I believe that climbing trees can make you feel better when life seems out of control. Ever since I was a toddler, I have been climbing trees. Back when I was young, I loved pulling myself up off the ground, one branch at a time. I climbed any tree I could back in the days of my childhood, in the world of tree forts and tree swings, when life was simple.
My dad always hated when I climbed because he knew I would sit up high, out of his reach. So he cut the lower branches off the trees around our house to prevent me from climbing. My tree-climbing was just one of the many insignificant things that would send him over the edge into terrifying fits of verbal abuse. As much as he loved me, my dad had serious problems.
As I grew up, I stopped climbing trees. Life became crazier, and I felt as if I no longer had the time or desire to climb. There were too many things that I now had to focus my attention on. It was around this time that I began to realize how my dad’s anger problems affected his life. He and my mom got a divorce, he was fired from countless jobs, and he lost friends. Even my brother and I began to distance ourselves from him.
My biggest fear was that someday, when I was older, I would become like him. I realized this fear for the first time when I was a senior in high school. Similarities in my dad’s behavior and mine slowly became apparent. One day, though, I realized that if I did not do anything to change myself, my biggest fear would become a reality. My mom and I got into one of our many fights and began to yell at each other. About what, I do not even remember. What I do remember, however, was the look on her face when I spewed out a familiar series of abusive words and insults. “You sound exactly like your father,” she said quietly.
Hearing those words set off an explosion of fear in my mind. I was so upset that I ran out the front door, down my driveway, and into a nearby gulley. With tears blurring my vision, I looked up into the branches of an old oak tree that I used to climb. I noticed that the lower branches had been sawed off years ago. Without even thinking about it, I reached up and grasped one of the higher, sturdier branches. As I pulled myself up into the air, I began to calm down.
Climbing a tree gives you confidence, I thought. It makes you feel strong and in control. It tests your judgment and your courage. It makes you feel in touch with your body and nature. And when you are perched up high in the leaves all by yourself, you feel hidden and protected. When I was younger, I was not consciously aware of how therapeutic it was to climb a tree. It had been years since I last climbed a tree, yet all of a sudden, the same feelings came rushing back. In that moment, life felt simple again. I was able to clear my mind, think, and realize that if I do not want to become like my dad, I have the choice to change, because I am in control of my life. It may seem insignificant, but whenever life feels out of control, something as small as climbing a tree can put everything back into perspective.
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