If you could put my blog into a category it would be “self defense.”

To me, however, it’s a little more than that. It’s my story–my unique journey. If others can glean a little from my experiences and thoughts I’m honored, if not, it’s no big deal. There have been times, however, when I’ve purposely withheld parts of this journey from my readers because I wasn’t sure how what I had to say would be received. Or I may not have been ready to put it out into the virtual void. This is one of those times.

I’ve been hanging on to this post for almost two years and it feels like a good time to get it off my chest.

I want to tell you about my biggest “break-through” year in self defense. It was a year I learned more about how to defend myself, increased my confidence, improved my overall skills and expanded my horizons. I learned how to manage fear and angst and to trust my instincts. I learned how to manage medical emergencies, have fun and express myself in many other ways. This was one of the best years of my life.

It was the year I put my gun away.

My journey, my work, my goals have all been a means to build confidence in myself, not a tool. I chose a tool to aide in my journey, not to define it. I sought to be well-trained with a tool, not ruled by it. Guns, to me, are tools to master in a long list of other tools to master (including my sewing machine).

I have always wanted real self-defense solutions, not crutches or bandaids, platitudes or false security. So when I felt my gun was becoming a crutch I decided it was time to get rid of it–or, at least put it away for awhile.

I want to tell you about why I felt compelled to put it down and why I picked it up again and why I always knew it would find a place on my belt again, when I was ready.

While my husband and I were packing for a much-needed vacation to a place without reciprocity I felt nervous at the prospect of having to leave my gun behind. I started thinking about all the “what if” situations and wanting my gun.

I hated the feeling.

It exposed everything I’d wanted to avoid about carrying a gun in the first place. It exposed my weaknesses and my fears, my shortcomings and false security. I showed me I wasn’t confident that I could protect myself without my gun. I was using that gun as a means to “feel” safer, but that didn’t make me safer. It was becoming a cliche I wanted to avoid.

I honestly evaluated myself and decided it was time to rip off that bandaid, throw out the crutch and walk on my own.

I left on that trip without a gun and left it off for a year.

I still wrote about guns. I still attended firearms training. I competed in pistol matches. I just stopped carrying my gun with me in public. Almost no one but my husband knew I’d stopped carrying.

The experience wasn’t all that dramatic. I mean, really, millions of people don’t carry guns. They survive. I won’t pretend to tell you it was some eye-opening, melodramatic test of my ability to stoically face life unarmed. If I tried that crap I hope someone close to me would throw my slippers at me.

The truth is, life went on. And it went on very well.

I started EMT school and built a custom salt-water aquarium (complete with a kick-ass sump). I was raising two kids and taking Krav Maga. I started lifting weights. My husband and I took time to focus on our marriage and took something wonderful and made it amazing. I started reading more and enjoyed my family. I felt the healthiest and happiest I’d probably ever felt and I did it all without a gun.

I didn’t close my eyes to the realities of the world. I understood the risks of crime as much as I ever did. Instead of potentially ignoring those risks because, “Well, I have a gun,” instead, I worked on developing the awareness, confidence and other skills I felt would be effective in defending myself. I wrote a lot about those things at the time, too, and how I felt about them.

EMT school and training taught me a lot about chaos management and built a huge amount of confidence in myself and my abilities to take care of myself and others under stress. New hobbies and interests kept me, me–always expanding and learning and wanting to experience new wonders of the world. Krav gave me more confidence and fewer feelings of being intimidated in general (an easy thing to feel when you are my size). Lifting simply made me feel stronger and healthier.

I stopped attributing unrealistic expectations on my firearm and found confidence, skill and enjoyment from living my life. Fear, enjoyment, preparedness, skill were found in myself, not in what I had on my belt.

I felt great about myself and how I’d grown.

And the day came to get my gun out of the safe, again.

Once again, I won’t let you believe this was some sort of dramatic, ominous or otherwise emotional affair. It happened with all of the fanfare of someone putting a piece of toast into a toaster oven. There was no foreboding music or deep sigh for effect. It wasn’t some set date on a calendar or due to meeting some arbitrary goal. I didn’t feel threatened.

I simply felt ready, again.

I went to the safe, took out my Glock, checked it over, wiped it down, loaded it and put it on my belt.

And life stayed exactly the same. Better. Richer. Fuller. Happier. And, now, armed. Not because of the gun but in spite of it.

Why did I pick it back up again? After all, I made it a whole year without being mauled by bears or violently raped in a cellar.

I armed myself again because despite everything–the additional training, the confidence, the skills, techniques, knowledge and health–I am, above all, a realist. The reality is I’m still the primary individual responsible for my own safety and the safety of my children and a gun fills a self-defense void that cannot be filled with any other tool or technique in certain circumstances.

It’s compact, lightweight, can be carried with you, concealed and deployed in an instant. It fires projectiles that have the capacity to stop even the most determined of attackers at a vast variety of distances. It’s capacity to continue doing the above is only as limited as your ammo supply which is relatively cheap and also compact. It’s an affordable, available defensive system that is effective and accessible.

It has a viable place in self defense provided it is used within the constraints of skill, the law and with respect to its limitations.

If there’s a downside it’s that it requires skill and understanding to use effectively and many people mistake merely having a firearm for the both skill and understanding. That delusion can be devastating.

It’s been a few years of carrying regularly again and I’m happy to say that my firearm remains put in it’s place, not only on my belt but also in my mind and emotions.

I enjoy firearms. I enjoy shooting them, training with them and competing with them. I don’t particularly enjoy carrying them but the gun and holster choices I’ve made have made carrying them an easy addition to my daily life. They have a legitimate and powerful roll to play in self defense and so I carry them. If I ever feel that balance getting skewed again or something better than a firearm comes unto life’s scene I will put my guns away again.

Whether I was right or wrong in putting my gun away, I don’t know. It’s simply my journey. It’s something I felt was important for me and my life. I felt it was necessary for me to get rid of the distraction to my personal growth and that my firearm was that distraction. I did what was necessary and therefore it felt right to me.

It felt just as right to start carrying again.

If there’s something to take away from this story, maybe it’s to be honest with yourself. Perform a self evaluation, honestly admit what roll your firearm in playing in your life and defense and whether or not you have the skill and understanding and mindset required to carry a firearm on a daily basis. Make adjustments accordingly.

What role is your gun playing in your life?