Breaking Chains

“Last Sunday morning the sunshine felt like rain.  The week before they all seemed the same.  With the help of God and true friends, I’ve come to realize, I’ve still got two strong legs and even wings to fly.”

——“Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More” by Gregg Allman

 Oahu, May 2016

I was reading a book called “The Defining Decade,” (I would recommend it to anyone who feels a little lost in the twenties) while on a flight to a solo vacation from San Diego to the island of Oahu when I realized I wanted to share my story with the world. I genuinely wanted to offer a piece of hope and understanding to other people who had experienced similar addiction related trials in their lives. I knew what my goal was; bring some form of genuine comfort to anyone and everyone who bothered to read my story and to anyone who has been affected or continues to be affected by the negative forces of alcohol.

I remembered calling home during my junior year of college trying to finish out my fall semester while convincing my Mom to go and stay at a treatment facility in New Jersey over Christmas break. As I hung up the phone, sitting there on the stairs of my building, I felt a profound solitude.

At the time, I admittedly felt a little helpless, I admittedly felt like I was a part of the disarray, I felt like if I tried to excel at everything I did, that I would be able to somehow lessen the problems within my family. I felt like I was the only person in the world who felt like that, but as I grew up and started to stare down my Mother’s illness, I realized that I was certainly not the only daughter or son or spouse or brother or sister or mother or father out there who witnessed such an unraveling.

It occurred to me that I wasn’t the only child out there who grew up always trying to avoid the titles; the scapegoat, the hero, the enabler. And suddenly I just had a desire to know all those other cool people out there. The ones who tried, the ones who smiled through the bullsh*t, the ones who didn’t want to let a substance dictate their lives either.  I felt like I was going to be writing to friends I had yet to meet.

I had just spent four days in Yosemite National Park with three amazingly vibrant girlfriends, worked one full twelve-hour day shift, and then boarded a flight for the Hawaiian Islands. I booked a vacation for myself to decompress, to become inspired, to spend time outside, take another surfing lesson, appreciate the past while visiting Pearl Harbor, and hopefully in the process, write something that could be substantial.

I took photos of the places I visited in Hawaii. I cruised around in a Ford Mustang Convertible that I rented and shopped a little. But there were times on that get away that I felt really lonely and oddly enough for the first time in my life, I was okay with that. I was still searching for some sort of sign or some external motivating factor to proceed with my dream to help heal people through writing.

During my last full day on the north shore of Oahu I sought out a hike called Kealia Trail and I got the sign I was looking for. I was one of five people on the entire trail that morning. Essentially, I was alone for eight sweltering miles. As I climbed in the humidity, I felt like my future was mine for the taking. There is something undeniably empowering about conquering switchback after switchback. I realized that if I wanted to inspire people to take their lives back from the fortress of addiction, not only did I had a lot of life experience to offer up, but I also needed to live like it. The majesty of this view was what I was seeking so I continued on my way, stopping for occasional photos of the ocean view.

But my beautiful ocean view was soon behind me and I found myself sunburned on an old tractor access road with an empty two-liter Camelbak. My hike to this vista that I had researched suddenly seemed a bit more like a chore than a fun activity to try and conquer.

To deafen the silence among the woods, I pulled my i-phone 6 from my pack, put it on air-plane mode and turned on one of my favorite albums. I hiked the rest of the late morning to the voice of Ryan Adams covering Taylor Swift’s 1989 album.

Unfortunately, as I climbed to this point that I had read about on an obscure hiking blog, I got lost. I turned myself around and hiked a mile back to the last sign I could recall, thinking I had gone too far, or that I missed the turn out all together. Frustrated, tired, and alone, I got back to the “Dog Unit A” sign and realized that I was on the right track all along and doubted myself. I had already been out on the trail for 2 hours in the sun and was going to head back down the trail having never found the view. I started that way, back toward the little views I had seen before. And then I thought “You know what Kristina, you didn’t come up here for nothing.   You came up here for you. You did this whole trip to clear your head and go see the things you wanted to see!”

I retraced my steps and surged past the place I had decided to turn back. After hiking another mile at top speed, I realized I was thirsty and exhausted and my prior motivational speech to myself totally dwindled.

“So what is this supposed to mean God? Are you trying to tell me I’ll have set backs? Are you trying to tell me that someone may tell me that my writing is crap?  Is this a test in perseverance or something!? What do you want my life to be about?” I started to cry.

I didn’t even know why but I started balling my eyes out. I was in the middle of Hawaii, far from San Diego, even father from the east coast, alone and I still had no sighting of this view that was supposed to be epic. I thought back to reading “WILD” by Cheryl Strayed exactly one year ago, just a few months before my own mother would die.

There is a scene in the book in which she describes herself in the middle of the Californian wilderness in a clearing somewhere along the Pacific Crest Trail. She was standing in the snow screaming after she saw a fox. In that moment, alone on some sunny middle of nowhere trail on the island of Oahu, I felt like I could not have identified with her character more.

“Is what I went through worth anything?!” I screamed. I looked up to the hill and saw a steel fence with a gate in the distance. “All this hiking in the woods in the middle of nowhere better be worth the view!” I yelled. “My camelback is empty, I’m lost both physically and emotionally and this hike is taking me a lot longer than I anticipated!”

“Get to that fence,” I thought. Keep going.

As I crested this arduous hill in the heat that morning I spotted a clearing just beyond the steel fence. I unlatched the gait and bolted through it just to the right of a few thin trees. It ended up being one of the best hiking views I’ve ever seen. The overlook gave a birds eye view of a lush green valley with the Pacific Ocean cresting at its end. Across the way my eyes were met with pleated, emerald colored mountains. The view was mine and mine alone.

I resolved finally on a mountain top vista view that I would undoubtedly start to write about alcoholism. Alone on that point I called out,

“Do you hear that Mom? What do you think about me writing about all this?”

As I stood there overlooking this beautiful, lush, green valley, the wind kicked up and a tremendous gust came racing up the hill. I spread my arms wide as if to try and fly away. It’s as if she was giving me permission. I remembered the conversation she had with me when I told her I had thought my college had given me the wrong acceptance letter to the nursing program. “Give it a whirl,” she said.

I stayed up on that point for about forty-five minutes and ate an entire jar of JIF peanut butter.

I descended that solo hike in the North Shore that day with different goals than I ascended with. “For the woman who descended that mountain was far different than the girl who climbed it.” I thought. I realized on my way down that my Mom gave me a lot of wonderful ideals to harvest for my own life. I had inherited her love of writing, reading, cooking, photography, and her passion for education. I loved the outdoors and appreciated music much like my Dad. And above all, despite her death, my sister and I had one of the best examples of what it means to say “in sickness and in health.” I would however need to actively pursue God in my life on a daily basis, which was something I did not see her do.

I reflected on something I had read some years earlier as I navigated rocks and switchbacks once again. There was something I read once that said, “all children of alcoholics either become one, marry one, or raise one.” Well, whoever said that, never met me.

I prayed to God that I’d prove that statistic wrong. I had already given up drinking myself, so that eliminated one option. I had a feeling I’d be able to educate my children when the time came about alcohol and it’s place in their own lives. I’d emphasize my family history in the best way; knowing that it was a history that would also become their own and how alcoholism stole their own grandmother. I also realized that I had an amazing opportunity; I could pick my second family starting with the man I would someday marry. He would understand my reasons for total sobriety and support it. He would know that a lack of alcohol in my own life would allow me to flourish as a person. He would want to pursue his own continued education and career, he’d love making me laugh, he would enjoy traveling, he would love the outdoors, live an active lifestyle and strive everyday to raise a Godly family. He would want to be a Dad who would be there for his children and a husband who appreciated his wife. He would have to be a follower of Christ too. I still had some of my own emotional work to do, but for the first time, in a long time, I wasn’t lost anymore.

By grace, I had the career I always wanted, by grace I knew I would have a long lasting and joyful marriage someday, and by grace I’d get to be an awesome Mom. My own Mom had been gone for eight months and I finally felt like I was able to take a full breath again. I wasn’t going to waste another day being the girl I used to be. I finally felt worthy. I finally felt like I was starting to become the woman I was meant to be.

My week spent in Hawaii proved to be what I needed. I hiked, I surfed and I was able to meet up with a childhood and high school friend of mine. Alyssa moved to Oahu with her fiancé, Dave who was in the military. Alyssa and I had grown up playing basketball together and she was a talented athlete. She had been through her own turmoil in high school and seemed to have really risen above and beyond the girl I used to know. She had this courage that I admired and spoke openly about her life struggles.

In a world in which social media forced people to try and make their lives appear perfect, I found her transparency incredibly refreshing. She told me that therapy, just to hash out all the stress of the past few years with my Mom, may be a good idea. She also said, “having a total third party offer coping mechanisms can be really helpful sometimes. There’s no shame in that K. You went through a lot and for the most part it was something only you and your immediate family dealt with.” She could not have been more right.

I was already 25 years old and 26 wasn’t going to wait on whether or not I was ready to move on with my life. I realized how much I had missed Alyssa’s resiliency.  Aside from my mother’s wake, I hadn’t seen her in years. We finished our gelato after going out for sushi and I flew back to San Diego the next day.

I arrived back in San Diego with more purpose than I had ever possessed. I had a plan to finish out my year of travel nursing, see a few more majestic places in Utah on my road trip in the fall. As for everything else, I had to have faith that things would fall into place.

“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”

 Hebrews 11:1