These are just a handful of things I’m afraid of. There was a time when I couldn’t even look at a body of water at night.
I’d imagine that darkness and water would join forces and swallow me whole.
I’d close my eyes when walking over bridges (‘coz then it was a triple whammy of height plus water plus darkness!). It was foolish. And I don’t know where I acquired such paranoia, but it was debilitating.
As I grew older, I learned how to mask my fear … but internally I was still crying, “Help me!”
A couple of years ago, as my husband and I were on one of our post-dinner walks in Iowa City, I tugged at his hand a little stronger, closed my eyes, and tried to stay in step with him. He turned around and asked what happened … I shook my head, opening my eyes ever so slightly and mumbled something about this being romantic.
He was on to me. “What are you hiding? Are you afraid of something?”
I nodded meekly, still not having the courage to acknowledge my surroundings. We were on a bridge — let me be more specific — smack dab in the middle of a bridge. All I wanted was to cross it.
He insisted I open my eyes. Having known him long enough, I knew he wasn’t going to budge. We’d spend the night here.
So, I figured if I continued holding on to him, I’d be fine. Slowly I opened my eyes, focusing intently on his face. “There,” I said boldly. “Now can we walk?”
He shook his head, “No. Look around you.”
Grudgingly, I did — empty streets, moonless night, a couple of stars mocking at me.
“Now, let’s look at the water,” he said approaching the stone wall of the wretched bridge.
Here I was, a two-year-old in the body of a 20-something woman. If only I could disappear.
I knew he wouldn’t take no for an answer. Feigning courage, I peered over the wall and looked at the gushing river beneath.
Black water. So alive. So agile. It could leap up and take me with it in a flash.
I felt his hand around my shoulder. “So, what’s scary about this?” I couldn’t put it in words.
There I was. Looking fear in the eye. And the more intently I gazed at the water, in this darkness, from 10 feet above, the less fearful I became.
The idea of “fear” was more concrete at that moment, than the fear itself.
A couple of months later on our first vacation to Honolulu, we decided to take a moonlit stroll on the beach. All the fearful ideas came swarming back. But as I lay under a starry sky, feeling the wind in my hair and the sand between my toes, I stared into the vast blackness of the ocean.
For the first time in my life, I saw beauty. I could look at the shimmering water, the silver surf, the oneness of the sky and sea, this whole mass of black — and not be afraid.
I still wouldn’t agree to swimming in the ocean at night, but I won’t entirely run away from the idea of taking a dip in a well-lit pool. 😉
As with darkness, heights, and water my other fears are simply figments of my imagination. Seeds that were sown sometime in my childhood, perhaps. Seeds that grew into full-blown trees that took root in my mind. Gripping me strongly.
I’ve learned that the first step to overcoming one’s fear is to acknowledge it. Just doing that takes a lot of courage — it’s a reflection of one’s weakness. Vulnerability. Lack of control.
But once you’ve accepted it, you can take steps to overcome it. It all boils down to what you want: to live a life of fear and regrets, a life of limited experiences; or a life full of opportunities waiting to be grabbed.
I want to be able to enjoy snorkeling. I want to taste the freedom that comes with paragliding. I want to marvel at fireflies in caves. I want to know what it feels like to be on top of the world — literally.
I want to escape the security of a nine-to-five routine. I want to embrace the unknown. I want to be free!
Life is too short and I am in the sweet spot where my desires far outweigh my fears.