When we come into this world, we are born with two fears; fear of falling and fear of noise. Then somewhere along the line we become those crazy, worrying, non-risk taking versions of ourselves that we often refer to as adults. It doesn’t matter who you are, at some point we all acquire and are forced to face fear. There may be no way around it but there’s always a way through it.
When I think back on my life I have encountered a lot of fears. My fears range from failure, success, snakes, being judged, and not fitting in. You name it, I’ve likely faced it. As I grow older I realize that there are a lot of things bother me more now than when I was younger. I used to be able to ride roller coasters for days and it never bothered me. Turn me upside down, flip me over, spin me in circles, it didn’t matter. It made me feel alive and filled with adrenaline. I could run, jump, play and leap without wondering if I would land on my face or pull something. Now I avoid most spinning rides to prevent unwanted vomiting and often find myself wondering how my body will hold up or perform in certain activities. It’s safe to say that over the years I have lost a bit of my edge.
I could simply accept this current way of being as my new truth and become the type of adult that plays by the rules or I can balls up and leap back towards my freedom. The freedom that bold movement, fun and excitement brings! In attempts of leaping forward, I made a promise to fill my summer with new activities that I had never tried before. To challenge myself and not cave to the fearful thoughts that occasionally enter my mind. So, when the opportunity to go backpacking with my boyfriend and his friend presented itself, I took it. The problem was I didn’t quite have the proper equipment and by that, I mean shoes. All I had were my 5 year old running shoes, with limited grip and various sized holes in the toes. There wasn’t enough time to purchase hiking boots but I decided to go anyways.
Before going to much farther, I have to tell you that my boyfriend was less than impressed by my shoes and kept saying things like, “are you sure you want to go in those, I don’t want you to get hurt” and other thoughtful yet questioning comments. My answer was still yes and off we went. Due to the fact that this was my first time out, we took a fairly short trek into the woods. Promised to be a simple and easy hike, it turned into an entirely new type of challenge for me.
Right off the bat, the trail was filled with fallen tree after fallen tree. As we climbed, ducked under and maneuvered around these wooden beasts I kept thinking, it’s an easy trail huh? It indeed wasn’t a difficult trail but it was covered in unexpected obstacles. Then it happened, we encountered the first of two obstacles that triggered an immense amount of fear in me. Ahead was a steep white clay cliff with a minimal and eroding trail. Below, was a steep drop into a flowing river. I paused, took a deep breath and told myself, “just don’t look down.” I hesitantly started to make my way, while feeling this intense fear in the pit of my stomach. I thought about saying something to my comrades but there was no way I was going show them my weakness. I clung to the wall and took one step at a time until I had made it to the other side. Whew! I let out a sigh of relief and was convinced that it would be cake from here on out. It was until we encountered another one.
This time, the trail was even thinner and the drop higher than before. Are you kidding me, I thought. This time, I told the guys that “I must be a little bothered by heights because this trail is starting to get to me.” “You’ll be fine,” they replied. “Just face towards the mountain and take it slow.” This time, I could feel the fear growing bigger than before and all I could think about were the earlier comments about my insufficient foot wear and getting hurt. These thoughts, raced through my mind on repeat but again, I didn’t want to admit my fear. Again, I took a couple deep breaths and repeated, “you got this,” and I did. I successfully made it again to the other side of the trail. I was amazed by how much I doubted myself and physical ability. Hundreds of people have hiked this trail and some even in flip flops! What was wrong with me?
The rest of the hike was completed with cautiousness and ease. As we approached our destination, it hit me, I would have to make those crossings again on the way back. There would be a decline next time, that would surely increase the odds of me slipping with my ridiculous shoes. This thought lingered in the back of mind.
Well, it turns out, I would not only have to make those crossings again but three more times! The second and third, without packs, for a run into town and the fourth, on our way out.
Let’s just say that the last time, I was sure I was going to fall and go rolling down the cliff with my shitty shoes, pack and all. There was no way I was going to do this gracefully.
As I approached the crossing, I attempted to combat my fearful thoughts with confidence. “You can do this, you got this, don’t look down, use the wall,” I repeated. Feeling like I was going to vomit up fear, I took the first step, then the next and then… the trail took a little descent. I paused, more like froze out of fear, just knowing that the next step was going to be the one that would send me sliding over the cliff. I knew that I had two choices; I could just take the next step and trust that I wouldn’t die or I could ask my boyfriend, who was in front of me, for help. There was instant resistance from my pride and ego. “You are most definitely not going to show weakness and ask for help,” they argued. They resisted, they argued but in the end, they lost. “Get over yourself,” I told them. Then I did something that was more challenging than walking on tightropes over cliffs, I asked for help. My boyfriend paused, then gave me a confused look as I told him, “I need your hand please.” I think I surprised both of us as those words came from my mouth. Then I quickly grabbed his hand and stepped to safety.
Now, I thought this experience was about facing my fear of heights and learning to trust my body, but it turns out it was so much more. The real lesson here, was about vulnerability and being able to ask for help. Somewhere along the line, being an independent adult had masked my fear of vulnerability and ability to receive from others. This may seem silly to some of you, as all I did was ask for a helping hand but it was huge step in overcoming a deep seated fear of mine. Trust me when I say, that the struggle is real. Just know, that we all have fears but we don’t have to face them all on our own. Sometimes it is okay to ask for help. As the saying goes, “Alone we are strong, but together we are stronger.” Think of all you could accomplish if you were just willing to ask for help.