the printed thoughts of a woman on a journey towards awareness, truth, acceptance, clarity, and forgiveness...with some fun and fearlessness thrown in

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

dying to live

“How does one become a butterfly?” she asked pensively.

“You must want to fly so much you are willing to give up being a caterpillar.”

“You mean die?”

“Yes and no,” he answered. “What looks like you will die, but what’s really you will still live

–from Hope For The Flower

I will jump out of an airplane for the fifth time this Saturday. Just over five years ago, I never would have imagined that I could (or would) ever skydive, much less that I would do it again and again. I have several friends who also take part in Operation Freefall each year. Some of them dedicate their jump to someone or something each time. I've never done this. I've never felt the need. Oddly enough, I've never even taken much time to consider why I am skydiving year after year or what it means to me. I didn't even really enjoy skydiving until my third jump. Reading something that a friend wrote in regards to her upcoming jump, though, I started to wonder about my own.

Why do I skydive? At first, I did it to face one of my biggest and most powerful fears--the fear of heights. Then, it was more about facing fear in general. I was raised by a mother who had (and still has) many fears. In turn, she instilled fear in us kids. I allowed fear to keep me from trying a lot of activities that I may have wanted to try. I was afraid of getting hurt, of looking stupid, of failing, of ridicule, of everything. I made lots of excuses, but the truth was that I was afraid.

With my first skydive, I made a conscious decision to start dealing with my fears directly and honestly. My third skydive reaffirmed this decision. During my second jump, I experienced what is known as a hard parachute opening. I was jerked very hard by the chute and was in a great deal of pain all the way to the ground. In retrospect, I realize how lucky I was not to be hurt more than I was. I took a year off at the advice of my chiropractor, but felt compelled to "get back on the horse" the following year, when I finally had fun jumping. I credit my tandem instructor, Mike Hennesy for being gentle, kind, and funny and myself for asking for what I needed.

Last year, I decided to once again have fun. I vowed to smile all day. I promised not to let fear enter my mind or my heart. I knew what I was doing, this was nothing new, and I wanted to make it the best jump yet. I did. Fear was no longer the target of my attention and my action. To borrow terminology from behavioral psychology, I was switching from an avoidance goal (avoiding fear) to an approach goal (approaching fun). I was amazed at how a simple change could have such a huge impact. After completing my skydive last year, I felt joy--pure, uncomplicated, unfettered joy--for the first time in my life. I felt a happiness that I never knew was possible for me, a person who has suffered from dysthymia for most of my life. When I see pictures and video of myself from that day, I see a lightness in my face, an easing of tension, a genuine peace.

So, again, why do I skydive? Simply said, I skydive to feel alive. Before skydiving, I could easily access painful and negative emotions, but I wasn't able to reach and hold onto the positive ones. Now, I can feel joy and wonder and love and amazement and bliss--and not just when I skydive, but even in the midst of the mundane and in the simple, everyday happenings of life. Sometimes, I feel like a kid experiencing things for the first time. I can laugh at the most inappropriate times, and I can entertain myself for hours with just my thoughts. I can watch my cat chase a bottle cap around the house and think it's the cutest thing in the world or get down on all fours on the floor with my dog and growl and play with her like I'm a dog.

I skydive to experience my strength and my vulnerability at once. To trust someone else with my life requires both bravery and the ability to let go of control. One could argue that it also requires stupidity, but I would say that it's hardly stupid to want to squeeze every bit of living out of your life. I skydive to prove that I am capable of doing something that most other people won't ever try. I skydive to prove to myself that there are people who won't hurt me, who will protect me, and who will support me. I skydive to remind myself that I can let them.

I skydive for me! Though I do it as a fundraiser and an opportunity to raise awareness of sexual violence, it could be one of the most selfish things that I allow myself to do. My skydive has become a time when I take time off from work, I travel to a sunny spot, and I spend a few days with friends from all over the country (and the world). It's a strange sort of girls' weekend, but that's exactly what it is. Of course, we're a strange bunch of girls, so it's quite fitting. I could say that I can't afford to go, that I shouldn't take the time off from work, that my pets need me at home, that I should just skydive closer to home. It's illogical, impractical, and totally unnecessary. But, I want to do it, so I do. Skydiving gives me an excuse to indulge my desires, to forget (even if only for a little while) what I should, ought, and must do.

I skydive so that I can live.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

grateful for the path

"I'm grateful that the path I have traveled, however twisted it may have seemed, brought me to where I am: right here, right now."

The above quotation was borrowed from a Facebook status posted by The Attitude of Gratitude Project some time back. I absolutely love the status messages that the page's creator posts. They remind me of the many things that I have to be grateful for, even (and especially) the little, seemingly unimportant things.

As a Reiki Master, I recite the Reiki Gokai, or principles, daily:

Just for today, I will live the attitude of gratitude.
Just for today, I will not worry.

Just for today, I will not anger.

Just for today, I will do my work honestly.

Just for today, I will show love and respect for every living being.

My practice keeps me grounded and in the moment. It allows me to approach each day as a new opportunity to do my best, regardless of the past day's happenings or what lies in the future. It helps me to remember that I can only control what is at hand and that it is, therefore, unproductive to get upset or angry about what I cannot control. And it aids me in my seemingly constant struggle against worry and fear.

Back to gratitude, now. It's not always easy to be grateful, especially for things that are unpleasant, sad, or painful. In my life, though, these are the very things that teach the most poignant lessons, bring the most fulfilling experiences, and supply the contrast needed to feel the positive emotions. Without them, the ups wouldn't be as high, I wouldn't know my true strength, and my friendships would be more shallow. Because of them, I am who I am and I am where I am.

I will be going to Florida at the end of this week for my Operation Freefall skydive and my now annual reunion with as many as my SOAR friends as possible. In preparation for the trip, I've spent hours on the phone and online with several of them, trying to figure out where we will be staying and what we will be doing. These friends are friends who know, accept, and love me in a special way. I feel alive when we are together. We don't speak enough. (Who really does?) I wish we lived closer. I wish we had more time together. I am truly grateful for these friends, and I realize that I wouldn't know them if it weren't for each of our negative past experiences.

It's a strange thing for some people to hear me say that I am grateful for the experience of being a sexual assault survivor. But, I am. The healing process was a difficult one, with many dark and scary times along the way. I didn't always think that I would make it through the darkness to the other side. In fact, I usually didn't. I wasn't even sure that I deserved to. I wallowed for a long time in self-abuse and neglect. I existed from day to day, seeing each not as an opportunity, but as an obstacle. I felt excruciating alone. I had no idea that this very "alone-ness" would someday be replaced by an equally intense feeling of belonging.

Because of what I survived, I now have a career that I am passionate about. I advocate for victims of sexual violence. I am their voice in the treatment and supervision of their offenders. I answer their questions and make sure that their concerns are addressed. I will not allow them to be forgotten, ignored, or dismissed. I understand their feelings and know their struggles. I accept their anger and disappointment without judgment. I believe in their potential and encourage their growth. I learn from them everyday.

Because of what I survived, I have exercised a lot of self-reflection. I have had therapy. I have participated in groups. I have attended healing retreats. I know more about myself and what makes me tick than I ever would have otherwise. I'm more self-aware than the average person and, arguably, more intuitive. I can read other people well, and I have a deep capacity for empathy. My knowledge and skills have helped me in my work and personal life.

Because of what I survived, I have an appreciation for what makes a man a "real" man. I know that "macho" has no value, that the traditionally "feminine" qualities take on a deeply attractive nature when displayed by a man, that love is more about mutual respect than about sexual tension, and that a healthy relationship isn't all that much work. I dated my fair share of "bad boys" and jerks. I tried to be married to a "nice guy." I had given up hope of finding "the one" when I left Ft. Wayne and moved to Chattanooga. Life once again surprised me when that very move brought me exactly what I thought was impossible. He had to patiently wade through the flotsam and jetsam of my past, but he must have seem something that I didn't even know existed. I am inexplicably grateful that he did.