“So Why Are You Afraid of Intimate Relationships?”
Those were the words a friend asked on Sunday that have still stuck with me since spoken. The question hit me like a punch to the gut. I broke down immediately.
It was a topic my therapist had also sneakily asked when I was separating my fears, a visualization exercise to help me separate my own fears and my mother’s fears that she instilled in me growing up. I was taking stock of my fears and packing up ones that no longer served their purpose.
“Fear of intimacy?” She asked. It took a second for me process, as it wasn’t a fear I had identified on my own prior to the sorting exercise.
“Keep,” I responded, my therapist glancing at me with a smile, both of us knowing it was a short term protective measure I’d be revisiting soon.
Why the fear of intimacy? Intimacy requires a high degree of vulnerability and trust. It requires Opening myself up, all of myself, the light and the dark, to be seen and deeply understood.
Maybe my fear stems from opening up and being hurt in the past. Maybe I’m afraid because my models for intimate relationships were completely dysfunctional, whereas instead of equating intimacy to trust, compassion and respect, I equate it to abandonment, loss and rejection. Maybe I’ve felt safest keeping those I love at a distance. Maybe in order to be intimate with another I must first love and illuminate the darkest parts within me, to make peace with them.
Since Sunday I’ve been ruminating on this. Since Sunday I’ve known this is the next fear I need to tackle. Since Sunday I’ve been an emotional wreck, waiting with anticipation to unpack and process this fear in therapy.
Last night I had the privilege of hanging with my two climbing partners Adam and Greg at Go Vertical in Philadelphia. It had been at least 7 months since I had climbed last and even longer since I had had a regular climbing routine in the gym. Walking into Go Vert, I set my expectations fairly low, thinking I’d start at 5.6s and maybe I’d be able to complete 5.7s by the end of the night. I was trying to avoid disappointment by my inability to achieve the 5.9/5.10s I was once tackling before I decided to step away from the climbing scene. Nonetheless, I was excited to get back on the wall and see how far I could push myself.
Shooting up my first 5.6 route of the night, I was impressed that I could remember certain techniques and control my body positioning. I was also surprised at what great shape I was in despite my long hiatus. After belaying Greg on his 5.7 arete warm up route, he asked if I wanted to give it a go. I exclaimed, “why the fuck not”, my new life motto, and gave it a try.
The first few holds were jugs, making it fairly easy to climb, although a quarter of the way up the holds became smaller and foot holds were non-existent. Previously, this scenario would have flustered the hell out of me. My breath would shallow, my mind would lose focus, my fingers and forearms in pain, the overwhelming amount of stimuli would be enough to make me give up. But this time was different. I steadied my breath, focused on the problem, shook out my arms one at a time while resting steadily, trusting my feet. With a deep inhale I positioned my left arm on the arete, anchored it by shifting my weight to the right, stuck my feet on the wall and victoriously reached up for the next hand hold. I was determined to climb the route cleanly, without falling, just to prove to myself that I could. Getting past that one tricky spot, I climbed the rest of the route with ease, tapped out on top and was lowered to the ground with a smile on my face. I was in disbelief that I successfully completed the 5.7 cleanly, exceeding my previous expectations. With that climb under my belt, I was aching to see what level I could max out on.
Following Adam and Greg’s climb, I challenged myself to a 5.8- route with an overhang. In my climbing experience, overhangs have always been my nemesis. Just the anticipation of tackling an overhang has filled me with anxiety, usually stifling any chance at true success. But as I did with the 5.7, I thought, why the fuck not, and gave it a try.
As I had anticipated, just at the point of the overhang, my progress stalled and my shallow breathing kicked in. My mind went blank while my arms and fingers ached, and I let go, swinging out from the wall. Adam who was belaying me asked if I wanted to stay for another attempt. I replied, “fuck yea!”
Kicking off the wall and swinging myself back towards the route I grabbed a jug and pulled myself back onto the holds. I tried to recall how I had scaled overhangs in past climbs. Get your feet high, I told myself. Feet high, hips into the wall, and swing like a pendulum to get to the next hand hold.
After two failed attempts, and some recovery time to regain energy, I planted my feet high, swung my body up and grabbed the hold letting out a loud grunt, with cheers from Adam and Greg below. I completed the rest of the route, not cleanly, but that didn’t matter. I hadn’t given up, which was a success in itself. Before my hiatus, I would have abandoned the route on my second failed attempt. Tonight though, I had a fire burning inside, determined to push my limits and exceed my own expectations. Defeat was not an option.
The rest of the night I stuck to 5.7s and completed one more 5.8 before doing a quick 5.5 to top out, leaving all of my energy on the wall. When the night was over I had nothing but a large grin plastered on my face. I felt exhausted yet empowered, reveling in my personal success.
Coming back from my gap in training, I mentally prepared myself to expect failure. Realistically, There was no way I was going to be able to get back to the 5.9s/5.10s I was working on before my time off, and I knew I had to set realistic goals for myself in the gym. I also relied on self-compassion, allowing myself to be disappointed that I’m not at my best, but I was enough at the moment. This mindset helped me to remain positive when I experienced a set back or challenge, and allowed me to enjoy my time with my friends. I truly enjoyed my time hanging with Greg and Adam, living in the moment, shooting the shit about life, cheering each other’s successes and supporting one another through our personal struggles on the wall.
Returning to the gym and being not far off of my personal best has renewed my resolve to get back into the climbing routine. It’s my hope that I can cultivate this wild flame of willpower to overcome and surpass all of my own expectations, reaching above what I think I am capable of achieving in the climbing gym and beyond. I implore you to also think beyond your own comfort zone and ability. When you reach beyond the limits you set for yourself, the possibilities far exceed anything you may be able to ascertain.
Prior to coming over to Australia, I had determined that this trip was going to be a life experiment in letting go. If I could let go of my expectations and trust that the universe would provide everything I needed, then I’d be happier. But as with every experiment, there is the potential that the trials may yield different results.
As I now sit here in Cairns, waiting to in the airport to depart for home at the end of my Australia adventure, I believe there is an added variable in play that I did not anticipate in my original hypothesis. Although I still think that my original theory, letting go and putting trust in the universe, is accurate, I’d like to amend my original statement.
It was about a 3 months ago that I had this epiphany that came in the form of a conversation with my work exchange host, Steve, with whom I was working to renovate a rental property that he owned. On one of our daily drives back from the property, I was explaining to him my decisions for coming to Australia.
It was in that moment that he pondered what I had said, and formulated his response. Steve, being an avid traveler and vagabond in his younger days, had traveled around Asia, Europe and America, living dollar to dollar, picking up odd jobs and renovation work wherever he could to supplement his travels. His response was based in his years of experience cheaply traveling the globe, but it was so profound that I determined it was the missing component of my now seemingly incomplete hypothesis.
“I don’t think it’s a matter of trusting the universe, I think it’s about trusting yourself in your own abilities,” he insisted. To explain his point, he proceeded to tell me a story about a bird, who found himself on a weak, unsteady branch. “Now this bird has two options,” Steve continued, “he can trust that the branch will hold him, or he can trust his wings and his ability to fly.”
I was so dumbfounded by Steve’s response that I sat in the car speechless. He was right. All the bird needed to do was trust his wings, not the branch. Maybe I didn’t just have to trust in the universe to provide all that I needed, but more so I had to trust in my own abilities to go after all that I needed and wanted.
The rest of the afternoon I reflected on this new way of thinking, and checked to see if it had applied it to my travels on my Australian adventure. Undeniably, there had been moments when the “branch” fell out from under me, in the form of missed or canceled flights, miscommunication or tension with a host, last minute plans falling through, cancelled tours, and rearranging travel plans in the aftermath of a major cyclone. But at the end of the day, I persevered, pushed through the awkward, uncomfortable or stressful situations and ensured that things worked in my favor. Despite having the branches fall out from under me on numerous occasions, indeed I did fly.
Therefore, after months of research into my life experiment in letting go, I can amend my hypothesis to be more accurate. To live a life filled with happiness, I do need to let go and put trust in the universe to provide all that I need. But, when the branch does inevitably fall, thanks to the multiple tests and trials I faced in Australia, it is with deep faith that I can now trust my ability to spread my wings and fly.
Let go of what does not serve you – Make room for what is still to come
Letting go easily has never been a strength of mine. Admittedly, anything I’ve ever let go had claw marks on it from holding on too tightly. I’ve lived most of my adult life heavily attaching myself to things, people, feelings and identities. In the event I did let go, the pain was so overwhelming that I would lose myself in the process.
In reality, things, people, feelings, they all come and go, in and out of our lives in different times. What I’ve come to realize is that no matter what the season, everything comes into our life for a reason. There are small lessons in every situation, but you need to have the awareness to acknowledge them. When their shelf life is through, they leave you, hopefully, stronger and wiser than when they found you. Still, the toughest thing to do is to let go of the person, the feeling, the thing, that you desire to keep around. It takes grace to let them go willingly, without a struggle.
Desire and attachment are two things that stand in the way of my true happiness. Acquiring or holding on to what I value most takes up vital energy that could be better spent allowing myself to be present and enjoy the moment. I get so anxious over the stress of losing or attaining that I don’t value what I already have. It prevents me from putting my trust and faith in the universe that I have all that I need and that it will always support me.
I’ve recognized my inability to put trust and faith in the universe and have been working to correct these shortcomings. In the past few months, I have been mentally preparing myself to let go. I have already let go of a job that did not serve me and my greatest potential. I’ve let go of a great place to live, but one that I have outgrown emotionally and spiritually. And now I am letting go of the past, letting go of my life in Philadelphia and beginning a new chapter, starting with an adventure in Australia.
To me, my adventure in Australia is my ultimate experiment in letting go. To much of people’s dismay, when I talk about my plans for Australia, I very adamantly state, “My plan is to have no plan.” After that statement, I get confused looks, clarifying questions, and phrases like “God bless you!” or “you’re so brave!” I guess people tend to plan large trips like this, but ultimately, I think I get the most out of traveling when I am planning on the fly. Concrete plans are being sorted and figured out while I’m here in Australia. Jobs, living arrangements, friends, they all have come into my life when I needed them.
One day, while I was relaxing on the beach in Hawaii (my pre-adventure vacation), I started to feel a bit lonely on my own. I put my head down for 5 minutes and when I got back up, I took my camera out of my bag to shoot a few pictures, and the guy next to me started chatting with me about cameras. The next thing I knew we went out for drinks and dinner. It was one of the best dates I’ve ever had!
The first day I arrived in Australia, I was anxiously anticipating my new life and worrying about what could go wrong. When I walked into my hostel room, I met a girl named Katie, and we became good friends over the few short days I stayed at the hostel. We walked around Cairns, partied and had lots of laughs along the way. After my hostel stay, I worked out a work exchange with a family living in Cairns. The husband and wife are travel agents who have helped me to book excursions during my stay in Cairns. They have even offered to keep in touch throughout my stay in Australia to help me book more side trips. Steve and I talk about politics every morning, and have chatted extensively about our adventures abroad. Maria is the nicest, caring mother who ensures I have clean clothes, and a well fed stomach each day. After the partying scene at the hostel, it was nice to come to a chill, relaxed, warm and welcoming home where I have my own room and a comfy bed.
Things have indeed worked themselves out nicely, and I hope that things will continue to work out in my favor. As someone I met on my travels told me, “Jump, and the net will be revealed.” Well, coming to Australia and leaving my old life behind was my “jump”, and the “net” is slowly being revealed as I continue on this adventure.
Have you ever had an Aha moment? A moment where time stands still, when an idea, a thought, a feeling hits you square in the gut or forehead. It’s enough to make you pay attention and listen. Little did I know it at the time, but this Aha moment was enough to change my life’s path at that exact moment, forever.
It was my first day at my first teaching job at an urban charter school in Philadelphia. The staff had gathered in the auditorium of Arcadia University to listen to a motivational speaker, Marlon Smith, to inspire us as we kicked off our weeklong professional development training. I arrived early to settle into the auditorium in order to calm my nerves, as I eagerly anticipated the day’s events. As the staff arrived I carefully watched as returning staff greeted each other with hugs and handshakes, sharing jokes and stories about their summers. I looked around, hoping to see a colleague I knew who had recommended me for this job. I sat for a minute or two, by myself just observing and taking in the atmosphere, when I saw my friend. He greeted his fellow 4th grade teachers as I came up to introduce myself.
As I introduced myself, our principal got up to speak and welcome everyone to the start of the school year, and invited everyone to take a seat. Marlon was introduced to the crowd and immediately I was engaged with his enthusiasm and excitement. I eagerly took notes on how to “live a life of purpose” thinking that I could apply his ideas to my life. It couldn’t hurt, I thought. As I took notes, Marlon spoke one phrase that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand straight up. I put the pencil down, I looked up and
Don’t live your life out of fear.
WHAM! Those words slapped me across the face. I felt my entire body tingle, as I wrote those words in bold letters across my notebook. It was as if the universe knew it was exactly what I needed to hear, yet I was uncertain as to why.
As Marlon continued on, the room came back to life, the fleeting Aha moment subsided, yet its impression on me lingered. I couldn’t get the phrase out of my head. I decided to revisit it at the end of the day when I returned home.
Those seven words were what inspired me to start living my Year of No Fear. It wasn’t until about five months after hearing those words that I started using the hashtag #yearofnofear and purposefully confronting my fear through my adventures. I took up white water kayaking, started backpacking solo, traveled solo, learned to sail, among other things that once scared me. Now it’s been about three years since hearing, don’t live your life out of fear, and I’ve continued to be inspired to confront my more psychological fears. That Aha moment has had a lasting impression on my life.
Have you ever had an Aha moment? How was it presented to you? Did you listen and make changes?
Once, I was asked to write the most beautiful 4 word story and my response was
“And so it begins…”
To me, those four words symbolize optimism, hope, joy, a sense of adventure and even a sense of mystery, the very things that are the most beautiful in life. But each new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end. Therefor let’s go back to the very start of the beginning.
And so it ended.
Today, my life as usual ended. After months of crying, deliberating, weighing my options, talking with my therapist, and listening to my intuition, I’ve decided I’m ready to be on a different path.
Today is the day I resigned from my job. I finally saw the forest through the trees. I had been unhappy for months. I was questioning why each day I made a conscious decision to go to a place I throughly despised. It was like being in an unhealthy relationship with an emotionally abusive boyfriend. Each day I would feel like I was required to do more and more to earn admiration and respect, yet the worse I felt the more I wanted to earn respect. But as I continued to look around at the teachers that I considered to be “respectable”, their faces gave away their feelings of exhaustion and frustration. Was this what I really wanted?
Today is the day, I realized I don’t want to live in Philadelphia any longer. Deep down I knew that I wanted to leave, but what I grappled with was the idea of leaving what I’ve known, what I’ve built, and the people I’ve loved for the past 11 years.
I first remember when I started exploring the city, as a suburban kid, thinking that Philadelphia was huge and magnificent with all of its wonders. I was enticed by its niche neighborhoods, unique local spots, and great opportunities for arts and culture, sometimes in the most unexpected places. The grittiness of the city was apparent in the attitude of its residents, especially its sports fans and that was something I took pride in. But today, Philadelphia has lost that splendor. I desire a new destination, a place I have been longing to be ever since I was 16.
Today is the day I took control of my life, I chose to be the adventurer and not the victim. For as I long as I can remember, I’ve been making excuses for why I’m not living the life that I truly desire. Today, I’m done making excuses. What I want is to live in a place where I am truly happy, can be my best self, with all of the things I need in order to sustain my happiness. I am ready to make sacrifices, to work hard, in order to achieve my goals. And I’m finally able to say with certainty what my goals are in my next phase in my life.
And so it begins.
A new chapter of my life begins with starting with an adventure of my lifetime. Piggybacking off of my Year of No Fear, I am about to do something that I have dreamt of doing since college, but never had the balls to do. I will be living and working in another country, Australia, for six to eight months on a work holiday visa.
When my friends and family have asked me about my plan for Australia, I simply state, “My plan is not to have a plan.” I have ruminated about this for the past year, and I have decided that Australia is a chance for me to listen to my inner voice, my intuition and learn to trust and follow it with devotion. Over the course of my lifetime, I’ve struggled to find and stand by my convictions. I’ve lacked confidence in my abilities and dreams and have been easily influenced and distracted by others. The past two years of my life, I’ve been on a soul searching mission, desperately trying to find my path and make the right choices to get there. Therefore, by going to Australia without a plan, I can engage in one of my deepest passions in life, traveling. I will be able to travel at my pace, on my time, without any external influences. A flexible itinerary will afford me the opportunity to be present in each moment and decide what is best in that moment. It will allow me to better understand the Soul of the World, be open to signs from the Universe directing me to my righteous path. I have found, the more open I am to opportunity, the more a plan unfolds before me without stress or effort.
And what happens after Australia? Well, that is also up in the air. I have ideas of moving out west, to Colorado, Arizona or Utah. Will I go back to teaching? I’m not sure. My career path, ultimately, is uncertain. I may also want to start settling down, thinking about a family, a house, building a more permanent life. Or my time in Australia might have the opposite effect and show me a path to build a life of traveling.What ever life has in store, I know that I want to embrace what comes next, the good, the bad, the emotionally crippling or the genuine bliss.
To go back those four beautiful words, invoking passion, inspiration, a sense of adventure, optimism, they maintain ambiguity but identify that something new is about to begin. I hope my trip to Australia does the same.
As 2015 winds down, it is only natural for people to reflect on the year that has been and gear up for the year that will be. Many of my friends who have been following my adventures have seen my Year of No Fear hash tag. What most people don’t realized that what started out as a simple hash tag, was actually first a mantra/promise I made to myself in early 2015.
During the Winter of 2014/2015, I was going through a depression that crippled me both mentally and physically. Although I was able to keep up an act at work, on the weekends my act crumbled around me, as I succumbed to the pain, sadness and emptiness that permeated through me. I secluded myself from friends and family who were worried about my wellbeing. My once adventurous and out-going attitude faded behind my ever-growing self-doubt. One day, at my worst, doing everything in my power to overcome a vicious urge to take my own life, I made a promise to myself. “Stop living a life of fear,” I told myself. Fighting back tears, I wrote those words on my mirror with crimson red lipstick. I strategically placed that mantra in a place where I could see it from my bed. I repeated it over and over, growing louder until I was screaming it at the top of my lungs, as if trying to expel the pain and sadness from my bones. It was in that moment that I promised myself that I would live without fear, or “Live Fearlessly”, my final edit to the mantra on my mirror.
It wasn’t until February 16th, 2015 that my #yearofnofear made it onto my social media page. I had used the hash tag as motivation to help me get over my fear of biking to work. Although I became a bike commuter in the winter out of necessity, not choice, I knew that this first triumph over one of my fears was just the beginning. While biking home that night I contemplated how my life would change if I forced myself to do everything that scared me.
Looking back, I can say that my life as I knew it changed that day. I made a conscious effort to change my attitude, which in turn changed the way I decided to live my life.
One thing that changed during my #yearofnofear was the amount of things I was able to accomplish. Whitewater kayaking. Sailing. Rock Climbing. Biking. Backpacking. Making new friends. Traveling with strangers. Traveling to Iceland. A month long road trip. Visiting Texas, Vermont, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Indiana, Virginia and Utah. Visiting Shenandoah, Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. Reestablishing a relationship with my father. Online Dating. But the biggest reward wasn’t the amount of things I was able to check off on a list, it was the amount of confidence I gained while doing things I had otherwise thought was impossible.
Learning to roll my kayak. Punching through Cucumber Rapid on the Youghiogheny River. Ascending a 5.9 route with an overhang. Solo backpacking for a week. Traveling without plans in an unknown city. Traveling alone. Being homeless for a month. Living on a boat for a weekend. Biking to work for 4 months. Having a one night stand with no guilt. Making peace with my father. Solo Snowboarding. Applying for a new job. These were all examples of things that I considered impossible for me to accomplish. Yet, as I was able to overcome each one, an overwhelming feeling of confidence would come over me. Slowly, as my accomplishments added up, I began to own that confidence. Soon I felt more comfortable in social situations. I was able to hold more meaningful conversations and I noticed the type of person I was able to attract into my life. These were people who also had some ambitious plans, goals, or were just down for more spontaneous adventures. They were more genuine, wore their emotions on their sleeves, more willing to help you out with little to no expectation of having the favor returned. I was becoming the person I had always imagined, and that was the biggest accomplishment of all.
Along with the accomplishments and the confidence, #yearofnofear allowed my friends to follow my adventures, and to even keep me motivated. I had a lot of fun talking with you, answering questions, hearing your admiration, and even being heckled for some of my decisions. “Come on, Bigs, it’s your Year of No Fear,” as I was being called out by my roommate for not confessing my crush on a male friend, was one of the best heckles of the year!
Even though 2015 is coming to an end, my Years of No Fears just began. I’ve decided to continue conquering my fears as it’s become my way of life. My list of things to accomplish has grown. Singing in front of a crowd. Skydiving. Hang gliding. Ice climbing. Exploring my sexuality. Posing for pin-up photos. Dating. More sailing, backpacking, rock climbing and kayaking adventures. Hosting house parties. Connecting with friends on a more personal level. Allowing myself to become vulnerable. Overcoming my emotional ties to my parents’ divorce and my father’s abandonment. Living in a foreign country. Finding my sense of home. These are the things I hope to experience in 2016, and you will see it posted with #yearsofnofears.
So what’s next? In addition to #yearsofnofears, I have decided that this will be the Year of the Empress (#yearoftheempress). It’s not as catchy as Year of No Fear, but it has a deeper meaning. The Empress refers to a chakra archetype, one that relates to pleasure, well-being, abundance, sexuality and a strong emotional sense of life. These are concepts that, for the longest time, I felt unworthy of knowing or experiencing. With my increased self-confidence, I now feel that I can and should experience abundance, well-being and pleasure, and have it come easily.
What will the Year of the Empress look like? It will be deeper connections with friends and strangers. I will allow myself to enjoy life, unrestricted and uninhibited. It will be opening myself up to opportunities to experience abundance in material, financial and emotional forms. It will also be a time where I will focus on what I need most, quiet the distractions, refine my character and hone in on what I am meant to do in this life.
This is also the year where I will be telling my story. I will be divulging the unknown chapters of my Year of No Fear, I will be compiling my stories of the road and of my adventures both from 2015 and years previous. I think I have some interesting things to say, and I’m hoping that my friends, family and visitors to my page will concur.
As I begin to prepare for the new year and new adventures, I will leave you with this lesson that I have learned from my Year of No Fear in hopes that it would inspire you:
Fear is but a mindset. Fear is singlehandedly the thing that will hinder you the most in your lifetime. In trying to overcome it, you’ll learn so much about yourself, and when you do conquer it, it’ll lead to a feeling of ecstasy and self-confidence. Anything is possible, especially when you change your mindset. That is exactly what I did that day, in January 2015. When I wrote those words, “Stop living life out of fear,” I made a decision to change my mindset. And in changing my mindset, I changed the entire way in which I continue to live my life.
Happy trails and adventures to you, where ever they may lead you in 2016!