Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

I am halfway through reading Wild by Chery Strayed.  I have been trying to fight the urge to read this book for months.  Lately it seems like the more hype a book gets, the less that it deserves.  I have yet to read a single Oprah's book club selection that I have enjoyed.   Entertainment Weekly, Time Magazine, Oprah, Amazon, etc  were all telling me that I had to read this book.  So I finally broke down and bought it. 

This book is a memoir. Cheryl's mother dies from cancer and, as a result, her barely stable hold on life completely falls appart.  She sabotages her marriage.  She becomes promiscuous.  She has an abortion.  She starts using heroin.  She hits her low point and decides to hike the Pacific Coast trail alone.  She doesn't know anything about hiking before starting this journey.  She is not a fitness buff.  She doesn't appropriately prepare for the journey and starts the hike overwhelmed with heavy equipment and emotional baggage.

Initially I felt like Cheryl had an overreaction to fairly normal life events.  Many of us has lost a parent too young or lost a friend to cancer.  We didn't self destruct.  I'll admit it took me several chapters to stop judging Cheryl and start rooting for her.  Everyone has their own reaction to life's tragedies.  It isn't my place to decide what those reactions are or how dramatic a reaction is permitted for each circumstance. 

I know that this is one of my personality flaws.  I judge people based on what they do vs. what I think I would do in the same situation.  When people do this to me it drives me crazy.  Telling me how much I will love children because they love children.  How my fear of heights will go away once I enjoy the beauty that surrounds me on the top of a bungee cord or zip line.  How they never wanted to run a marathon either until one day they just did.  It is exactly the same thing and I have to stop doing it to other people.

Cheryl has been on the trail for a little over 2 weeks when she realizes that she hasn't cried at all during the trip.  She says to herself "This is the hardest thing I have ever been through and I haven't cried".  Then she quickly corrects herself.  Of course the death of her mother and all of the other things she went through prior to her journey were much harder.  But maybe they were harder in a different way.  She takes pride in the physical and mental strength that she has developed during the trip.  She gains confidence in realizing that she must be a strong to overcome so much and not feel sorry for herself or give up.  She finds that by working through the rigors of the trail, she doesn't have time to wallow in the disspointments from her past.  What a brilliant epiphany.

It is also around this time that you find out that Strayed is not her original last time.   She picked a new last name coming out of her divorce.  She couldn't go back to the girl that she was before marriage but couldn't continue to keep her married name either.  Cheryl looked in the dictionary and selected strayed.  The dictionary definition suited her perfectly.  Because Cheryl had strayed and now she was determined to find herself.  I love that. 

It made me think of what my last name would be if I looked over my life.  Was there one unifying theme that played across all the major tragedies in my life?  My father's illness and death.  My mother's neglect.  My brother's mental illness.  My self destructive behavior.  My hyper sensitivity to what people say/think.  My inability to relax or let things go.  Control freak.  Ball of nervous energy.  Insecurity.  All of these things have been eased by running, martial arts and zumba but it is safe to say that I am still working through my shit. 

What is it that I do?  I explode.  I accuse. I internalize.  I confront.  I justify.  I react.  Sometimes these actions scare people away (which is what I think I want them to do).  Other times they prevent me from accepting/trying/doing something that I am uncomfortable with.  Or, worse yet, I don't do anything to change my circumstances and just tolerate a likely preventable situation that I should walk away from.  I am somewhere between repel and withstand.  I would say Denise Suffers but she doesn't have to. 

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