Taking the Ring to Mordor
It is a quest of epic proportions, taking the Ring of Power to Mordor to cast it into the fires of Mt. Doom.
Just the kind of quest I need.
For my second trip to New Zealand, on a quest to come “full circle”on the healing journey I’d begun there nearly three years prior, I am setting out to hike the Tongariro Crossing, the filming location for Mordor, to come face to face with Mt. Ngauruhoe, “Mt. Doom.”
The quest itself is largely a symbolic one: I am not actually carrying my wedding ring up a mountain to cast into the fires of the real-life Mt. Ngauruhoe. (That would be littering). Were it so simple to obtain my freedom, I would have booked a flight here the day after my heart was shattered into dust. No, the journey of rebuilding is far more complex; there is no shortcut to healing.
There are, however, milestones that are worth celebrating. I am setting out on this particular quest at this particular time because I have felt for awhile that I’ve largely come out the other end of the healing tunnel. Or, to stick to the mountain metaphor, I’ve made it to the top of the mountain of rebuilding. Climbing a real-life mountain, I decided, will help me feel a sense of completion, and as the Lord of the Rings story has been a huge source of encouragement to me along the way, it seems only fitting that this mountain be “Mt. Doom.” (Also, it’s a great excuse for a trip!)
Finding the Way to Mordor
“I will take the ring to Mordor. Though – I do not know the way.” – Frodo Baggins
The “mountain of rebuilding” is not a concept I came up with on my own; it is from the book Rebuilding: When Your Relationship Ends by Drs. Bruce Fisher and Robert Alberti. This book has been my guide along the way, recommended to me by a therapist at the very beginning of my journey.
In Rebuilding, I have over the last three years worked step-by-step through the “rebuilding blocks,” starting with denial and moving up through the blocks, one at a time.
As an avid reader and a keen student, it does not normally take me three years to read a book. But this book is special: it’s not a speed read, it’s a guide. At the end of each chapter before I could move on to the next one, I had to be able to honestly check off a series of statements indicating that I have truly dealt with that rebuilding block. Sometimes, I would have to pause on one chapter for weeks or months before I would be able to genuinely complete the checklist. The goal: to reach the top of the mountain, “freedom.”
The darkest parts of the climb
“I wish the Ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.” -Frodo
“So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.” -Gandalf
Looking back along the path and all the things I’ve overcome to get here, the darkest shadows fell over the most difficult and painful parts of the path: Grief, Anger and Letting Go.
Grief was hard because I had SO much of it, it seemed like an endless pool of pain that constantly threatened to drown me no matter how hard I tried to bail it out. It wasn’t just a relationship I had to grieve, it was the loss of an entire life, direction, set of hopes and goals and dreams. It just… took time, and jumping off of lots of high places: on my first trip to New Zealand, I was at the stage of dealing with grief. And I dealt with it by parachuting out of airplanes, jumping off of bridges, gliding off of cliffs. I needed this regular diet of adrenaline to remind myself I was alive.
Anger was hard because I didn’t have any. Or, rather, I couldn’t find it in myself to be angry, for so long. But it became clear that I needed to find some positive ways to express myself through anger in order to flush it out and move on. So, I gathered a few trusted friends for an “Anger Party,” and we filled large sheets of innocently blank paper with brightly coloured reasons we were all angry, while enjoying some appropriately named “Foreign Affair” wine. Then we went for tacos.
Letting Go was so, so hard because I never wanted to have to, never asked for this. But once Grief and Anger were largely dealt with, Letting Go became… not easier, but possible. It was not something I could do all at once, but something I did in little steps. Writing a goodbye letter. Cutting off social media ties. Literally packing up my things and moving on. Letting go meant my hands were freed up to help me climb higher up the mountain.
Finding beauty in Mordor
“The world is indeed full of peril, and in it there are many dark places; but still there is much that is fair, and though in all lands love is now mingled with grief, it grows perhaps the greater.” -Haldir the Elf
While the climb was challenging and difficult beyond anything I’ve ever experienced, there were some definite highlights along the way:
Moving from loneliness to being content with aloneness. Enjoying the experience and freedom of being on my own. Having my own room, something I never thought I’d have again! Being spontaneous without worrying about another’s needs/goals/plans/problems. Having the freedom to take risks – travel, change jobs, etc. Being responsible for me and only me. It may sound selfish, and I suppose it is in a way, but having given so much of myself on behalf of another person that in the end squandered everything I gave, and gave nothing back, I needed to learn to be a healthy kind of selfish.
Learning to love again, experiencing love in return, and letting my heart go free. Meeting people, experiencing the joy and excitement of romantic possibilities, learning and growing through those relationships in ways I never thought I’d have the opportunity to after marrying my second-ever boyfriend. It has had its hardships for sure – the endings were sad, and hard. But… not catastrophic, and that simple reality in itself was an additional source of encouragement, healing and hope.
Finding new purpose and passion in work and life. After grieving the closing off of the path I had been on, the process of rebuilding allowed me to see so many new paths that I might never have discovered otherwise. I found new purpose and passion by doing a career shift into tourism, becoming an adventure tour guide, and taking people on life-enriching adventures, all while myself enjoying the opportunity to feed my passion for adventure by exploring some of this world’s most amazing places.
Reaching the top of the mountain
“I can’t do this, Sam.” -Frodo
“I know. It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness, and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end, because how could the end be happy? …. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back only they didn’t. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something.” -Sam
“What are we holding on to, Sam?” -Frodo
“That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo…and it’s worth fighting for.” -Sam
First: a disclaimer. I did not actually climb all the way to the summit of Mt. Ngauruhoe. Not for any lack of intention, ability or willpower, but out of respect for the Maori people who, as I learned along the way, consider the summit sacred and have asked folks to refrain from climbing it.
When I did get as far up the trail as I could respectfully go, I came face to face with the top of “Mt. Doom.”
I have stared at that mountaintop, metaphorically, for what seems like ages.
Even when I couldn’t see it.
Even when it seemed like it was so far away I’d die before ever reaching it.
I looked up at the mountaintop, and looked back at the path I’d walked, crawled, and climbed to get here…
…and I made a toast…
To rebuilding, to healing, to coming full circle, and most especially…
“I feel like spring after winter, and sun on the leaves; and like trumpets and harps and all the songs I have ever heard!” -Samwise Gamgee
Special thanks to NZ local Bill Johnson for accompanying me on this hike and putting up with all my complaints, general grumpiness and photography demands! And to my “fellowship” and every “Sam” who has been there for me along the way from day one of this healing journey until now… my deepest and sincerest gratitude. I could feel every one of you toasting with me at the top of the mountain! ❤ ❤ ❤