Out of the Darkness, Into a New Sunrise

When I came across the Warriors to Summits program, I thought that I was OK.

I thought I had already done a lot of work to improve the quality of my life — that the trauma was behind me and this would be just a hike through the woods.

I was wrong.

I have used talk therapy treatments for many years after my tour of duty. I never felt like I had accomplished much other than the fact that I could say, “I’m in therapy for my PTSD,” just so others would believe I was doing the right thing.

I have participated in other trips for veterans in the hopes that things would be different for me. Although I thoroughly enjoyed myself, after returning home, my life went unchanged.

Mission: Mt. Whitney was different. I thought of myself as an avid hiker at the beginning of this adventure. I was quickly humbled when we hiked James’ Peak the very first time we all met. I had never reached a peak at that elevation before and to stand atop of it was magical. So magical that I cried. I cried from excitement, exhaustion, fear, gratitude, self doubt, and the sense that I had just had an out of body experience.

Hiking down that day I knew this was going to be bigger than anything else I had done. I returned to Colorado for the second training, down 15 pounds, stronger, energized. And I killed it. Still I had nerves for the upcoming climb to the top of the tallest mountain in the contiguous United States. It seemed daunting.

After hiking for the better part of a week on the John Muir trail, the group wanted to hike to the summit in time to see the sunrise. The idea was appealing but the thought of the execution paralyzed me.

The darkness has been my biggest adversary since returning from Iraq and I felt I wasn’t ready. Much to the dismay of my teammates, I could not make the decision unanimous. But after several hours, and support from everyone on the team, I knew I wanted to make this happen for everyone that worked so hard to be there.

I awoke on the morning of summit day and burned my fingers on boiling hot water, vomited a little, and felt like I was going to collapse. This was not the time for a panic attack. There was no turning back. My fears were staring me in face and I had to fight my way through them. And so we went.

The sunrise was as majestic as anything you could imagine.

“I did it,” I thought. “I really (expletive) did it.”

I felt like a powerful human being. That I could accomplish anything in the world. That feeling enveloped me at the top of that mountain and still now, months later.

I returned home knowing I needed to make choices in my life that would make me truly happy instead of just comfortable. I knew this process would not be easy but I now had the strength, courage, and fortitude to see it through.

Today, I am in the process of buying a home — all by myself! I have also always wanted to work for Hospice but in the past never followed through with it. Since returning I have become a Hospice volunteer and offer massages to those in the program.

I have continued to travel regularly and am looking forward to many new adventures both physically, mentally, and spiritually.

I don’t run from my barriers anymore; I face them and own them.