Last weekend, we went on a family getaway with our framily (friends like family) to Branson, Missouri. It’s a trip we’ve taken all together now four or five times over the lifetime of our friendship. The nine kids between us are very close – more like cousins than friends – and the grownups have been doing life together for 25 plus years. It’s quite something, and we are so grateful to have each other.
We spent all day Saturday at Silver Dollar City – an amusement park that harkens back to the 1800s with a Wild West theme in all the shows and rides. It’s a pretty great place to spend a day – especially in the fall when the Ozark Mountains are at their finest.
Over the years, the number of rides I’ve been able to ride has diminished to almost none. It’s been quite the loss to this thrill-seeker, and I’ve still pushed the limits of what my body can/should do by riding the smoother coasters and really anything that looks to be less bumpy and jolting than your average state fair ride.
Yes, I completely ignore and blow past the signs that warn those with back conditions to stay off the ride.
Life is short, ya’ll, and my children have grown up too fast. #fomo
Silver Dollar City has been the last remaining park to have rides that my body could handle, with the exception of It’s a Small World at Disney World. #blarg
One ride, in particular, has been a favorite of the family/framily over the years – The Great Barn Swing. It’s a giant, mechanized swing that swings you seven stories high at speeds of up to 45mph. You are very tightly locked in, so it’s never caused me any physical pain. In fact, I rode it this summer when we visited the park with my brother and his family, and I had a blast. I loved the thrill; I loved the screaming; I loved laughing at my people as they experienced pure terror; I loved everything about it.
But this weekend, when I rode it again with our framily, I had a wholly different experience.
I sat next to Matt, who is like a brother to me, and was looking forward to screaming my head off with him. But as the ride began I was immediately overcome with overwhelming and irrational fear.
Ya’ll, it swallowed me whole.
I became convinced that my massive metal waist harness wasn’t secured adequately, and I JUST KNEW I was going to be hurtled into the atmosphere.
You know the phrase, “It scared the shit out of me!”?
No, I did not empty my bowels. But I will be grateful for the remainder of my days for the bit of self-control remaining to me in that moment that allowed me to hold everything in there.
My outward expression of fear, however, could not be controlled. I screamed alongside Matt – but his screams were about thrill, joy and laughter, while my screams were wrapped in abject terror over my impending death.
I decided that Matt was my best chance for survival, so I linked my arm into his and held on for dear life. I figured if my VERY SECURE harness gave way, I could just hold on to his arm to keep from dying…like somehow I would have the strength to keep my currently (and likely permanently 🙄) too-heavy body from being flung out across the amusement park.
Don’t laugh. This plan had substance.
When the Giant Barn Swing finally came to a stop, I could have cried real, actual tears of relief. I shakily made my way out of the ride area and gratefully collapsed onto my motorized scooter – a support I have previously accepted with a great deal of resistance, but in that moment I was completely content to stay there for the remainder of the day.
And, embracing the fullness of my fear in that moment, I resolved to never EVER ride that ride EVER again for the rest of my life.
My, how time changes us.
I’ve never considered myself to be a fearful person. In fact, I have actively spent my life pursuing and engaging in activities that most people avoid because of fear…and I have felt (too) much pride in being “fearless.”
Growing up, I was often referred to as the fearless tomboy in the family, and that identity felt comfortable to me.
So my modus operandi has been to not just push past fear, but to push down fear and move on as if it isn’t even there.
It worked pretty well for me for close to 50 years.
But it doesn’t work so well for me now.
As I’ve moved into the latter part of the middle ages of my life, my ability to contain any significant (or even some seemingly insignificant) fear has all but disappeared.
What I mean by this is that now when fear arises, those typical fear responses in my body – shaking and clammy hands, threatening bowels, and tightness in the chest, to name a few – are magnified to a disabling level.
My body literally shuts down.
It’s just the worst.
It’s as if I’ve lost the capacity to be afraid.
But I don’t think that’s true. I think what I’ve actually lost is the capacity to repress my fear.
I think what’s most disconcerting about this change is my discovery that more often than not, my fear is induced by other emotions rather than the potential of actual physical harm.
My therapist once told me, “You are afraid of fear.”
This induced #alltheeyerolls.
And yet, she isn’t wrong.
This is not to say I’m immune to the fear of physical harm. But at one time I think I was. Sort of. Or…I was comfortable with pushing the limits of my body’s fear responses. I mean, for crying out loud, I spent years of my childhood risking life and limb by jumping off the roofs of houses, pulling crazy bike stunts, and climbing to the highest points of trees so I could measure my courage by jumping to the ground below.
It felt comfortable to be in danger.
It doesn’t feel that way now.
All this new insight hasn’t made it easier overall to embrace fear. No, resistance is still most often my first response. There’s a sense of shame that threatens to overtake me at the first hint of fear and my body’s responses to it. I think I’ve spent a lifetime conditioning myself to push down fear because I’ve convinced myself that fear is paralyzing and counter-productive.
And, true, it can be.
But it can also inform me.
I’m learning to be more accepting and kind to myself and to fear when it comes up in various circumstances. This shift is allowing me to begin to notice what actually triggers the fear response.
Is it fear of physical danger and/or a terrifying death like the aforementioned Giant Barn Swing induced?
Is it fear of the rapid decline that is taking place in my body and the limitations that come with this as the years go by?
Is it fear of unfamiliar and uncomfortable emotions that arise when a childhood memory is triggered?
Is it fear of loss or fear of rejection and betrayal that comes up when engaging with the people I love?
Oh, for sure.
Now instead of resisting the fear that comes up, I’m learning to embrace it just like I did on the Giant Barn Swing – screaming like a banshee and holding onto my safe enough people for dear life, and then letting it guide me in my responses to the given situation.
Like swearing off thrill rides for the remainder of my days.
It’s difficult to embrace my responses to fear, for sure.
But it’s not nearly as difficult as Fear told me it would be.