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