On Conquering Fears II: Overnight Camping

Overcoming avoidance is key to healing from trauma. This is a story about overcoming fears through nature and healing through cooking.

I thought I’d go back in time and tell the story of my solo overnight camping trip.

My son, his girlfriend, our big dog and I had gone on a trip to this same area of Northern New Mexico earlier in the summer and stayed a couple of nights, so I felt ready to do this. I wasn’t exactly sure why, but something was compelling me.

For me, it’s scary being alone, especially at night. See my earlier post, “On Conquering Fears: Outbound” https://on-conquering-fears-outbound

I wasn’t fully conscious of what was driving me at the time, but there was a transformation happening with me. That was something I had been aware of for a few months by then.

Anyway, morning of the trip, I pack up.

Even for one, packing takes some time. It’s very helpful to have bins of staple items ready to go, as with most types of adventures that require gear (camping, skiing).

As you’ll see, I wasn’t exactly all alone on this one – I brought my little dog, Nibbles, with me. She is my constant companion but not much of a “protector.” She does have a LOUD bark though.

The ride up is totally uneventful, but glorious. Windows open, taking in trees fragrant and brilliant green, we climb, above the 8,000 ft elevation mark.

For this car-camp, I want a semi-developed site, which means one that is off of the road but that is accessible by 4-wheel drive car. It’s muddy, and I definitely don’t want to get stuck out here all alone! Yikes!

These aren’t developed sites in campgrounds. They are ones where folks have accessed areas off-road and built fire rings with rocks and have flattened areas of ground with their tents. Some have remnants of plastic bottle lids, aluminum foil bits, and other trash.

Shaking my head, I wonder if it’s just carelessness, hurriedness, or other reasons people can be so thoughtless. Most complex behavior is multiply-determined, so I settle on that.

There are people around, but the “sites” are spread out enough that it would take a little bit to access.

I have a hard time finding a spot. There aren’t many and the ones that are accessible are all taken.

I’m nearly at the end of the canyon where the tall trees enshroud. Any further north along the road and the canyon opens up to a wide high plain. No one camps there. It’s too exposed along the road and not beautiful.

My spot is quite sweet – it even has a stream running right through the middle.

Nibbles is too afraid to get out of the car. This is new for her.

I know how she feels.

Letting her get her bearings in her own way and time, I set up camp.

Camp table, 5-gallon water jug, old Coleman grill, cooler.

I get out bags of food supply, flashlight, lighter, my bin of cooking and cleaning utensils.

Air mattress, pillow, and sleeping bag.

If you’ve ever been camping, you’ll know that one of the very first things you do is set up your tent. Did I do that? No.


This time we are sleeping in the car! 😜 😜😜😜😜😜

We go fishing down the road, didn’t catch anything today, so time to get a fire going and start dinner.

I wanted something really easy but yummy and light enough.

This is an egg and bacon green salad with radicchio, avocado, and grapes. Here’s how it looked when I made it at home:

Served with a vinaigrette, baguette, and butter this is amazing! You can find the recipe here: https://bacon-and-egg-greens-salad-with-radicchio-grapes-and-vinaigrette

It’s been a nice day. Earlier, a couple walked by my campsite. I could tell they were wondering what a middle-aged woman was doing up here all alone. Or maybe not. It’s funny either way.

Chilling by the fire with Nibbles, who has relaxed by now, I also feel totally relaxed, at peace.

Two cups of Mexican hot cocoa later, it’s getting pretty dark, stars becoming brighter in the night sky. Without the interference from city lights they are so brilliant. One of the reasons I love Northern New Mexico.

Did I tell you that my sister and I used to camp out just the two of us? We were young when we first started – age 11 – on the neighbor’s land. They owned 100 acres. We were never afraid.

That was before.

Nibs and I settle in the back of the car. It is definitely roomy enough, and comfortable. I am not afraid at all now. The windows are rolled up. And we both fall fast asleep.

Sometime later I wake to the sound of an alarm blaring. WTH??

It’s the freaking car alarm. Is there someone around? What is happening???

Grabbing the flashlight, I investigate each side of the car through the windows.

An animal? A person? Eek…

No – nothing. There is nothing out there.

And then it hits me: I probably set the alarm off when I turned over! It’s that darn auto-alarm feature! OMG, LOL!!! 🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣

I’ve experienced this before.

I find the keys and shut off the alarm, thinking about the couple camping aways down the road. I’m sorry, folks, I really am.

Anyway, I go back to sleep.

After that, I swear, I must have set that alarm off maybe 30 times. 😂😂😂

Sooner or later, I decided to just keep the car key in my hand so I could shut off within a second or two.

Those poor neighboring campers.

Feeling chagrinned the next morning, we were up pretty early. We pretty much booked it out of there. Hahahaha!!! 😆😆😆🤣🤣🤣

But we made it through the night – even got some sleep!

This is an enormous win for me.

Hooray!!!! 🎉🎉🎉🎉

I make some coffee, pack up, and clean up the site, looking around, thanking the wild for offering solitude.

Nibbles doesn’t want to get in the car.

I know how she feels.

On Conquering Fears: Outbound

Overcoming avoidance is key to healing from trauma. This is my original story about overcoming fears and about healing through nature and cooking.

I’ve been going back and forth in writing this one.

It’s a bit hard, as I don’t know that I’ve ever actually written about this before, even in a journal.

That surprises me.

I started this blog in the wake of the covid-19 pandemic, after reflecting a lot, like many of us. I’ve been spending more and more time outside and also cooking more and wanting to blend the two, as they are my loves.

The other issue is that my only child (grown son) will be moving out, and this is a new chapter in my life -really about who am I and what my purpose is now that it’s not all about my child and also not about my work.

Why outbound gourmet then? I guess it’s time to tell the story.

This particular story starts when I was 18 years old and had just moved out of my childhood home 11 months before.

See, I grew up in a tiny town in Northern New Mexico – a town of just 18,000 people, where everyone knows virtually everyone and everyone’s business. It was also exceedingly boring.

I have to recognize here that boredom is the hallmark of privilege, and I had it in droves. Nice upbringing, physician father, stay-at-home mother, both supportive, no abusive or real adverse horrible events. Pretty nice. Also, there were so few opportunities for my butterfly-like, fast-minded and adventure-loving soul.

So, of course, the day I graduated from high school I had packed my belongings and headed for California.

THAT didn’t exactly turn out well for my tiny-towned level of experience, so after 9 months there (and, by the way, in college), I headed home, moving to the largest place I could find that was close to home and culturally kind of similar.

Not having an appetite to return to college, I enrolled in travel school, rented a ground-floor apartment, and started a new life.

One damn dark night two months into this new adventure I had gone to bed and inadvertently left a window ajar. Snug in my bed, I fell soundly asleep, not much of a care in the world.

Later, really late, it seemed, I found myself awakened by a pressure over my entire body, over my entire back and neck – something suffocating me from behind and atop of me.

“Make a sound and I will kill you.” A man’s voice said.

I froze.

And felt something jab into my neck, sharp, quick.

Biology or something taking over my body, I guess I tried to push that sharp thing away from my neck – I grabbed for it, grasping and swiping, pushing it away from my most vulnerable carotid area.

With that, the man clamped down, heavier on my body, closing pressure around my neck.

And the world went blank.

Coming to after a while (a minute or two?) later, I felt pressure around my neck and still the heaviness of this man’s body on top of me.

From nowhere I found myself say, “Let me turn over.”

See, I had been lying on my stomach this entire time, and I needed to breathe.

And then, miraculously, just for an instant the heaviness on top of my body eased.

And it was then that I turned, just my head.

And I screamed.

I screamed as loud and long as I could.



It was only later, several days later, actually, that I saw the blood splattered on the walls. Blood from my neck and hand where he had cut me. Bruises around my neck from where he had strangled me.

I still don’t know to this day why the splatter ended up all over my bedroom walls.

I went home.

My blessed mother arrived at 4AM to pick me up and take me home, to my hometown.

On the way I fell asleep in the passenger seat, finally warm and no longer shaking – after a few hours of those helpful police officers chatting, offering me safety and kindness, and also some tips on how not to be so dumb in the future and leave a window open. They offered me solace.

I don’t know why people do what they do sometimes, but I suppose the rest of my life began an investigation of that question.

I never was the same after that night.

It’s not an easy thing to be randomly awakened in the place where you feel safe and warm and allow yourself to be vulnerable enough to sleep. By a complete stranger.

It’s years later that I understand that it is the randomness that predicts difficulty in coping. I understand this and we can talk about this. After all, I am a psychiatrist.

But I moved on, and, despite many years of going to sleep at 6AM (when the sun comes up), I made my way through medical school and have become a pretty successful doctor.

I love my profession, it is worthy, and it drives me. It teaches me. I love humans, flaws and all.

As I said, I had many years of terrible insomnia. Still do. You can imagine maybe.

For years I sought comfort of having another with me at night. That led to marriages. Both another story, one in particular. An amazing story for some aspects, really.

In the end, this event at age 18, a few moments really, changed my life course entirely.

That was nearly 36 years ago now. I’m nauseous just writing about it.

But I’ve had years of therapy to overcome the insomnia, PTSD. It helps but it has not cured really.

More about that later.

Right now, I am trying to conquer fears of being alone. I am still afraid of being alone at night, no matter where I am. If I’m alone in my own house at night, even with alarms and dogs, I am afraid.

I am afraid outside, I limit where I go at dark.

But I’ve always been a fun-loving person. I love being outside, love adventures, love laughing, love fun. And I love cooking.

I’ve gotten more skilled at cooking too!

So, this summer I did something totally unexpected for me: I went camping overnight all by myself.

It doesn’t help that I have a phobia of bears (way less dangerous than humans), but human minds are not always rational.

Anyway, my adventure with this blog starts here. My goal is to experience adventures that I make, on my terms. Camp, venture out, sleep overnight alone, and make my own safe spots, cooking, creating delicious meals, doing my thing.

My first blogs were experimenting with cooking just on my patio. Cooking is a way for me to personally give back – to craft something delicious and comforting from the local roots that have offered me solace for so long.

So, in the end, that’s why “outbound.” That’s why outbound gourmet.

  • Dedicated to all victims of trauma. Your path, your method of perseverance is uniquely your own. There is no right way, no wrong way, just your way.