I was sitting on the floor of my hotel room, staring at a blank page in my journal when my phone rang. As soon as I heard the buzz I felt my stomach drop. I don’t want to talk to anyone, I thought to myself.
I looked at the caller id and my mom’s face lit up on the screen. Okay, it’s mom. She’s just calling to make plans for the weekend. I’ll answer it.
“Hey mom, I’m excited to see you guys tomorrow,” I answered.
“Us too honey! What are you up to?” asked mom.
My voice got shaky and I could feel the tears building. I took a few deep breaths and told my mom, “I miss it so much and wish I were still out there. I can’t wait to see you guys and Joe, but I just love the trail.”
Six hours earlier I had completed my Tahoe Rim Trail thru-hike and the minute it was over I felt the sadness start to creep in. Sure, I was psyched to have finished, but I was also ready to just keep going for a second lap!
Years ago I read this quote, “The only thing more difficult than adjusting to life in the woods, is readjusting to life indoors.” I’m not sure who said it, but if it’s after a long backpacking trip, climbing excursion, or just camping in the woods for a few nights, I always feel this.
The same can be said for any big experience, whether that’s meeting a huge milestone, coming back after vacation, or completing an incredible adventure. The return back to daily life is hard.
You really want to bring home all of the lessons, insights, and good vibes, but it often feels like two steps forward and one step back. Your energy is low, you daydream about going back, and you worry you’ll lose the life-changing experience.
My integration has been a lot like the actual hike, amazing yet challenging. The process has been raw, tender, and uncomfortable. However, I’ve been to this rodeo before and this time, I’m seeing ways to ease the transition, as well as solidify an integration of my thru-hike experience into my daily life. Today, I want to share these reminders with you because I really do believe that we’re all in this together.
7 reminders for integrating after a life-changing experience:
1.) Share your experience with the people you love. The first two days after being home I had one reply whenever someone asked, “How was your trip?” That was, “Amazing!” For a few days, I wasn’t sharing much more than this. I didn’t think people would get it. I was sad it was over and didn’t feel like talking about it. This sort of attitude is THE WORST for integration.
Get out the map, show the pictures, and tell the stories. Your loved ones want to know all about it and your soul wants to share! Talking about your experience out loud will help to solidify that which you want to bring back into your daily life.
2.) Don’t give yourself a bite bigger than you can chew. Often the return home is laden with expectations. The hopes are high and the lists are long of all the things we’re going to change once we’re home. But if you try to integrate a list of ten different things all at once you’re setting yourself up to fail. Be realistic about the changes you can make and take it one, small step at a time. If you’re not sure if you’re being realistic, call up your best girlfriend, let her know all the things you’re trying to integrate and ask for her honest opinion if it’s too much. If you can’t keep it real, your girls can! ;)
3.) Eat really well. I arrived home Monday evening and at the top of my list for Tuesday was grocery shopping. I made a list, went to the store, stocked up on fresh fruits, vegetables, and meats. Then I dedicated a couple of hours to cooking dishes so that I’d have meals ready and on hand throughout the week. This provided the nourishment my body needed (and deserved) after a big adventure. Without this, I would have been eating out, snacking on junk, and scrambling during every meal time. This simple act helped me to feel grounded and free to focus on the bigger integration pieces.
4.) Take naps. After big experiences, we’re often tired. Let yourself heal like you would if you had the flu or a cold. Take a nap, curl up on the couch with a blanket, sip tea, and do nothing. Rest is a key component to integration and it’s probably the hardest thing to do. I know you probably feel like you have so much to do, but taking good care of yourself is more important than promptly replying to your inbox.
5.) Keep the feeling alive. Find something you wrote in your journal, remember something you said, or select a photo from your experience. Let this be your anchor to the feelings that were present to you while you were there. Then post it someplace where you will see it every day, first thing in the morning. Connect to your anchor and stay open to ways in which you can bring these same feelings into your daily life.
6.) When you’re feeling funky, journal. I know, I know. Journaling is often my answer to any sticky situation, but it’s so darn effective! It’s also really simple, which is why I’m such a big fan. When you feel like you can’t access the parts of you that you wanted to bring home or you start falling back into old habits, open your journal to a blank page and ask yourself, “What am I willing to change to live my best life?” Keep your pen moving and trust the answers you find. I promise answering just this question will give you enormous amounts of clarity and motivation for the integration process.
7.) Hit the gas pedal on daily life very slowly. It's really important after a big journey to honor space and to not dive right back in. When we don't take the time to do so, it feels a little like slamming down on the gas pedal and going from 0 to 60 mph in a few seconds; jarring and like you're starting a chain reaction that you won't be able to stop. Instead, I gave myself extra space, moved more slowly, and focused on just the essentials.
The next time you’re integrating, I invite you to ease back into life, be gentle with yourself, and stay with the slowness. The extra space will be a sweet landing environment for all of your new lessons and insights! And if at any point you’re feeling stressed, out of control, or like things are moving too quickly give yourself a timeout and ask yourself, “Is this what I want right now?” You always have the choice to pause and course correct.
I hope these simple and gentle reminders support you in your next integration!
Warm hugs and big love,