A little healing in the forest…

Trigger warning: mention of sexual assault

This post is not directly about writing, though writing it seems to signify to me I have come closer to healing and closure. The reason I will share something so sensitive is that, first, I don’t think such things should be kept secret and, second, I’d like to forge a bond with others out there who’ve experienced something like this. In connection, there is healing—let these words be the conduit for this connection to another injured soul out there.

Twenty years ago, a man attacked me. I was lucky enough to escape before the worst happened, but I’ve been afraid to walk alone in forests ever since, as this was the setting of the attack. When I now walk in nature, I take company or, at least, my e-bike because I don’t feel as vulnerable when moving fast. I rarely stand still, for that’s when the fear creeps and makes the skin on my back crawl with worry. No matter how beautiful the setting, no matter how great the longing to enjoy it, I never can, because my fear is there with me.

I’ve always felt hampered by this inability to find peace alone in nature. Yet, I so often crave to just go out there, with nothing but my own two feet, slow down, take my time for each step, and just breathe—alone. But this capacity seemed to be ruined inside me forever.

How ironic, then, that I ended up living in the Black Forest region of Germany, which is replete in forests. And, oh, how beautiful these forests are—sometimes dark and quiet, lichen and moss padding the sound of every step; sometimes joyful and inviting, the tinkling of merry streams like laughter; yet, at other times, glorious and majestic, mists around the shoulders of woodland hills like royal mantles. They call me, these forests, but I can’t go.

I’ve tried, you know. To desensitize myself by pushing my boundaries so I can again and again experience nothing happening among the trees. I’ve attempted numerous hikes alone, but I always end up racing with my heart pounding like a hunted animal. Nothing bad ever befell me. Even so, the fear stayed. So eventually, I decided to stop torturing myself and gave up these solitary outings. The call of the forests, though, never ceased, and it pains me every day that I can’t answer it.

Today, I felt this draw again as I was driving up a small road, snow-frosted trees on either side climbing up the surrounding slopes up to the horizon. I couldn’t help it and stopped near a path that struck between the trees. I got out of my car, my eyes locked on the snowy embroidery all around, aching to go deeper, to let this beauty surround me. A snow-laden forest is magical. It swallows every sound. There is such profound peace inside winter woodland.

I decided, fear or not, to start on the path. I thought I might tolerate the loneliness if I stayed within view of the car. Two large trees towered on either side at the beginning of the trail, and it was as if passing through a majestic gate. I tried to relax, to focus on the splendid sights around me rather than on the fear. But with each step, it was as if a pulley threatened to drag me back to perceived safety, to the heaven of the road, even if, rationally, I knew the deserted road was not safer than the path.

Yet, the beauty all around, it drew me in; it mesmerized me. Even when I lost view of the car, I could not stop. I soothed myself, like I’ve done so many times on my fear-ridden, solitary hikes, that I just need to make it to the next bend in the path. Like before, I enlisted my curiosity to fight the fear. Who knew what astounding sights the curve hid? I would not want to miss out on them, would I?

Hearing the descending airplanes (as Zurich Airport is relatively near) and the occasional car passing down the road detracted somewhat from the solemn mood. Hard to find the peace within when rumbling engines punctuate the silence without. I ended up hunting for the unsullied moments, when the far more noble sounds of the woodpecker or the slinking fox accentuated the silence among the trees.

And I found them! All of a sudden, all would go quiet, and I would feel compelled to stop walking and just listen… listen… listen to my heart’s desire. In one of those moments, alone among the trees, with no view of my car, I realized I was utterly unafraid.

I expected this realization to bring back a flood of fear. But no. I remained at peace and completely aware of how unafraid I am. I cried and laughed as branches dropped snow on my face; I stopped to take pictures; I stooped to trace the frost’s mosaic on the fallen leaves. Not a single pang of fretting bothered me.

Granted, I was not all that far from my car; granted, I might not feel like this ever again. But what if this is the beginning of a long sought healing? What if this seed of peace I sowed, which I now carry within me and which, just at the thought of it, recalls the feeling of sheltered peace, sprouts and blossoms and engenders other such moments of independence?

Because, ultimately, it boils down to just this. Back then, twenty years ago, my ability to be autonomous, to walk alone when I want to, was taken away from me. I thought I was done fighting. I thought I just had to learn to live with the fear. But it seems I’m not done. Today, I remembered that my sovereignty is worth the struggle.

Author: Adriana Kantcheva

I'm a Bulgarian writer of (often) speculative fiction, who lives in Germany.

2 thoughts on “A little healing in the forest…”

  1. Thank you for sharing this personal story Adriana. I can feel your struggle, your pain, and your triumph. Beautifully written. Bravely endured and told.

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