As a hiker and lover of the outdoors, you may find yourself pushing for that next big goal. That hike  you’ve seen on Instagram or heard others talk about. That big vacation that you save up all of your  precious money and PTO to take, because you know that these experiences expand who you are. They  create capacity for dealing with the challenging or mundane things back home or in your day-to-day life.  

But what happens when you are sidelined by an injury? Who are you when you can’t be active, or can’t  chase those experiences to fill your proverbial cup? How will you find peace, when the places you  usually find it are not accessible to you?  

These are the questions I had to confront when on the morning after Thanksgiving 2021, I woke up with  back pain and hip tightness so intense I couldn’t bend over the sink to brush my teeth. At first, I wrote it  off as an uncomfortable hotel bed and a long drive home. For a couple of days, I tried to rationalize, at  age 42, that this was just part of getting old. But after a week, I had to come to terms with the fact that  my body was communicating clearly that something was (and probably had been for a long time) very  wrong.  

In the beginning, I would have to sit on the end of my bed and cry before going to work because just the  process of getting up, showered and dressed for work was completely exhausting. I’d make excuses for  why I couldn’t see friends because I knew there would be no comfortable place to sit, and I wouldn’t be  able to conceal the fact that I was filled with rage. I would try to go on easy hikes with my beloved WWE  

chapter but turn around and return to the car after short distances, of if I did go for social events I would  drink way, way too much.  

People close to me started to say that they could tell my light had dimmed, and it had.  

I started getting to work advocating for myself. Isolating variables. Seeking the help of professionals who  knew the potential reasons why this could be happening: a chiropractor, massage therapist, nutrition  coach, professional stretch therapists. Analyzing the furniture and posture of my work environment.  Testing pillows, products, CBD supplements; anything that I thought could offer some relief. And for  months, none of it did.  

Like any skill, taking care of yourself takes commitment and practice. With this enormous challenge  affecting me every minute of every day, it forced me to slow everything down and feel every emotion  and physical shortcoming. And in the space where I could have settled into anger and despair, I found  resilience. I did not compromise on keeping the appointments I’d made with this team of professionals 

I’d built. I asked for help constantly and said no when I could feel myself reaching my very short limits. I  went to bed at 8:00pm. A lot. I was not a good friend, co-worker or partner and would occasionally have  to ask for grace in that.  

Then on March 19, 2022, I woke up and the pain was gone. Like some mysterious alien whose tentacles  had gripped my body and mind for four months had dissolved into thin air. In a state of disbelief, I kept  my massage appointment that afternoon and upon arrival my therapist said: “Oh there you are, the  shine in your eyes is back!”  

I still don’t know exactly what caused this, but through the process I’d learned that I’d spent so much of  my adult life white-knuckling through each day, beating my poor body with intense workouts to  maintain some image I had of being “in shape”, and staying in a constant state of motion so I wouldn’t have to feel the millions of little heartbreaks that compose this life. And even though I was always able  to access peace deep in the quiet of the woods, my own bullshit was always there waiting as soon as I  returned to the car.  

So, what’s the goal now?  

I still want that big vacation that my husband and I take at the end of the summer, so we booked our  itinerary through Redwood, Lassen Volcanic and Crater Lake National Parks. And until then, I am going  to continue my treatment to be sure that the alien is gone for good. I’m still going to go to bed at 8:00 if  it’s been a stressful day. I’ve seen clearly which friendships were serving me and come to terms with the  ones that need letting go. I’m not going to schedule myself to the hilt, drink too much because that’s  the setting I’m in, or push through any pain……physical OR emotional.

Am I selfish? Absolutely. But I also believe that everyone deserves this type of clarity (hopefully without  the awful injury to find it) to show that “self-care” is only superficial if it takes the form of roaming  around in your pajamas all day on the weekends or diving headfirst into a bowl of pasta every time the going gets tough. To be substantiative, it requires peeling back all the layers of your life and truly  deciding where to place time, energy and value. It requires having a real relationship to with your  physical body and listening to it. Every day.  

Lucky for us, Women Who Explore creates some of this space. It is acceptance, positivity, and  connections that exist for the sole purpose of expressing our full selves, even if we are still in the process  of examining what is broken. And that I was. But I can’t wait to get back out there with this community  in the better place I’ve made within myself. 

Written by Julie Sayers (WWE Ambassador, Kansas City)  

About the Author Koa Hughes

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