For as long as I’ve had children I’ve had a fear. But there was no way I was going to name it because I didn’t want to give it any power. But it was always lurking, waiting for me to remember. I’d watch a movie, and there it was. I’d read a book, and see it again. I’d listen to the news and lo and behold, my heart confirmed that it could happen to me and there was nothing I could do about it.
So I never said it out loud.
But when it comes to swimming in the frigid winter ocean (we don’t swim, we dip. You can’t swim with no feeling in your arms and legs) I’ve named my fears and watched them disappear one by one. I’ve also laughed with friends who’ve faced their own demons of the cold water, and cheered for their success in conquering them.
That’s why I swim in the cold water. I HATE it. But the ritual is so important because it reminds me that life can be fraught with demons that are in our heads but control our lives. And yet WE are the rulers of our minds!
I almost gave up my year-long weekly polar plunge commitment that ends June 1st 2014.
I almost gave them up because my unspoken fear collided with them on Saturday night at a Christmas party of friends and acquaintances. One of the attendees has chosen to take some very limited information, mixed that with her personal insecurities and fears, and has, unbeknownst to her, become my greatest kick in the butt to live a truly free life, even though I think she secretly thought she would destroy my spirit and family.
She decided that my polar plunges were evidence of a woman who isn’t “living in reality” and who is “in denial of her circumstances.” Better yet, I must be “suicidal” because cold water can kill you! If she thinks I didn’t know that, she should come to a plunge sometime! Add to that two little boys in shorts at a Christmas party and there must be problems that Child Protective Services should be able to “help” with. So she filed a report with them, and they’ll be coming soon.
For two days my spirits have been deflated. I’ve been confused. But today I have an answer. I know what to do with all of it and what the gift in the mess of it is. First, I’ll continue my weekly Saturday plunges. I’ve taken my life back from the thought of a woman whose power and influence scares me, but who I know could choose something different to accuse me of next week if she’s determined, and she is.
Second, I found the answer as I applied what I’d learned about myself and my fears and about living a life from my polar plunges. The beauty of this process is that it can work with anything you do consistently that makes you face a fear and do “it” anyways. I used to have to go onstage when I was a dancer even though I always felt extreme fear and anxiety while waiting in the wings. I learned to see the pattern – that those thoughts and feelings accompanied every performance no matter how skilled I became, and they always morphed into joy as I went forward with them as my companion into the lights and the music and the audience.
So, what was my long-standing fear concerning my children, and how has that changed?
I always feared that they’d be taken away.
I didn’t believe there would be just cause. I believed it would happen “to” us/them.
But as I looked deeper into my fear, I saw something else. That always happens after a swim as well. We say it’s the cold, a possible heart attack, etc. But the real fear is our lack of resolve, maybe our laziness, being seen in a bathing suit, crying like a baby, screaming like a crazy person, LOOKING like a crazy person, OR….
….someone believing you really are a bit off your rocker and unfit to care for your children, and having said person set in motion visits that could determine that to be true and have your kids taken away? Dramatic? Yes. Possible? Could happen. But honestly, folks, that same scenario could play out in your life with different triggers, just as ridiculous as mine. And it still brings me back to , “what are you so afraid of, Betsy?” If I know in my heart of hearts that my children could be taken from me for any number of reasons, most of which would have blind-sided me and left me feeling helpless, then where and how was I to focus to get any peace.?
How did I overcome that fear? Answer: the same way I do a plunge. I just run forward and bring the fear with me. And as I let it play out in my mind as a “what if that really happened?” kind of thing, I knew what I was really afraid of:
I was afraid that my children couldn’t handle it and it would destroy them.
But the thing is, as far as swimming in frigid water goes, I always know that my partner will be okay as long as they are relatively strong and have no underlying conditions that would make the experience dangerous. I always know that they’ll go in as far as they feel comfortable and safe and maybe a few steps further. And even THAT creates a change in thinking and being! Even that little bit of effort!
Once I saw what I believed I realized I had some work to do. I could prepare my children to find gifts in any experience they might have. I could reassure them that there are no mistakes in life and that what “was” still “is” and that their journey will always be a rich and rewarding experience if they can stay calm and hang on for tomorrow, for sunshine, for beauty and for friendship. They can always be a light. That’s a lot to ask of a 5-yr.-old and an 8-yr. old, never mind the 11, 14, and 17 yr. old. And I truly believe that they are stronger than I “know” them to be. So, sometimes just making it a possibility in someone’s mind is all they need.
And with the thought planted you run with them into the cold ocean water and see seconds later that you all not only survived but feel more alive because for a moment you were brought to the depths of humility….and you rejoice together that darkness didn’t win.
And that was the plan all along. Just to see THAT.