I left an abusive marriage almost 3 years ago. We were a couple for 18 years, from the time I was 20 until I was 38. At the time I left, our children were 4, 7, 11 and 14. I had been a stay-at-home mom/ housewife since my oldest was born. My ex and I share custody of our children 50/50, so I suddenly found myself with a lot of free time and a huge hole in my life, missing my children so much on the weeks they were with their father. I told myself that I must do something with that time--something that my children didn't enjoy doing/ something that I loved but that was difficult to do with them. Several things came to mind, including hiking. I began taking a lot of weekend road trips to places I'd never explored before, just getting out on the road away from home helped me not miss my kids so much. But I also did a lot of shopping at thrift stores, visits to art museums, etc.
Then last year I read an article from Stanford University. Researchers had one group of volunteers take a 90 minute walk along a busy street and another group take a 90 minute walk in a nature preserve. They found that the nature preserve walkers experienced a number of mental health benefits not found in the busy street walkers. I had been trying to walk 10,000 steps a day for health reasons, but I was usually doing it on the streets in my neighborhood, or on a treadmill at the gym. After reading this article (July 2015) I decided to try to switch my walks to nature areas. The change was phenomenal. Now, about 10 months later, I do everything I can to spend at least an hour a day on a trail in a natural area. Of course some days I don't manage, but many days, especially on the weeks my kids are with their dad, I get in a 5 mile hike or so. This has become the foundation of my recovery. I don't know where I'd be today if it wasn't for these daily hikes.
I struggle with many PTSD-like symptoms, and feel a lot of panic about how I'm going to support myself, being a single parent, losing a lot of my community because of the divorce, losing my home, etc. Some days, I'm sobbing as I drive my car to the trailhead, and even for the first 10-15 minutes of my hike. But inevitably the scenery pulls me away from my fears and my sorrows. Soon I begin to feel hope again. I start to get ideas about what to do, how to move forward, how to take care of myself and my children in this new life. It was hard at first to give myself permission to hike every day. Now I think of it as the most important thing I can do to stay healthy for my kids. It is the gift I give to myself and to them each day.