WILD by Cheryl Strayed – Review

I’ve thought about this book a lot since I read it. It’s hard to write about it without letting my own experience with life-changing grief seep in, but I’ll do my best!

The power of WILD lies in its raw truth. After the loss of her beloved and free-spirited mother – Cheryl Strayed doesn’t gloss over her self-destruction into heroin and mindless sex (even though she was married to a good guy). “Nothing could bring my mother back or make it okay that she was gone.” She was 22, her mom, 45.

The journey back to herself started when she was still reeling, in her words: “sad and desperate and on the brink of divorcing a man I loved.” In line to purchase an foldable shovel, she saw the book “Pacific Coast Trail, Volume 1, California.” She didn’t buy it then, but came back.

And so began her hike that was “two feet wide and 2,663 miles long.” Even with (or because of) a “monster” backpack – she was comically unprepared to hike the Pacific Trail from too tight, toenail-dropping hiking boots to more “condom weight” than necessary.

Sheer physical exhaustion, the brutality and beauty of nature and unexpected moments of humanity and camaraderie is what I leave for you to discover when you check out WILD…

(The photo in the heading is of her mom).

I Want My Mom Back – wrestling with the “what-if-only’s.”

I’m never gonna get it. Why’d my mom do this to me? I know she did it to herself, but it feels like she did it to me, to us. Her loving family, her close friends and her boyfriend.

The best advice I got was from a high school friend of my mom’s who lost her son to suicide as well. She said: “You will never understand – that darkness – they were in. And there’s a hole. It gets better. But there’s always a hole.”

I keep thinking “my mom shot her head off” over and over and over. Conversations about how we could still have open casket because “her facial features are still intact” haunt me. At my brother’s house I had nightmares of my mom’s wraith coming across the barren fields. It had hollow black eyes and no spirit. Because that thing – that darkness – that took over my mom was not her. It was too many depression/anxiety/thyroid/sleeping pill medications without timely follow-up + loss of rational thinking from a 20 year relationship with an abusive alcoholic man.

I’ve never understood how my mom could teach me to be so strong and to stand up for myself, but lacked the ability to sprint away from a heart damaging, brain atrophying relationship.

At the funeral I wanted to wail in the church – “Why create damaged tortured creatures, God?! Prove your power – RESURRECT MY MOM NOW! It’s almost Easter, for Christ’s sake.

We all have moments of depression, but how does it take over when you have so many good things going for you? Why didn’t she reach out? I spoke to her the day before – why didn’t she say anything???? Seriously – what the fuck??? What if I’d have sensed something? How do you know? I study recent pictures of my beautiful mom trying to look in her eyes – is there profound sadness there – despite the smile?

Patients on an array of medications for depression need to be forced to go to counseling and not just given a magic happy pill – that have side effects of doing the opposite. And families need to attend counseling too, so we know what to look for, how to see the truth behind the lies.

I want my mom back! Mother’s Day cards on display cut deep. Sometimes I can’t breathe. I’m afraid of the dark again, like a child.