The AdventurUs Women Escape was an experience I never saw coming, in fact it was an experience that I didn’t realize I needed on an emotional level until I was there. My life the year leading up to the retreat was an experience that had caused me to question my plans and goals. As a black woman living in America, especially the predominantly white state of Oregon, I needed something that could reset my nervous system or even provide me a container to process all the anger that had built up inside me from the year 2020 and prior.
My relationship with the outdoors started in Las Vegas, NV, home of the famous Red Rocks. It was there I started to see the benefits of being outside for my emotional, spiritual and physical health. What started as adventuring on my own, became a consistent experience I would embark on with others and even professionally. I became a Wilderness Therapist providing mental health services to youth and young adults out in nature years after realizing that being outdoors was a place I wanted to take up space in. I became the first and only black female therapist in the field of Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare, working primarily with adolescents and young adults of color out in nature. I loved my job, especially being able to take up space outdoors with kids that had never experienced being outdoors, let alone given the opportunity to work through deep traumas that had impacted them so heavily. We processed emotional, physical and mental traumas that caused my clients great grief, especially traumas caused by external systems related to race-based stress. Not only were they taking up space in the outdoors, they were processing their lived experiences as young individuals in this world, especially as people of color.
Grieving and processing loss in the outdoors with AdventurUs Women
Wilderness therapy is predominantly run by white, male, cis-gendered leaders making it difficult to navigate the space as a client of color, let alone a therapist or staff of color. Working there for the two years prior to the Escape came to an end when I had to make the hard decision to leave because the race-based stress I was experiencing, especially during the year of 2020 took a toll on me. Although I loved the work I did with my clients and a few of the staff members I worked with, it was evident that the system I worked in was harmful and exhausting in some ways to populations different from the norm and as the only black leader desiring change, it was too much to hold alone. After stepping away from working in a field that I envisioned working for many years to come, I realized that my body and mind had so many built up traumas and anger that impacted the way I saw wilderness and being outside. My hunger and appetite to be in nature was limited and almost non-existent. A loss that I had come to grieve on so many levels and didn't realize I needed to process until my weekend with AdventurUs Women.
"I remember climbing, telling myself 'Judith, this is for the spaces that you have been in that have felt so unsafe for you. All the energy and heart you have put into spaces that were harmful to you and they didn’t even realize it’.”
I came to learn about AdventurUs Women through a friend of mine who sent me an Instagram post about their scholarship opportunity. I remember thinking If I applied I probably wouldn’t get selected and I was so busy juggling a private practice and doctorate program that I wouldn't have the time to attend. I applied anyway. To my surprise I was selected and I cleared up my schedule and made myself fully available for the weekend not knowing what to expect.
Although I had so many great experiences that weekend, especially getting to know some amazing women, two experiences ring true to me till this day. I experienced the healing I needed to get myself back out there, but this time in a different way. I signed up for the rock climbing event the first day of activities and although it had been years since I rock climbed, I tackled a route that I thought for sure I wouldn’t attempt let alone complete. I remember climbing, telling myself “Judith, this is for the spaces that you have been in that have felt so unsafe for you. All the energy and heart you have put into spaces that were harmful to you and they didn’t even realize it’.” It was my chance to leave it all up on that mountain. So I did. It left me feeling alive in areas that felt dead for some time. It reminded me that as a black woman, I am first responsible for my emotional safety and no other culture got the chance to dictate that.
Healing by Resting
I also learned and put into practice the value of rest. The old me would have signed up for every intense activity and would have spent long hours up by the campfire talking it up with everyone, but this experience was different for me. I allowed myself one big activity and spent the rest of the time resting, something I struggled to incorporate in my life as a professional. Giving my body and mind time to be alone, take naps, and not do everything possible was healing for me in a number of ways. Emotional and physical safety came through from a place of rest and it has continued to change the way I show up outdoors. It spiritually allows me to commune with mother earth from a place of gratitude and rest not from a place of conquest.
I can’t say specifically why this opportunity would be helpful for anyone else, especially women of color, but I can say that it has the ability to provide many diverse reasons. The outdoors has always been portrayed as something only accessible to whites, and throughout American colonial history it has been, while also erasing black and brown communities that have deep roots and legacy in wilderness for centuries. Creating opportunities for black and brown folks to be out in nature isn't a new concept, in fact, it is an opportunity for those with great ancestral connection with nature to return to presence in ways that are traditionally diverse to other cultures. Although my hopes will always be that black and brown folks would be at the center of defining what adventuring is or has always been, I hope that opportunities like the one I was given would continue in order to give other black and brown communities a chance at returning to presence. A chance to return home. For that reason I am eternally grateful for AdventurUs Women. It has ignited my dream and vision at creating an outdoor program for black and brown youth to experience nature in traditional and healing ways.