87 Miles In, Crossing North Carolina Border, One Bandana and Story of Recovery Shared

87 Miles In, Crossing North Carolina Border, One Bandana and Story of Recovery Shared
April 3, 2018 Heather Starbuck

Sunday I had to say goodbye to Rachel. Almost brought me to tears and definitely made the next daunting solo 6 months hit me with a reality check. The hills that day seemed extra steep and long. My mind swirled with random thoughts… the Seagull Star Wars bad lip reading song circulating on repeat. I openly wept on the trail. Sometimes I made up little rhymes to Theo. Overall though, for the first time out here in the woods, I felt alone.

Lonely is not really the correct term for it, I didn’t feel lonely, wasn’t aching for company and conversation. Feeling alone is different, it’s almost more isolating as even when other hikers passed to and fro, I still felt withdrawn and in my own world. This feeling is no longer unfamiliar territory to me. I believe it abruptly surfaces when you lose your partner in life and love. The world keeps moving, yet here are you stagnant in your own world of grief. Walking a tight rope between what was and what is without being able to see really where they merge together.

When I talk about Matt this confusion is reflected – often I mix past and present tenses in a confusing jumble, without context I’m sure much of what I have to say is hard to follow. They say time is relative – there’s nothing more revealing than that than the deep throws of grieving. Am I in the past, present or future? I believe it depends on the mindset at any given time. The reality is Matt is so engrained in me, that he will always be part of me in whichever tense I choose to live in at a given moment.

While I was slowly rocking my way up a steep incline, Theo was stopped (per usual, he’s pretty cute) by a family taking a breather on a log at the side of the trail. The man started petting Theo and remarked that he was getting a mini Aussie himself soon and planned to hike with him in Alaska. I find Theo is usually the one making all my introductions for me these days. As we started talking about Aussie’s I naturally brought up Matt , Theo’s trainer extraordinaire, shortly having to reveal my bomb drop that I had lost Matt last fall. Unlike most people, this man asked how it happened to which I said an opioid relapse.

Not thinking much of it beyond that, I continued on our trek. As I rounded the top I found that the family had caught up to me, we ended up going to the the nearby shelter for a snack and water break. Immediately Jack (names changed for privacy) revealed that both he and Jane were themselves in recovery. Him for 30 years, and she for 18 months. They said they had wanted to continue talking to me when they heard of my loss and how addiction affected our little family’s life. It’s funny how when someone has been personally touched by addiction, I find them more open to talking about it even when the scary double d words, drugs and death, enter a conversation.

The pair continued on, suggesting I go to Alanon and providing their personal feedback from their road to recovery. Matt didn’t want to go to NA meetings as others had pushed drugs on him there before. Jack shared that he had found this as well and said that AA had become a better resource for his personal journey. We discussed how prolific addiction, and opioid addiction, has become and the difficulty shame and stigma creates for those struggling to get help. We talked, and I cried, about our losses. Nearly all of Jack’s former friends pre-sober had passed away from the disease. Jane had lost many as well, usually in the same fashion as Matt where they were clean but had relapsed out of the blue.

Both of them told me I was in for a long, difficult journey. Surviving an overdose loss is something we will always carry. I could tell how deeply they personally understood the pain I’m in, it’s like they could recognize it a mile away as they too are walking this path. Between tears, I explained that my walk is in part to raise awareness and compassion for recovery in Matt’s honor, as he’d helped so many through this during his life. Completely choked up by these kind, open hearted people, I tore through my bag strewing my stuff sacs across the ground to find them one of the fresh bandanas. I told them how I was giving them away to those I meet on the trail affected by addiction as I handed it to Jack. After laughing that yep, he and his family had been mauled by addiction, he smiled and said it was awesome. He himself found solace in the woods, having stayed at this very shelter over twenty years ago.

As I picked up my bag to head back to trail, eyes still tear filled, Jack came up to me, gave me a hug and said ‘Remember, you are not alone. You are not alone.’

I think those words sum up what I hope to accomplish with this walk, Matt’s story, the bandanas. The flood of comfort and relief those words Jack said, a stranger I met for a brief hour on the trail, still brings a lump to my throat. That simple acknowledgement that I am not alone, we are not alone, the thousands of victims of this epidemic and their loved ones are not alone. That’s the power right there, and I think that is how we are going to be able to best support one another through this devastating crisis.

I guess I can round this post out with that simple concept. If you are struggling with addiction or loss from addiction or a loved one with addiction, please try to remember that you aren’t alone in this. It’s incredibly isolating, I know, and we often feel like we need to hide it or minimize but I think that ultimately talking about it, and connecting with our mutual pain and struggles can be incredibly healing. At least that’s what I’m finding through my own journey.

I write this in my tent after a long 12 mile day. I’ve learned that the AT, with nonstop ups and downs is not for the faint of heart. It’s definitely pushing my body more than it’s ever been pushed, yesterday I drank four nalgenes. But I know I’ve got Matt on my side and that is more than enough motivation in itself. So far I’ve gone over 87 miles and I’m about to cross he North Carolina border! My mail chimp was paused so you may have missed my last two entries, you can click them below if interested. As always, thank you for following this trek and your continued support.

Much love

Kamikaze (my official trail name now) and Theodore the Explorer

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