For those of you who don't know, I am talking about my Outward Bound Canada, Women of Courage course that took place earlier this month.
It was the journey of a life time.
This course was a week long backpacking/hiking trip in the Canadian Rookies, and my oh my, what better classroom to learn in.
There were seven other women on this course with me, the only commonality we had was that we had experienced violence at some point in our lives. There were two wonderful female instructors and they were good.
Each women on this course was not only challenging the Rookies and the climb and all the physical stuff that goes along with that, they, like me, were also on their own personal healing and inner journey. And what a journey it was. The two instructors were amazing. They were not just our "guides", to keep us safe and get us from point A to point B, they were also our teachers, therapists, counselors, support, cheering section and loving fan club. They were amazing.
I am still processing the week I spent with these wonderful women in the Rookies, so many highlights, so many challenges, so much growth.
As I have mentioned in a previous post, I had sent Outward Bound a safety plan, to help keep me present as one of my main goals was to not dissociate on this course.
We had all meet at a hotel in Canmore Alberta and were met by the organizers and instructors. We were then taken to a group camp ground around Kananaskis where we did the “ duffle shuffle”, which is where you separate the stuff you are going to take, from the stuff you are not, and then go through a list to see if you have everything you need. Some of the women also separated all the food into days, and put them in separate carry bags, one bag had the meals for that particular day.
We were also given sleeping bags, tents and sleep mats, matched up with a tent mate and went and set up tents and sleeping bags and mats for the night.
It was a very intense few hours of learning, as we learned how to put together and operate the stoves, make dinner, clean up, how to treat the water, how to pack our pack, how to dress to sleep and to hike the next day, and an assorted million other things. Things like…. If you wake in the middle of the night and have to go pee, do it, because having a full bladder takes heat away from your body, as your body will try to keep your pee warm…I think we finished around 10:00 pm or so and I was more than exhausted, I was completely bagged.
Oh yes, were had to have a bathroom buddy whenever we went to the outhouse, and we were each issued our own container of bear spray that we were to have on us at all times, because we were , indeed in bear country, black bear and grizzly!!!
I was happy to hit the sack and get some rest. It was cold and dark so I changed in the tent. Now these tents are not big, they are two person tents, maybe 4 feet wide and 6 feet long, with 2 of us in there, there is not much room, and no privacy. As I’m striping off and changing into my merino wool long johns I mentioned to my tent mate..”nothing like a little intimacy to get two people to know each other”
As tired as I was I could not sleep, and yes..I did have to go pee in the middle of the night. I waited and waited and then I heard my tent mate was awake, so off we go. I step out of the tent and look up and I am astonished. I could not get over how many stars there were, and I could see the entire Milky Way, not bit and pieces of it, but the whole thing, and it seemed like it was so close I could touch it…it was amazing….
Morning comes and I get up and get changed, take the tents down and pack our packs. We then have breakfast and finished packing. Our ride arrives to take us to the start of the trail and we go to load up the truck….and I can’t pick my pack up…so I sort of drag and pop it across the field to the truck thinking..”how the hell am I going to carry this”…
We reach the trail head and unload the vehicles. We get ready to start the hike and I have to have someone help me with the pack, which means I had to get someone to pick it up and hold it for me while I put it on. Oh yes, did I mention am the oldest one there! I think if the opportunity came up for me to turn back and go home, part of me would have seriously thought about it.
Did I tell you the scenery was amazing and I kept thinking it looked like something from a post card. Our trail started at the upper Kananaskis Lake, it was beautiful, majestic mountains in the back, it was amazing. The pine trees smelled different than the ones here at home, they had a lighter , sweet smell to them. The air was cooler and there were some gray clouds in the sky.
Once I get my pack on, it takes me awhile to regain my balance, and we start the hike. We were a couple of hours in and the uphill climb started. I was feeling pretty good about the training I had done to prepare for this course, but it soon became apparent that it was not enough. I was short of breath and could not catch my breath. My feet were unsure on the rocky trail and the load in my pack seemed to get heavier with each step. One of the instructors asked me how I was doing, I said fine, then she said "how are you really doing"-(as per requested on my safety plan) - and I broke out in tears and said” I am panicking and I can’t breathe.” I am also thinking, oh great Suzy, it’s not even lunch time on the first day and you have lost it.
The instructor let the group- who were ahead of me- know that we needed to stop and she stayed with me, she asked me what was going on and how she could help. I didn’t know what was going on, I knew there were very intense emotions coming up, I knew I needed to acknowledge and honor them, and I knew I needed to process them. With the support of the instructor and the group, I was able to do that, and then move on, and continue the climb. I needed breath breaks and the whole group was very supportive of me and stopped whenever I requested a breath break.
A while later, the group pulled off to the side of the trail, once we reached some level ground- which to me seemed to take forever- and the instructors brought out a piece of white material, this was to become our flag. They asked everyone in the group to commit to the group that we would respect each other, be safe, and I can’t remember what else, but you get the idea. They then asked us what we could bring to the group and then write it down on the flag, and then trace our hands with the marker. I told the group I could bring humor and authenticity. Before the group started up again one of the ladies, who is Cree I believe, performed a smudge, when she did this my tears started flowing again. I could not believe the impact this had on me and the same thing happened each time she did this. Obviously, it was touching something deep down inside me.
It was amazing. And this was only in the 1st part of the 1st day.
Back on the trail, a few hours later I had this huge epiphany and came to understand what the tears and panic while on the climb were about. It is because I was allowed to safely process these emotions with the support of the staff and group that I was able to reach this epiphany, and that was the first of many gifts this group gave me.
We stopped and had lunch in an amazing spot that over looked the lake, it was another amazing scene.I told the instructor that I felt bad for struggling and for having to make the group wait for me, but she reassured me it was fine and not to worry about it. We then carried on, crossed a few creeks, some still and silent, others raging and loud, walked up hill and down, through rock paths and moss covered trails, followed along a river and finally reached our camp for the first night and I was none to glad to get there, I was starting to wonder if it really existed. The camp site is called Forks, and I was sure glad to get there and drop my pack, as it was so heavy I could not let it down slowly. I ached, I was sore and I am sure by this point I was starting to stink. Some folks in the group got firewood, some got and treated the water, some set up tents and some made dinner…each of us had chores to do each day and we discussed who was going to do what the night before.
After dinner and when things were tidied up, we all sat in a circle- we had many circles- around the fire and I thanked the group and instructors for the support they had given me, throughout the day and when I had my “melt down”..I let them know that I am on an inner journey and that I have no idea why the emotions came up, but I also know, that I don’t need to know, my body is remembering something, I need to acknowledge and accept them and let them process and this is how it happens. I let them know that I am safe, I am not in crisis and I did not want any of them to think they may have said or did something wrong, it’s my process and this is what it looks like. The group seemed to be very understandable and supportive. I was impressed with them all.
We all sat around the fire until it was time to get into our tents, struggle with our sleeping bag liners, and sleeping bags and get some sleep. I was exhausted and sore and as I put my head on my pillow-which was my rolled up fleece sweater-Im thinking ..” today was hard, but I have a feeling tomorrow is going to be even harder”….and I was right….
To be continued..