If it changes your life, let it.

I wrote this for my friend Lizzy, who owns She Moves Mountains.  I figured I might as well share it here as well. 🙂

I want to avoid cliches, but climbing has absolutely changed my life and I’m gonna spend my last breath ranting about it.

I started climbing in a gym because I was depressed. Like, unable-to-get-out-of-bed-depressed. Drinking-a-bottle-of-nyquil-an-afternoon depressed. Quit-my-job-and-got-ready-to-die depressed. I’m saying it was serious.

My dad cried when he visited me for Christmas, called my landlord and broke my lease for me, packed up my studio and drove me to California so he could pay for my therapy and keep an eye on me. As I sat crumpled in the back of his car I peeked out the window and saw a billboard advertising a climbing gym just two miles from his house.  I figured between therapy sessions and sleeping all the time I might as well try to exercise. I just wanted to lose my alcohol-abuse weight; I had no aspirations to climb outside, to lead anything, to make any real friends climbing, or to make a living from the outdoor industry. Alas.

What started as a distraction from suicidal ideation quickly morphed into an obsession; I loved the way my body felt on a rock wall. I met a group of women who took it upon themselves to invite me everywhere with them, be it top-roping at Stoney Point or hiking Mt Baldy. Suddenly I was setting my alarm and eagerly awaiting early morning drives to Holcomb, Joshua Tree, Tahquitz, etc.  I felt like I was falling in love. I loved the way campfires smelled, and I loved cooking on tiny camp stoves and pointing out constellations with my new friends. Climbing became about relationships; I Iearned to trust and communicate with my partner, and I learned to have a healthier relationship with my body and my past trauma. I learned to rest instead of quitting, and I learned how to try hard and how to fail gracefully (most of the time).  I learned how to succeed; I’d never felt elation the way I felt it when I pushed through my assumed limitations and fear and sent a project. 

 Maybe most importantly, I relearned how to play.

Climbing became coping.  It has been a vehicle for healing and self-reflection.  It has provided me community and a sense of belonging, and it has taught me that failure is just part of the process and is something to celebrate instead of shy from.  Falling is awesome. Falling is part of sending, just like our failures in “real” life are tools for more meaningful successes.  

I was standing on top of one of my first multi-pitches once, coiling a rope when I realized how easy it would be to end my life. It had never been so easy before; I’d wanted to die for a while, but the logistics were always so tricky. Suddenly it was easy; I just had to take a couple of steps forward. I thought about my sadness and my rage and my shame and my hopelessness… and then I thought about learning to lead belay and the thrill of catching my new friend’s falls, and how excited I got when my friends tried hard and how excited they got when I tried hard, too. I thought about the campfires and constellations and the sweat and the dirt and the way my dog seemed happier as a crag dog than he’d been in the city. I thought about my first lead fall, and how grateful I was when the rope caught and I was safe and my partner Bailey cheered for me. I thought about it and realized I loved climbing, and loved being alive, and I took a couple of steps.

Backward.

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