Take the Fear with You and Jump (A Therapist Learns to Face Her Fear)

Take the Fear with You and Jump (A Therapist Learns to Face Her Fear)

The dam we were jumping from was off the highway in a beautiful Tennessee back wood lit in shades of antique greens and yellows. Bobby, the therapist who created this unique experience, and who I considered one of the most intuitively brilliant therapists I’d ever met, was there to greet us. He started by explaining how he developed this exercise and its meaning. The first several times he attempted the jump he grabbed the rope tightly and contracted his body, even though he was harnessed to the rope and knew he was safe. It didn’t feel satisfying or complete. What he intuited was that he needed to be open and surrender to the experience of the jump with arms open wide. “Angel arms,” he called it.

My head was spinning, my heart racing. Surrender. Letting go. It resonated deeply. Would I be able to do this, arms open wide? I had been thinking of all the recent changes in my life and all I was still holding onto. Fear was keeping me stuck and not moving forward. I wanted clarity and control for my future before taking any further steps into the unknown. My terror was palpable as it became projected onto the dam. But so was my desperation to let go of all that was holding me back and leap.

Bobby took his place seated at the top of the dam to talk each of us through the experience. He explained that prior to our jump we could do a ritual; a poem, a prayer, or a song of our choosing. Before we jumped, as an added safety, we were to say the word “ready” to which the belayer (the person holding the rope which connected to our harness) would respond “ready.” Then we were to say “jumping,” to which the belayer would respond, “jump on.”

I was assisted with my harness and started the walk, alone, toward the ladder. I wanted to feel exhilaration, but fear was overtaking excitement with each step. The rope was clicked into the harness, checked and double-checked. Intellectually, I knew I was safe but my body had a mind of its own. As I started to climb the narrow rungs of the ladder, it knocked noisily against the stones upon which it was leaning. The young woman belaying saw me slow down. “Don’t worry, it’s bolted in,” she called. Her reassurance wasn’t much help as my legs shook faster with each step.

I hesitantly stepped off the ladder, clinging to a small wall of stones at the top of the dam. I needed to turn around but felt an overwhelming sense of panic. The ledge was so narrow that my feet stuck out beyond the edge. Slowly, I turned and saw the ancient forest floor with gnarled trees and rocks stretched out far below me. Terrified, I continued to grip the wall of the dam behind me. I was well aware that I’d have to let go of it in order to jump.

“What are you feeling?” Bobby asked gently.
“Complete terror,” I confessed, my voice shaking.
“It’s ok,” he said. “That’s just adrenaline.”
I took that in. Interesting. So much of what is perceived as fear is just a chemical reaction. Nevertheless, my body couldn’t hear it. Bobby slowly recited a brief “prayer” about trust and surrender, line by line, so I could repeat after him. Then it was my turn. Slowly, still shaking, I spoke the words of an Anaïs Nin quote that I had always loved: “and the day came… when the risk it took… to remain… tight…in a bud… was greater… than the risk it took… to blossom.”

“That’s beautiful,” Bobby said. “I’m still terrified,” I replied. “It’s ok,” Bobby assured me. “You can take the fear with you.”

Take the fear with me. I had never thought of that. I thought I had to be completely without fear to jump or to do anything difficult, for that matter. Until that moment, I hadn’t realized that I could feel the fear AND jump. I took a deep breath. “Ready,” I called out. “Ready,” my belay partner echoed back from far below.

I stood still.
I took another deep breath. I can do this, I thought. Take the fear with me. I would jump and scream to release my fear.
“Jumping,” I called out.
“Jump on!”

I let go and screamed. Loud. Primal. And I jumped. Arms out open. My scream turned to laughter as I was caught mid-air by the pull of the rope and realized I had done it. I had let go. I had surrendered.

“What percentage was your surrender?” Bobby called out.
“One hundred and fifty five percent,” I shouted up to him with a laugh.

I was slowly lowered to the ground where another staff member awaited me. She was older, with earth mother energy. “Do you want a hug?” she asked. I nodded. As we hugged the tears came. Tears of relief and joy. Tears for all I had let go of; all I had been holding on to. Tears of feeling connection with myself and with others. Tears of knowing I could ask for help and get it. Tears of knowing I was strong and loved and would be ok no matter what.