At 28, Cheryl Strayed had the epiphany that paved the way for Wild

Cheryl Strayed became a literary sensation in her 40s with her blockbuster memoir " Wild , " in which she recounted how she grew up in her 20s from fourteen years old. How to climb back from the bottom of the valley by hiking 1,100 miles after the death of his mother two years ago. On the Pacific Crest Trail. With every step she took, from California's Mojave Desert to Oregon's Bridge of the Gods, she sweated, cut her toenails, and felt ashamed of years of self-destruction caused by grief.

Strayed has revisited these themes — brokenness, the struggle for redemption — in much of her work, and they're front and center in Hulu's Tiny Beautiful Things , an adaptation of the author's 2012 novel ’s book, which contains eight episodes of her advice column, Dear Sugar. .

Actor Merritt Wever says in one scene: "You can't let the worst thing that ever happened to you stop you from getting what you want, and if you do, it's no one else's fault but your own It's your fault." Lost. (On screen, a version of the author is played by Kathryn Hahn; Weaver plays a woman modeled after her mother.)

Strayed's early life would be high on most people's "worst things" lists: She survived abuse from her father and grandfather, and poverty left her home without electricity or indoor plumbing. But the death of her mother, Bobby, became the driving force in her life and work.

“Those years when I was 27, 28, 29 and 30, I was rebuilding my life, which made room for me to deal with the overwhelming grief of losing a loved one.”

Bobbie, who escaped a violent marriage and raised three children in a hand-built house in the Minnesota woods, died at age 45, seven weeks after her initial diagnosis of lung cancer. After that, Strayed failed completely. She had reckless promiscuity, a divorce from her first love, and a dalliance with heroin. She often explained that her implosion was a misguided tribute to her mother: "In order to prove that her life mattered, I was determined to destroy the life I had begun to build," Hahn says in voiceover for Tiny Beautiful Things said. "This is the life my mother wanted for me."

This was her life in resurgence on the PCT. "I was at the lowest point of my life when I went hiking," the author, now 54, tells Bustle. "I'm not saying, 'I need to go on this hike because I need to be a different person.'" It was, 'I need to get back to myself.' '"

Strayed quit the PCT two days before his 27th birthday. Nine days later, as she collapsed on a futon in a friend's spare room, she sold most of her possessions at a very serendipitous yard sale. She sold an airplane-shaped pencil sharpener to a man who introduced her to her husband, and a pair of overalls to a woman who recommended her a job at an upscale French bar where she worked as a bartender. Waiter until she can afford it. Moved into a loft in Portland ("I painted the walls black," she says. "It was terrible"). The next year, she found a job advocating for at-risk middle school students.

“Those years when I was 27, 28, 29 and 30, I was rebuilding my life, which left room for me to deal with the overwhelming grief of losing a loved one,” she said. “[I learned the hard way] that if I continued to move toward my deepest intentions—to become a writer and a thriving, happy person—the grief of losing my mother would be the source of so many beautiful things in I’m not wrong about that in my life.”

Below, the author and ongoing advice columnist talks saving herself, dealing with infidelity and the advice she needs at 28.

Contributed by Cheryl Strayed

I just spent a week reading your work and cried a lot.

oh. Thanks. I love making people cry.

How did you rebuild your life when you left the PCT and were about to turn 27?

My twenties were the final phase of my true adulthood. I’m humbled to realize that I’m always growing, always learning, and always making mistakes. And mature enough to realize that if I was going to do all the things I said I was going to do, I had to be that person. As I wrote in my book Writing Like a Bastard , in my twenties I had this strange feeling that a big bird was going to swoop down and say, “Congratulations! Your novel It’s already written!” When I was about 28, 29 years old, I was like, “Oh, my God. I haven’t finished my novel yet and I really need to figure out what to do.”

As I approached my 30th birthday, I decided to apply to graduate school. I got married in August 1999, and our honeymoon consisted of driving a U-Haul truck from Portland to Syracuse with our two cats. My MFA program was basically my paid gig so I could write my first book. Within weeks of completion, it was sold to Houghton Mifflin.

In " How to Get Out ," you describe working as a youth advocate helping "teenage girls" who live in dire situations. Your advice to them is to "run as far as you can in the direction of your best, happiest dreams, cross that bridge built by your own desire to heal" and "swim like the fuck away from everyone A bad thing. "You're sending the message that no one is coming to save you, you have to save yourself. Did you already realize this at 28?

Absolutely. One thing I learned on the PCT hike, which ended up being the core advice I give over and over again as a Sugar, is the power of acceptance. Accepting that facts are facts and going from there is a radical, simple, and extremely difficult act. A lot of what happens to us when we get stuck has to do with resistance. I don't want my mother to die. I don't want to...fill in the blank . But once you can say, "I keep saying I can't carry this burden? I've always carried it with me. How about I learn to carry it with grace, courage, or strength?"

That's what I want to tell those girls. It's not fair that they have a life of their own, but they only have two choices: Do you let that thing be the thing that kills you, or do you decide, I'm going to try to make something beautiful out of it ?

I like those girls. This job has changed my heart, mind, and life in so many ways. Even then, in the midst of this incredibly rewarding job, I had a terrible sinking feeling inside of me. There was a voice inside me that said, "This job is not what you came here for. You are a writer, and you must answer the call or you will always feel this way deep down." That was when I read The job I quit while in graduate school.

When we disclose our past, we often fear being seen as “trauma dumping” or “oversharing.” But doesn’t everyone experience trauma? Do you wish people talked about it more openly?

I definitely think most of us have been exposed to some kind of trauma, but it's hard to compare trauma on a scale. Instead, "Has something ever happened to you that made you feel like you couldn't go on?" For one person it might be an argument with a friend, while for another it might be your mother being murdered in front of your eyes. . [We think] there are scales where one is clearly worse than the other. But we all live our own lives. The worst thing that ever happened to you is the worst thing that ever happened to you. It's hard, it's painful, it's scary, and you have to find a way to survive.

In my work as Sugar, people open up to me, and when I teach writing workshops, there's always pain in the room, but there's always triumphant beauty. There is always healing, recovery, and forgiveness. We recognize each other when we are vulnerable and speak our truth. This is what vulnerability does. It creates a forum where we can talk honestly.

If you could write to Dear Sugar at the age of 28, what would you ask?

I thought I'd ask a question that I'm still asking, about how do we, women and girls and female-identifying people, feel good about our bodies in a culture that absolutely hates women and hates women's bodies, and allows us to accept that Impossible, narrow, strict standards of beauty and attractiveness. [How do you] learn to truly love yourself, respect your body, and inhabit it with a sense of ease, joy, and confidence?

Sadly, it’s been a lifelong journey – not just for me, but for many. I'll ask Sugar to help me figure this out.

What advice do you have for not letting the past resurface and overwhelm you?

Again, I am a firm believer in acceptance. The past is not what we leave behind, it is what we leave behind. This is something we carry with us. This does not mean that we are constantly held back, haunted, or burdened by our old stories. But you say, "Okay, I'm going to look at my past experience, revise it, and put it into my story."

There is a column in Tiny Beauty called "A Little Sully in Sweetness" in which I write about how I learned that my husband had been unfaithful to me before we were married. At the time, I was like, "I want to leave this in the past." However, what we did was say, "Okay, wait a minute. It's not going to be like, 'You suck, you need to make amends,' And then we can move on. 'Rather, 'Why don't we use this as an opportunity to have a conversation about monogamy, honesty, sex, desire, if we make it part of our story?' Become stronger?"

Moving forward is about taking control of the stories handed to you and revising them so that they speak more deeply about who you are and who you want to be.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.