I’m sat on top a bed that is not mine in a communal cabin shared by humans I’ve never met. The door to my ‘Room 3’ single room dormitory is open, spilling into the shared living room, and I can’t determine whether I left it that way to appease and fit into the open community feel, or if I’m just too lazy and cold to close it.
If I’m to be completely honest, I’d venture to guess it’s the former. I want to be liked by the other seemingly free-spirited humans inhabiting this cabin. So, I leave it open in part for appearances.
The sun has set, and I’m nestled into a black robe that’s fanning out across this twin bed at my shins. It’s winter, the type of winter you feel, and I was naked earlier in a hot springs with two men I’d never met. My feet, still thawing from the outdoor chill, are crammed under a folded blanket provided by staff.
I am in the same room I slept in the night my ex fiance and I got engaged. It is a peculiar feeling in that it doesn’t feel peculiar. I’m not sure why.
One of the men I soaked with today is my age, a carpenter staying in his deceased grandparents hidden cabin down the way from the springs. He’s 30 and helping clean out the place after his grandma passed a month ago. His grief is the palpable kind that is exposed when he speaks of them, his voice longing. He talks a lot in general I noticed, while the other man next me, older – perhaps mid 50s, remained mostly quiet, chiming in when he had something he felt of value to say. He works at the Denver airport we learned.
For an hour or two, we were all naked beside one another in the chill of the mountain Moffat weather. Snow whipped across our backs as we laid stomach-first in the springs, trying to submerge fruitlessly and cover with warmth from the water.
We bared it anyway, the itching for connection in this place subtly magnified. Perhaps it’s the nakedness. Perhaps it’s the hot springs.
In one moment, the man my age reached down and cherry picked a pebble from the bottom of the shallow spring.
For you, he smiled – reaching his hand out of the water. He handed me the pebble. “The green matches your eyes.”
I blushed. I forget sometimes, that I like my eyes.
Later, the three of commiserated over our southern religious backgrounds.
I’m gay, he said. Imagine living through that hell as a kid.
I nodded. I’m fluid – so while I don’t know, I do.
I was not uncomfortable around either of these men, which still surprises me as I write this. I suppose in part because I have been a crusader of clothing-optional hot springing since I first learned of its Colorado existence back in 2016. And over the years and the many experiences, I find I have continued to wear down the edges of my birthday suit body discomfort around strangers.
When it peculates, I ask: why does it matter?
When I am feeling vain: who really cares – but me?
A friend was here with me last night. She’s in recovery from an eating disorder and alcohol and it was her first time here at these springs and I wondered how she’d feel among the clothing-less soakers, and the occasionally unspoken pressure that whispers in the air: Be comfortable as you are. Be free in your skin.
Without ever asking: why is that so hard?
She handled it with a forging furosity – eager to embrace what she referred to as a ‘liberation’.
It made me smile when she said it. I too once proclaimed the naked soaking a liberation – because it is. Eight years tethered to an eating disorder, of baggy sweats and oversized t-shirts. Eight years of perfectly straightened hair and fake baked skin and dresses a size or two bigger than my frame. Eight years of punishing showers, and forced interactions with the mirror:
And it does feel like a liberation, to be so naked. To choose to be so fucking exposed.
Not for the benefit of others, but for the benefit of sitting with yourself in that nakedness.
The tiny evolutions we experience – in all this recovery: what a gift.
Recently, I quit drinking. Isn’t it interesting how you start recovery with one theme in mind: cure this anorexia, I prescribed.
And how you end up bumbling your way onto many different paths unkempt?
I quit drinking recently because I found myself replacing the discomfort of recovery with the comfort of checking out – and how parallel that experience feels with anorexia.
It is trying – sobriety. And it is more trying in some ways than the eating disorder. A confusion between the very stigmatized and whispered ‘alcoholism’ and the very accepted brunch and drinking culture.
I don’t find myself an alcoholic. I don’t even know if I like or believe in that word. But, I do find myself an addict to checking out. And that’s the addiction I attempt to address.
Before I came to type this, I was standing in the communal kitchen with a kettle of boiling water for tea. There was a wine bottle, half drank, at the end of the counter. ‘Have me’ a note was posted to it, leftover by another soaker.
I considered it. I am alone here in these mountains – and I considered having a glass. It’s one, I thought, and I didn’t quit drinking because I couldn’t control the amount.
Who’d know anyway? I pondered briefly.
Besides, I drank in this kitchen countless times with my ex – and my memories of those tipsy nights are filled with sweet nostalgia.
As I played with the options – much as I have played with the idea of restricting or purging or bingeing throughout my now six years in recovery, an unfamiliar perspective weaved into my mind:
You can, it whispered. And you will likely be fine. You can have the wine and no one will know.
But another thought, an intersection:
But you, Lindsey, you will know. You will be the one to live with that choice. And is that the choice you want? And will that wine change any of what you face?
Mostly, a realization: I am okay being here – even though it is filled with the memories of my ex fiance. I am okay filling this place with new memories because I am sober right now and I am not emotionally erratic with a slur of alcohol.
It was in that moment that it was enough for me to stare transfixed ahead at that wine bottle and decide ‘Ok. In this moment, it is not worth it.’
In a few days, my job will be over. My new partner and I have been taking some space to grow (because I am a classic codependent). And my cousin is sick with cancer.
Life feels, in this time period, like a confusing – and expansive – unknown.
But with each micro decision, with each moment I eat the dinner, and ignore the wine, and prance naked, bumbly, over hot spring loose rock:
There is a self-esteem that continues to bloom. And a clarity that continues to undress.
And a soft awareness: I cannot change or control the world around me. All I can do is be alive. And not just alive – but living.
Right now, there’s a man sitting in the living area. I cannot see his face, but I can hear his age – and he is older in his certainty. He laughs to the other man, sitting across from him at the wobbly four-post table:
“I suppose I’ll mosey up to the bunks,” he says. “I’ve been here a week or so. Hanging out. Paying day-by-day.”
The other older man chuckles. “And where to next?”
I hear this man’s smile in his voice: “Suppose I’ll try to go figure that out tonight.”
“But who ever knows?”
He agrees. “Who ever really knows?”
And in some ways, isn’t that magnificent?