5 Weeks, 296 Miles In, Birthday Blues And Rainy Days

5 Weeks, 296 Miles In, Birthday Blues And Rainy Days
April 27, 2018 Heather Starbuck

Just woke up after passing out accidentally for 3.5 hours here in my tent. Everything is damp so I am using a square 5×5” camp towel to try and dry off the space I’m using to write. After carefully putting up my tent backwards (rain fly first then squatting about underneath to get the tent up out of the rain), I managed to keep most things dry. My camp smart wool long johns, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and now Theo are dry and cozy. My phone did not fair so well in the constant rain… had to resort to the ol’ accessibility home button since my main one has tapped out.

It’s been a tough 72 hours. Leaving Hot Springs yesterday, I eventually shook the lingering head ache I’d acquired from the constant up downs in emotions I had in town. See yesterday was my first birthday with out Matt. A landmark I fought and resisted and didn’t want to face for the days leading up to it.

For the first time in a while (well probably a matter of days honestly) I got really angry. Angry that I am turning 27, a year older, yet Matt will always remain 30. Yet at the same time, at the fact that though Theo and I are trying so hard to gracefully manage this grief, we’ve only managed about 8 months, with a daunting what, 40 – 50 years of this to go. It feels impossible and overwhelming, like a punishment that keeps on giving.

I remember when the doctor first told Carrie, his mother, and I the news that despite our days of praying, positivity, whispering in Matt’s ear, Matt wasn’t going to wake up after all. The whole world closed in, everything went blurry, a loud blaring ringing bulldozed my every thought while I crumpled, feeling like that street performer in Boulder who folds all his limbs over into a small box. My ear drums felt like they may burst from the freight train pitch blasting through them. The finally shaken neurologist faded into the background like pounding rain across a windshield. My throat had closed and the only words I remember being able to form to Carrie were “I don’t want to live in a world without Matt, I can’t I can’t.”

This feeling has not stopped since. With every holiday, milestone or even happy moment a dark fog always rolls in knowing that I can’t share it with the person I love most in the world. Sometimes as I hike I forget my predicament and think, wow Matt’s going to laugh so hard at this, or I have to show Matt this someday, before my little house of cards falls through the realization that yet again, I’ll never be able to, at least in this lifetime.

And so, 27 was a hard pill to swallow. Originally, I had no plans of celebrating or acknowledging it. I’d hoped if I pretended it didn’t exist, I wouldn’t have to go through the throws of emotions and inevitable break downs that would ensue.

My trail family thought different though, and they pulled out all the stops to make me feel loved and cared for during the hard stretch. They planned a surprise van trip into Asheville to get tacos (Mexican was always my birthday treat) and visit local microbreweries. At the restaurant the girls, Poncho and Bandito, somehow managed to coordinate baking cupcakes, bringing out 18 red velvets with candles lit to boot. Pumkin Spice saw Old Crow Medicine Show was playing at the local venue and hustled a couple tickets, to which he shortly unhustled upon realizing we could only bring half the group. Scissors did my nasty trail laundry for me. And the next morning, they had the whole diner sing to me when I entered the restaurant.

Yes, I did still go into full breakdown mode. When I blew out my candles, I could not conjure up a wish, so much still feels completely empty including any hopes and dreams I could have. Later, curled up in a ball in the back of the van that night in Asheville, no longer able to control my emotions, the trail fam first witnessed one my true dry heave, sob, muscle clenching breakdowns, where I go back and forth from crying to gasping for oxygen. Two of the guys wrapped their arms around me until I came back into normal breathing and finally pulled my head out from between my knees.

Tears continued to roll nonstop on the drive home, filling up my under eyelid slowly then rolling down my cheeks silently, even as I plowed down on two Taco Bell bean and cheese burritos. These soft weepy tears are more manageable though, and I often don’t even notice them happening these days until I get a quizzical look from someone who spots it. The next morning I cried… again… at breakfast, though this time more from gratitude to them, giving Scissors a big hug after seeing her card and the restaurant serenade. I truly felt so supported, like there was this underlying plan from all of them to help me get through, that they knew it was tough and they were going to hold me up to cross it.

Later on that day I met with a reporter and her son from Greenville, TN over lunch. Her life too has been touched by addiction, and she wanted to cover my hike and Matt’s story. While I did a lot of talking, I can really get going about all things Matt, the epidemic, grief, she and her son also provided more insight to the pervasiveness of this issue. Truly, no family is untouched.

Her son, only 22, and though he never experimented in that direction himself, flared up in frustration that though he was in high school a mere four years ago they still didn’t teach him or his peers anything about opioids or prescription abuse despite the growing death rates rising all around these Appalachian towns. (See another post on a mother who founded the educational nonprofit, Speakup About Drugs, to talk about the realities of hard drug addiction in honor of her son here). We talked about how breaking the silence is the only way to raise enough acknowledgement, nay, outrage, in order to stop and then make steps to reverse this epidemic.

This same conversation has been circulating a lot around the trail itself, the question of how we could have gotten here as a country, how this mass corruption and corporate greed was able to unfold, silently, for decades at the detriment to so many lives and families. I don’t have answers, to this or ending the epidemic. All I can do is share Matt’s story and light in hopes of encouraging at least one person on their path to recovery, or making one person feel less alone in their grief or struggle with addiction. That is how Matt operated, and how I intend to carry out his legacy with his family.

Finally I found myself back walking solo in the woods yesterday evening. My headache slowly dissipating as Theo and I climbed higher and higher through the Cherokee National Forest. Hot Springs, the dreaded birthday, growing blurrier and more distant with every step. Nature with it’s whimsical healing power is probably the only thing keeping me sane. Or at least functionally sane, I’m not sure I’ll ever be actually sane again. But that’s ok and a reality I can live with. Tonight the rain continues to serenade me and Theo here in our tent, tomorrow is going to be a wet morning but we are slowly adjusting to that.

Thank you everyone for your support, particularly through these last two days. The Facebook birthday fundraiser made over $900 which is well over a few hundred more than I needed to print more bandanas, all of which will go to Matt Adams Foundation towards funding transitional and rehabilitation programs for those on their path to recovery.

Much love and please continue to reach out to me if you’d like to meet up on the trail or connect via phone. Hearing these stories really helps my process and hopefully the same for those who share them as well.


Also – currently reading Russel Brand’s book Recovery which I highly recommend so far. It’s given me a lot of insight on both Matt, myself and the process of recovery as a whole.

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