The place I went to for my writing retreat? I used to come up here maybe once or twice a year. More often whenever I could.
It was easier when I lived in Sydney because once I moved to Melbourne, I had a cat. As all pet owners know, you can’t just pick up and take off any time you like. So there was that.
Then I got PTSD and although this magical home of my friends was the perfect place for me to recover, I simply shut myself up in my own home. Anything else was too scary.
I still saw them when they came to Melbourne but I didn’t make it back up this way much. And then I gave up car ownership, which made it even harder to take a spontaneous road trip…
Anyway, back when I was a frequent traveller to this part of the world, we’d take many trips down Snake Gully. Which is on my friend’s property – just start following the creek to the south-east and keep on going.
Snake Gully is the sort of place where, if you’re sensitive to and aware of nature-type energies then you’d better bloody well ask for permission to walk the land. If you’re not, then you’d better just be respectful and watch where you’re walking.
Because the land, river and surrounds that comprise Snake Gully, are truly alive. It’s a place of magic, power and wildness.
So for the first walk of my writing retreat, I returned to the Gully.
My method of speaking with nature has changed: these days I can’t help but turn such things into songs. Wordless songs or chants, it doesn’t matter. As long as it comes from the heart and I can feel the boundaries of the world shifting in response, then it’s all good.
Traversing the Gully and its numerous waterfalls, I noticed the message I was being given and it took me back to a lament I used to have when in the midst of living with trauma:
There’s no going back!! I used to angrily repeat to myself over and over.
There’s no going back to how things were. I’m not the person I was before I was assaulted, damn it. I can’t even remember who I used to be…
You see, there’s this absolute anguish around not being able to return to a place or time or experience we used to have. It’s part of what makes grief so terrible. We think of not being able to go back as a very, very bad thing.
BUT. Snake Gully told me this as I criss-crossed the creek and scampered over rocks:
You can’t climb down me and then go back up in exactly the same way. There’s no set path. There’s actually no right or wrong way to go. As long as you can see where it’s safe to walk, then it’s fine.
My paths don’t look the same from below as they do above. Some paths are visible; others are not. You might need to take the steep path up and away from the creek for a while because from where you stand, there’s no obvious way through.
There might be some hints of what move to make next, but there’s no guarantee. You have to try it out for yourself and see if the ground is solid/unslippery enough for you to pass. And when you return, good luck finding your original path! Take the route that makes sense and don’t worry about the rest.
Our western world is all about making experiences repeatable.
Same, same. NO different.
We build our cities on grids so it’s harder to get lost. We signpost everything. We create franchises and malls that look alike the world over. We grow up thinking we can do the same things we’ve always done and the way we’ve always done them. And most of us do just that.
Part of the distress of trauma and PTSD is that it destroys what was. ALL the pathways you knew are gone. All the experiences of life as safe and happy. There’s nowhere to turn, no safe haven (or so it seems for the longest time).
This is part of what breaks us: we think we need this sameness to function and without it, we’re lost.
The process of healing has taught me that you really can’t ever go back and damn it, I don’t WANT to anymore.
Whoever I was before, that version of me is nowhere near as powerful, self-assured, confident and courageous as the person I am now.
So, we learn to function without our previous pathways and patterns. We find new ones and we see that yes, we can get by.
Actually, we don’t just get by. We thrive. And see that change is a good thing, even on an everyday basis.
Change doesn’t matter in the end because when the previous layer or path is peeled away, there’s always something else just waiting for us.