Let’s be clear. As a teenager (and before) I misbehaved. If it was bad for you, dangerous, risky or death defying? I did it. And like most every kid, it never occurred to me that I was actually taking risks with my life. I was fearless, brave, bold.
Until the risk came looking for me, wrapped its nastiness around me and almost pulled me under.
One night when I was 15…
I mixed a few too many chemicals and fell off a ledge – or that’s what it felt like. All I remember is the sensation of floating away and then falling. Down a dark, terrifying, endless tunnel. And the sound of my own screams.
Of course, my friends didn’t call an ambulance (or my parents) – they shook me out of it and took me outside. And as we sat on the front steps (smoking ‘restorative’ cigarettes), and I tried to find the ground under my body, I heard a plane flying over head. Because I was in a panicked state, my hearing was simultaneously excruciatingly exact and far, far away – as if being filtered through an echo chamber.
Somehow, the sound of that plane, the mention of any other plane and flying in general glued themselves to the pungent realizations that crept into my core that night, took up residence and refused to leave. That, in this life: I had no control and I would die.
Those are the kinds of revelations you hope to stave off until your 20’s. At least. Right? But there they were. And in my mind they were inextricably linked to everything airplane.
My knee-jerk response to ‘the incident’ was to regain control. In other words, I cleaned my shit up right quick. I literally erased as much risk from my life as possible – my two main targets were drugs & alcohol and flying. Wait – I should also tell you that I developed a beautiful little case of OCD and a delightful eating disorder or two in my attempt to control everything around me. So, I think we can all agree that this ‘controlling everything’ was not the best plan.
It shut down my life.
And I held on to it for quite some time. Somewhere deep down inside, I had made a deal with myself: if you hold everything in – as tightly as possible, if you don’t take any chances, if you stay so afraid to die that you don’t let yourself live – then you’ll be okay.
I know! I’m Brilliant!!!
I wonder to this day, what in god’s name my definition of ‘okay’ was.
Time passed and I grew out of much of this.
- Life in general, yoga, running every morning, good friends.
- Then, motherhood, writing, running my business.
- And of course, a basic, on-going and un-ignorable drive to succeed and thrive.
They all helped, immeasurably. I was practically ‘normal’ again. But there was still this one little hanger-onner. You see, I took all of that angst and I shoved it somewhere that it wouldn’t really affect my daily life.
I put it all on a plane.
I flew a couple of times as a teenager after ‘the incident’ – and it was horrible – and I only did it because I, occasionally allowed myself to be forced to do things my parents told me I had to do. But whenever humanly possibly, I would drive back and forth from college (in Vermont) to home (in St. Louis), and then I would do the same from Boston, where I spent my 20’s. Mostly, I just didn’t go home. Mostly, I didn’t go anywhere.
I finally flew in November, 2000 (because I had two midwest weddings in the span of two weeks and I just couldn’t do the drive twice) – and I was thinking I might be okay, that I could do this flying thing again – even though I was terrified and hated it. And then 9/11 happened – and I climbed back into my ‘bad things happen when planes are added to the mix’ hole and mantra.
I didn’t fly again until last fall, nine years later.
Last fall is when I decided (in general) that if I was going to go down, at least I’d go down living. So I flew. Twice. And I was okay. As in really okay. It was practically enjoyable, this flying thing. (I even met a cute banker on the plane).
This weekend, I flew again.
It was easy. I liked it. (Except for the part where I felt nauseous from the turbulence, the part where I was going to use the barf bag for my orange peels and found someone’s chewed gum in it, and the part where I accidentally touched something wet and gross in the soup can lavatory.) This airplane took me to an amazing place, conference and community of people.
What it means to fly.
For me, it means that I’m not so scared anymore – or more importantly, that when I do get scared, I’m not going to let it stop me. It means that I’m living again. Flying, after all, was the last thing I was holding on to…
Underneath it all, that 15-year old self (the one that was alive before 10:30ish pm on October 22, 1988) has been waiting. She’s been pissed that her life was hijacked, and she’s been waiting to get her chance again.
One of the millions of brilliant things I heard at SOBCon this weekend was this: If the only reason you aren’t doing something is that you’re scared, you absolutely have to do it.* It’s practically a neon sign flashing, “GO HERE! DO THIS! NOW!”
On Saturday night, in Chicago, I was taken to a karaoke (total dive) bar – and told that I would be singing, so I might as well pick a song. At that point, something happened to my body. “I am so not doing that!” – is what it sounded like. I was fascinated by my quick response, the lightening quick embodiment of my “NO!!!!” shield. So I asked myself why I was saying no. I looked and looked and looked and looked some more (hopin’ and prayin’ to find something, anything) – but there was only fear, as far as my internal eye could see.
The only reason I didn’t want to sing was that I was scared. I saw that truth, kicked it to the curb and sang – ridiculously, badly and with gusto. It was a duet – just me and my 15-year old self. And she was really loud.
*Steve Farber said this. He is amazing and inspiring and delightfully humorous. Check him out and buy his books. I’m going to.
Image credit: carbonated