To the World I Left Behind: Thank You

If you’re reading this, you’re likely wondering if blogging was a phase, if I got lost on my drive to Alaska, or if I simply fell off the face of the earth. Well friends, none of those are true (thankfully), but I do think an explanation for a near 6 month absence is warranted! On March 1st, I started the adventure of a lifetime. I embarked on not only a cross-country drive, but I also pushed “play” on the rest of my life.

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Lake Louise, Banff National Park

The last few months have been a rollercoaster of adventure– something that would make excellent writing material. So why have I been MIA?

I forgot how much joy writing brought me. There was always some reason… I was too busy, too tired, etc… Last week, I had my first real break down since I kissed my hubs goodbye for four months. Since I left behind everything I’d known for my entire adult life. In that moment, I realized something. I haven’t given myself enough time to feel. I haven’t even scratched the surface of how I’m feeling about the seriously major amount of change I’ve experienced over the last few months. I went back to my last post before my mysterious hiatus and read about fear. I read the beautiful words that came from my heart on how embracing our fears can be SO freeing.

After allowing myself the time to feel what I needed, I realized that I owed it to myself (and to you wonderful people who support me on this journey) to put words on paper about what has been the biggest adventure of my life. It has taken me a long time to figure out how to express my journey with the military… and I still harbor a lot of anger. But, I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t one hell of an adventure. After all, adventure and transparency is what I promised you when I started this thing. So, let’s do this.

To the world I left behind…

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I have been asked many times since separating whether or not I regret it or if I would do it all over again. Strangely enough, I don’t regret a damn thing. The military broke a lot of pieces of me, both physically and mentally, but I’m proud of the near 6 years I spent serving my country. 

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Most of all, I’m incredibly thankful for everything I walked away with: my husband and the man of my dreams, my two east coast born fur babies, two wonderful years spent living in Italy, a college degree and NO DEBT, and last but not least, the life I have built and the person I’ve become.

 

 

 

To be clear, regret and recommendation are on opposite ends of the spectrum. I spent a while thinking about how I would answer the question of regret because I think it is imperative that those asking are made aware of both the positives and the negatives from the least sugar-coated standpoint you’ll find. The answer that I felt served justice to that was this:

It depends on who’s asking. I’m all for feminism and I will stand on the front lines as women in this country continue to fight for our rights… but if your sister, daughter, wife, girlfriend etc., is asking if they should join… my answer is no. If it is your son, etc., then sure. The military is not a place for women, it never has been and in my opinion I don’t think it ever will be.

I was sexually assaulted (and never reported it out of fear) and sexually harassed on more than one occasion. I reported the harassment and was ostracized, not taken seriously and told “he’s just a young stupid boy who probably didn’t know what he was saying”. The second time, it came from an older male who was in a supervisory position over me and it took bringing it to the Inspector General to have him removed from said supervisory position after it was reported. I was completely, 100% made to feel like it was my fault. JEEZ, can you imagine if I’d reported the assault as a young, 20 year old going through a divorce, with an ex-husband slut shaming me throughout our workplace, left and right?

Almost every woman that I was friends with during my time in the military had also experienced some degree of assault or harassment. They can say they have a zero-tolerance policy all they want, but I’m just not buying it. I’d like to be the poster woman for change and say that it’s worth standing up and fighting… but for me, it wasn’t. It nearly broke me. When I finally got help for my anxiety/panic attacks, I was still treated differently.

I will never forget the panic attacks I had alone, in the locker rooms of the Air Force One Hangar, desperately trying to pull myself together because I couldn’t take having to explain my feelings to one more person. I can’t even count the times my husband has picked me up off the floor of our home and put the pieces of his broken wife back together with more compassion than every man I’ve ever known combined. I will never forget the time I found the strength to tell my supervisor that I felt as if I was about to have a panic attack, tried to explain that I didn’t know why or what was wrong with me, and he said the words that are burned into my brain: “you have three minutes to pull yourself together and come back to work.”

An hour later, after clenching my fists so hard from shaking that my nails left marks on my palms, my eyes feeling so swollen from tears and being paralyzed to a single spot on the ground, I found myself in my therapist’s office… just thankful my leadership didn’t force me to go to the Emergency Room (despite their efforts).

It nearly broke me.

SO, why did I title this “To the World I Left Behind: Thank You” ?!??!

Because I did get help. 6 months ago, I wrote about how scared I was when I first started taking Zoloft. Here I am, 6 months later, cutting my pills in half and fully prepared to be off the medication for good in 3 weeks.

Because I have a lifetime supply of ‘leadership’ traits that I vow to NEVER employ. But also, I served under some incredible leaders who taught me the difference between leading and managing and how to truly value your people. I was proud to work for those leaders.

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My favorite leader of them all– the Air Force needs more like you, Tyler ❤

I learned how to stand up for myself, no matter how hard it may be… I learned so much about who I am and I found the person that I am today. A person that I was so proud to become. I fought really hard to become her and that is something I will have forever.

 

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Baby Air Force Dylan, 2014!

 

Finally, the people who stood through my side through it all… you know who you are. I wouldn’t be the person I am today without those of you who loved me through everything. Those who stood up for me when I didn’t have it left in me to stand up for myself. In 5 years and 10 months, I met some of the best people and for that, I’m forever grateful. In the military, you laugh and cry together, sometimes all at once. You are dealt a hand of cards without any way of choosing first and the friendships and bonds that came from that wild deck of cards is unmatched. 

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On March 1st, I walked away from everything I’d known for my entire adult life. Since March 1st, I’ve been embracing the freedom of being able to express myself in my truest form. I’ve been waking up to the mountains that I call home and truly enjoying every minute of growing my little baby in my belly. I find myself thinking about where I was and where I am now and I’m so proud of the life that Tyler and I have built for our little tiny baby and our (big) fur babies. My favorite part: knowing that everything I went through over the past 6 years brought me right here, right where I KNOW I’m supposed to be.

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THANK YOU to the world that taught me who I wanted to be and gave me the strength to be unwaveringly confident in that person.

Stay Wild

XOXO/Dylan

 

On Fear: Mount Mitchell

Wooooow, I’m late! I’ve been MIA for the past month or so, but I needed to take some time to find some balance as there is sooooo much transition coming in the next few months for my family. Aside from that, I also wasn’t sure where I wanted to go with this post… but as I sit here today, I think I’ve finally got it figured out.

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About 5 weeks ago, I started taking Zoloft (Sertraline) for serious anxiety and panic disorder that I’ve battled (mostly silently) for years. To say I was scared would be a vast understatement. I was absolutely terrified – the first day on the medicine, I sat there with the tiny pill in my hand, staring at it and wondering, “What is this little tiny piece of condensed powder going to do to me?” I’ve heard all the horror stories… But I also know that our brain and our body works together to react to fear, and often, that’s what causes panic attacks (for me). I put that fear aside and put my trust in my psychiatrist. The last 5 weeks have been full of change in my brain and the way I process things. I feel like this medicine is working for me and I’m able to enjoy the little things, that much more.

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3 weeks ago, the first weekend in December, Tyler and I packed the car and headed to Asheville, North Carolina where we planned on climbing Mount Mitchell. It is the highest peak east of the Mississippi, standing at 6,684 feet. I found the cutest little tiny house (eeek!) on AirBNB, just an hour from the trailhead. We were lucky enough to stop along the route at a dear friend’s house and see her family. Her little one is a firecracker, to say the least!

On Friday night, we googled top dinner spots in Asheville and set out for the “Edison Kitchen”… little to our knowledge, we were pulling into the Omni Grove Park Inn, greeted by a valet and being ushered into the most grand hotel I’ve ever been in. I’ve always thought of an “Inn” as a small, quaint place… The Grove Park Inn was far from small, and the kind of resort hotel that I’ve always dreamed of planning weddings at.

In the atrium, Tyler immediately had his heart set on fresh hot cocoa (it was pouring rain). As we waited in line, I realized the ‘hot coca stand’ was actually a GIANT gingerbread house. You guys… they used 400 POUNDS OF BREAD FLOUR and 440 POUNDS OF POWDERED SUGAR (+ close to 1,000 lbs total of other ingredients). Total, this gingerbread house took the staff 784 hours to complete. And people were standing in it, serving me hot coca?!?

We retired to our tiny house and slept soooo peacefully with the sounds of nature just outside the walls of our tiny cocoon (LINK here to book this amazing little place). The next morning, we woke up early, packed our gear and prayed the rain would stay at bay for this hike… Do bears hibernate on the east coast? Is that a dumb question? Should I have brought the gun or bear spray? It was -4 and covered in snow on Mt. Mitchell 3 days ago, so I shouldn’t worry……… all thoughts spinning in circles through my brain.6391FDEB-E0C3-46E2-BFB6-4913423A6F4C.JPG

BAM, dead bear on the side of the road on the way there. I guess they’re still awake, so that’s cool.

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We pulled into the trailhead and saw another Subaru with two gentlemen, donning fishing gear. It was sprinkling, but nothing unmanageable. They gave us some trail tips, and almost immediately after we set foot on the trail, a torrential downpour rolled in. Like, rain drops running down my face, I might as well go swimming in a lake, kind of downpour. The brush was thick, visibility was poor and I looked at Tyler and said “is this a bad idea?”

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Honestly, in that moment, I was scared. Scared because the bears were awake and scared because we were completely alone on that mountain. There was not another soul on the trail and that was abundantly clear from the silence. I was looking for Tyler to justify turning around and attempting this hike again in the spring…

 
The entire hike, about 6.5 miles from the parking lot to the summit, was full of riveting conversation and an excellent opportunity to connect with my hubby, doing what we love. The trail was challenging, not because of the terrain, but because of the elevation gain and the changing climate. When we first started, amidst the torrential downpour, I was sweating bullets. As we climbed higher, it only got colder.IMG_2248

A close friend was supposed to be meeting us at the summit (you can drive up there, too) to take our Christmas card photos and document this climb because helloooo, highest peak on the east coast! We got to the top and there was no sign of Cynthia. We met two guys (wow, there are other people up here?!) who noticed our microspikes and sparked a conversation. Turns out, he’s climbed Denali (one failed attempt and one completed) and a few of the other major peaks around the world. He was on top of Mitchell scoping out boulders, as he wanted to buy 2,000 lbs of rock to boulder in his backyard. People buy some crazy shit, but that one is definitely on top of the list.

I was frozen. It was near-sleeting at the summit, 30+mph winds and we had stopped moving to wait for Cynthia. The visibility was deteriorating even further. I saw the lights of her jeep come around the corner and I basically threw myself in her car, in front of her heaters, to warm up.  We took some pictures, but froze even more for the 10ish minutes we were outside, and as the conditions got worse… We made a safety call and jumped into her jeep and rode back down to our car. We stopped to take some great shots in these amazing tunnels on the Blue Ridge Parkway, but truly couldn’t see more than 50ft in front of the jeep while driving. If you’re in the Asheville area, head over to Cynthia Gilbraith Photography for amazing work with a beautiful soul.

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Some would say we quit or didn’t finish this hike and to that, I say: YES. We absolutely did. My feet carried me 6.7 miles and 3,701 feet up at a 31:41 pace. We didn’t quit, we made a safety call. Cynthia saw a bear run across the road on her way up and we didn’t have any bear spray and we could hardly see. We were sopping wet and completely frozen… so we made a safety call and I’d make the same call time and time again.

I was scared at first. Annnnd for most of the hike, to be honest. But I do this because fighting my fears is important to me. If I just lived in a bubble that protected me from all of the things I was afraid of, I probably wouldn’t ever leave my house. I do this because looking down at where we started is so, so relatable. It reminds me that everyone starts somewhere and there is ALWAYS going to be a climb. We aren’t handed anything.

In the next 68 days, Tyler and I will be transitioning from our home for the last 3 ½ years to a new home in Alaska. Ty will be heading to Texas for 3 months of training (in his dream job!) and I’ll be road-tripping back to Alaska with my dad and two dogs (+sedatives for the dogs and maybe dad, too) to start my career. It’s not going to be easy, but everything we’ve been through the past 3 years together, in this year alone, and right now, has prepared us for THIS climb.IMG_2324

Fear is relative. Our brain is trained to interpret perceived threats and process them into what is a real threat and what isn’t – Let your brain do what it is meant to do, let it process and understand when danger is real. And when it’s not, slow down and enjoy the beauty that is LIVING.

Stay Wild

XOXO//Dylan

Fighting Fears and Finding Beauty: Dragon’s Tooth

This weekend was full of not one, two or even three adventures… but four. I felt quite a bit of sadness as this three-day weekend came to a close. The adventures I went on this weekend were incredible. The people I went on these adventures with turned incredible to out-of-this-world.Processed with VSCO with c2 preset

I’m usually pretty good about putting words on paper the same day of an adventure, or at least the next day. To be completely honest with you… it was hard this week. I usually turn to writing when I’m feeling down or anxious but this week has all been a little too much. I needed to breathe.

On Wednesday I went in for a colonoscopy and endoscopy (yuck) so of course, that meant my Tuesday was shot and consisted of nothing more than green jell-o, water and some god-awful chicken stock… annnnnnd the bowel prep. I started writing then, but I just couldn’t make it happen. My mind felt foggy and I was feeling truly sad that the momentum from the weekend of adventures had come to such a screeching halt. My doctor found a polyp in my colon, which he removed and is sending it off to test for pre-cancerous cells.

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Pre-cancerous…what? I’m 23, dammit. A close family friend lost a battle to colon cancer a few years back and that is the FIRST thing that came to my mind. While my doctor seems optimistic since I am otherwise completely healthy, the word ‘cancerous’ sent my emotions and any grip I had on my anxiety spiraling. I remembered Suzanne and all of the adventures she had before she was diagnosed, and then those she had after. The life in that woman radiated over the tops of the mountains, past the ozone layer and on to the moon and the stars…

 

SO here I am. Writing this. Because this is what makes my heart sing.

We set out on a near 4-hour drive to tackle Dragon’s Tooth. Tyler and I jumped in the car with one person I only knew from work and another we had met five minutes prior. Riveting conversation made the ride itself an adventure. Shit, what else are you going to do with 4 hours in the car?

Both “be brave” and “fearless” are tattooed on my skin because while fearless is a quality I resonate with, sometimes I also need a reminder to be brave. There are a few things in this world that I can say with certainty I am afraid of: trains (I’ll write about this one day), the dark, serial killer animals, failure, lack of control… When we got to the top of Dragon’s Tooth in Jefferson National Forest, I confronted both failure and lack of control all in one. I literally said to Tyler, “do you think I could survive this fall?” He laughed. I was kind of serious.

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But nonetheless, I made it up there. THEN IT WAS TIME TO GO DOWN. As I calculated my route down from a literal tooth-shaped rock in the sky, I looked deep into my soul and said “who is this girl? Why are you up on this rock where you could probably fall to your death if made one wrong move?”

I was on that rock because I felt SO alive. Because I looked at the people around me, and I couldn’t think of a place, in that moment, that I would rather be.

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Don’t get it twisted, I was completely fucking terrified. Tyler was trying to coach me down and it was stressing me out, so I told him I had it. I’m not kidding, within five seconds I said “babe, how do I get down?”

He looked at me and said, “I literally was just trying to tell you…” God bless this man who loves me and my backwards mind so fiercely.

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I spent most of the way down getting to know another new friend, Chelsea and found so much comfort in a like-minded soul. I felt like we’d known each other for years and in reality, it hadn’t been more than 6 hours. We even lost Tyler and Jon on the way down because they were so caught up in conversation, they forgot to keep walking? Who knows.

Either way, these two people felt like family and when we got back to the car that was accidentally parked on only 3 wheels and halfway in a ditch (oops), we set out on another adventure to find the Hanging Rock Overlook. We ended up at the end of a dirt road in a small trail-head parking lot with a literal bag of (what looked like) human shit hanging in a tree. I’m not kidding. I guess someone really had to go… It was only half a mile to the overlook, so we climbed down to the bottom of the ‘hanging rock’ and then back up just for the hell of it. We snapped this gem even though it took a million tries (shoutout to iPhone self-timers, but could we add a 15 second one?)!

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The ride home was beautiful, spiraling through the mountains as the sun was setting. There were moments where the car was silent, and I thought about how much I will miss these people when we leave. The military gives you friendships in places you’d never expect but often has an uncanny ability to rip it away from you just as quickly as it was formed. I sincerely hope that these friendships last a lifetime (K2, we’re comin’ for you someday).

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I write all this to remind you that there is beauty everywhere you go. Sometimes the beauty is in the simple conversation that connects people from all different walks of life. There is beauty in looking one (or many) of your fears in the face and then saying, “I fucking did it.” For so long, I convinced myself that Virginia isn’t Alaska, thus it isn’t beautiful. It is. Maybe it is a different kind of beautiful…But over the last few months I have learned that it comes in the most unexpected places and simply pausing for a moment to appreciate the adventure is like finding a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. I hated the fact that I had to drive 2 hours for a decent view, but in just one weekend I spent close to 12 hours in the car with my life partner and 4 friends I wouldn’t trade for the world AND some of the best conversation came from the open road.

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EMRACE IT, people. Your heart will thank you. Your soul with thank you. Learning that the adventure isn’t always the climb has been hard, but SO rewarding for me.

This one is for you Suzanne, for all your adventures and for all the love you poured into our world… We miss you.suzie 2

XOXO/Dylan

Solo Hiking and Why You Need it in Your Life

First and foremost, I want to preface this by telling you that I didn’t want to do this hike today and this post is not going to be about how cool this hike was. My mind was saying no, no, no, noooooooooooo! at every decision point today. I was up early because I had to go into work for an hour. One hour was enough to send my mood spiraling and remind me of this panic-inducing sense that I don’t belong…

After arguing with myself the whole way home, my brain was telling me I was still tired. So I opted for a nap and settled for spending the day doing laundry, cleaning the house and prepping to drag myself to 36 hours of work over the next 3 days.

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Does this person look tired?! NO!

2 hours later, I was done with all of the chores and was excruciatingly bored, watching tv… Tyler called and asked why I didn’t hike today and I immediately felt panic deep in my chest. WHY didn’t I hike?!?! For a few minutes, I let it consume me… I was nearly hysteric with hate for living here, in this “awful” place where I feel like I don’t belong, and where any type of decent hike is 60+ minutes away.

This week has been really, really hard on me. Since I came back from Alaska, the part of my brain that holds the on/off buttons for anxiety/panic has felt broken. I’ve been feeling like I’ve lost control of, well…my ability to control it. On Monday (at work, unfortunately), I had a full-blown, blackout panic attack for no apparent reason. On Tuesday, I came scary-close to another panic attack when I was put in a situation that triggered memories of horror. Panic attacks, for me, leave me feeling like I have nothing left. I was running on empty.

But dammit, my (incredible) husband was right. WHY DIDN’T I HIKE?!

So I got up, put the panic away and I left.

The second my feet hit the ground and my heart rate began to rise, all of the panic that had been brewing inside me this week seemed to dissipate.

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I realized that while my brain said “go home, take a nap, prep for work”, my heart wanted the mountains. And I desperately needed them. I am so grateful for the silence that is nature for giving me a chance to reconnect with my body.

Taking care of your body is important but you guys, taking care of your MIND needs to come first.

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Raven Rocks

While this is only my second solo hike and I fought it every step of the way, I truly feel like hiking alone has changed me. It gives me this incredible outlet to connect my mind to my body in ways I didn’t think were possible. I feel like I belong, even though I’m completely solo. Instead of the usual sense of impending doom that comes with the night before going back to a job I despise, I feel as if this hike gave me enough mountain air to keep breathing steadily through the next few days of work until I can get back out there. Enough mountain air to pull in when I feel that sense of panic in my chest…

For those of you who are on the edge about a solo hike… I implore you to take a leap of faith, trust your heart AND your mind, and do the damn thing!

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A favorite quote of mine reads, “into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul.” Sometimes, I think we need just that. To find (and re-connect with) our soul. It’s painfully easy to lose that in a world that holds such unfounded societal expectations of humans, let alone young women.

We are ORGANIC, we break just like any other organic material. Finding a way to put those pieces back together and connect the feelings in our heart with those in our brain is when we can truly see clearly.

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Stay wild/xoxo– Dylan