This I believe: that overcoming your fears can’t happen in one try. That you have to jump many, many times before you lose your fear of hitting the water. That it doesn’t feel good at all to fly through the air the first time, or even the tenth time. That your fears revisit you in many forms, and you will be forced to face them again and again.
I was a cancer survivor. I had survived surgery with a 16-inch scar, less one kidney and one nasty, life-threatening tumor. But I couldn’t jump off this stupid, 12-foot cliff at a Mexican resort. The very reason I was standing there was because the trip was a chance to embrace life, but all I was embracing at the moment was panic.
I told myself, “They wouldn’t include anything truly dangerous at a resort for Americans.” I watched my son launch himself 32 times, literally, and come up smiling. I shouldn’t have looked down. But I did, and since I couldn’t walk away anymore (that idea about embracing life), I found myself stuck.
So I told myself, “Just jump. You’ll rid yourself of fear if you do.” And I did. It hurt, and I came up equally afraid. I faced my fear, took the leap of faith, and nothing really changed. I had survived, but not conquered. It took eighteen jumps until I could launch myself like my son did, with the joy that only comes from a sense of abandon.
That’s what it takes, repeated effort. Facing that dark source a number of times until you become familiar with the feeling and can move on to let it go. It’s not Hollywood. In fact, I don’t think it’s even very pretty, probably a good reason so many of us avoid it and walk away. Blame someone else, say we can’t do it, rely on the tranquilizing effects of our addictions to cover it. And I’m sure if I were to return to that cliff now, four years later, I’d have to start the process all over again.
I’ve learned, though, to look at my fears when they arise, say, “Hmm, what’s that?” and then try to spend some time with them, like an old friend come to visit yet again. They tell me much about myself, and this is what I try to keep before I tell them what they need to hear, “Goodbye.” Five, ten, eighteen times. Whatever it takes.
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