It’s one of my favorite months. Cool breeze, the smell of spice in the air, and one of my favorite (spooky) holidays. This is a time of year I crave time outdoors running or walking trails, watching the colors change on the trees. Maybe it’s all those years I spent running Cross Country but every fall feels like a magical time. Even when I stopped running competitively, running trails has always been just downright delightful. Unfortunately, in the last 5 years, after suffering a personal trauma, I haven’t felt safe enough to run trails. The only time I do is if I am with my husband or a group of people. I used to be a lot more carefree and felt safe in my own environment but that all changed for me.
When you suffer a trauma of any kind your sense of personal safety can feel like it was taken away and from personal experience, it can be incredibly hard to rebuild. Suddenly, I was fearful of things that never used to cross my mind. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no dummy about the dangers of being isolated on a trail but this was a new sense of fear and discomfort. Before the trauma, running alone, I guess, was something I took for granted.
Even though I really wanted to at times, I’d completely avoid running trails alone, paralyzed by the fear of something bad happening. When you experience trauma, it’s easy to feel like any terrible thing is possible.With my fear also came anger. I was mad at myself for (seemingly) not being able to do things on my own. The self imposed rules of avoiding trails made me feel limited. Even in the moments where I said, “f*ck this, I’m going!”, usually ended with me turning around and going right back home, even more mad and sometimes in tears. Sure, I could run around my neighborhood but it just wasn’t the same. You may be asking, why is this important? In a sense, this unchecked fear was taking over my active life. I wouldn’t allow myself to do anything that felt remotely uncomfortable.
After five years of feeling stuck, this year I went inside the fear instead of trying to muscle through it. On the other side, I realized I needed to show myself a bit more compassion and I needed to create an environment that made me feel safe.
Compassion for oneself is probably the hardest thing to do but incredibly important. It’s about changing that inner dialogue so you treat yourself with the same respect you would treat a good friend. For me, that meant being gentle around my fears, telling myself that it’s okay to feel unsafe but there are ways I can move around it.
Creating a safe environment while running was easier than I thought. If I can’t go with my husband or if I just want to go alone, I carry a few key items that makes me feel safer:
my phone on airplane mode with no headphones
a pocket knife
While it may seem like a lot to carry while on a run, it all fits quite well in my fanny pack (FlipBelt).
I also look for trails that are populated with people. Lucky for me I live in TrackTown USA so there are ALWAYS people out running.
Do I still feel afraid at times? Yes. Do I still look over my shoulder? Yep, but you know, that’s okay with me. I’m slowly, with the help of some small tools and planning, rebuilding my sense of safety.
Even though I am much slower runner than I’ve ever been, being out there has given me a taste of the freedom and joy I’ve missed so much. Cool breeze on my face, leaves falling from the sky, and the smell of the earth. I’m out there for me. I’m out there for the girl who loved running and I’m out there recreating my own sense of security. If you have suffered a trauma and feel (or have felt) this way, no matter where you might be in your own recovery, I encourage you to take it slow and practice self care. Be kind to yourself and build on an environment that makes you feel safer.
Maybe that means having a partner to exercise with or a fierce looking pup by your side. Maybe like me, it’s carrying a couple of safety tools. Or maybe none of this feels good yet, that’s okay, too. Be gentle and proceed with care.