The trip to Seattle was a huge success. I visited my dear friend, Beth, and we connected over the kind of things that have made us such close friends for nearly a decade now. It felt good to talk about normal things: marriage, parenting, careers, hopes. Cancer was more of an afterthought, a byproduct made in the synthesis of life, love and loss. I went walking along lush landscapes overlooking the ocean and reconnected with my own internal compass. It was a time for some restorative contemplation about where I had come, where I was headed, and where I ultimately wanted to go.
And while I was there, my village was busy lifting me up. The GoFundMe page has seen early success, and Tom and I are starting to breathe a little knowing that some of the more pressing expenses will be taken care of. I cannot thank everyone enough for your kindness and love in sharing the page and donating to help us through this. Every dollar means relief to us. Thank you for giving us that beautiful gift.
In other good news, I received confirmation that I will be attending a rock climbing camp for cancer fighters and survivors. First Descents is an organization that offers multi-day adventure programs centered around whitewater kayaking, rock climbing or surfing. They push participants beyond their limits while experiencing some of the most stunningly beautiful settings in the country…sound like anyone you know? I signed up on a whim and received word two weeks ago that they had a cancellation for their upcoming June rock climbing trip in the Adirondacks. They offered me the slot and I jumped at it. I’m not sure how many participants will be there, or how many will be in treatment like me, but I’m trusting in the adventure and eagerly awaiting the trip. Well, sort of.
It wasn’t until well after I had completed the medical forms and application and received my plane ticket that I kind of remembered that I’m afraid of heights. This memory was jolted by seeing the image of a girl hanging out on the side of a huge mountain on the program brochure. It looked something like this:
For some reason in my mind we were going to be bouldering around 20 feet off the ground…no big deal. My fear of heights is by no means a debilitating, but as I’ve gotten older the fear of things that can actually kill me (or at least the things I can drum up in my mind as potential killers) spin me out more than they did a decade ago. For example, I won’t ride carnival rides anymore because the last time I did I was convinced the thing had been shoddily assembled (tell me carnival workers are the most safety conscious, invested, employees), was haphazardly maintained and operated (again, carnival workers) and that as a result the bucket I was sitting in was going to go sailing in to orbit, killing Tom and me and our children would be orphaned and OMG I HAVEN’T FINISHED MY WILL YET AND I AM GOING TO DIE! I started sobbing, a sob rooted in pure terror in the immediate certainty of death, and didn’t stop until the ride ended. So while I believe I will be in good hands (not carni hands) on the First Descents trip, I realize I have a growing anxiety around dangerous activities.
I also realized I’m bringing some other fears with me on the trip. As I was preparing to meet with a girlfriend to go climbing today, an uneasiness started growing in my chest. I don’t want to go, I kept thinking. I really like this friend, she is awesome, an athelete, smart and kind. She works in mental health and will be office sharing with me in a few months. I’m really excited to spend more time with her. But something about the climbing gym was catching me up short. And then it hit me like a ton of bricks: it’s where he used to take me. My stomach sank.
I was in the most unhealthy relationship of my life during the last half of high school and the first half of college. I feel the need to be extremely careful when writing about this because these things happened 15 years ago and neither of us are the people today that we were then. We were very young, inexperienced, and this was our first blush at a meaningful, committed, adult relationship. I do not hold blame against him for the mistakes we made together, and I honestly believe as I sit here today that he was doing the best he could. I have a lot of love and forgiveness in my heart for him but I had to work hard to heal from the damage we did to each other- a process that took a good decade.
The biggest issue I see looking back is that I completely lost myself to him. I jumped in with both feet, eager to have someone save me from the utter heartbreak and searing pain of my parents’ divorce. I was a tiny boat lost at sea and the storm was full on when he found me. We fell into each other hard and fast, and used young love to fill the holes in our hearts caused by other people and sad circumstances. I will protect his privacy, but I will say that some of the things he survived as a young person would make you clutch your chest and sob right here, so trust me when I say it was probably not wise for either of us to give our hearts away to the other.
While in the beginning things were loving (kind yet intense), eventually the love broke way to control and hurt. The pain of his life and his lack of skills to manage healthy love through that pain resulted in him lashing out at me. He was emotionally and mentally cruel at times, and I became convinced that I was fat, stupid, lazy, unadventurous, overly sensitive and largely worthless. In an effort to please him and win his favor, I took on whatever it was he was interested in whole-heartedly. It was usually a failure because I wasn’t good at anything like he was, but still, I threw myself into the effort. I reasoned that maybe if I did the right thing the right way I would be deserving of love.
I wish I could say there was a break through moment where I realized enough was enough and I broke free of the relationship and danced with fists raised to Beyonce’. That’s just not how it works when you are beaten down and your self-esteem is trashed. It wasn’t after he pinned me down and sat on my chest until I couldn’t breathe, panic on my face and tears in my eyes. It wasn’t after he slept with my best friend and I walked in to find them together. It wasn’t after being called stupid or lame for the um-teenth time, or enduring yet another abuse of consent in our intimate relationship. It wasn’t after I first developed an eating disorder, refusing to eat and electing the pain of hunger over the pain of heartache. It wasn’t after being kicked off the rowing team for being an unhealthy, unstable person, or after nearly failing out of college. Nope. It was when I realized I was either going to spend time in a mental institution if I didn’t course correct that I finally moved out west to save myself. Bit by bit my sanity was restored ounce by painstaking ounce.
It took graduating from law school and successfully competing on academic teams while there to regain some belief that I was an intelligent person worthy of contributing to society. It took the practice and commitment of my long-term healthy relationship with my husband to learn what kind, caring, build-you-up not tear-you-down love looks like. It took some counseling and the birth of my daughters to recognize that my self worth was not wrapped up with my body image-and that I preferred a strong, capable body to whatever it is you see in magazines and are taught to idolzize as a young person.
And so, it is this hard-won battle, these lessons of growth and love, that make me recoil when I think about the climbing gym. I think of him telling me I look fat in the harness. His jokes about how lame and weak I was climbing the wall. His growing impatience with me when I couldn’t do it right. I throw in some current self-doubt about the strength I’ve lost through chemo, how I’m not as capable as I was 6 months ago. The devil sneaks in and whispers “what if you can’t do this?” and my heart sinks.
I’m afraid. But here’s the thing about fear. Fear prevents us from living our lives. It gets in the way. It is a roadblock we willingly and desperately usher in. We prop it up in front of our belief that we aren’t enough so that we don’t have to do the hardwork of healing our broken bits. I’m scared to feel fat and worthless and incompetent and weak. I’m more afraid of knowing those feelings still live inside me and of handing over my power to live a healthy, whole-hearted life to someone unhealthy I dated as a teenager. I’m not going to miss out on hanging out with this seriously awesome gal pal or going on the climbing experience of a lifetime because of my broken bits. I’m going to sit with my feelings, be kind to myself, and put on some climbing shoes and get dusty.
I’m moving onward and upward because that is where I want to be. I’m the only one who can give myself the gift of healing, and I absolutely believe I am worthy of that effort. So I’ll file down my nails and starting pulling myself up. See you at the top.
Give Em’ Hell.