“You can admit to the fear, but don’t let it stop you from moving forward.”
This is another wonderful photo courtesy of Grace Ciszkowski of Celebrating Freedom. Grace is the survivor of a kidnapping and all sorts of trauma. You can read more of her life story and see more of her creative photos at her FaceBook page, CelebratinFreedom
Fear is a powerful emotion.
Most trauma survivors, including dissociative trauma survivors, know all too much about fear. In fact, some parts of the DID system have become so familiar with fear that they don’t feel fear any more. They are numb to fear. Some darker parts may even thrive on fear, having learned how to feed off fear, and how to use it in ways that would terrify other sides of the system.
These are the experts in fear.
I have been fortunate to not have had that much fear in my life. I have had a few scary moments, of course. Car wrecks, some stranger danger moments, a few low-level stalkers, and some chaotic moments with folks a little too “out there” for whatever reason, but most of my life has been safe.
I am not an expert on fear.
I know much more about safety than I do about fear.
However, I do have one very definite situation in my life where I experienced more fear than usual. Far more fear, with a much greater intensity than I expected. A situation where I had to decide if I would let my fear hold me back, or if I could face my fear and move forward.
This was the question on the day that tremendous fear was a reality in my life.
A few months ago, my adventurous daughter worked for week after week after week to convince me that she and I should sky-dive together on her birthday. “What could be more perfect?” she asked. Frankly, I could think of many many things that could be more perfect than jumping out of a perfectly good plane, heading straight for the ground from 14,000 feet in the air. How could THAT be perfect???!!
But she persisted, and pushed, and pleaded, and pulled at me till I agreed to do this with her.
Me. An old woman. Well, I’m not that old, but I’m certainly not in my twenties anymore!!
Now I had watched many sky divers land safely. Near my home, was a landing spot for sky divers every weekend. I loved watching the beautiful colors of the parachutes floating down from the sky and I could see that the landings were as soft as walking on a pillow. They didn’t even fall over. They just trotted to a stop. The landing looked wonderful — it didn’t look scary at all.
What I couldn’t see, from my home balcony, was the jumping out of the plane part of the process. I could never see the plane, and I didn’t know how high the highest point was. I could just see the soft floating of the sky divers landing softly in the sand.
All of them were safe once they landed. So…. if I could watch these jumpers every weekend, couldn’t I be brave enough to do this with my adventurous daughter?
She was convinced of it.
I wobbled. And wondered. And worried. And finally decided that okay, I would do it with her.
So we made our reservations, and sure enough, on her birthday, we went out to the local sky diving facility. I was a little unsure, and a little anxious, but I had made my decision that I would do this with her, and gosh darn it, I was gonna do it!
Those were my brave moments, lol.
It got a little scary putting on the jumping suit because it started feeling real. OH gosh, we weren’t just talking “big” anymore. “Cross your arms like this, put your head back like that, and tuck your feet under like that.” These were the instructions for what to do when you were sitting on the side of the open airplane door.
OH my. Oh dear, oh my, oh my, oh my!!! Now we were really planning this ridiculous stunt.
Whose idea was this anyway?
And how on earth did anyone convince me to get to this place?
Oh my stars. Oh my goodness. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear!
Meanwhile, my beautiful daughter was full of life. Loving every minute of it, she was laughing, smiling, jumping up and down, clapping her hands, completely thrilled to bits. She could hardly stand the wait. She was ready to go, go, GO!
Is this kid related to me? Maybe I am getting too old for this, lol.
I could feel the panic crawling closer and closer.
It was our turn. We were to walk across the grassy field and get in that yellow plane over there. The plan was to fly up to 14,000 feet, and then one by one (or two by two for those of us jumping tandem-style), we would throw ourselves out of the plane and then land some time later on that very same grassy field.
At least that was what the professional Sky Divers said would happen. They said they did this every single day and no one there had ever died in the tandem jumping. Ok, well. That was a small comfort. But you know….
That grassy field didn’t look so soft now. It wasn’t exactly a marshmellow or a fluffy pillow. It felt pretty hard to me.
I dragged behind walking slower than everyone else. I was less and less convinced about getting in that plane, no matter what they said. Every step meant I was closer to doing something really really scary. How long could I drag this out? How slow could I go? My tummy was tying up in knots.
My kid was still thrilled to pieces. “Come on, Mom! Hurry up!!” She was way ahead of me, still bouncing and boisterous, and as happy as can be. I wished I had even a thimble of her enthusiasm, lol.
But I promised her I would do this. I gave it weeks of thought, and I had agreed. I had to keep my word. I had to face this fear, and get on with it.
We packed ourselves as snug as a bug in the plane. There were all sorts of people jumping on this trip. Most of them were jumping on their own, having done this bunches of times before. My daughter and I were the only tandems, so we got to sit at the back as we would be the last to go out the door. Last, that sounded good to me. A few more minutes of safety!
Flying in airplanes doesn’t frighten me too much so I tried my best to enjoy the flight. I practiced all the deep breathing exercises I could remember, and did all kinds of positive self talk, and worked at relaxing my tense muscles as much as I could. The view out the window was gorgeous, of course, so I did all that I could to enjoy this part of the experience.
My tandem coach kept giving me pointers as he tightened the belts that held us tight together. “Remember to put your head back. Remember to keep your arms crossed in front of you till I tell you otherwise. I’ve done this for years, so it will be ok.” He was several years older than me, so surely he knew what he was talking about, lol. He clearly had survived many jumps before this one, so I had to be in safe hands, right? Right. Oh gosh, that better be right.
I was calming down and enjoying the plane ride. Even though we were climbing higher and higher and higher, I was deep breathing and enjoying the scenery. It’s just so cool to see for miles and miles and miles. The world looks so different from way high in the sky.
Then it started. We had reached the right height, and the jumpers were getting all ready to fly. Someone really stupid opened up that plane door. OH my goodness. The first flyers were scooting themselves to the door’s edge. And then, right outside of my window, I could see them WHIPPING out the plane, flying out into the air, zipping out with nothing but pure space between them and the hard ground 14,000 feet below us.
OH MY GOODNESS!!!
All that deep breathing meant nothing. As I watched the other sky divers fly out of the plane, one after another, each reeling themselves out into space, I completely crumbled.
I was shaking. I was crying. I was hyperventilating. I was pushing back, back, back. I didn’t want near that door — I wanted to get back to the back of the plane, and Mr. Tandem was gradually scooting me towards the door. I was more frightened than I had ever been in my entire life. What on earth was I going to do now?!
Of course, my brave daughter was whooping and cheering and all kinds of ready for her flying adventure. I thought I was going to throw up there, all over my pretty blue flight suit.
All the single jumpers had jumped. I saw them, one after another, tumble out in the air, all jumping for joy, and not showing any fear at all. I was the only one on the whole plane that was scared.
And scared I was. Completely and utterly afraid. I’ve never felt that afraid in all my life. I had completely changed my mind about jumping and there was no way I was going to do it.
Then I watched in horror as my daughter went to the open door. She was still as happy and excited as could be. I knew she was going out — she was so glad to be having this adventure. She waved to me with the biggest smile in the world, and whooooooosh, away she went, tumbling in the air, like a rocket headed downwards as fast as a speeding bullet.
OH, that was my BABY!! That parachute better open up!!
I was next. I was the last one left on the plane, and I was praying with all my might. I really really didn’t want to go, and as much as I had put the brakes on with my heels, Mr. Tandem had pushed me all the way towards the front by now. He could feel my fear, and my backwards pushing, so he kept reassuring me that it would be ok.
Ohhhhhh. Ohhhhh. Ohhhhh….
“Put your head back. Cross your arms. Tuck your feet up under the edge of the door frame. You ready?”
I was not ready, not at all. Not one bit ready, but here it was. It felt like a life or death decision. That parachute would either open, or it wouldn’t. I would either live or die in the next few minutes.
I wasn’t ready, but I was there, and Mr. Tandem knew it was our time to dive. Oh my. Oh my. Oh my…
And with the count of one….. two….. threeeeeee…….
We were flying.
The wind was blowing, and the world was down there. I dared to open my eyes, and I could see the land below me. Free falling. Dropping. Zooming fast through the sky. At this point, it was too late to panic, because whatever was going to happen was clearly going to happen, so I tried to enjoy the experience. This is what I was here to do, right?
But it was still very hard to breathe, and I was still afraid, until…..
With a quick yank up, the parachute opened, and pulled us up higher as the air caught up underneath it.
Oh, thank goodness. It was going to be ok! I was so very very relieved. The parachute had opened. NOW I could enjoy the rest of this adventure.
And wonderful it was.
Floating slowly through the sky, doing turns, and spins, and looking at the big huge beautiful world. It was truly beautiful at this point. I was glad I had gone through with it because at this point, it was worth it.
I could see my daughter, and I knew she was floating safe with her parachute wide open as well. I knew she was having a great time, so I could relax and enjoy.
And enjoy some more.
The floating down was for a few minutes, but it happened way too fast. I could have floated up there for hours. I wasn’t so keen on that free-falling, but the floating was absolutely wonderful.
And you know what? The landing was so incredibly soft. Incredibly soft. I wouldn’t have busted an egg in my pocket, it was that soft.
“I didn’t die!! I survived!!” (Embarrassingly enough, these were my first words once back on the ground, lol.) I looked around for my daughter, and got to watch her land, also as smooth as a feather. She was safe, and we were both ecstatic after our experience. A giant hug, and a memory that will last a lifetime…..
She enjoyed the whole experience.
I enjoyed the last bit. 🙂
But I faced my fear, and with a few pushes from those around me, I did it. I am glad I did. I didn’t let my fear keep me from moving forward. Or upward. Or downward. I kept moving, bit by bit.
Sky diving gave me lots to think about. Life and death. What would happen if I did die? What would happen if my daughter died? Was I willing to take the risk? Was I willing to enjoy the experience? Could I trust a complete stranger with my life? Was I brave? Or was I stupid? Would the excitement of the experience be worth it?
In the end, it was worth it. I have a bond now with my daughter that I have with no one else in the whole world. She and I did something together that will forever stay with us.
As much as this situation was clearly very much within my own control, it gave me a new appreciation for the amount of fear that trauma survivors have had when they have had to face life and death, time after time, after time.
My thoughts there will need to be written out further in a separate blog, but yes, it gave me a definite appreciation and at least a tiny sliver of understanding of how scary it can be to have your life threatened.
My hat goes off for you who have survived the unspeakable more times than I can conceive. You are very brave souls, and I am thankful that you are here, able to read my story.
I pray that life’s jumps be easier for you, from now on.
Copyright © 2008-2021 Kathy Broady MSW and Discussing Dissociation