Thursday, August 1, 2013

On being unafraid

A friend recently told me that she once had a self-proclaimed “Summer of Courage.” I guess you could say I have been having one of my own, this beautiful summer of 2013. I spent the first half of the year learning to be on my own again, and realizing how very empowering it is to get up the courage to free yourself from an unhealthy relationship. That realization that I do, in fact, have control over my own circumstances made me realize that there is nothing stopping me from doing all the things I have been wanting to do for years but haven’t.

I have always had a very strong sense of self identity, but I think I lost it in the relationship I was in. I didn’t lose it entirely- I still had it, but it was being hidden by huge amounts of anxiety and the work of dealing with many issues far beyond my frame of reference and miles outside of my comfort zone. Somewhere in there, I lost the recognition that I am my own person, that I can make things happen for myself, and that I don’t have to do every single activity with my partner (if I have one). There was some mental roadblock for me there; for example, I began to think that if I went on a trip on my own just to be on my own, it meant I wasn’t a good partner or that it would somehow damage my partner and my relationship.

For the last several years, I’ve been in a rut of saying no to activities that strike me as a little too “wild,” or I would let my brain think, “I’m too old for this.” This would be about things that, when I did actually do them, were incredibly fun (for example, tubing down the Sandy River with eight other people, all on four inner tubes all roped together. It was ridiculous and one of the most fun memories I have of last summer, but it was actually a hard mental leap to decide to go along on that particular adventure). Somehow I was in a mental place where fun things sounded like work. How sad is that?

Traveling alone is one of the things about which I always thought “Well, I could never do that.” I’m referring here to international travel and/or backpack-and-hostel style travel. I’ve done plenty of within-U.S. traveling on my own, but it was all staying with friends, no staying in places with communal dorms or kitchens where you have to talk to people and get to know those around you. In New Zealand, traveling as a couple kind of enabled me to avoid a lot of intimidating but potentially awesome interactions with new people, because I was traveling with someone that I could talk to. I chickened out of a lot of things I should have gone after. I wasn’t as brave then, and I had a relationship to hide behind.

Here’s a thought I have had recently, about many things: I thought I couldn’t do it until I realized I could. The only thing standing in the way was my own brain.

I finally--and fully-- realized that am the master of my own destiny, if you will. Case in point:

One of the activities on my 2013 bucket list is “Go to Canada.” I grew up going to Canada quite regularly (we only lived an hour or so from the border), but I haven’t been in at least 5 years and I really have missed it. Every time this year that I have thought about how to make this particular goal happen, I included friends or family in my ideas for a trip. Maybe I could get my family to go at Christmas…How could I coordinate with some friends to take a trip this fall? I kept thinking how cool it would be to go to Vancouver Island, but not once did it occur to me that I could go by myself. Until a couple weeks ago, when I was sitting in the library with my laptop, and the question popped into my head again: “When I am I going to get to Canada?” And out of nowhere, I suddenly realized that I could go alone. As soon as I thought of it, my heart started beating really fast. It sounded fun, and exciting, and challenging, and I knew right away that I wanted to do it. Then I realized that I had a long holiday weekend coming up at the beginning of September. Done. Decision made, right there, as soon as the idea erupted in my brain. Fifteen minutes later, I had booked train tickets to Seattle, a seat on the Victoria Clipper (the walk-on ferry) and three nights in a hostel. I’m going, and I’m so excited to do it on my own and challenge myself to make the most of it.

I guess the essence of all this is that, for the first time in a long time, I feel motivated to stare down the things that intimidate me. I’m trying to say yes to the things that I have always said no to, but that have intrigued me and that I have admired when other people do them (solo traveling being at the top of the list). At the age of 29 (minus two weeks), I have finally figured out how rewarding (though not necessarily easy) it is to just make things happen and challenge myself and prove to myself that I can do them. It feels really damn good

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