I could not be more thrilled to have my very own mom on the Stronger Than podcast this week! She has been an example of strength and perseverance my entire life. I am so thankful for her vulnerability in this episode as we talk about how she embarked on a journey to find herself after a failing marriage, divorce, our house fire, hurricane Harvey, hospitalization, a lung disease diagnosis, and more.
Her road to healing was on the hiking trail. A desire to encourage other women to go outdoors and hike led her to create Houston Women's Hiking, which is now 14,000 women strong!
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Stronger Than Podcast Season 1, Episode 3
Title: Stronger Than - Losing Yourself - with Bridgette Mongeon
Chris: Hello, my name is Chris Sizemore and you are here listening to the Stronger Than Podcast. Today I have Bridgette Mongeon on the Podcast with us and I am very excited. Not only to share her story of being Stronger Than, but also because she’s my mom. And I’m the fruit of her loins. Tell me who you are, what do you do all the time. Tell our audience why you exist in the world.
Bridgette: I’m Bridgette Mongeon, I’m the mother of this great person and I would like to say I had something to do with her. I birthed her. But, I don’t know how much more I had to do..
Chris: A lot
Bridgette: But I would like to call her my best Masterpiece. I am a sculptor, and a writer, and one of the things that blows my skirt up is that I like to help other people in whatever. I especially like to help other people be inspired and overcome.
Chris: Could you tell us where all of this started? We’re talking about Being Stronger Than Losing Yourself, but give us a little bit of the back story.
Bridgette: In general, our family has been one that has always tried to find out who we were. Explore our emotions, have a safe place to do that. Even if you have that, and I grew up with that too, coming from a dysfunctional family probably got mine in Alateen, but life happens. It just happens. You become a mother, and you become a business person, and you become a wife, and if any of that is dysfunctional, whether it’s your business, your life, raising kids, whatever. It causes havoc within you, as it did with me, and I ended up in a divorce. So, prior to the divorce, one knows what’s happening, and I think you, especially me at the age in my 40’s, was trying to figure out who I am without anybody else.
Chris: Just to give a little back story too, this is my mom, she’s talking about divorce. This was not divorcing my father, that happened when I was 7. This was my step dad.
Bridgette: I learned from my mom how to be a really good divorced person. One thing we do have, Christina’s dad and I, we have a really strong relationship. We do things together all the time and have pretty much from day 1. I always say that my mom taught me how to do that, but she wasn’t too good at teaching me how to communicate and you know, have a good marriage. But each one, you know your dad and I were together for 15 years, and M2 and I were together for 19 years. So, yeah, they were long relationships, it wasn’t short lived things. And I call him M2, my interns call them M1 and M2 because they were both named Mike. So it helps to differentiate, “Who are we talking about M1 or M2?”
Chris: So you were in a position of divorce and major life change. And I think, just from an outward perspective, I saw you were like “OK, now I need to start healing from a not great relationship.” That’s something that I had said in the very first podcast of this, is that when you are struck with some kind of trauma in your life, you have two choices. You can either succumb to that trauma and just sit in it, or you can start working on stuff. That’s hard too! That’s not easy either! Both options are really terrible, but at the end of the day one of them is going to make you better at the end and one of them will not. So, from the outside, that is what I saw you start doing after the divorce was final, but please continue.
Bridgette: When I knew that I was going to get a divorce, I looked at women who were single like they were.. like National Geographic would look at wild animals on the Serengeti. I was like “she’s walking into her house alone, she’s opening the door now, she going to go into the dark house all by herself.” These would play in my head and I’m going “How do these women do it? She’s paying all the bills all by herself.” Because you assume that you are going to get old with this person and you’ll enter old age with a person in a rocking chair next to you and doing cool stuff and then all of a sudden that’s gone. So you need to figure out and redefine who you are and how you are going to do this, live and have a career, and as an artist that adds that extra element to it. How could I do that, by myself, and then try to find.. you know, you don’t know that you lost part of yourself. A lot of time you don’t know it.
Chris: I think other people see it around you. I knew.
Bridgette: Oh did you?
Chris: I 100% knew.
Bridgette: Oh, ok. So, yeah, maybe other people do see it. I don’t know.
Chris: But it’s one of those things where you don’t see it in yourself until you do. And then your are “Oh”.
Bridgette: You could be also finding things, not that you lost them, but that you didn’t know that they blew your skirt up. You didn’t know that these things were so important to you so you were able to pull those into your life. And when you don’t have anybody that you have to check with to say “Is it ok that I pull this thing into my life?” Because when you are married everything revolves around everybody else, you know.
Chris: Yeah. I think one of the things, that when we were talking about doing this podcast, you mentioned we forget in our inner circle relationships, being a parent, being a wife or a husband or spouse or partner, that all the things we do don’t have to involve everyone else in our core group. Which I think is really interesting. Could you talk a little bit more about that?
Bridgette: And I gave away a lot of things. For the longest time I have always LOVED dancing, I have always loved to dance, and then I wouldn’t dance because I didn’t have a spouse that wanted to dance or that felt like it was a priority. You say to yourself “I can’t go learn how to dance because I don’t have a dancing partner.” And that’s just… I learned, after going to dance, that you don’t need to have a dancing partner and that if you dance with somebody else its not like you’re cheating on your husband. You’re going to dance class. You’re learning to dance. You guys are working this out together on the dance floor. When I ended up taking dance, what was really cool, was I learned that they needed women to support the men in learning. That pressed my button, because any time that I can help somebody else to get past themselves and to improve and to gain self-esteem, it’s like “This is where I’m home.” I love the idea of dancing with men and seeing their growth as dance partners and their whole persona would change. So, yeah, you do give up some of these things or think that for some reason you can’t do them and it’s kinda silly.
Chris: Just to recap, we are looking at this situation where you are in this relationship that’s not great, you realize that it’s ending, the divorce is final, and, correct me if I’m wrong, you’ve never lived alone.
Bridgette: I have never lived alone because when I divorced, when your father and I divorced, you were living with me. And then you were living with me through M2 and then you went away to college. So I never really, there was a short, well, even a short period of time when I was young, and I mean really young, I lived in an apartment with girls. I didn’t live alone. So never in a house alone, and that was really really interesting. So there were two things, the hiking group and also I went back to school because I felt like I needed to have a fall back plan. And I realized that I couldn’t teach art, my husband could teach computer science without a degree, but I can’t teach art without a degree, which is really ludicrous. So, I decided I would go back and get my degree. Not that I needed it to do the work that I was, it was just a fall back plan. I think that taught me a lot of things too, because it taught me confidence, and it taught me how to unpack things, and to go deeper, and I think the confidence it also gave me was that degree helped me when I started to publish books because people were looking at you more as an academic than just an author.
Chris: And you went back to school when I went to school, to college
Bridgette: My goal was to graduate before you graduated college
Chris: I will never forget, it was my first semester in college, you had enrolled, and I got, you sent me a postcard and it said “Your Mom goes to college” which was hilarious because it was also a quote from a move that had just come out
Bridgette: Oh really?
Chris: And I knew you didn’t know, but it was just like… I laughed so hard. I have very vivd memory of sitting in my dorm room, at my desk, picking up the postcard form my mail and just falling out into laughter. It is fascinating to me that you took that step to go to college, and you were in your 40s, which I hear so many women ask “Is it too late for me?” It’s not too late for you to do anything! We need to forget, I don’t care what gender you are or where on the spectrum of gender you are, it is never too late for you to do it!
Bridgette: It’s not! And I think the other thing that I should point out, is that it was the type of college, that I went to, that was so stimulating. I didn’t just pack my bags up and say goodbye to my husband and say “I’m going down to the community college,” I did that for one semester, and it was just not me. I found a college where you actually go away to Vermont for a week, and stay in a dorm, and you meet all these creative people, and you go to the Music building at the end of the night and you have jam sessions. So it was kind of like having a dorm experience at my age, and it also got me out of myself. I was traveling alone. I think the other thing that happened, I had a difficulty with a foundry here in Houston and I had to travel to another state to have my things done. So, now I’m also traveling alone for business. So each time I was gaining more and more confidence of traveling and being by myself.
Chris: Did taking the steps of going to school and traveling alone, and in those finding yourself a little bit, did that give you the self confidence and self worth to be able to say “this marriage is not working for me”?
Bridgette: Well, I think one of the things that you should know about me, or the audience should know that you already know, is that I am an autodidact, is that the correct term, and a bibliophile so basically, I love to read and I love to teach myself. I have done that my whole entire life. And I didn’t know that everybody didn’t do that. I thought everybody did. So if something comes up in my life, or in my relationship, I’m gonna research the heck out of it. I think all of that, because then you learn that you are not alone. From a very early age, like the age of 13, I realized that if I shared my story with people, that somebody could gain healing from it.
Chris: Which is what this podcast is about!
Bridgette: So I learned that when I spoke at the age of 13 in an Alateen meeting, Alateen is a division of AA, and a young girl came up to me and said “if you, I learned that if you can do then I can do it” and it just clicked something in me and I always say “Ok God, you know if I’m really in a difficult spot, just let one person, I’ll go through all of this, but just let one person be able to figure it out after me through me and through the stuff that I have to go through.” Not to get too Scriptural, but there’s a Scripture that says “Seek and Ye shall find” and it sounds very simple, but there’s also this thing that if you are really looking for answers they’re gonna come to you. And I think
Chris: Oh, for sure
Bridgette: It’s the most bizarre thing, because I will be searching for an answer and accidentally click through my phone and hit on a video, not even intending to, which is the exact thing that I need to hear at that time. And so, I think it was that, when I was traveling to Santa Fe for my foundry there was this woman there that I was staying with at her AirBnB, and she was just..you know, she had a hiking group that she went with on a regular basis, she did skiing instruction. And I remember, I’ll never forget the day that we went to the African restaurant and we were sitting there and this young man comes over and says “Maryanne, oh we need to have you come out with us again, and we miss you so much Maryanne” and he’s loving on all of her and I’m going, and he walks away, and he was really cute and I went “What’s going on there?” And she says “Oh, it’s the Latin dance community they’re all really affectionate and we are really tight!” And I said “I’m going home and taking up dancing!” And I did! And I took up the Salsa dancing and the Bachata. It’s true that the Latin community, the Latin dance community, really had a strong bond. So, meeting these women, and these really strong women, who were doing it, making it on their own, and making a difference, and they were influencing me. I think that made me stronger as well. Plus you just get to a point where enough is enough. I was learning to love myself, that I wanted to love myself and have a love, I know it sounds really weird, I wanted to have a love relationship with myself and not feel like I was defined by the love relationships I had around me. Whether it was you, as my child, or my husband, I wanted to learn to love and cherish and nurture myself. That was a really cool decision and a really cool journey that I’m still on.
Chris: It’s true! I mean, any therapist, I mean, I’ve heard preachers talk about it. You can’t give of your cup if your cup is empty. That’s what that means. I can’t, if I don’t love myself, if I don’t take care of myself, then I can’t take care of other people to the extent that I should or want to. I’m gonna end up doing more detriment to myself by trying to take care of them because I haven’t taken care of myself. Usually important, and just really beautiful, I don’t think there is anything wrong with that, I think it’s one of the most healthy things you can do. I do want to go back to Santa Fe and this hiking group idea, which was just a catalyst for a very cool thing.
Bridgette: So basically, Maryanne said she had a group of 8 women and they would never hike in the same place in a year. It’s Santa Fe, I mean, it’s New Mexico you have a lot of really cool places and I kept thinking “I live in the great big city, what could there be for me?” Then I started to discover, and I remembered because M2 and I would go to Memorial Park and I remember doing mountain biking back there, and there’s nothing more intimidating than going into the woods alone, for the first time when you are used to doing it with other people. So that’s what I would do, I would start to go into the woods alone. The more I did it, the more confidence I had. I did wish that there was an app on my phone, there is probably now, but I didn’t want to give my GPS location to just anybody or any app, that I could just say “I’m going in and if I don’t come out at this time,” so instead I’d call Christina and say “Well Chris, I am at Memorial Park and I am going in and I should be out in a half an hour and I’ll call you, or 45 minutes or an hour” and she would say “Ok mom, I know where to send them to find your body”
Chris: Yeah! Sharing locations on your phone, now there’s apps for all of this, right, we’re talking 2015 I want to say?
Bridgette: Well, I’ve been hiking for so many years prior to the group. And I remember one day you said “Mom, you should start a group”
Chris: I was like “Hey if you don’t want to hike alone, why don’t you just start a Facebook group and invite some people to hike with you so you’re not alone. There’s safety in numbers, especially as women. That’s a dead horse we don’t need to beat anymore.
Bridgette: Getting over the fear and learning how to do it safely. Having accountability, knowing where I was going, knowing the trail, knowing I was going alone and that you were.. that I had a point, because I don’t want women to feel like they can’t do anything alone
Chris: Oh for sure.
Bridgette: Here’s what happened, truly, I went to courthouse and stood in front of the judge by myself, dissolved this 19 years, came home, packed up my trailer, and drove to Santa Fe and decided that I was going to camp all the home by myself. People said I was crazy. Women said “You’ve got to have a gun, you don’t have dog, you don’t have a..” Here’s the thing, I stayed in State Parks, one, I always made sure I knew the camp host, two. If you know the camp host and they know that you’re alone, they are going to watch out for you. They would invite me to dinner! So I, as Maryanne once told me “I might hike and camp alone, but I am never lonely.” Campers are the most friendly people.
Chris: They’re amazing! There is this community of humans, who all love to go and be in the woods and they love to talk to other people who love to be in the woods. They are legitimately the kindest people and I have had so many people I have camped with going “I don’t understand, why are these people so nice?” They will come up to our campground, and I’m sitting there having this very deep conversation and somebody is “Oh this must be your friend” No! We just met, we just walked across the street and said “Hey, I’m a camper, and you’re a camper,” you know
Bridgette: You could meet them in your pajamas walking to the bathroom, carrying a bag of poop
Chris: Exactly! That’s the best! There is so much transparency among camping people it’s incredible.
Bridgette: I remember, my van, the battery kept dying, remember?
Bridgette: And here I’m taking this trip, in the middle of nowhere, I’m in Palo Duro Canyon, all by myself, my battery is dying. Then I go to Lake Brownwood, and I think I’m going to go bike riding on this trail and the trail, the ranger said “it’s an easy trail” and this trail is not an easy mountain biking trail because not only was it very rocky, but you had cactus on each side of you so if you fell you were.. and I had my app on my phone and the difficulty is my phone died and when I got to the van the van was dead. I’ll never forget, I thought “I’m not going to worry about this because somebody is going to come by.” I just took a breath and there was a truck right next to me, and I kept thinking “I wonder who’s in that truck?” I pictured this young man, and eventually this person who’s out there bike riding is going to come and they can jump my car. And this person comes out and they take their helmet off, and they have long flowing gray hair and they’re shaking it. It was so profound for me to know that I’m not the only person aging out here that’s doing it by themselves. And she jumped my car and we became best friends. So yeah! So the hiking group, it started really slow. I felt committed to it so I felt like I had to do 2 hikes a month, or 1 hike a week, or whatever. A lot of times you show up and nobody else shows up and you think “why am I doing this?” Then, after leading a couple of hikes, I had this one woman who said “I love this. I want to learn these trails and I want to lead hikes!” And it just went BONG! I don’t have to do this alone. Knowing that I didn’t have to do it alone, I think the other thing is that people were going “Well, I don’t want to hike with dogs. Well, I do want to hike with dogs.” I thought, “Well, why don’t everybody just do what they need to do? If you want to hike with your dog, then make a hike and lead a hike with your dog.” I think what that opened it up to, is that we were meeting people wherever they were. We were meeting women. If you were a mom with a 7 year old, or you were a mom with a baby and a stroller, and you needed camaraderie and you needed to be out, you were meeting other moms. There’s real power when you are meeting other women who are in the same stage of life that you are and you can bounce things back. I think that’s where things really started opening up and, I don’t know, we’re 13,700 women
Chris: Right, and it’s funny to me because you started Houston Women Hiking, which is a private Facebook group, women only, just before our house fire. I think. Is that what the timeline was? We were trying
Bridgette: It was December 2016 I believe
Chris: Yeah, and our house fire was February 2017. So that year of 2017 was just legitimately, started out for me minute to minute “I just need to stay alive” then I could move hour to hour. “I just need to stay alive.” It was really just a survival year for me and meanwhile, you’re having this great thing happening, which I have very little memory of, rightly so. I remember you coming, you would still text me “I’m going on a hike or whatever” you would say “Oh man, we’ve got like 100 member now” and I would be “Oh that’s cool” and then all of a sudden, fast forward, I don’t even know what year it was, maybe we had just gotten back into our house, so Summer 2018 or Fall 2018, you were like “its thousands of women.” So for me, in my brain, you started a group and then there’s thousands of women. I have no recollection of the other stuff because my brain was doing all other kinds of things, just trying to survive after a traumatic experience, but
Bridgette: Excuse me, let me interject here, 2017 wasn’t just traumatic for you
Chris: Oh no
Bridgette: That foundry that I had in Santa Fe went under and it was a huge, I mean, its not like you can just go across the street and talk to these people. I had to travel back and forth, and I had to retrieve this monumental project I was working on, and we had a hurricane! A major hurricane that came through
Chris: 2017 for our family was just trash! Everybody was real mad about 2020 and the pandemic and I was like “Naw! I can do this!”
Bridgette: I can do this too cause we did 2017
Chris: Pandemic it up! I will sit in my house! Let’s not do another full on flood, fire, my dad’s house flooded shortly after our fire, not because of the hurricane, he had a pipe burst. You had the stuff with the foundry. It was just one thing after
Bridgette: And then I ended up in the hospital.
Chris: Yeah in November of that year
Chris: It was just a dumpster fire of a year for us in the sense of in the moment. Five years down the road we are going “Oh my gosh, look at how much growth we had!”
Bridgette: I think I’m gonna go back getting in the hospital because I was sitting there going, after the hurricane I was trying to recover from getting the damage we had here, and I couldn’t breath. My interns would say “Just sit down.” I have always had problems at certain times of the year with coughing. But I got really sick and ended up in the emergency room and the doctor said “I can’t send you home, you may die!” So we spent like 5-7 days there trying to figure it out.
Chris: You called me, I don’t know if you remember this because I think you were in shock, you called me and you were like “Hey,” and you were real calm, which is funny because that’s how I call people in an emergency situation. It freaks people out the level of calmness. But you called me and were like “I went to the doctor” and I was “yeah, good, I’m really glad you went” and you said “She said I might die and that I should probably go to the emergency room, so I think I’m gonna do that.” I was just like “WHAT!?!”
Bridgette: Well I should say she said “Do not go home, go directly to the emergency room.”
Chris: But you were just very casually “So I guess I’ll just do that."
Bridgette: I went home.
Chris: I said “I’m coming.”
Bridgette: And I went home because I wanted to get some food and some things that I usually need.
Chris: And I was “I’m coming right now!” So it was just the wildest year of just craziness, but in the middle of it all of these beautiful things were happening. Like Houston Women Hiking was growing
Bridgette: Because I apparently had pneumonia and then realized I had lung disease. The very poor pulmonologist that I spoke to in January of 2018 said “You have 2 years to live, I’m not going to fool you, if its idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, you have 2 years to live.” I was going “Could you spell that?” So again I called Chris, I said “I think the doctor told me I have 2 years to live”.
Chris: You did. And I was like “Ok cool.” Fire, major debilitating hurricane for the city I love, now my mom’s going to die in 2 years. I just remember sitting in therapy, and I sat down in Marla’s office and I was just “Are you ready for this one?!”
Because it was like every time we walked in it was a new thing. Divorce, you started a group, our house burns down, Hurricane Harvey, the thing with the foundry, then you were sick, because that was right after the foundry, then Jan, and that was right before Thanksgiving, January they are “Oh, you’ve got 2 years to live.”
Bridgette: Yeah, and then I’m sure, I don’t know if you’re mentioning this or not, but the guy walked off of your job.
Chris: Right, so that’s January “You’ve got 2 years to live,” then in May our contractor walked off the job and stole $100,000 from us and our house wasn’t done.
Bridgette: But I should also point out that I remember when I was thinking about getting a divorce, I would say “But then if the hurricane comes, I have to prepare all by myself, I may be responsible for all of it. What if something really traumatic happens then?” but in the following year I’m going “Ok God, I got this!”
Chris: And the trauma kept stacking on like a deli sandwich. It was like “Oh yeah, throw some of that on there. Yeah, throw some of that on there too.”
Bridgette: And I did it.
Bridgette: I made it through.
Chris: You did. We did.
Bridgette: And I didn’t die in 2 years! We should point that out.
Chris: Oh yeah! Yes, that diagnosis was in 2018. For the record, if you are a doctor and you are listening to this, you have no authority to tell someone when they are going to die.
Bridgette: Or even put it into their head that they may.
Chris: Or put it in their head.
Bridgette: That is totally...yeah.
Chris: Just stop doing that. Doctors, just don’t do that.
Bridgette: And people told me that I shouldn’t, like “oh you’ve got pneumonia don’t..don’t.. don’t do anything, just stay still” and no, what I did was I got up. I have a treadmill and I got on the treadmill, and I could only press it on and walk it with my oxygen, but that’s what I did. And I did it every day. I also had made this conscious decision, about 4 months prior to this, to change my lifestyle. I started eating mostly plant-based, I started to exercise regularly. You know, and that’s why I was hiking so often. I am convinced that had I not done that 4 months prior to, I don’t think that I would have made it out of the hospital.
Chris: Yeah, it was a scary time.
Bridgette: Christina said “Mom, why didn’t you tell me that you lips turned blue?” I said “I live alone! How do I know that my lips turned blue when I cough?” I don’t know. So it was 6 months, I think, that I was not on the trails, but then when I, someone gave me a portable oxygen concentrator, if you don’t know what that is, you’re lucky because that means you never have to deal with it. But it is a concentrator that sits on your back, or on your side, and it takes air in and it puts it up your nose so that you have, and you can put it on different levels.
Chris: I think for anybody who has lung disease, and I think for you, and I saw it for you, it’s just like, it gives you freedom
Bridgette: Oh my gosh, yes
Chris: Because you’re not going “How much oxygen is left in this tank? Do I have enough tanks?” I remember you feeling so, well my perspective is, you seemed to feel so tied down, like quite literally.
Bridgette: I had a concentrator at my house, a big one, that I would use during the day, but if I left, and I had the tanks. I also thought about “It costs so many tanks for me to get through this day, or to this trip. How much does that cost? Ok, how much is it going to cost me to breath today?” If you don’t have to think about how much it’s going to cost for you to breath today, then just look up and go “Thank You!”
Chris: All of us are just casually breathing for free.
Bridgette: Yes. I only use oxygen now when I hike. And sometimes I am not using it when I hike. And again, I work really really hard at trying to be the best me that I can be. It’s become a lifestyle, it’s just what I do you know. Eating regularly, meditating, walking, exercising, doing yoga, making sure there’s not a lot of stressing my life. All the things that it takes to be a healthy me. And then I think what happened with the Houston Women Hiking is that I realized that, and I have heard more than one woman say this, walking on the trails with other women is kind of like really inexpensive therapy.
Chris: Oh for sure
Bridgette: Because you’re talking to the women, you’re going through your stuff, and science has proven that walking in the woods decreases your cortisol level and has all sorts of chemical things that happen in your body, by just being in the woods. And you don’t have to be in the woods long. And then also community increases our immune system. So, unbeknownst to me, I was doing two things that were increasing my immune system, being with these women in a community and being in the woods. And then exercising, three things, exercising on top of it. So it’s been pretty fascinating and to see it grow how it has grown is just..it boggles my mind, because it does meet every woman right where they are. And the Houston Women All Women Camping trips, I don’t know,
Chris: Yeah, I mean.
Bridgette: They are sacred.
Chris: What’s interesting to me is I’ve watched, I’ve watched you create this group, I was in my own space trying to get through the fire and rebuild our house, and then you kind of brought me into the fold of the group. You kept telling me “It’s so Amazing!” And I was “I’m sure it is.”
I just had no capacity for anything other than “Heal your own trauma from the fire -- build a house so you have a place to live.” That was the scope of what I could do. Only further proving the point of how trauma is so similar is that you’re dealing with all of these health issues and all of these repeat traumas over and over again. And here’s what I can do, you know. Here’s the capacity of what I have. I think that’s just trauma in general. I think we all need to give each, ourselves, a lot of grace when it comes to that kind of thing, when you’re recovering from trauma.
But, you brought me into the fold of this whole thing and I was just, this is amazing. It’s just, and you know, I know because you found a mom group when Issa was a baby and you were “You need to go to this, I don’t need to bring her to this, you need to bring her to this.” And it truly was, it was a bunch of moms with babies the same age, all going through “I don’t know what the hell we’re doing! I’m not sufficient at this, I’m exhausted.” It was just
Bridgette: It was the library group.
Chris: Yeah it was the library group. And there’s a lot of those people that are my best friends today, and Issa’s 10. But you know, I was seeing that on such a bigger scale on Houston Women Hiking. That same thing that was happening -- of community, but it was almost cooler because A. it was happening in the woods and B. the thing that blows my brain away every time is the diversity of women in this group. And that they all just get along. We will sit around a fire, and there’s people of all ages and all walks of life, and all kinds of socioeconomic status, and religions, and we’re all just sitting there and the most beautiful thing that I have ever seen in that moment is that we can all find one thing that connects us. And sometimes that’s as simple as hiking.
Bridgette: Or a fire!
Chris: Or in plain poking a fire. It’s just incredible to me every time and just so the listeners know what’s happening...
Bridgette: Houston Women Hiking is 13,700 women all over the city of Houston. From the very northern parts, all the way to Galveston. Hike and go out and create events on a regular basis so women can get out and go hike. And that could also be kayaking, or camping, or.. Like someone just posted the other day, which was so cool, “I want to camp with you, but I don’t want to camp with you.”
Chris: She was just “I want, I don’t want to camp with you where I’m with you all the time, but if we could just socially interact a little bit. Like maybe we will go on a hike but then we go separate ways.” I was “I love this!” It’s all kinds of outdoor events. The group is called Houston Women Hiking, but it truly is anything outside. I think somebody did just a picnic. They were “We are just going to go to a park and eat a picnic.”
Bridgette: Inner tube down the whatever river. Or whatever. And we also do help the parks, and clean up the trails, and that type of thing. So we have outreach and encourage other people and other women. Because I don’t think, I mean, Memorial Park in Houston is bigger than Central Park and has more trails. And I think we have like 300 plus trails around Houston area which people don’t even know about. I am still discovering new things.
Chris: Me too.
Bridgette: The Lone Star Hiking trail, which is in the northern part of Houston and goes through several different areas. It’s a place where you can backpack in and just hike it. So there’s a lot there and women are always amazing me. One woman goes and she just likes to dance. Now everybody likes to go on her hikes because they dance. Another woman goes and she likes to dress up in costume.
Chris: I freaking love it.
Bridgette: People go…and I do a meditative hike, where we are not going to talk at all. We are just going to walk and touch the trees and smell the flowers. Or there are people who want to go.. We have one woman who said, during Covid, flights are really cheap we are all going to Colorado for Saturday to hike a mountain, if you want to go we will be coming back on Sunday. And they did it! And I was..And there’s backpackers that go in and backpack and then go to Kilimanjaro and get a group to go to Kilimanjaro. That’s not me, but then there’s people like me. We have recovery hikes, there’s hikes for women who, because we learned there’s people who injured themselves. Or people wanted join but they weren’t sure they could really do it. And the thing about that is, if you get them then, and they start, they get stronger. And they start to hike further or longer. And then they become hike leaders.
Chris: They heal on the trail in the same way I feel you did.
Bridgette: Yeah, physically and emotionally.
Chris: Yeah, absolutely. It never ceases to amaze me, when people make the choice to work through trauma how, like every person I talk to there’s something really incredible that comes out of it. It always happens. If you choose not to sit in your trauma, there’s always something beautiful on the other side, even though the road there SUCKS! I’m sure that you were hiking, and you were having a hard time breathing, especially during those early days, there’s got to be, was there a part of you that was just “This is really hard?”
Bridgette: There still is. I’m thinking about leading a hike tomorrow and going “What about the people behind me, and I don’t know if I can hike that hard or that far.” And then people say to me “You hike really fast for a person with lung disease!”
Chris: You DO hike really fast.
Bridgette: Even the meditative hikes, they go “slow it down a little bit.”
Chris: I’m the person who hikes, but then I see an interesting mushroom and I have to stop and take pictures of the mushroom and turn it over and see if it has gills or pores so I can look it up later. That’s my hike.
Bridgette: There’s two things I want to point about what you said though. But truly, I also know that people who have trauma, people who have an illness, like cancer or lung disease or whatever comes up, if you ask them, they are going to say that they had a trauma right before they were diagnosed. So this whole thing is called Stronger Than and we had talked about Stronger Than Myself, I think one of the things that you need to know is that you do have a subconscious and that subconscious is in you trying to keep you from being the best you that you can be. It’s not being mean about it, it just knows that you survive this way. And unless you can break that subconscious thought, and even the words that you say, and I hate to say that I said this, I know that on more than one occasion I said “This marriage is killing me.”
Chris: Oh yeah, I remember you saying that.
Bridgette: And then well, how could I say that, think it, know it and feel it and not come out on the backside of that without something happening? But in the same light, I am believing and trusting and saying to myself “I can do this! I can push past.” And I do everything, and I know we are running out of time, but even the singing classes which I took, which just happen to be at our house with your friend, and I had to listen to myself because when the teacher was saying “Breathe 1,2,3,4 Out 2,3,4, In 2,3,4” I had to honest with myself, I panicked. No don’t make me just breath 4 because I need to get 6 and 7 because I may never ever have 6 and 7 again. And all of that is going on in my mind as I am just trying to sing a note. And I had to be honest with myself that was happening so I could. I think the singing classes are going to help me to be, I don’t want to cry about it, to become friends with my breath again. I’ve tried, you know, people would ask me when I teach Tai Chi or Qigong and they would go “And tell us about the breathing.” And I would go “yes, just breathe”, because if you told me to breathe here or exhale here I would immediately go “NO, I can’t. I can’t even yawn.” I’m having to learn to yawn again because I’ve tried to suppress yawns for so long because they are so painful. So you learn to become, I’m learning to become friends with my breath. I think the big thing here is when we say I’m Stronger Than Myself I am Stronger Than My Subconscious. I am Stronger Than those places that wanted to keep me stuck and won’t let me go forward. And you’ve got be acknowledge and be honest with yourself with what is there and what is telling you what to do and what not to do.
Chris: I think it is beautiful and horrifying, we need a word for that in English I don’t know if there is, but it’s beautiful and horrifying at the same time to think that you have to become friends with your breath again.
Bridgette: But this thing with singing, because singing has been such a large part of my life for all my life. Your friend Thea was there and she was, “You got it, you got it now.” Just to hear her say that, or to say “Oh, you could expand your diaphragm from your side” I was just like “Yeah, I guess I have been doing something right.” When you’re learning with the singing to be able to get, to become friends with my breath again, it’s not just becoming friends with me breath, it’s also an expression of yourself. Your “AHHH” You’re singing, you’re expressing yourself. So anyway, that’s all really new and I’m excited about it. And I just did a video about it.
Chris: If you could highlight three things from the multiple traumas, that we’ve talked about, that you are thankful for and would not trade out. I have a lot of people that are like “Well, I bet you wish that the fire never happened.” And I’m “I wish my dog didn’t die. I wish I had backed up all of my computers to the cloud. I wish that I had had a fireproof safe with our documents. But what I’ve gained from that experience is almost worth the trauma.”
Bridgette: If you were to ask anybody who has come to terms with death, I am certain that they would say having someone tell you you were going to die, makes everyday worth living. It also helps you to realize what’s really important. If I’m not going to live very long do I really want to be the president of the civic club? No, I don’t really care. Let whatever is going to happen to the neighborhood happen. I’m sorry but it makes your priorities, and I’m thankful for that. And I think the other thing is gratitude. I am so filled with gratitude. I mean, it goes with the same thing, but I am so filled with gratitude. I try to do that every day. I walk outside to my garden and I am “Thank you for that little flower, thank you for the pond, and thank you for this and thank you for that.” So I am really really excited and thankful for all of the things in my life.
Chris: Mom, thank you so much for being on this with me and going out on this very scary journey of creating a podcast. It’s a podcast of stories that need to be told so I thank you for your vulnerability and for sharing your story with everybody today. Where can people find you?
Bridgette: Aw honey, I am so proud of you. I am so excited for this journey that you’re taking.
You can find me at creativesculpture.com, and I am everywhere. You just google my name and you’re gonna find me. I have got pages and pages, but yeah.
Breathing in Life and Happiness - positive support group.
Chris: She’s on Twitter, she’s on Instagram, she’s on Facebook. If you are a woman and are in the Houston area, we’re talking Houston area greater, all the way up to Willis. We’ve got people that travel to Houston, but they live in San Antonio, if you are interested in our hiking group you can find houstonwomenhiking.com.
Chris: Thank you some much for being here and listening to my words and sharing in these stories. I hope you will join me in coming episodes as we hear the stories of real people and how they became Stronger Than.
If you’re excited about this podcast, would you consider leaving a rating or review or sharing a link to it on your social media. These things help podcasters and creators so much.
Stronger Than is real stories from real people edited and hosted by me, Chris Sizemore. Original Music by Rob McCathren. If you want to learn more about us and our story you can find us on our blog strongerthanfire.com or on Instagram at strongerthanfire.