Friday, September 30, 2011

Facing Our Fears

Old Sugarlands Trail - GSMNP
September 29, 2011

According to the National Park Service, there are approximately 1500 black bears in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  This past Tuesday morning, I met one of them up close and personal.  Unlike the dreaded grizzly bears of the west, black bears really don't want to eat you.  In fact, they are more intent on getting away from you than you are from them.  Unless of course, you mange to  a) get between a mother and her cubs,  b) startle or scare one, or  c) happen to encounter one that has been habituated to humans because of being fed (thank you so much for that, silly tourists!!).  Most hikers crave the experience of seeing a bear deep in the backcountry.  I can assure you that I am NOT one of them, but nonetheless. there we were about 2 1/2 miles down the Old Sugarlands Trail when I saw him.  He had already seen us and had stopped eating.  In our circumstance, we did exactly what we were supposed to do and he was courteous enough to do exactly what HE was supposed to do (turn around and amble away).  

But I will tell you that it scared the living daylights out of both my hiking bud and me.  Because it was one of those moments when you knew your life and your safety at that point in time was out of your hands and dependent upon the actions of a giant 300-400 pound ball of black fur.  And for me, it was a brief moment of true fear.  

After staring at us for what seemed like an eternity, he moved far enough away for us to pass and began eating again, so we headed on up the trail.  Did we consider going back the way we'd come?  Absolutely, but had we done that, it would've only served to make us more apprehensive about the next time.  And there will be a next time.  It might be next Monday when we hike again or it might be 25 years from now.  But turning back from fear was not the right thing to do.  And I am so thankful that we didn't although I'll have to say, we were extra vigilant for the remainder of the hike especially on our return trip past the same spot.  

That fear will always remain and I consider it a healthy fear.  But on the other hand, having been part of a "real" encounter and seen that the bear truly does exhibit the behavior exactly as it should, I am much more comfortable heading back into the woods and while never letting down my guard, will no longer take each step wondering "oh my gosh, what if we see a bear."  Knowledge and experience is power.

On October 1, 2006, with little preparation and not much hope, I began a journey to lose weight which resulted in a 65 pound weight loss over the next 15 months.  I don't know why it clicked that time when I'd tried so many times before.  Neither can I really pinpoint when the hope actually began to return that I was going to be successful.  But I do know this.  There was never a point in that entire 15 months when fear was not my constant companion.  Fear of failure.  Fear of no one noticing.  Fear of criticism of my eating choices.  Fear of regaining (yes, I was worried about that before I ever lost the first pound - it had happened so many times before).  Fear of not being able to handle myself when food settings were out of my control.  You name it - I feared it!!  

But one by one, I slayed those dragons.  Just like that bear, when I did the things I was supposed to do, my body did exactly what IT what supposed to do and as a result, I lost weight steadily and dare I say it, easily!  

I wish that I could say I had maintained that entire 65 pound loss as I approach this five-year anniversary, but you know that isn't the case.  And I've got some new fears to face and some old dragons that need to be slayed again.  My body is five years older now and those were significant years with many changes.  The dragon I cannot seem to slay is the one that keeps telling me I can't lose it again.  And that fear is every bit as real as the adrenalin that shot through my body when I saw that bear just off to my left.  

So on the eve of that important anniversary, I'm sitting here in my den thinking about that gorgeous trail that I meandered along seeing things like this:
 and this..................

.......while reminding myself that fear is a very real part of life.  Without it, we can quickly get ourselves in tough situations.  But fear is best used when it serves as a catalyst for learning, for education and for preparation to face the unknown.  

I've hiked in these mountains my entire life.  I've read the books, I've attended seminars led by rangers and I've witness demonstrations of what to do when you encounter a black bear.  I KNEW what to do and I did it.

I've battled my weight my entire life.  I've read the books, I've attended seminars led by everyone from doctors to celebrities to total quacks and I've witnessed the power that comes to me when I've faced the fears and been successful.  I KNOW what to do and I CAN do it again!  

Are you willing to share what you are most afraid of right now?  It doesn't have to be related to you weight or eating.  Sharing might help someone else (like me!!).


  1. OMG!!!

    Okay, now, moving on. Very interesting post, Sharon. Fear is not the feeling that most comes to mind for me with my journey. That said, I do have fear right now. I am afraid I cannot maintain. I am afraid I will regain. I am afraid I have created a monster in myself with all my dieting and not dieting and yo-yo-ing. I am afraid I will never be "normal" with my eating again, although I was once upon a time. Hey, I guess I have a lot of fear I didn't realize!

    You know what makes me LESS fearful? You. And all the others who are supporting me through this. Can't say enough good things about that. Thank you:)

    P.S. Speaking of others and bears... do you know the joke that says you don't need to be faster than the bear to outrun it? Just faster than the person you are with:)

  2. ...most afraid of not utilizing my gifts and skills to the best of my abilities, afraid of not making the right choice, afraid of not knowing what the right choice is, and afraid of looking back instead of forward if I make the "wrong" choice.

  3. Oh Sharon...I gasped when I read this. Didn't we just have this conversation? And didn't I just write a post about facing my own fears? I don't even have to tell you what they are because you already know....they're no different from yours. I'm so glad you and your buddy are okay.

    I guess this goes to show that we need to be ever so careful when we go hiking again because the bears are still out and about...a prayer would be good too!!!

  4. That is so scary!!!

    My biggest fear right now is going out of town again. It is irrational, but I think I'll get sick if I leave home again. I'm facing that fear next week. I'm sure I'll come home healthy like so many times before.

  5. Thanks for the timely post. And I'm glad you knew what to do and even more, it worked!

    I am afraid of many things right now, but what I have been afraid of for the past few days is making the wrong decision. When there are several paths I can take, and none of them are the "right" one, how do I choose? I pray for guidance and strength.

    And I am afraid of not being able to maintain. It won't be the end of the world, but I want to be successful. And it's so darn hard to lose, as you know, at this age.

    Thanks so much for the support you have given me in the past couple of weeks. This is just so new to me.

  6. Regarding the bear, you're a braver woman than I am Sharon. I do always carry pepper spray with me when I bike or walk -- it might deter a dog or a perv, but I'm not sure it would work against a bear. Oh, gosh, now I'm going to worry about you when you're out on your wonderful hikes.

    As for fears....they seem to be increasing in number as I sense going through the litany of them....all related to aging. They will be everyone's fears eventually. It helps me a lot to keep in mind that this is all part of life's journey, and millions and millions before me have taken this trip. True that known of them survived the trip.....(hahahaha)

  7. Hi Sharon! I absolutely LOVE the top picture. Love it like it should hang in my house. It's really beautiful.

    This quote from your post is *me* right now:

    Fear of failure. Fear of no one noticing. Fear of criticism of my eating choices. Fear of regaining (yes, I was worried about that before I ever lost the first pound - it had happened so many times before). Fear of not being able to handle myself when food settings were out of my control. You name it - I feared it!!

    I hope that I overcome that like you did.

    :-) Marion

  8. thank goodness the bear wasn't feeling social!

    I don't recall fear over weight or food issues. Most of my fears center on finances or family issues. But I'm generally pretty fearless. Or so I tell myself, anyway. :)

  9. Right now? What am I fearing right now? Right now what I fear the most is taking a hike in the Smoky Mountains and coming across a BEAR. Oh, and being on the hike with someone who wants to KEEP GOING!! Oh my gosh, I can't tell you how scared that makes me.

    Anyway, I do have most of those fears periodically. Regaining everything. Being a failure because I HAVE already regained some.

    P.S. Did you get my latest email? I think I'll re-send it.

  10. Excellent post, Sharon. You always bring up so many good points to think about. Fear has always kept me from doing many things in my life. I think my biggest fear is being taken over by fear itself, which will prevent me from being a better person. I struggle a lot with that, lately. Sometimes, these challenges that I make myself complete are exhausting, but always so rewarding in the end, so at least I'm making small amounts of progress, right?
    As for the bear, it reminds me of driving one of the motor trails and coming to a dead stop - 15 cars at least in front of us. We finally get out of our car to see people walking up to a black bear trying to teach her 2 cubs to forage for food. I was literally in shock watching these ignorant people, treating these bears as though they were on display for their pleasure. Nuts.

  11. Great post Sharon. I know that fear kept me a way far too long from getting healthy. Fear of the unknown, but there is more, too, that I plan to blog about soon. Facing our fears is one of the most important parts of this journey.

    Glad that the bear incident turned out well, too. Beautiful pictures.

    Five years is quite impressive. I know you have more work to do, as do I, but five years is REALLY something. Bravo to the revised and more healthy you!