Princesses Kill Their Own Dragons
Copyright 2023 by Lindsey Stratte
Photo courtesy of the author.
girl’s journey through the mental battles we all face.
this day, my father can’t believe he did it–he left me in
a back alleyway. In a foreign country. By myself.
course, I’m the one who persuaded him it was a good idea. I
waved goodbye and shouldered my pack, turned around and found the
first arrow on the Camino de Santiago.
arrow was emblazoned on the side of a metal utility box: bold,
yellow, and pointing right. I studied it for a moment, wondering if
this journey was going to be enough–enough to kill my dragon
and get my life back.
turned right, and took my first steps up the trail.
was the summer after my first year of college. Already, I had changed
my major and my confidence had floundered. I had thought college
would finally send my self-doubt to the grave, but mounting
considerations of career, friendship, and purpose overwhelmed any
sense of self-assurance my subconscious could scrounge up. Longing
for a Prince Charming or something to claim me and give me value, I
inadvertently created the perfect conditions to hatch the dragon egg.
debuted as an Engineering major, inspired by my older brother.
Unfortunately, inspiration only takes you so far. My
a place where I was accustomed to seeing A’s, suddenly filled
with other letters of the alphabet. One measly A squirmed among the
B’s and C’s on the page, incubating my self-doubt. My
dragon hatched. Deep in my subconscious, the wails of the dragon
cracked the cornerstone of my confidence.
I went, I carried my dragon inside, swaddled with self-pity and
nursed with self-loathing. My dragon reminded me of my failure to
reach my ideals: I wasn’t doing well enough in school, I wasn’t
taking good enough care of myself, I wasn’t making real
friends, I wasn’t good enough for a boyfriend. With each lie I
believed, my dragon grew stronger. Soon it no longer needed swaddling
and began to prowl my mind on its own, demanding my attention. Why
didn’t I do more, better, faster? Why couldn’t I just be
more like this person or that person?
I breathed in my dragon’s sulfuric fumes, my self-doubt thought
patterns tunneled under my confidence, carving a lair where my
dragon’s claws clinked on a hoard of gold, a hoard of my
perceived failures. Aware that my dragon intended to trap me with
that gold, I looked for a way out of the twisting labyrinth. How was
I going to get free? Perhaps, well…
Your dragon-trapped, lair-confined, needing-rescued Princess
waited for an answer, a rescue, a secret sign that help was imminent.
In the meantime, I attempted to escape the dragon’s clutches
through late-night study sessions and midnight jogs. The
self-improvement effort only elicited cackles from my dragon,
lounging on its pile of gold. I changed strategy, overcommitting my
time to distract my dragon. I joined music, drama, and university
club events. I picked up another job. I became a strategic
communication major, then a film major, then a double major. The
dragon only smiled villainously down at me, mocking my attempts as it
sipped wine on its new balcony.
dragon would let me get a glimpse of freedom every once in a while. I
would have an amazing night out with friends, but I always returned
stressed out of my mind, guilty for the time I had taken away from my
studies, job, and family. By the time my dragon would drag me back
toward its golden hoard, I wouldn’t even resist. I deserved to
be lost in that labyrinth. In my defeat, the dragon grew stronger,
meaner, and more effective. The lair transformed into a palatial
prison, with a golden throne cut into the mental stone of what had
once been my self-assurance.
joy became an endangered species, hunted by a depression-paid
poacher. When invited to coffee with friends, I left feeling
dissatisfied, wondering what they thought of me, if they liked me, if
I had said something wrong. The moment I began to enjoy myself, the
dragon would snag me by the foot and re-route me toward that golden
hoard. My dragon’s speed and ease of adapting to new scenarios
surprised me. The dragon’s criticism scalded me, blaming me for
everything, turning even good things into incompetence.
the school year dwindled, so too did my fighting resolve. My dragon
sat enthroned in my mind, a gaudy crown of my failures glittering
from its brow. It was clear by now, Prince Charming wasn’t
coming in time.
I journaled about my dark struggle and, miraculously, a glimmer of
meaning emerged. I didn’t need to escape my dragon—I
needed to kill it. I began to hunt for its weakness.
meant new stamps in my passport. My family toured Spain, France, and
Italy and then flew home, but I stayed. In spite of my dragon, I set
off to solo hike the Camino de Santiago, a famous pilgrimage in
Spain. I chose the northern route which follows the northern
coast of Spain through an autonomous community called Basque Country.
one of the hardest routes, but arguably the most beautiful, the
Camino Norte features ocean-plunging cliffs and steep, mountainous
climbs. It resembled the upward fight in my mind, as I scrambled for
footing in the tunnels of the dragon’s lair, seeking a weakness
in the dragon’s grip.
day two, I had blisters, but I had friends too—the kind born of
shared experience, or, in this case, shared suffering. There was no
shortage of blisters, sore muscles, or aching joints among us. My new
Italian friend showed me a clever way to care for blisters: by
threading them. We carefully drew cotton thread from one end of the
blister through to the other and tied it off so it would drain
without losing the skin covering.
equal deliberation in my evening journaling, I threaded through the
dragon’s cavern, mapping out its lair and potential escape
routes. Who was I? Why was I here on earth? What meaning could I
bring to this world? Why did I want a lover in my life?
the mornings, I rose early with other peregrinos
let the dawn find me already on the trail, sweat on my brow. The
miles ticked along beneath my boots and my heart lightened, my head
lifted, and my soul remembered its voice. My hiking companions and I
sang Italian partisan songs as the Basque countryside rose and fell
around us, ever more dazzling in its beauty, ever more alive in the
sincerity of its residents.
stopped my hike early one day to simply enjoy the bliss of a gurgling
mountain brook when I was greeted by two women from the nearby town
who laughed and chatted with me about the weather, the hike, and
their grandsons. Inside its self-appointed palace, the dragon raged.
It seized me in a massive talon, intent on bringing me back under
control: who did I think I was, talking to strangers and thinking
they cared about me? But I slipped out of the dragon’s grip:
the ladies offered me a place to stay the night and said they enjoyed
chatting with me.
through the countryside to the peaceful sound of bleating sheep, I
discovered my dragon’s fatal weakness. When I let myself enjoy
the present moment, and savor the “now,” the dragon lost
control over me. When I let others’ words be their words,
rather than cues for my emotions, the dragon had no power over me.
When I remembered I did not need to be perfect, or even ideal, I
simply needed to be me, I unseated the dragon from its throne.
realigned perspective crushed the dragon’s power. I knew who I
was: a girl seeking to do good with her life, to help right a wrong
world. I could be satisfied living each moment to the fullest, loving
where I was because it was where I was. I could choose my thoughts
for myself, lend myself grace, and grow in each moment. With this
final realization, the structure of the dragon’s lair cracked.
I discovered moments when I was speaking negatives to myself—through
the dragon’s mouth—and learned to replace the lies with
truths. Just as the dragon’s malice had suffocated me, my
thought-replacements strangled the dragon. Slowly, my dragon faded
away, its golden hoard replaced with my positive beliefs–deliberately
chosen– that filled in the tunnels of the dragon’s
stench of the dragon’s lair evaporated behind me as I hiked
into another dawn, another me. Finally, I was content to be just
that: myself. I didn’t need anyone or anything–but I
could choose what I wanted. I mastered my own mind. I chose my own
thoughts. I decided what I was going to tell myself, and I decided
those would be good things. Things that would help me stay out of my
dragon-haunted lair and fully revel in the countryside of life.
Things that would help me grow into a person that could make a
difference, into a person who was present, into a person more certain
of my worth.
I will undoubtedly hatch another dragon. In fact, this self-doubt
dragon may yet have phoenix blood. I know I carry more dragon eggs
with me, laying in wait for their toxic incubation, but I have
learned to fight for myself, to fight for my growth. So, Prince
Charming, better luck next time. This princess kills her own dragons.
adventurer at heart, Lindsey Stratte savors life experiences, people,
and the power of the human mind. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in
Strategic Communication and is currently traveling the world with her
newlywed Prince Charming.
of the message
won't know where to send it.)
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