Facing my fears…and surviving

Caver Rappelling

A great part of courage is having done the thing before. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Below is a post I wrote a couple of months ago but never published. It was so emotional at the time I wasn’t ready to let it see the light of day.

Have you ever faced a fear so deep that you can’t sleep nights or it simply stops you in your tracks? It’s not easy. However, to not face fear is to give it control over your life. Facing it doesn’t mean that all will go well, but you will know that you took a chance rather than hold back. You’ll have peace that you did all you could do to make something happen. That feels better than wondering, I assure you.

In this piece, I talk about needing to take a chance, and I did. It didn’t turn out as I hoped and I got hurt. The big news it that I’m okay. Yes, I really shouldn’t have been so afraid. I also gained so much insight to myself it was shocking. I’ll never regret taking the leap and reaching beyond my comfort zone. Sometimes it’s not what you are reaching for that’s the point; it’s what you find out about yourself along the way that matters. I had no idea.

A lot of us are held back by fear. I’m no exception. In fact, I am struggling with this issue in a huge way right now. I woke up this morning after a rough thoughtful night and knew only two things, I’m grateful for my life as it is now, but if I don’t take a risk, I’ll never forgive myself. That thought reminded me of facing my fear of heights, so here is a simple explanation of how facing fear sometimes is the only route to exploring what we really desire in life.

I was afraid of heights.

Okay, that’s nothing rare or unusual, however since age 11 all I wanted to do was explore caves and now I was 29, and still I hadn’t set foot underground. Even if I did get into a horizontal cave, I knew the real good stuff required that I learn to rappel because so many caves include a vertical entrance. My fear was holding me back.

I had to face my fear of falling.

In general, fear serves to protect us from harm. Sometimes though, that protection mechanism over develops and hurts us instead. It creates walls that don’t need to be there, limiting our life and choices.

One reason may that we reacting with fear due to a previous hurt or injury. Here I am, raising my hand in class saying,”that’s me!” I’ve been hurt, deeply, a few too many times, and every part of my being prefers to avoid all exposure to more emotional pain. Where does that leave me? Where would it leave you? Limited in life, love, exploration, adventure, and simply living.

I’ve made many changes in my life over the last few years. I believe in the law of attraction and carefully guide my thinking back toward good and positive thoughts whenever they stray to the negative. What I didn’t say is that I still really have an issue with this in one significant area of my life. It’s the one where all of my remaining fears still reside. Over and over again, I find myself looking in at this spot with dread. It’s a fear of being emotionally vulnerable.

Back to my fear of falling.

At last, I explored my first cave. It was a simple very unspectacular hole in Florida’s landscape, but it represented a milestone of sorts to me. At least I have finally stepped foot in a wild (not tourist) cave. No handrails or paved walkways. It was dusty and intriguing. I was hooked. I learned about a rappelling course offered by the local caving grotto (club) and added my name to the student list. Time to address that fear.

Pulling on my harness, my mind screamed at me, “what the f**k do you think you’re doing? Get the heck off this tower and go home!” Deep breaths, I walked over to the line of students waiting to put into practice what we had been taught. Soon our instructor was checking my harness, the connection to the rappel line, and giving me a few last tips for negotiating the ledge.

Instead of telling you what happened on the outside, we all know I survived, let’s venture into my mind right then. I felt terror. But I also had this little voice saying, “you can only get something you desperately want by overcoming fear,” I chose to focus on that small yet significant second voice in my head. Mindfully, I focused. Feeling my butt add weight to the harness I leaned back. Fear screamed at me to stop what I was doing but I kept thinking of the cave I wanted to see and explore, and leaned back a little further. In a split second, my feet slipped and I planned my butt against with wall in a nearly inverted position, really freaking me out. Fear was like, “see, what did I tell you???”

Getting my bearings, and my feet against the wall, I began to slide down the rope. By the time I yelled, “off rope,” I felt a tremendous relief.

I had taken the first step over the ledge and it was a huge step. In the years that followed, I became a rope rescue technician, but never completely nixed my fear. I also had a few incidents on rope that “got my attention” but I didn’t let them ground me because I had faith in the process of rappelling.

Today.

I’ve taken a few tragic emotional falls and they’ve instilled in me some pretty hefty fears. Meanwhile, I still haven’t reached my dream. Do I stop climbing after it because I’m scared of crashing to the ground again? I guess a better question is what scares me more? Falling and getting hurt or playing it safe and never reaching my dream? Regret is a more subtle, less tragic, perhaps even more socially acceptable form of hurting. At least if I reach way out, and take a risk I know I tried. If I’m lucky, I might get what I reached for, if not, then, well, it will hurt. But no more than regret creeping up on me years from now, late at night, when it’s too late to turn back and do what I should have done today.

Like in the story of my learning to rappel, my feet have slipped (figuratively), but that doesn’t mean an end to the journey. I’m a stronger person now and have confidence that a little slip won’t kill me. The next time I risk opening up emotionally, I’ll fear it just a little less thanks to the experience. I also learned an important lesson about self-confidence and standing up for myself which I’ll share in a separate post.

Do you have a fear that is holding you back? Have you thought about what you could gain by facing the fear?

 

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