Breaking Up the Switchbacks

Healing is a process.  How many times have you or I heard that statement? Frankly, I don’t think I have ever understood what that process really means.  It all seemed very romantic in a way.  I remember watching the film “Prince of Tides”.  Tom Wingo is sitting in Dr. Lowenstein’s office on behalf of his sister who has tried to commit suicide.  She won’t talk to Dr. Lowenstein, her psychiatrist, about her pain or her reasons for her suicide attempts.  Tom knows why Lila tried to kill herself.  He’s been carrying the same secret inside himself since his boyhood, and Dr. Lowenstein senses something.  She senses that Tom is hiding a truth, a truth that might help Lila.  Eventually, Tom shares his secret with Dr. Lowenstein.  He, his brother, his mother and Lila were sodomized and raped by escaped convicts on one stormy night years ago.  If I remember correctly, they murdered the convicts in an act of self-defense, but they were made to keep this horrible event a secret.  Lila’s mind and body were paying the price, and she could no longer function under such a heavy burden.  After telling the truth, Tom fell to pieces.  He wept in Dr. Lowenstein’s arms perhaps for the first time since the night he and his family endured the assault and murdered the criminals.  After his catharsis, Tom seems freer.  He engages in life in a new way.  His countenance is changed.  His posture improves.  He is transformed.  If only it were so easy.

The healing process is not romantic at all.  It’s horribly difficult because no one comes to rescue us.  We have to do the speaking.  We have to do the telling.  We have to do the uncovering.  We have to do the remembering.  We are not required to do it alone, but, ultimately, no one else can do the work for us.  We have to show up, and we have to take ownership of our wounds even though we are not the ones who inflicted them.  This pain, this grief, this fear, this panic, this loneliness, this alienation, this anger, and this longing for wholeness must all be owned and given a voice.


A friend and I were discussing the grueling process of healing.  She described it as hiking switchbacks.  Switchbacks are trails that snake up the side of a mountain–each trail is like an individual trail connected to the next by a hairpin turn; thus, the climb up the mountain is less steep, but it is much longer.  My friend has done switchback hiking, and she described the feeling of reaching the end of a switchback trail.  It’s exciting, and there is a great sense of accomplishment and fatigue at the same time.  Then, you look up and realize that you only advanced a few feet towards the summit of the mountain.  So much energy expended for so little progress.  That’s an appropriate metaphor.  What, however, are the options? Should we tackle Everest straight on? Switchback hiking seems like a smart choice if there is a mountain to be climbed.  That is the way of this process.

I spent years doing very deep work with a psychotherapist.  I have done good work with people trained in spiritual direction.  I have done work with a life coach.  All of this was very much like switchback hiking.  It all represents forward progress.  When I finally reached a point where I felt I couldn’t do anymore work, I rested.  All of the work had to sink in.  Much like deep watering plants, the nutrients must make their way into the soil, and that takes time.  Today, I find myself on the mountain again, but I’m not at the bottom.  I’m much closer to the summit this time around, but, either way, I still have to hike the damn trail!

It is all too tempting to grow weary of this process, but we don’t have to choose temptation.  This is our process.  Yes, it’s exhausting and painful, but it does belong to us.  I wish that I did not have to face this enemy again, but the fact that memories of my abduction experience came forward (and refuse to leave) and require resolution is actually positive.  It means that it’s time for me to hike another switchback.  It means that I am closer to the summit, and isn’t that what I have been trying to reach all these years? What will it mean when I reach it? I will plant my flag of victory and look out across the landscape of my life breathing in the high altitude air of freedom knowing that I made it to the top of this mountain in spite of the best efforts of my perpetrators.  That will be the sweetest revenge.  We will be heroic in all of the places where we have been victimized and laid low.  So, lace up your boots.

View from the top of the Chola Pass in the Everest Region

2 Comments on “Breaking Up the Switchbacks

  1. Dear Intrepid Traveller, I wish you the smoothest journey, lovely weather, great food, no blisters, panties that don’t bunch and a true sense of bearing. In reality though it’ll suck, you’ll be hot -then cold, eat sand, your feet will hurt, there could be chafing and you may get lost. OK, you will probably get lost. I’ve heard the view is spectacular so keep going, if you look backwards you’ll see you’ve gained quite a bit of elevation already. Beatrice

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