Coming Untethered

Rock Climbing 1994

Have you ever danced on the edge of something so tantalizing you could not bear it? I know you know the feeling. Perhaps you’ve walked along the perimeter of a wall, a cliff, the end of a diving board, perhaps a ski lift before jumping … or maybe your very own tightrope in your dreams for yourself. The feeling you get when you’re balancing yourself just so and then lose your balance for a nanosecond. You break into a cold sweat. Your stomach drops. Your upper lip beads with a fine film of perspiration like the first raindrops on a windshield. That. That feeling of, “Holy shit, I almost fell. But I didn’t.”

What if you did? What if you did fall? What if, in fact, you didn’t fall but you threw yourself into the great wide open without a rope tethered to your body? I wonder if the limitations our minds impose upon us hold us back from letting our hearts and souls leap into the vortex of the unknown. The unimaginable. The endless possibility of, well, anything you can imagine and maybe more importantly everything you can’t imagine.

I’ve tangoed with this risking-thing my whole life. Mind you, I’ve done it cautiously — this trying out of new things. I think living passionately was my way of staying connected to myself when all I wanted to do was slip away from the pain of my child-hood-horror. Being engaged. Staying connected to my true-self while at the same time not being swallowed up by my shame and self-loathing. Putting myself out there allowed me to experience life as the polar opposite of my childhood and afforded an experience of myself as the complete antithesis of my mother.

I now see that my past motivation to live courageously was actually a quest to feel a sense of self-worth and value. To finally feel okay in my own body. The problem with risking like this, however, is that it’s never risking for the joy of it. It’s not authentic-living, it’s reactive-living. It’s loaded risking.

If I’m too invested in the quest for absolution, then it’s actually a painstaking experience of vigilantly trying to construct barricades to stop myself from perpetuating these crappy feelings I’ve had about myself for all of these years. My life had become about me trying to prove I was good. My hope being, if I could do that, then I would finally be free. Everything I did measured my self-worth. This is a recipe for disaster. For you see, there is in fact truth to the concept of a self-fulfilling prophesy.

I’d leap but always fall short. Dangling in the air. Holding on to my shortcomings for dear life. In a way, looking for proof that I wasn’t okay. Diving but not as I’d imagined or as I’d dreamed and always with my hand muffling my mouth and my quiet voice, apologizing for myself along the way. I may have, for example, said something so poignant and powerful while having a heartfelt conversation and deep connection with you, but then in the next breath I’d mutter, “I don’t know. I just really don’t know.” Taking away any validity and connection I may have conveyed with my initial, authentic and honest response. What is that — that self-dismissal? Why do that?

My therapist said to me quite recently, “You don’t need to apologize for being here. For being alive.” I almost fell out of my chair. (Or off the couch. Ha!) She got it. She got me. My conviction that I was never really wanted and my belief that I never should have been born. That’s a lot of self-doubt and fear to carry around for 42 years, and with that, I have to say — I’m done. I’m setting the weight down.

There comes a time when you just have to choose to let go. To stop balancing with one toe on the line and one over the edge. It’s too taxing to grasp indecision in clenched fists. With this epiphany, I am free. Or close to free. The truth is, I know I’m still dancing on the edge of possibility. The pool below my launch pad is so clear and crisp and inviting. It begs for me to propel myself into it’s open embrace but I hedge. I do. And I hold myself back. What if it’s too cold? What if the water is too shallow? What if, when I leap, the water was simply an illusion and there isn’t anything there to catch me when I fall? … What if?

But what if I never dive? What if, instead, I keep myself wrapped up tight and safe in my own embrace. Won’t I actually miss so much? If we let our fear of flying hold us back, we’ll never see the great big world. Why would we do that? Why stand on the edge. Hedging. Wondering, “Do I? Don’t I?” The slight glint of perspiration, if allowed to sit for too long, turns into true sweat with a hint of fear-musked-body-odor. The smell of fear is noxious. I hate it. It’s familiar and scary and my face gets contorted as I write about it here. Because that fear isn’t my own. It is the festering scent that robbed me of my childhood.

Lately, as I’ve come to reevaluate my relationship with myself, I continually find myself reexamining my relationship with my sport and my motivation for doing it. I believe that triathlon training is often a metaphor for my life and I find it to be the mirror of my daily living. I also know that choosing the Ironman for my goal isn’t mere happenstance. So much effort is required to do this sport; it’s impossible not to analyze each component. I am constantly asked to evaluate myself mentally, physically, emotionally. I have to be completely present inside of myself.

I’m at a point where training for the Ironman is no longer something I do apologetically. It’s not something I’m doing because I have this secret hope that once I accomplish this goal, I’ll finally feel good about myself and embrace the truth that I do deserve to be here. To have been born. Everything is shifting and I do know that I deserve to be here. I belong here and I no longer need proof to validate this. Finishing the Ironman will not confirm this truth nor will it negate it. Let’s face it, I’ve completed the Ironman three times. And each time I have hoped for the freedom I craved. But I have never found it. The truth is, it’s not what we do but how we perceive ourselves and our experiences. It’s our intention.

This July will be my fourth time racing the Ironman. With each accomplishment, I’ve found reasons to feel disappointed after crossing the finish line. Ignoring the fact that it was a spectacular feat to have completed the race at all. I’d step accross the finish, hear the exclamation, “Jessica Malionek, You ARE an Ironman!” and I’d sob with disappointment. After toeing the line with my last painful steps, instead of celebrating, I’d completely deflect all that I’d done not only on race day, but on each day leading up to the race — the hours I’d spent and miles I’d logged to reach my goal. The truth is, it didn’t matter if I finished or not. It was never really about finishing. It was about how I felt about myself. Everything has always been about that.

I’m so tired of dismissing myself. Of clasping my hand over my mouth and apologizing for myself. This is the precipice I speak of. This decision to live fully with no ulterior motive. Not looking for proof that I have a right to be here. Simply living fully because it makes me happy. I can’t continue to balance: half in – half out of my goal. Dangling on the perimeter of my life. I have to risk as I’ve never risked before. With the belief that I am supposed to be here regardless of the outcome. With my hands reaching upwards and my eyes open to the vast sky, instead of covering my mouth and casting my eyes at the ground, bound by shame.

I guess all bets are off. Why not go for it? Why not? This is whole-living after all.


1 reply »

  1. You nailed it with this:”W hat is that — that self-dismissal? Why do that?” I have been struggling with self-validation for ever and as I read around WP, I see this question repeatedly asked? Is this the central concept of happiness? Aren’t we all in search of this answer? Is this maybe the quest of life we all want to achieve? Maybe some do, but I think there are more who prescribe to THINKING that they are not making the mark. And is that not the irony of this? If you do not think you are worthy of being happy and successful, how do you become so? How do you become strong enough to seek what is already in your possession but you are unable to see because you are blinded by false beliefs. We are so quick to accept our failures. Why is that?
    Great post.

    Liked by 1 person

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