Cutting Someone Out, Versus Being Cut Up: Healing While Hiking the OCT

Cutting Someone Out, Versus Being Cut Up: Healing While Hiking the OCT

In order to heal, sometimes you need to rip off that bandage.

Mt. Adams
Mt. Adams, viewed from Lunch Counter. My first attempt resulted in a hole in my leg, and an important lesson (or several). © Jenni Denekas

My first attempt on Mount Adams led to a hole in the back of my leg (long story).

I didn’t let it slow me down; within the next few days, I was out on another backpacking trip. Then another. Then another.

During these trips, I was careful to prevent infection: I kept the wound clean, I kept applying antibacterial ointment, and I kept changing my bandages. Frustratingly, even after a few weeks, it was not healing.

I realized that changing the bandages was actually doing more harm than good. Each time I removed the gauze, it also removed a layer of skin. I realized that I needed to uncover the wound and let it scab over. The sooner I let it out in the open, the sooner it would toughen up and begin to truly heal.

This was a distressing prospect; I have a high pain tolerance, but the hole went clear through my epidermis to the layers beneath. Anytime a branch snapped the back of my leg, I had to work hard to not scream. Showering was awful. It was going to be a painful and fraught healing process. But going through it head-on was the only way I was going to heal.

Indeed, it is often the case that the more difficult, head-on approach is what allows a person to heal.

By the way, I’m not talking about medical issues anymore; I’m talking about emotional pain.

Nearly six years after my fateful attempt on Adams, I was in quite a lot of emotional pain. There was a variety of reasons for this, but foremost was the fact that the man I thought I was going to spend the rest of my life with cheated on me. We ended our relationship, but we were trying to remain friends. I wasn’t ready to let go entirely. In other words, I didn’t want to rip off that bandage.

However, it was killing me. I was stuck in a series of highs and lows that revolved around him. I would feel low until we talked, uplifted while we conversed, then shattered when we said an awkward, halting goodbye. I felt a hole where an “I love you” used to be. I would invariably cry after we hung up.

I held onto a small shred of hope that somehow we could work things out. Then I fought back fiercely against that notion, reminding myself that what he did was a deal-breaker. That I wouldn’t stand for that sort of shit. Back and forth I would go, again and again.

I was not going to heal until I faced the entirety of the pain, until I realized we were truly done, until I realized he didn’t respect me and he wasn’t my friend. Again, I had to rip off that bandage.

I realized this throughout my trek on the Oregon Coast Trail. During my 367-mile journey, I grew stronger, physically and emotionally.

On my hike, I learned a lot about shedding the unnecessary weight I was carrying. I’m not talking about my pack when I say that, nor am I talking about the body weight that my ex apparently thinks I should lose (which was part of what made me cut him out). Rather, I’m talking about focusing on what built me up, brought me peace, and gave me strength. I’m talking about getting rid of what tore me up, brought me anguish, and made me weak. Shedding that weight was the only way I could get through the heavy mileage.

Viewpoint in Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor
Viewpoint in Samuel H. Boardman State Scenic Corridor. © Jenni Denekas

I also realized that there was a much wider world beyond my heartbreak, and I had been missing out on it while sitting alone and sad in my apartment. I realized that I would rather have the rest of the world, rather than the shattered remnants of a relationship.

I came back to a phrase that I conceived a while ago, in a different context: “You have to decide whether it’s more important to remain hurt, or to become whole.”

I don’t mean that you should bury your feelings. It is vital to sort through them in order to truly heal. Rather, I’m talking about not wallowing. Wallowing is a surefire way to remain hurt. It’s like leaving a bandage on a wound when it really needs to be out in the open, and scab and scar over. Wallowing is also a roundabout way of engaging in denial. It’s a state of waiting for someone to step in and help, rather than doing what you need to do to save yourself.

I decided that keeping my ex in my life was only going to continue to hurt me. It was reopening the wound over and over again. It wasn’t allowing me to move forward. It was keeping me stuck. It was a question of whether I should remain cut up, or cut him out.

Then my ex sent me a message that nearly literally made me see red. My decision was already made, but he unwittingly chose the moment I would rip off that bandage. In my fury, I finally told him what I should have said months before.

I was crushed and uplifted. I was pumped. I was exhausted. I was proud. I was liberated.

It was the start of my new life, one in which I did not accept anything less than the treatment that I truly deserved.

In order to get what I truly deserved, I needed to “run as far as I could in the direction of my best and happiest dreams across the bridge built by my own desire to heal,” to paraphrase Cheryl Strayed in Tiny Beautiful Things. I needed to pursue what I wanted and deserved. And the first step was getting rid of anything that ran counter to my best and happiest dreams.

Staying in touch with a liar and a cheater at the expense of my happiness and my wholeness was not worth it. Not at all.

Netarts to Cape Meares
On the hike from Netarts to Cape Meares. I felt much lighter after tearing off that bandage. © Jenni Denekas

When I cut him out, I gave myself license to enjoy the rest of the world. The next day, hiking from Netarts to Cape Meares, I was singing and frolicking. I was pensive at times, too. But I saw more, I relished more. I felt lighter and fuller. I was free.

The final portion of my trek was better due to my decision, and my life since then has been better, too. I am happier, I am more whole, and I have found love again.

All this would not have been possible without that first step of shedding what wasn’t serving me. Doing so took over 200 miles of hiking and thinking and gaining strength. But I got there. I am still moving forward, I am better for it, and I am thankful. And that is what I recommend for you all: Ripping off that bandage, shedding that emotional weight, and pursuing your dreams.

What’s ahead is better than what you’ve left behind. I promise.

Read more reflections in the Moments section.

Check out my Oregon Coast Trail journal.

Rainbow over Coos Bay
Rainbow over Coos Bay. © Jenni Denekas

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