Why NOT Me?

| by Christie McNabb |

Deep down, I probably knew for many months that I needed to end the relationship. I mean, if I’m being really honest, I knew things were not good for awhile. But we’d been dating for over two years at that point, and my life was completely intertwined with his. I lived in his house, was driving his car. His dreams were my dreams. His plans, my plans. I was deeply afraid of letting go.

But it became to much to keep things going, so I packed my things and went. That was in November 2014.

About a month later, I went to see the film Wild, starring Reese Witherspoon, an adaptation of Cheryl Strayed’s memoir of her three-month hike on the Pacific Crest Trail. In one scene, Reese/Cheryl is on a narrow path on the side of the mountain when she comes across an incredibly large boulder that’s fallen and blocking the way. Seeing no way around, she struggles to scramble up and over the rock.

The rock that is nearly double her in height.

I was deeply struck by the situation, wondering how I would handle it. I’ve always been afraid of heights, but there’s no way around something like this, no way to double back and go around, no avenue around the rock. There’s rock and there’s steep cliff. There’s only confronting the fear and moving ahead.

Then it hit me, quick and fierce like a lightening bolt: I’ve been afraid all of my life.

Afraid of being rejected, of being humiliated. Afraid of not being loved enough, or being strong enough, or having what it takes. Afraid to pursue the things in my heart for fear of failure. Afraid to be vulnerable, to admit I need people. Afraid, ultimately, to live fully.

All of this flashed before me and I felt walls start crumbling down around me, walls of lies that I’d built up. They were crumbling and I was crying and shaking at the sudden freedom.

Later, as I journaled about this, those old lies made their way to the page.

My friends do things like this. They go on solo hikes. They climb mountains. They do this stuff. Not me.

Fears like this regularly cycled through my mind, a broken record of things I believed and let dictate my behavior. Fears I let sideline me often.

Then almost as suddenly, another voice spoke up, weak at first, but firm nonetheless.

Wait. Why NOT me?

I sat back, stunned at seeing these words on the page. My words. Foreign, and yet familiar. And the wheels began to turn, as if a long sealed vault had suddenly opened. I began to daydream of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, moving my way through the state of Oregon. The more I allowed myself to consider the possibilities, the larger they grew.

When a guy friend of mine, Daniel, extended an invitation to head to Red River gorge in Kentucky, one of my favorite places to hike, I jumped on board. He and friends were planning a rock climbing trip, which I had no outdoor experience with and a great fear of, so I said I would spend my time hiking while they climbed. The plan was made for Easter weekend this year.

In the week leading up to the trip, Daniel sent a text:

“What’s your shoe size?”

I took a deep breath, knowing why he was asking. My heart did a little flutter with nervous excitement.

“9, why?” I asked.

“I’m gonna bring you some climbing shoes. Get you on the rock.”

I had recently opened myself to the possibility of going rock climbing at a gym, but I’d been too scared up to this point to broach that world. It felt too foreign and me too intimidated. I hesitated, but eventually agreed.

We woke early the first morning of our trip, up with the sunrise. It had been a cold night and we could still see our breath. I dressed and headed to car in search of food and my camp stove. As I boiled water for coffee and oatmeal, I watched the camp wake up. Hundreds of people, all ages, races, nationalities were stirring from their sleep, buzzing around camp stoves and plates of waffles. A baby toddling away from his papa, until the papa noticed the escapee and swooped in back up, a fork in his mouth. A line quickly formed out of both the men and women’s bathrooms. A couple young guys sat huddled at a picnic table, discussing yesterday’s climbs, planning today’s adventures.

I felt shy and hesitant, secretly fearing they could all see me as an outsider.

We drove about 10 minutes to Muir Valley, hundreds of acres chock full of rock waiting to be climbed. As everyone gathered their gear and prepared to hike, I grabbed my camera and began filming. I had planned to make a short video of our weekend together, but it was also relieving to have a reason to be there, to have a place to hide for a bit while I acclimated myself to the thought of climbing.

For the greater part of the day, I was content to watch. Fear still kept me from moving toward the rock, but I was also in awe of the bravery of these climbers, their hunger to go higher and harder. At one point, I pitched my hammock in a couple nearby trees and took a nap in the sun.

As the day wore on, though, I grew board with my place on the sidelines. My hesitation was giving way to a desire to try, to see what all the hype was about.

One of the ladies, Kate, looked at me, as the sun was making its way down the sky, and asked with some exasperation in her voice:

“Are you going to climb at all?”

I could only nod. I went for my friends bag and fished out the harness and shoes he brought for me. I took off the heavy boots and hiking socks I’d chosen for the day and felt the cold earth beneath my feet.

Meanwhile, Kate and Daniel went in search of a route they could set up for me. It was an interesting one with several ledges and an angle that led up through a crevice. I took a deep breath, tied myself into the rope and walked up to the rock. I asked for guidance and was kindly shown, step by step, how to get up to and over the first ledge. When I got to the second ledge, an overwhelming thought began to go through my mind:

Ok, now that I’m up here, how am I going to get down?

This is a really irrational fear. I’m in a harness that fits around both thighs and my waist, tied to a rope that is also attached to my belayer, a human on the ground who will literally use his or her body weight to keep me from tumbling to the ground. Logistically, I will get down by having the belayer slowly loosen the rope and bring me down.

But I couldn’t shake the thought and it kept me from going any higher.

“I’m ready to come down,” I said, noticing a shake rising in my voice.

“Are you sure?” Kate asked.

“Yes, yes, I’m ready.” But here’s the thing: I wasn’t. Not really. Somewhere in me I really wanted to keep exploring, to see how much higher I could go, to turn my head and look over the valley behind me. But the fear kept me bound, and I had to come down.

On the second day, I grew a bit bolder and put my harness on right away. Kate and her wife, Danielle, found a route immediately for me to try and we all went to work. This time, as I approached the rock, I looked my fear square in the face. I couldn’t suppress it or keep it from existing, but I could change the dialogue. Just one word made all the difference.

Don’t focus on how you’ll get down, I told myself, focus on how you’ll get UP.

And that’s what I did, one foot placement, one handhold, at a time. I set a goal for the first bolt and began to climb. When I got stuck, those on the ground offered advice. Then I looked to my left; I was at that bolt. I inched my body in it’s direction, and stretched my hand out.

“You know what guys,” I yelled down to those below. My fingers brushed the caribeaner holding my rope. “That was my goal. I’m ready to come down.”

This time I really was. My feet touched the ground with a new lightness.

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