I want to introduce you to my friend, Emma Brett. She is a tower of strength, and her story can help many, many women. For years she struggled with two main addictions: food (most particularly sugar) and alcohol. The issues associated with her food/sugar addiction were compounded by the fact that she spent most of her life with undiagnosed celiac disease.
“Throughout my childhood, I’d eat and I’d be ill,” Emma said. “But instead of caring about it and trying to help, my parents made fun of it. My whole life I was called Lulu because after every meal, I’d run to the loo.” (That’s bathroom, if you’re unfamiliar with the British slang…)
Her parents’ teasing led to an eating disorder, struggles with weight, and all the emotional baggage that comes with them. Four years ago, she tried to take back control by training for the Spartan Race in Ottawa near her hometown of Fitzroy Harbour, Ontario.
“I lost a hundred pounds training for the Spartan race. But after the race, the training stopped and I gained back 80 pounds,” she said.
Emma didn’t give up. She stopped drinking on January 19, 2019 and hasn’t had a drop of alcohol since. But she inadvertently replaced one habit with another. “The one or two bottles of wine a night became one or two bags of Fuzzy Peach a night.” So, a year later she gave up sugar on January 25, 2020. After “three hellish weeks” of sugar withdrawals, the mental healing started.
Something Magical Happens When You Begin to Walk…
And, she began walking. Emma is lucky enough to live by Morris Island Conservation Area, a gorgeous slice of Mother Nature with eight walking trails, miles of forest, and sprawling wetland habitat eddied along the southern bank of the Ottawa River.
“I’d put my headphones in and I walked. It started with only one kilometre. And that was big. At the time, I weighed 280 pounds, so it was a long distance.”
Soon though, she broke through the worst of the physical struggle and began enjoying her treks to the trees.
“The forest is my therapist,” Emma said, laughing. “That forest on Morris Island knows every single deep dark secret of mine. There is a grove of five birches where I go and I talk and I yell. I give everything to the trees. Because I know that I’m alone. Things you can’t say to a human, you can say to a tree.”
Oh, I love that! So true! I was getting more and more excited at this point in our conversation. That moment she began unloading her thoughts and feeling on the trees was the beginning the mental healing for Emma – something she felt had to happen before the physical healing. It gave her new perspectives on her childhood and her life. What she calls the “veil of trauma” began to drop for her, revealing the mistreatments she endured.
“You are blind to how you were mistreated because you actually think you deserved it. You think you’re a piece of crap.”
Emma said she found inspiration from the poem Breathe by Becky Hemsley.
So she walked to the forest and
it just let her breathe.
“That’s what I began to do: breathe. When you are living your whole life in fight or flight, you are always holding your breath. Until you are allowed to breathe out.” Emma found that chance to exhale in those trees on Morris Island. Emma found it in Mother Nature. “She – always upper-case She – She is who I talk to now.”
The Important Lessons I Learned from Emma
Gosh. I don’t know where to start. Emma’s story – all that she’s been through – really resonates with me. Forests have been safe places for me, too, but I didn’t really understand how deeply I felt that until I heard Emma talk about her own connections to the forest. When I’m walking through my special forest, nobody is judging me. Nobody is tugging at my arm. I can be alone in my thoughts to work my shit out. I feel instantly better.
“Forest therapy – it’s real!” Emma said.
And I agree. All these places in the world close to forests have people who are happier and healthier – and I don’t think that’s a coincidence. Even just the decision to go for a walk injects us with energy, joy, and hope. Emma talked about one time when she went for a walk in her neighbourhood, except her way was blocked by, coincidentally, downed trees. Or maybe it wasn’t a coincidence. The trees of Morris Island up the road called to her, as far away as they were. She ended up walking 12 kilometres that day – far further than any day before. Emma walked so far and for so long that she had to call her husband Owen to let him know she’d be home late, just so he wouldn’t get worried. Mostly by accident, Emma pushed past what she thought her limits were. She hasn’t limited herself since.
Emma’s story also underlines the power of the human body and the human soul. We make assumptions that we can’t do things. Walking long distances can be one of those things. But walking is innate in us – our bodies were designed to walk. I’m beginning to wonder if our souls were designed to walk, too.
“It’s how we became humans,” Emma said. “We literally walked into humanhood.”
Exactly! Yes, it can take some time to whip that body back into shape. But not as much time as you may think. For your body, walking is like riding a bike – it never forgets. We just need to get on with it sometimes.
Walk With Us
Emma and I, along with two other University friends, will be walking the West Highland Way in Scotland later this year, informally as part of the She Walks the Walk Global Walking Adventures (G’WAs). We are giddy to come together after thirty years of friendship.
“I’m so excited! I’m going to break open. I’m going to break into a million pieces, and then I’m going to put myself back together. With your love, with my love, with the love of everyone on that trail. When I think about this trek, it is daunting, yes. But I know, we can do anything.”Emma Brett
Amen to that.
I’m so proud of Emma – and so inspired by her story. I’m also deeply honoured to be part of her journey as she puts herself back together. This change in her life is such a display of strength! Because change is hard – even when we know it’s what’s best for us. As Emma has shown, walking isn’t just a weight-loss strategy. It’s a guilt-loss strategy, a limitations-loss strategy, a grief-loss strategy. Walking is healing in any form we need it to be because that physical activity breaks down barriers in our mental psyche as well. It’s a place to push our limits and work our shit out. It’s a place to get us closer to Mother Nature.
And I can’t wait either.
If you’d like the chance to crack yourself open — just like Emma — why don’t you join us on one of our Global Walking Adventures? We’re working on three new itineraries to help you work out your shit with a group of women who long to do the same. We’ll be announcing our Fall 2023 dates for Morocco and Jordan this March.
Exploring new roads is always more fun when you’re exploring with new friends!