Nothing could have prepared me for the relief the solitude of the desert brought to my battle-wounded, weary soul. Not only did it calm my nerves, but it also allowed for a deep level of internal reflection I’d always remained too busy to truly face. When you’re in the middle of nowhere all alone, you don’t have the option of escaping your thoughts.
It was highly uncomfortable at first, but I knew I needed it.
Georgia O’Keeffe knew this intoxicating brand of solitude all too well and was dubbed a hermit thereafter. I visited her stomping grounds in New Mexico which inspired her infamous paintings that encapsulate this wonderful isolation, and I began to understand one reason why the locals called the state “The Land of Entrapment.” I don’t think she was crazy; I think she was wise.
One minute, I would be gazing out at the vastness of the High Desert, and the next moment would bring a distant traumatic memory — memories of being locked in closets because I was crying, seizing on the floor while having objects thrown at me, waking up freezing cold and startled by the haunting (and illegal) sounds in the next room, hoping that for once he’d make good on his promise to kill us both by driving off that bridge, watching his poor animals being tortured, and being unable to get away into an open space to breathe. I’d remember his sadistic smile, and I’d remember the same about my father from earlier experiences; all of my abusers had acted with malice and unambiguous intention. I would remember how much power they held over me back then. Then I would come back into my body and look again at the iron-rich plateaus, the volcanic rock clusters, the cacti, and the Joshua trees, all of them being a byproduct of millennia of tectonic marvels.
This was much more powerful than they could ever hope to be.
With each solo desert hike, my nervous system began to accept that fight-or-flight wasn’t always necessary, and my brain learned it was still capable of making some feel-good chemicals when given the opportunity — even when I was alone and undistracted.
Soon enough, being alone became addicting. After all, the fewer variables (i.e. people) involved, the lower the likelihood of stress was. The lower my stress level, the more I was able to heal. I quickly reached the point wherein interacting with other people was altogether unappealing, and I was glad I didn’t really know anyone in the entire state. I stuck to hiking trails, and whenever I absolutely couldn’t put it off anymore, I ventured to the grocery store. I took off in my car to catch a glimpse of the views along Route 66, and I often visited Sedona’s glorious red rocks. It was just me, the sun, beautiful open scenery everywhere, and my favorite road tunes. It was a kind of freedom and solace I hadn’t known was possible.
Eventually, I did start missing people, and I knew that if I didn’t re-socialize myself sooner than later, I’d remain feral forever. It’s unbelievably difficult to choose between human connection and a lack of stress when you’re going to have negative physiological and psychological reactions either way. Even people like me are wired to benefit from conversation, human touch, and being social from time to time. I made the difficult decision to move back home and focus on positive, fulfilling human interactions. Despite my horror stories, I have fortunately lived a life of few regrets, but I knew I wouldn’t be satisfied on my death bed if I didn’t know I’d at least tried to reconnect with people again — to share experiences, to laugh, and to love.