“The greatest weapon we have against stress is to chose one thought over another”
– William James, American Psychologist.
A few nights ago, by trans-pacific text message I had the metaphorical rug pulled out from under me. My heart was crushed by someone I trusted, loved and deeply respected. Soul destroying is an understatement and I have found myself unexpectedly and completely devastated.
So true to myself and what I knew will make me happy, I looked immediately to sport for comfort. What can I do right now, consistently, to pull me out of this funk, re-build my confidence to get me right back in that flow-state? Learn a new skill, that’s what. Nothing ends sadness like learning something new. I’m going to get my skydive license and jump 14,000ft above the Australian countryside. In less then 12 hours from having my spirit robbed of its spark, I booked myself in for my accelerated free-fall course (AFF). I’m doing it alone because time with myself is time well spent right now. Just by making the choice to invite a new adventure into my life, I felt a little bit of my spark return. But I still couldn’t cry, sleep or concentrate. Despite my last minute decision and excitement, I was still otherwise distracted.
I have never been more scared of doing anything in my life. Turning up at the drop zone at dawn, I ran through all the things I could be buying with the $760 I just spent: a 4 season sleeping bag, a tent for backcountry expeditions, split-board bindings, return flights to Fiji … nope. You’re in a classroom learning emergency procedures should your parachute malfunction at high speed and you have to cut yourself free at 4000ft. Great. Most girls would go to a spa or get drunk to distract themselves. I’m jumping out of a f**king plane!
The jump itself was incredible. It is really amazing how your brain reverts to learnt notions and muscle memory even if you only put it in your head 24 hours ago. I thought the free-fall would go so quick but in between my altimeter checks, I had time to sneak a quick look at my surroundings. I even flashed a smile at my cute jump-master (well I thought I did!).
I was falling at terminal velocity and it was RAD! I aced my first jump. I had a low-speed parachute malfunction (end cells closed) but I fixed it first try and flew to earth, landing in a field with a good friend by my side to high-five me.
It wasn’t until 30mins later, while being briefed on my next jump that it hit me.
Alexa, your chute didn’t open properly on your FIRST jump.
Could you go through that again, like in 10 minutes? They’re calling your name to suit up. There simply wasn’t enough space in my brain to add more information or stress. I was an emotional wreck and the jump had just exasperated it. The only questions I had were about abandonment, not about pulling my chute at 5,500ft or avoiding the highway next to the landing strip. I shouldn’t be doing this. Jumping out of a plane is the last thing I should be doing right now.
I opted for a jump-master to jump with me in tandem for my 2nd and 3rd jump (something that is pretty unheard of after nailing your first jump solo). I needed to take the stress out of the situation. I had just overloaded myself. Thank god I sorted out that chute malfunction, what if I hadn’t? Too many what ifs. Let’s just have fun with this. You can still pass all your AFF stages so it’s not like you’re failing the jumps. You can pick it all back up later. No rush.
It’s funny how people deal with things in different ways. I know girls that would have gone and got a facial or spent hours crying while having friends re-affirm how great they are. Girls that would have got loser drunk or picked up a replacement man in the bar to make themselves feel wanted. Those were never options for me. I have always turned to sport. I distract myself through intense concentration. I find the energy I get from being outside and in nature incredibly healing.
Sport has always been the only way I know how to return to my flow state. The irony is, what I really needed to do was to sit still. I was trying to deal with the noise in my mind by seeking out distractions. But the distractions were the problem. I read today that ‘the more we run from a problem the more we are actually running in to it’. And so it clicked. And so did the whole angle of this article.
It’s important to have activities to find solace in. That single-minded immersion, be it from snowboarding, biking, yoga, meditation, surfing or now maybe even skydiving. It is a release I am very grateful to have in my life. These sports help me create space and balance by giving me time to be free, creative and detached.
I think though, it is more important to identify when you are doing those sports for all the wrong reasons. When you are using them as means of running away, rather then facing a issue and working through all the emotions that you need to feel in order to heal. Where action sports have always been my re-set button and my route to happiness, I know that the initial happiness is often just temporary.
Despite the exhilaration of my first jump, my feelings were still in tatters when I landed. The memories still hurt on my second and my third jump. Two days later, I’m still a mess. What I need to do is slow down, recognise time as the healer and trust that the pain is part of the growth. I need space to process what just happened. I need to learn to let go and ultimately forgive so I can move on and have snowboarding, surfing and all my sports back for me and not as a distraction for him or any other drama in my life.
I don’t know if I’ll finish my skydive license (I have 6 more jumps to pass to complete my A license), but I’m proud that I did it. Given time to refocus, I may come back to jumping because for that minute of free-fall, I was having a damn good time! The people in the sport are also amazing and I’m grateful for spending time with them and having a challenging experience that I was able to see through and not walk away from.