Saturday, April 21, 2012

facing fears

One thing you need to know about me before proceeding: I'm a huge fraidy cat.

It's one of those things I've always just accepted about myself even though I also acknowledge the fact that it's not a particularly attractive quality. (I mean, let's be honest, adventurous and fearless? That's sexy. An encyclopedia of worst-case scenarios? Not so much.)

I think I may have inherited this trait from my darling mother who, bless her heart, has spent every waking moment since I arrived trying to protect me from anything and everything terrible in the world. The woman has seen enough episodes of 20/20, Dateline NBC, and "It Could Happen To You" specials to convince herself that it could, in fact, happen to me, so really you can't ever be too careful. (Let it be stated that I love my mother for this not only because it means the world to me that she cares enough to want to keep me from harm's way, but because it is a quirk that is undeniably her and I find it adorable that she worries so much. She is truly the best mom a girl could hope for.) But seriously though, she may or may not have bought me a hammer that I keep under my driver's seat "just in case I ever accidentally find myself submerged in a large body of water and have to knock a window out." I also own pepper spray and get literal heart palpitations when Jason drives over the speed limit. Like I said, big whopping fraidy cat.

The thing is though, while I don't mind the fact that I just want to be safe and smart in certain situations, I don't want to let this whole worry and fear thing to prevent me from having really awesome experiences. I hate flying, but I continue to fight through every flight because I don't want it to keep me from traveling. I'm afraid of heights, but if I wouldn't want it to hold me back from hiking a beautiful mountain. And so when Jason told me we would be white water rafting as a part of our retreat, I'm not going to lie, complete and utter fear set in.

I know it's silly. I know plenty of people have white water rafted - children, for pete's sake, white water raft - but the thought of falling out into freezing cold water and being pulled under a rapid is terrifying. Still, it was one of those experiences I knew I would never forget, and so I decided I wouldn't let my fear take over. Instead of embracing the fear, I instead decided to embrace the excitement of trying something new. I thought I'd kind of make it a challenge to myself to see how strong I could be in attacking this activity head on. Instead of back down, I'd step up to the task, listen to everything our guide said, and paddle as strong and as hard as I could. (Sidenote: I hate to keep bringing it back to Gretchen Rubin's book, The Happiness Project, but I just find it so helpful in providing small and actionable strategies for tackling real situations. She talks about something called reframing, which basically means shifting your focus and emotions in a situation. For example, instead of dreading a birthday party you have to plan because you know it will be exhausting and time-consuming, look at it as an opportunity to be creative. This simple reframing technique allows you to enjoy the task more. That's what I tried to do with the rafting - turn fear into an opportunity to challenge my strength. Side sidenote: I swear that woman does not pay me for these sweeping endorsements. But maybe she should...)

Once we got to the rafting outpost, stuffed ourselves into the ridiculously tight wetsuits (picture Spanx on steroids. Well, maybe don't picture it because I assure you it was not pretty...) and life jackets, I started to feel the fear a bit more. This is really happening, I thought. I'm really going to do this. I did my best not to make this fear known to the rest of our group, but as one of the guides went over all of the safety techniques and the things you have to remember if you fall out of the raft, I started to panic a little. "In the event that you fall out of the raft..." Ohmygod, that is really a thing. People really fall out of the rafts and have to be saved... did he just say jagged rocks and bruises? Did he just say drown?!

I did my absolute best to keep my worst-case scenarios to a minimum, but I'm not going to lie, there were a few times that the hazy image of me helplessly floating down the river, paralyzed from the freezing cold water crept into my head. Every time that happened I just thought to myself, I am going to be the best damn paddler these people have ever seen. (Then, I would chuckle to myself because the very statement and fact that I was saying it to myself seemed ridiculous. This little cycle of fear, reassurance, and inner chuckling lasted quite a while which ended up being the perfect distraction.)

After the safety lesson, we rode over on a bus to the riverbank where we would get into our rafts. We split up into two groups: Bimini, Sarah, Heather and DeAndre, and Jason, Sean and myself. (I will be completely honest, I think I inadvertently rigged the teams. I may have tugged Jason aside and casually mentioned that if he wasn't in my boat, there would be a 78% chance I would pee my wetsuit. Like I said, fraidy cat NOT an attractive quality.)

At the riverbank we were introduced to our river guide, Matt, and I couldn't help but size up the person that would have to save my life in a dire situation. He was the last guide to show up, but I knew I immediately liked him when he quickly threw on his shirt in a hurry and apologized for the Thomas the Train stickers all over it. "My son's stickers, sorry..." I mean, how cute is that? He looked about in his mid-twenties, but there was something extremely comforting to me about the fact that he had a son. People that have children know what it's like to live for someone other than themselves and protect them at all costs (like my mom) and in my book, that's the guy I want responsible for my safety.

We were the last group to put our raft on the river, and as we carried it down I heard Matt ask, "So have any of you ever white water rafted before?" Jason and Sean both said they had, and Matt replied with something like "Oh perfect, this is going to fun. I can tell you guys are a group I can try some things with." TRY THINGS?! I hardly think this is the time to TRY things. I haven't been rafting! Me, little me over here that looks very uncertain. What if I don't want to try things?! That was what I was thinking, but somehow what I said was, "Let's do it."

What ensued was probably one of the top five most fun things I've ever done in my life. The second I got on the water, all of my fear seemed to leave me. Maybe part of it was being with three big guys (one of which I knew would at the very least have to save me because my mother would personally hunt him down if I perished in a tragic rafting accident), but I think it was just the fact that at that point I had no choice but to have a good time. There was no turning back, so from the second we set out I was determined to make the most of every moment.

It was perfect. We would go through a rough patch of rapids and I just told myself that my only job was to follow every word that Matt said and I knew we'd be okay. I was sitting directly behind Jason, which made me feel oddly protected. During the calm parts I would look up and I could see gargantuan mountains with peaks hidden by cloud mist. The water may have been cold as ice, but it was clear as glass too. It couldn't have been more enjoyable. Matt took us down hidden, secluded river paths and had us spinning around rapids. It was so exhilarating, and with every stroke I really did feel strong. Matt would say, "I'm not used to having a group with this much power," which was clearly in reference to the two burly men I was sharing the boat with, but I obviously interpreted it to be specifically directed toward me. Why, thank you, Matt - no, I've actually never been rafting before, can you believe it? It also helped that the entire time we were cracking jokes. I find that any situation filled with anxiety for me can be mitigated with humor. Amen for that.

When it was all said and done, the smile on my face couldn't have been bigger. I didn't fall into the rapids (thank god), and even though I was freezing my buns off, I swear I could've done the entire thing over again. I know I'm a big fraidy cat, but I'm glad that my mom also instilled in me the importance of enjoying life and taking in experiences. I honestly can't wait for the next time that I can go white water rafting, and I'm glad that I had the opportunity to do something outside of my comfort zone.

And with that, please enjoy these flattering photos of me in a parka.

1 comment:

  1. Awesome! Love river rafting. Looks like everyone had some fun!