What Everest (& My New Tattoo) Taught Me About Love
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“Mountains are both journey and destination. They summon us to climb their slopes, explore their canyons, and attempt their summits. The summit, despite months of preparation and toil, is never guaranteed though tastes of sweet nectar when reached. If my only goal as a teacher and mountaineer is the summit, I risk cruel failure if I do not reach the highest apex. Instead, if I accept the mountain’s invitation to journey and create meaning in each step, success is manifest in every moment…
… My Everest is not your Everest. Your Everest is not mine. We all have an Everest. Each of us. Sometimes the peak is literally Mount Everest but most times it lies deep within us, figuratively occupying a mountainous inner space. It calls us to rise up, to do what we formerly labelled as impossible, and to be who we deeply and desperately want to be. I know that I have found an Everest when my soul furiously pokes me repeatedly until I listen. Heeding this call to passionate adventure of any sort initiates a journey of intense immense proportion that changes every molecule of my being.”
- T.A. Loeffler, Canadian adventurer & Everest climber
As you may know if you’ve been following my social feeds, a few weeks ago I went trekking with my dad & boyfriend in Nepal.
It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life.
It also taught me more about love & relationships than all the self-help books I’ve ever read put together.
We were doing a 7-day excursion from Phaplu to Namache in the Khumbu region of the Himalayas.
The journey is around 34.8 km as the crow flies, but probably a hell of a lot more via the windy, steep paths & steps that we had to surmount to get there.
Twice along this particular route, you get a clear glimpse of Everest – the world’s highest mountain at 8848 metres.
Everest also goes by the name of ‘Chomolungma’ to the Tibetans and ‘Sagarmatha’ to the Nepalese, meaning ‘Forehead (or Goddess) of the Sky’.
Many people continue on from Namache (where our trek concluded) to Everest base camp and beyond.
However, as novice trekkers (with zero training), my dad - who’s been trekking for nearly 20 years now - wisely suggested we save that trip for a later date.
Though I’d never even been to Nepal before, Everest has always held a strangely powerful place in my heart over the years.
Perhaps it’s because my dad’s made it to Camp One, my best friend was in the recent blockbuster ‘Everest,’ and another dear friend bravely trekked all the way to Base Camp (also with zero training) in order to scatter her beloved brother’s ashes there.
Or maybe it’s just because it’s the biggest and most famous mountain in the world.
In his book ‘Into Thin Air’, Everest climber Jon Krakauer wrote:
“Everest has always been a magnet for kooks, publicity seekers, hopeless romantics and others with a shaky hold on reality.”
I’d probably describe myself as most of those things (especially ‘hopeless romantic’), but Jon crucially left out the other necessary attributes needed to attempt any level of Everest:
Being very brave, very fit & very determined.
Which is why I was happy to settle for a peek of the peak from a distance, rather than from the mountain itself.
While the first couple of days trekking from Phaplu were immensely challenging, by the third morning I seemed to have (most surprisingly) contracted ‘trekkers high’ – to the extent that I genuinely thought our homestay host from the night before had sprinkled some speed over my breakfast potatoes.
For two whole hours I zoomed past my dad, boyfriend, the porter carrying our bags and even our lovely sherpa, Tenzing.
No incline was too steep or demoralising for me, and I finally understood why my dad regularly puts himself through the physical and mental torture these trips so often induce.
Then, inevitably, I crashed and burned.
My feet were swollen, my fingers were chaffing on the trekking poles, and I was suddenly overcome by a horrific bout of PMT - not helped by the fact I’d decided to run by contraceptive pill packs back to back to avoid being on my period during the trek (mountain-based drop toilets are not female friendly when it’s that time of the month).
Before I knew it, I was consumed by an internal rampage of anger, rage & resentment against all men, and desperate for a female companion to commiserate with.
Because men will never, and could never, understand how it feels to have a triple-headed cracken take over every aspect of your psyche for a few days out of every month.
Experiencing this intensity of feeling alongside my boyfriend and dad (who seemed to be morphing in to one person in front of my very eyes – they do say you end up with a man that resembles your father, after all) was getting to be too much and I wanted out.
And as my boyfriend Joe well knows by now, there ain’t no ‘snapping out of it’ when I get to that point.
But, the problem with trekking is that no matter how fed up, exhausted and irrational you are, you have no choice but to keep going until you reach a guest house before it gets dark – and there may not be one for miles.
Otherwise, it’s you against the mountain for the night - and guess who’s more likely to win that battle.
What made the whole ordeal even harder was that the further I withdrew in to myself, the more loving and encouraging dad and Joe were towards me.
It’s always been a pattern of both of theirs.
And it’s always been a pattern of mine and my mother’s to shut the men that love us out when we’re in a bad place.
The thing is, I find it painful to be loved.
Most of all when I’m feeling internally ugly & bitter, but sometimes even when I’m feeling happy.
I find it far harder to be loved than to give love, because the love you give away can never be taken from you.
Even if the relationship ends, you can still feel the love you have for the other person.
It’s yours no matter what.
But, when you’re being gifted love, there’s always the possibility that it could be taken away at any moment.
They could break up with you.
They could take a job in another country.
They could get sick.
They could die.
So I push and push and push it away so that at least I get to be the one to end it before the other person has the chance to.
It’s why I cheated in past relationships, it’s why I broke up with men the moment it became too serious, and it’s why I shut my dad and boyfriend out when I’m feeling at my most unloveable.
I’m not a Love Coach because I find relationships and love easy.
I’m a Love Coach because I find them exceptionally hard.
Yet something in me still longs to find a way to summit this Everest of mine.
Which is why I got a tattoo of a semi-colon the day before we left for the trek.
I’d seen this tattoo on a fair few people in 12 Step meetings over the last year, so I hit up google to find out its meaning:
“A semi-colon is used when an author could have chosen to end their sentence, but chose not to. The author is you and the sentence is your life.”
It made sense as to why so many addicts and people who’d struggled with mental health seemed to be sporting the tattoo as a symbol and reminder of their progress.
I chose to get it on my wedding ring finger (much to the disappointment of my parents) to remind me that when it came to my biggest trigger and challenge – all my relationships – I must find a way to keep going.
‘Keeping going’ looks different in every circumstance:
Sometimes it literally means continuing to put one foot in front of the other (for example, when you’re trying to climb a mountain, but would rather chuck yourself off it than take another step.)
Sometimes it means asking yourself whether you’re Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired – and dealing with those symptoms before you try and tackle anything else.
Sometimes it means leaving a relationship that’s not right for you, but finding a way to continue on through the grief and heartbreak that will inevitably seek you out in the aftermath.
And sometimes it means finding a way to stay in a relationship you know is right for you, but pushes you so far out of your comfort zone that leaving – despite the grief and heartbreak you’ll have to face in doing so – seems like a far easier option.
Because, like Everest, love is confronting; it demands all of us.
And, like climbing Everest, love doesn’t always succeed.
No matter how hard we might try to reach the summit of love’s experience, not all of us will make it.
People betray, leave us or die.
Bodies of those who gave their very last breath to try and reach the highest point on earth still lie near the top of Everest, frozen in time.
So, why bother even trying when success in neither love nor summiting is guaranteed?
In the words of mountaineer George Mallory, who died when attempting to summit Everest in 1924:
“Because it’s there.”
“Just five more minutes, and then you see the first view of Everest,” Tenzing the Sherpa tells me as he practically carries me up the last few steps to the Everest viewpoint.
I can see my dad and Joe already waiting for me up there, and find myself resenting them even more for getting to see one of the seven natural wonders of the world before I do.
But, as I take my last few heavy steps and round the corner to glimpse the peak through the trees, the music on my iPod changes from The Little Mermaid’s ‘Under The Sea’ (desperate times) to The Verve’s ‘Lucky Man’.
And as fast as it came, all that lonely bitterness melts away as tears slipping down my sunburned cheeks.
Joe and dad put their arms around me as we look on at that marvellous snow-capped vision in the distance, and for the first time that day I'm able to hold still and accept the love that's being offered to me.
Just because it's there.
I’D LOVE TO HEAR FROM YOU:
Have you ever found it hard to accept love from others?
How did you react at the time, and what’s helped you stop pushing love away now?
And if you’re feeling really brave… what’s been an ‘Everest’ for you in your life?
Let me know in the comments :)