The Healing Power of Nature
Orkney is a desolate place. Perhaps that is why Amy Liptrot at an early age seeks refuge at the bottom a bottle. The Outrun is a cathartic autobiographical account of recovery from alcoholism along with great writing about Orkney’s natural world.
Amy Liptrot returns to Orkney after more than a decade away. She returns to the Outrun on the sheep farm where she grew up. A small plot of land by the edge of the sea. Amy has been shaped by the seasons and the display of life and death that is an everyday occurrence on a farm. Her father’s mental illness has also shaped her childhood. Perhaps more than she lets on.
When she moved to London at a young age, she started partying and gradually her drinking evolved into full-blown alcoholism. Now thirty, she to her childhood home on Orkney, and she turns to nature and the sea to find a way forward:
I want to shock myself awake: after central heating and screens, to feel cold, with skin submerged in wild waters, is attractively physical. I want to blast away the frustrations of being stuck on this island and no longer have the outlet of getting drunk. The chilly immersion is addictive, verging on unpleasant at the time, but I find myself craving it, agreeing to go again, planning my next swim, eyeing up lochs, bays or reservoirs. I want to swim in bomb craters.p. 196
There is equal measures of punishment and salvation in her descriptions of wild swimming in Orkney:
During each of the first few swims there is a point when my body panics. I picture drowning and, knowing the depth beneath me, my heart rate increases. I need to reach the shore as quickly as possible. When I do pull myself out up the slipway, climbing the ladder onto the pier, or washing up with the waves onto the beach, I feel saved: reborn and very alive.
People claim all sorts of health benefits from wild swimming — better circulation, improved immunity — with the Outdoor Swimming Society pledging to ’embrace the rejuvenating effects of cold water’ but I mainly do it for the ‘cold-water high”, the exhilaration and endorphins resulting from even a short dip.p. 196
The book is a long (and sometimes too long) love letter to the nature on Orkney and surrounding islands. There is no end to all the frustrations that can walked away during yet another cold and windy day. That aside it is a great book with lots of great descriptions and insights into the addictive mind and patterns of a recovering alcoholic. Probablu best described in this passage:
Lately, I’ve noticed a gradual reprogramming. In the past when I was under stress, my first impulse was to drink, to get into the pub or the off-licence. A house-moving day years ago once ended a month-long attempt at sobriety. Now, sometimes, I’m not just fighting against these urges but have developed new ones. Even back in the summer, set free after a frustrating day in the RSPB office, my first thought was sometimes not a pint but ‘Get in the sea) Swimming shakes out my tension and provides refreshment and change. I am finding new priorities and pleasures for my free time. I’ve known this was possible but it takes a while for emotions to catch up with intellect. I am getting stronger.
The motivation is the same but my methods of dealing with the way I feel are changing. I used to confuse my neurotransmitters on a Friday night in a hot nightclub. Now I shock my senses on a Saturday morning in a biting sea, plunging warm skin into cold water, forcing a rush of sensation, cleansed.p. 200
The Outrun by Amy Liptrot
Hardcover, 280 pages, published 2016 by Canongate