I knew I was going to fall eventually. It was inevitable. The combination of tennis shoes, snow, and a steep upward slope just didn’t look promising.
My husband, Kevin, and I were on a belated honeymoon in Estes Park, Colorado for a week of hiking in the mountains. When planning the trip, I had envisioned perfect spring weather -- 65 degrees and clear skies for all the trails we wanted to explore in Rocky Mountain National Park. I couldn’t wait to get away from the hustle and bustle of life to reflect on God’s beautiful creation; after all, the mountains of Colorado had always held a special place in my heart as a place of spiritual retreat and healing.
But as we approached our first trail (comfortingly named “Glacier Gorge” -- what were we thinking?) two things became clear: snow still covers the Rocky Mountains in May, and Kevin had overestimated my hiking abilities. To him, the snowy 1000-foot elevation climb looked exciting. To me, it looked… not exciting.
“Umm, Kevin?” I said as he forged ahead towards the trailhead. “I’m not sure I can do this.”
“Oh yes you can,” he said. “You can’t be afraid. Gotta trust yourself. Just plant your feet in my footsteps. You’ll be fine. And if you fall, where are you going? I’m right here.”
I rolled my eyes. This may be the beginning of a newlywed spat, I thought. And the Colorado guidebook we got from Barnes and Noble definitely didn’t say anything about snow in May.
But my grumbling wasn’t going to get me anywhere, and there were hikers coming up behind us (with hiking boots, cleats, and hiking poles, I noted). I had to attempt the climb, unprepared as I was. “Okay, but I’m going to need help,” I told Kevin. Maybe these people behind me will help us if I fall and bust my head open and we have to call for emergency help and I have to be airlifted back to Arkansas, all because I was too stupid to bring hiking boots.
“You’re worrying too much,” Kevin said. “I’m right here.”
Taking the first step up, I knew I was in over my head. I could barely put my foot down without feeling shaky, unsteady, and generally as though I was going to fall and crash into a tree at any moment. We had climbed less than 100 feet before I gave in. “Kevin, it’s too much,” I said. “I want to turn around.”
We may still be newlyweds, but Kevin has learned enough after eight months of marriage to know not to argue with his wife when it comes to my fear of falling. We turned around and headed back down.
“Okay,” he sighed. “Plant your feet sideways, and use your heels to dig into the snow when you’re coming back down the slope. I’ll go ahead of you, but I can’t just hold your hand the entire way, or we’ll both fall.”
Great, I thought. Not exactly what I was picturing when we booked the resort. I took my first shaky step downwards. I was easily taking 30 or 40 seconds to make sure my foot was planted correctly for each step; I was determined to do it right. A slip would mean I failed. And after maybe five minutes of inching my way down the slope and making almost zero progress forwards, I had become “that hiker” who was testing all the other tourists’ patience. By the fifth step, I was on my rear end in the snow.
“You okay back there?” Kevin called. Nope, nope, not okay. Making sure I wasn’t hurt, he asked, “What happened? Katelin, just put your feet in my footsteps. You can get up. You’re okay.”
I was hurt, though perhaps it was just my pride. Unfortunately, I had no choice. I had to get up and keep going, unless I wanted to spend the rest of our honeymoon on Glacier Gorge, and I was pretty sick of snow at this point.
After plenty of more trembling steps downward, we found ourselves back at the start of the trailhead. “I’ll just remind you that I was the one that suggested Hawaii,” Kevin said on the seemingly-endless drive back to the resort.
Thinking back on the experience later that day, I saw that I was so terrified of slipping and falling that I almost couldn’t move. I was determined to do it perfectly. I may have found myself in an unexpected circumstance with the snow, but that fact alone didn’t have to prevent me from moving forward. It was my own fear that held me back.
The reality was that I had plenty of people around me. I was on a well-traveled path and I could follow in the footsteps of those who had gone before me. Most importantly, I had someone -- Kevin -- to guide me and help me up if I slipped. And when I did fall, he was there to help me back up and get me moving forward again until I felt more confident in my own abilities.
Have you ever felt like that in recovery? We find ourselves on a steep climb, not exactly sure how to take the next step. We know we don’t want to fall back into our old hurts, habits, and hang-ups, but the fear of moving forward -- whether it be starting or completing our inventories, offering forgiveness, or making amends -- can stall our progress. Fortunately for us, recovery is a well-traveled path. We are surrounded by those who have gone before us and can guide us as we take the next steps towards healing. Our sponsors and accountability teams can offer support and encouragement if we begin to feel fearful, and can be there to help us if we slip. Slips are not infrequent in the recovery process and can actually be a catalyst for change when they grant us a fresh perspective on how to move forward in following God’s will for our lives. It’s progress -- not perfection.
Two days after that first attempt at Glacier Gorge, I found myself at the trailhead of Deer Mountain (it should be noted that Kevin let me pick the next trail out of our Colorado guidebook, which explicitly stated that the trail was one with “very little snow year-round”). Okay, Lord, I prayed. I’m getting up this mountain one way or another, but I can’t do it without Your help. Perhaps the Lord knew I needed a challenge mixed with His grace; there were still patches of snow on the trail, but only enough to present some mild difficulty. I’ve already slipped once; it’s not like I’m going to die if I fall on my rear again, I thought. Six miles later, my husband and I had completed our first summit hike together.
If you’ve found that your recovery has stalled, don’t let the fear of failure hold you back. Recovery is a process, and sometimes our Heavenly Father lets us slip and fall in the proverbial snow to learn how to navigate uncomfortable situations. You are surrounded by others who have gone before you and will help you get back on your feet. So keep going. The view from the top is beautiful.
The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights. --Habakkuk 3:19