.

This isn’t to say I don’t have days that I struggle. Because I do. I have many. I have days when I’m on top of my game and I tackle my routine and responsibilities with vigor, enthusiasm, and motivation. And then I have days when I don’t even put on a bra or make it to the shower. I still have days when I want to curl up into a fetal position and sink beneath the floor. I have days when I want to stay in bed and scream into my pillow. I have days when my anxiety surfaces and overcomes me, and I become paralyzed until it passes. I still have these days. The beauty is that I get to feel it all without the need to numb and I no longer make these days worse by drinking. The gift is that by feeling these raw emotions, I am truly alive. I am truly living. I now have the courage to face these days. I get to work through my emotions. I don’t suppress them nearly as often as I used to in my addiction. In my recovery, I have the amazing opportunity and gift of living a raw and authentic life. My emotions and my responses to life are pure and true. I know that the negative emotions I experience will pass. Emotions are energy-in-motion, meaning that they are always shifting and changing. With this in mind, I know better than to become attached to or act on a certain emotion, and I know better than to think that emotion will last forever. I know that the negative feelings and emotions will eventually pass, and I’ll get right back into my routine. I always do. This knowing helps me to go easy on myself during the difficult days.

The difficult days usually involve memories that resurface. I still have memories that make me cringe. I’ll be going about my day and all of a sudden one will creep into the forefront of my consciousness and rear its ugly head. The emotions associated with that memory will then flood in as if no time had passed. These memories would bring me down if I allowed them to. But I try not to. I allow myself to feel the emotional charge of the memory, and then I transition my focus to the lesson it taught me. I’ve learned valuable lessons through my negative experiences, even though I’ve learned most of them the hard way. The pain is what strengthened the lessons. My past and all it taught me allowed me to become who I am today. I wouldn’t be where I am were it not for where I’ve been. I’ve found the challenging experiences to be the most valuable, for they have the greatest wealth of wisdom and teachings to offer. These experiences propel us into becoming who we’re meant to be. For us to appreciate where we’re going, we must appreciate where we’ve been. And in the words of Andrea Dykstra, “In order for you to love who you are, you cannot hate the experiences that shaped you.”

I know that I am not my past and I am not the things I did. I was a different person when I drank. I’m not proud of who I was. But I am proud of who I am today. I know my past does not define me. I know I cannot change my past, but I can change my relationship with it. I made the decision to forgive myself and shift my perspective. As long as I see challenges as opportunities and mistakes as lessons, I will continue to grow into a stronger and more resilient individual. My past provided me with an abundance of lessons to learn and grow from. It’s how I choose to handle those lessons that matters. My past is simply a few chapters in my story and I have the power to shift my narrative at any time. If I am too focused on my past, I am not living in the present. And the present is what matters most because it’s all we truly have.

For the longest time I thought my addiction made me weak. I only saw it as a detrimental flaw, something I would have to “live with” forever. I felt powerless and as if my abilities were limited. I felt unworthy of my goals and dreams. I felt trapped and depressed, cornered by my own addiction and self-pity. I didn’t see a way out and I was ashamed of who I had amounted to be. I was allowing my thoughts to fabricate a false sense of victimhood to justify my mental state and cope with my emotions. It was easier to feel victim to my alcohol addiction than to take responsibility for my life. What I had yet to realize was that my alcohol addiction was the symptom of more deep-rooted problems. My addiction and anxiety were the red flags to my core issues. They were there to get my attention so that I could begin to heal myself on core levels. My decision and willingness to become sober became an opportunity to heal myself from within and discover my true self.

I came to realize that with sobriety, I was capable of all the things I had dared to dream of before. My sobriety allowed me to go from limited to limitless. In the words of Brene Brown, “Sobriety is not a limitation- it’s a superpower.” Rather than my addiction making me weak, in the end it actually made me stronger than ever before. I came to realize that just because I had been powerless in addiction does not mean I am powerless in my life. I have power over my thoughts, attitude, reactions, words, and most importantly, my choices. I have the power to rise above my addiction, heal myself from within, face my problems, become a better person, repair my relationships, and create the life I want. I have the power to start over. I transformed my feelings of powerlessness in addiction to empowerment in recovery. My recovery has been my opportunity to take back my power.

My sister used to tell me, “Always be true to yourself.” Her words continue to echo in my heart today. As long as I remain rooted in who I am, I’ve found that I can handle life with much more grace and ease. My recovery has provided me with the opportunity to explore who I am and embrace my authenticity. Without the attachment to substances, I’m free to be me. I took off my masks and took on the world. If people don’t approve of my true, authentic self then they are not my tribe. These days I choose to surround myself with people who have my best interests in mind, want me to succeed, and who cheer me on. I choose to surround myself with people who I can be myself with. I choose to honor and accept myself as I am and stand firm in my truth. By remaining true to myself, I am practicing love for myself. The more love I have for myself, the more I’m reminded that I am worthy of all the great things life has to offer. And I am worthy of my recovery.

Today, I continue to integrate adventure and nature into my recovery practice, as I find both to be incredibly healing and influential. Nature is medicine to me and the wilderness always has a way of guiding my soul back home. I still love to keep my life and recovery fresh and exciting by going on trips and adventures. I find it helpful to break out of my comfort zone and disrupt any stagnancy in my life by exploring new things and places. Nothing moves me more than falling asleep in the pale moonlight, under a blanket of stars, to the distant howls of coyotes on the hunt, the winds whistling through the trees and canyons. My primal energies are awakened and my senses are heightened, taking in the sheer majesty of nature. I feel the most alive out there amongst the wild things. Out there, I am acutely aware of my being. I am reminded that I am enough. I am on the right path because any path that brings me closer to nature also brings me closer to my true self. I’ve realized that while there are many great adventures to be had in recovery, the greatest adventure is the one within.

In summary, I knew I needed to quit drinking long before I actually did. My big red flag was when I continued to drink despite the consequences. Unfortunately, this began very early in my drinking because I was always a black-out drinker. Over time, my addiction overcame me entirely and I was either under the influence or constantly thinking about how to get alcohol. I began to rationalize and justify any reasons to continue drinking. I put my addiction before everything else in my life, including my loved ones and my responsibilities. My addiction perpetuated negative emotions, thoughts, actions, and decisions, and lured me away from a lifestyle of integrity. I lost my self-respect and I lost my dignity. I dug myself a deep, dark, lonely hole and I was well on my way to digging my own grave.

It took a considerable amount of pain and suffering for me to finally put down the shovel. My rock bottom then became fertile ground in which to plant seeds. My recovery has allowed me to water, grow and nurture those seeds, and it is this growth that sustains me. The growth I have experienced and continue to experience in my recovery makes all the trials and hardships from my addiction worthwhile because my addiction has taught me a great deal. Someone once said, “Rock bottom will teach you lessons that mountain tops never will.” However, not everyone needs to reach rock bottom before they stop digging.

Recovery is a second chance. Through my recovery, I’ve gained self-respect, dignity, and joy. My recovery has allowed me to step into my power and live with integrity to myself, my purpose, and the world around me. I’ve always wanted to make a difference in the world, and when I entered recovery this actually seemed possible because I now had a clear head and integral intentions. However, what I’ve come to realize is that change begins with me. Change begins with me doing my work so that I can become who I’m meant to be and show up my best self. In order to help our fellows, we must first help ourselves. In order to grow, we must nurture our conditions. In order to navigate the darkness, we must first cultivate the light. True change begins within. Because in order to change the world, we must first change ourselves. “Para el bien de todos.” For the greater good of all.

1 in 7 people struggle with substance addiction, or 21 million people (in America alone). Only 10% of these individuals receive treatment. Addiction kills thousands of people every year and impacts millions of lives. Drug overdose deaths have more than tripled since 1990, and the number gets larger every year. Likely, you have lost someone to addiction, or you know someone who has. This is why recovery is crucial. If you are choosing recovery, you are choosing life. Remember this on the hard days. Remember this when you want to give up and give in. Remember this when it doesn’t seem worth it. Because I’m here to tell you it is. Stay strong for the ones you’ve lost. Stay strong for your brothers and sisters, family and friends. Stay strong for your children. But most importantly, stay strong for yourself.

Everyone has a story to tell, and I would encourage you to tell your story. Your story has the power to impact and empower the lives of many. Through adversity we develop strength and resilience. Resilience is strengthened by recognizing that we all have wisdom to share with others through our experiences. All of us encounter adversity throughout our lives and it helps to know we’re not alone in our struggles. In a world of filters, fakeness, falsehoods, and followers, it can be difficult to take off the masks, bare your soul, and tell your story. But do. Please do. Because the world needs more raw beauty, emotion, and experience. The world needs more authenticity and truth. Your story can help someone find peace and courage within their own. Don’t be afraid to share your experience, strength, and hope. Be open. Be vulnerable. Because you never know who needs to hear it. In addition, telling your story may also provide you with the insight you need to integrate your own experiences.

Telling my story certainly helped me to integrate mine. In my early recovery and shortly after I moved to Utah, I was telling my sponsor about how I had been camping in a beautiful, secluded spot in the mountains right on a creek in order to save money. I was referring to the time in my life I call my dark night of the soul. After hearing the details of my life during that time, she helped me to realize that I had chosen to be homeless and isolated, rather than camping and secluded, and that rather than camping to save money, I was camping to afford my addiction. I looked at her in disbelief because that thought had never occurred to me. That was the moment I came to realize that all my justifications were total bullshit. During my entire drinking career I lied to myself and candy-coated everything. I wore masks of ignorance and indifference and belittled some pretty big shit, like calling homelessness for the sake of affording my addiction ‘camping.’ I was trying to romanticize my alcoholism and turn it into an adventure when there is nothing remotely romantic about going months without drawing a sober breath.

There comes a time when we need to be completely honest with ourselves in regards to our quality of life. When the masks come off and the coat of candy chips away, what remains? If we’re too scared to look at our life in its raw form, then maybe it’s time we should.

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Megan Christensen

Megan is currently training to become a transformational coach and work in the field of addiction recovery coaching and psychedelic integration coaching. She is very passionate about helping people navigate through their own dark night of the soul and step into their power in order to live an integral and joyful life.

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