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

 

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