Four years ago this weekend, I was 28 weeks pregnant with Ella. It was an unusually warm March so my former spouse, Wes, and I decided to drive our big red truck into the mountains for a hike. As we drove up a barely maintained logging road, already miles away from a paved highway and well out of cell service, the gravel under our tires became an ice rink. Instead of turning around, we decided to keep driving, hoping conditions would improve.
As we continued up the mountain-side, the road became impassable and finally we stopped the truck to figure out a course of action. The road was too narrow, steep, and slick to turn around, so the only option was to attempt backing the truck down nearly a mile of glare ice. After just a few feet in reverse, the truck lost traction and began sliding uncontrollably toward the edge of the road and a cliff into a ravine. In the last moment before the back tires were about to go over the edge, the tailgate came to a jarring rest on a stout stump of a tree branch. We stopped, but my breath was gone, flittering in and out of my chest in panicked bursts as I imagined what would have happened if that branch hadn’t materialized.
Although that was one of the more dramatic situations I found myself in during that decade, it was certainly not the only one I consider myself lucky to have escaped. Like many people in their twenties, I craved variety, uncertainty, and adventure. I imbibed excessively. I partook in illegal substances. I blew off responsibilities like a professional. I took solo cross-country road trips. I jumped naked off cliffs. I watched a bear cross a river toward me. I almost careened over a mountainside in my truck. I embraced the wildness in everything, including myself. The experiences I sought pacified and fulfilled hedonistic urges while I paid lip-service to my foundational needs and values. With each choice to satisfy desires for adventure, uncertainty, and variety, my life became more unbalanced and inauthentic. Although I maintained a convincing veneer of positivity to everyone, including myself, my life gradually came to resemble that big red truck on an icy slope — I hadn’t crashed yet, but I could feel what was coming.
There’s a razor thin line between compulsive positive thinking and delusion.
That was four years and what feels like a lifetime ago. This week I found myself with five days of needed and valuable alone time — Ella is with her father and Josh is in Chicago. This is the longest stretch of solitude I’ve had since before the incident in the truck. My first inclination was to use this time and embark on some extended solo excursion — skiing, snowshoeing, winter camping, roadtripping. But as I pondered what I might do, none of those options felt right, and I felt excitement about the things I could do at home. Although I still enjoy intrepid activities (okay, not winter camping), I’ve realized over the past few years that those were things I did frequently to to satisfy and mask the needs I was ignoring. But when my life is balanced, when I’m leading my authentic life, when I’m focused on actualizing all of my values, not just a tiny fraction — I only need adventure, uncertainty, and variety, in small, healthier doses.
We can only truly let go of something once we understand why we’re clinging to it so tightly.