Holli Kenley’s Mountain Air: Relapsing And Finding The Way Back One Breath At A Time (Loving Healing Press, 2013) is a brutally honest personal narrative detailing a painful decent into relapse and a powerful journey back to recovering. The following excerpt makes the first chapter of the book. For more information about the author and her work, visit http://hollikenley.com/.
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In July 2008, I chose to return to the environment of my youth. No one encouraged me or coerced me. I did so of my own free will. I felt like a foreigner feigning blending in and yet fighting to insulate myself from the toxins around me. Coming from a mountain habitat, the surrounding landscape shocked my system and strangled my senses. The air was grayish-brown with a hint of blue struggling to break through the giant igloo encapsulating the valley. The smells from the sprawling agricultural fields triggered reminders of planes scattering pesticides and my sinuses burned as I breathed in microscopic pollutants. Just beyond the walls of the manicured development where we purchased our new home were clusters of over-crowded animal farms. The feeding corrals and the piles of manure blended into one mass of fermented fumes. Each time I drove by the nauseous odor, I felt sickened by the inhumanity of it all and questioned its existence.
On a still day, while out walking in my neighborhood, I could hear the traffic noises from the nearby congested interstate with massive trucks hauling goods from farms to be placed onto railroad containers. Nightly, as a nearby army depot came alive, I listened to the crashing sounds of loading cargo onto trains with their tired horns signaling their departure to unknown places. The seasonal pressures and demands from crops of valley life created a frantic static in the air that slowly seemed to crowd out the calm from within.
The intense heat of the July summer days brought back memories from childhood as well as a young woman of escaping to cooler ground and of wanting to be anywhere else other than where I was. Even in the evenings when the vast flatlands seemed to sigh as the delta breezes brought relief to their parched crops, I found myself searching for some form of fresh air, some sort of reprieve from the oppression that was forming around me. By the end of the first week, I lay in bed at night thinking about the mountain environment I left. I missed it; I longed for it. Closing my eyes, I allowed myself to recapture the beauty of living in the mountains, and I began to replay its purpose in my life.
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Leaving the desert floor and climbing up a steep windy unpredictable road, the terrain begins to change. Every so often, cacti and sand are replaced with ocotillo clutching massive boulders and century plants struggling to secure space to sprout and then to blossom. A surprise patch of verbena soothes the eye with clusters of wild flowers sprinkling the rocky floor. Ascending further, the topography rapidly changes its dressing, filling out and filling in the openings both on the ground and in the sky. Wild sagebrush is sandwiched amongst the soaring pines and stunted poplars. Jagged rocks make room for smooth mounds of river rock snuggled amidst the lush green grasses and secret streams. The wind finds its voice as it rustles through the forest tapestry. Suddenly, the serene beauty is transformed by the cry of a nearby eagle soaring from tree top to tree branch or by the startled sound of a squirrel scampering across the road seeking refuge. Following the twists and turns of the road while navigating even higher, one last image completes the picture of perfection—a sprawling bonanza-like valley. And this is home.
Choosing to live here was no accident; it was indeed purposeful. At first sight of this hidden treasure, magical memories from childhood summers sprang forth of mountain escapades with rowdy cousins, and a longing for the freedoms experienced during those carefree days demanded replication. With the purchase of a lot and with the creative powers of many, a human nest was carefully framed and formed high on a hill overseeing the magnificence before it and yet sharing in it. A family settled in and life began to shape itself around the womb of wonder that nourished it. Connecting with Nature became a continual source of renewal and growth. Long walks alone down a quiet mountain road covered in a rug of pine needles produced opportunities to shed the human cloak of heaviness and to release the inner trappings of turmoil. Gathering fallen pine cones and studying the intricacies of each unique shape provided comfort that even with the broken shapes and crushed thorny leaves, their beauty was not diminished. Witnessing the thunderous storms that washed clean the dry needles from thirsty trees and lifted the aromas from the parched plants refreshed the hope that a way of being can be revived or even made better. And after almost twenty years of embracing the secret gifts of Nature came the confidence of finding, nurturing and becoming a person of authenticity and of truth—my truth.
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As I lay in the dark quiet night reflecting upon the images of mountain life, I couldn’t help but question my decision to return to my central valley home.
Why did I choose to abandon all that formed the foundation of a sound mind, body, and spirit?
Why did I move back to an environment that had again proven unworthy of return and of my reinvestment?
Why—after all my work to become the real me—would I risk losing myself?
Why had I come here?
As I often did when I was troubled or confused, I turned to Nature and the lessons She taught me over the years. Whether it was in direct contact with Her or drawing on a memory of Her, the ripe teachings within Nature were always there for the devouring. My mind desperately scoured Nature’s harvest and recalled such a message from a dozen summers ago.
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When a forest fire swept through the dry foliage near our mountain home, residents were evacuated as were their horses and other beloved animals. Because of the fearless firemen who were stationed close by, there was no loss of human or domesticated life. However, the wild life—plant and animal—did not fare as well. For a lengthy stretch of miles and an unknown amount of acreage, there was complete devastation. For months, each day driving by the barren landscape with charred limbs and deformed trunks angled mercilessly into its blackened soil, my heart ached. Questions flooded my mind as to causation and yet no answers surfaced. No one came to rebuild or to replant. The summer passed without rescue; the crusted canvass remained foreign among its living distant relatives. Mother Earth remained still, and She waited. One truth lay dormant—fertile soil awaited Her return and Her re-growth.
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As I thought about how I was losing myself in the inner flames of confusion, I remembered the stillness of the charred landscape. Although Nature did not provide me with the answers as to why I chose to enter my fiery betrayal environs or how they were so easily torching my ways of being, for now
She provided me with the one truth I needed. With Her fertile life lessons and guidance, I would find my way back.
Chapter 1—Topics for Journaling & Recovery Work
- Think about a period of time in your life or an episode when you chose to abandon the foundations of your healthy way of being. Write about this experience with as much detail and description as possible. Take your time and face your truths. Discuss what you lost of yourself in the process.
- Thinking back upon your experience, also describe your initial feelings and emotions that accompanied this period of relapse or regression. As you identify them; write about why these feelings are so painful to acknowledge. How do these feelings influence and impact your way of being? How do these feelings play a part in the hold that relapse has on you?
About the Author
Holli Kenley, M.A., Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, currently works in the field of psychology as an author, educator, and workshop presenter. Formerly from the Southern California area, she practiced for ten years in a counseling center before moving into private practice. Spending much of her time working in the areas of abuse, trauma, betrayal, and cyber bullying, Holli is the author of two books including Breaking Through Betrayal: And Recovering The Peace Within; and an e-single Betrayal-Proof Your Relationship: What Couples Need To Know & Do. Holli Kenley is an ongoing contributing author for Recovering The Self : A Journal of Hope and Healing, and she has had several articles published on cyber bullying, including an e-single entitled Cyber Bullying No More: Parenting A High Tech Generation. Prior to and during her career as a therapist, Holli taught for thirty years in public education.
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