Last week Fernando and I went camping. It had been pretty intense couple of months and I

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My father at the Garden of the Gods 30-something years ago.

needed to get away for a couple of days. I immediately thought of going to the Garden of the Gods in Southern Illinois. It is a beautiful area with lots of trails near by. Also, I have always felt very connected to my father there. The goal was just to relax, hike, meditate and read. Basically a couple of days dedicated to taking care of myself.

Apparently the universe had other plans, lessons I needed to learn. I spent a lot of time in that area when I was in my late teens and twenties. The majority of that time I was in a very unhealthy and abusive relationship. When that relationship ended I cut almost all ties to the area. Over the following 10-15 years I “got over” that relationship and started reconnecting with a few people. So, it never occurred to me that it would have surfaced on this camping trip.

We loaded up and left early. As we got closer, I could feel my anxiety rising but I didn’t realize at the time why. I stopped at a gas station in the last town before camp. A nice guy started up a conversation about where I could get firewood next time. He suggested a part of town that, just the mention of, felt like a punch in the stomach. The birthplace of so many of my worst memories. I politely finished the conversation and got back in the car. I did my best to shake it off and continue on.

At that point though I was becoming hyper aware of everything that triggered any sort of memory. A spot on the highway where an argument took place. A house we had visited a few times with friends. There were so many memories on these two lane highways. When you were in your early 20’s in rural Southern Illinois you drank beer and cruised the back roads. There wasn’t much else to do for entertainment.

By the time we got to the campground a couple of things were apparent to me. First, my “getting over” that relationship was mostly just me avoiding/burying it. Second, the purpose of this trip had changed. I was here for a reason.

During these couple of days I realized I still felt anger towards myself for those years. I hadn’t forgiven myself. Throughout the weekend, with all of our trail hopping, I had a lot of opportunities to practice self compassion as these old memories would pop up. It was an exhausting trip on multiple levels but worth every bit of the energy.

I returned home feeling a little lighter and a lot stronger. I had let go of some weight I had been carrying for a very long time. Spending so much time thinking about that part of my life also gave me a new appreciation for my own strength. Lastly, it was a reminder of how important it is to always be open to what the universe and this journey are trying to teach me.