A Key Element of Change, Recovery, & Healing…

When I was 45 years old and had given birth to 5 children (the last two were twins), I decided to run a marathon. That is 26.2 miles… I had been running between 5 and 7 miles for years, which one would think would be enough, but something in me wanted to confront a difficult challenge… to do what in my brain seemed impossible.  My goal was to make it to the finish line before they took down the safety barriers on the roads/streets. That meant I had to finish in 6 hours. And I did it! I finished in somewhere around 5 hours. 

But here’s the thing… why? Why work this hard at something that no one was telling me to do (in fact several people, including my doctor, were telling me not to do it because near the end of training I was struggling with IT Band pain). Why make myself work so hard and be so uncomfortable?  The training was difficult each week, running further and further, but it felt exhilarating to keep facing the challenge and “going the extra mile” so to speak. And the actual race was a celebration of accomplishing something I didn’t know I could accomplish. And here’s another thing. I was running (well jogging) with thousands of people.  I don’t even remember how many people ran that marathon, but there were so many that I had to wait and watch several thousand folks take off at the start line before I could start because I knew they would all run faster than me. Why were thousands of people running 26.2 miles for no apparent reason other than they wanted to?

Our world today is designed to help us to do less work. We have microwaves, fast cars, cell phones, google search, washing machines, dishwashers, running water, electricity…. Etc. etc. etc.… 

Think about living 150 years ago. We would have had to chop wood, well shoot.. first we would have to cut down a tree and cut it up and haul it to our cabin by wagon or in our arms before we could even chop it and use it to cook, heat water to wash dishes and ourselves, and heat our houses. Our civilization in the past 150 years has exponentially exploded with new technology that lets humans do less work. And in the past 20 years it has gone a hundred times faster. 

For thousands of years we cooked on an open fire, outside or in a fireplace, hauled water, and build various kinds of shelters from the storm.  Even the elaborate castles were cold and drafty, and we were still cooking on a fire in a fireplace or fire pit. 

What this explosion of technology has done is make us work harder to work less, to avoid inconveniences and effort. We are intentionally insulating ourselves from challenge and risk, from the unknown that requires hard work and approaching the possible/impossible. 

And it is the hardest on our young people. We protect and enable them, and try hard to make it easier for them, till they retreat into their rooms which are conveniently equipped with TVs, computers, WIFI, smart phones, and a nice place to sit or lay down. Then they hide from the world, living in an imaginary universe where they can shoot zombies and when they get shot, they can come back and reboot. In this world, taking out the garbage or mowing the lawn seems like too much and unfair. And beyond the technology, they find drugs and alcohol that keep them numb from any uncomfortable feelings or thoughts.

Yet… people are not content to only do the bare minimum to provide for their basic needs. They decide to do a marathon.. or 10 marathons.. They choose to go backpacking and hike the whole Appalachian Trail, or climb amazing cliffs like El Capitan in Yosemite. 

We need to be challenged. We need to move our bodies, to stretch our wills, to invest our hearts and souls into experiences that help us find our true selves… to take the journey of self-discovery. This is especially true when we have experienced trauma or heart-wrenching loss. These tragedies result in our seeing ourselves as less than we are, of making negative conclusions about ourselves that we are not enough, we are incapable, we are somehow lacking and deserve tragedy and harm. Living these conclusions for years at a time if we don’t get the therapeutic help we need. This can lead to substance abuse/addiction, electronic addiction, avoidance of life challenges like college or career advancement, and destroys relationships. 

So… therapeutically, challenging ourselves in small ways, like getting out and walking or hiking, or skiing, or camping, while intentionally getting the help we need for trauma, tragedy, relationship difficulties can move us physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually into the healing domain, into seeing what we are actually capable of and challenging all the negative conceptualizations we have had about ourselves. 

Standing on the edge of a cliff, tied into a safe and caring facilitation of rappelling/canyoneering can put us in a place of seeing, experiencing a new view of life and ourselves. Mountain biking a beautiful canyon road that requires effort and intention to make progress and stay safe becomes an analogy of healthy living. Creating a dry and comfy camp with a few essential elements shows us how to be independent and thriving not just surviving. Heading into the outdoors with everything you need on your back it one of the most exhilarating experiences I have ever had.

And as I neared the finish line of that marathon I ran many years ago, I saw my family cheering me on… and while my run at that point wasn’t much quicker than a fast walk… I sped up and rumbled over the finish line in what was a glorious completion of an intentional challenge that showed me I was much more capable than I thought I was. It expanded my view of my future to see that I could attain whatever I put my mind to.  Taking on challenges like this is therapeutic and worthwhile. I invite whoever is reading this to look inside and see what challenge you need in your life to move forward and find yourself and your new and exciting horizons. 

Be Well and Step Out!

Dr. Madolyn Liebing Clinical Director Ph.D. Psychologist, LMFT
Maddy Liebing, Ph.D., Psychologist