I’m sure most people have something that they are afraid of. My particular fear is of big bodies of water. Rivers, lakes, and especially the ocean.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the water! But in the past 10 years I’ve had two near drowning experiences that robbed me of any confidence I may have once had in the water. I know I had confidence at some point, because if I didn’t I never would have been in the water to experience those things in the first place, right?
The first incident occurred a number of years ago when a group of around 20 people (a few of them kids) went camping up the Kern River in California. One of the “friends”, was a loud mouth, annoying, arrogant, know-IT-all who somehow managed to stay on the invite list with some of these folks. I couldn’t stand him! He told us that he had rafted down this section of the river where we were camping and suggested we all go downstream a bit. The river where we were camping was calm and slow-moving. He assured us it was just as smooth downstream.
We all loaded into the rafts, the sturdy kind with the rope handles and the whole shabang. No one bothered with the life vests, obviously a stupid decision. The river was so calm and slow-moving. We were just planning on a little ride downstream. The kids had on vests just as a general precaution since we were camping a short walk from the river.
We paddled gently downstream taking in the scenery of vines cascading down from over hanging trees, when we came around a bend and the river quickly transformed into a rushing water rapid, crashing over a series of rock “steps”. As we capsized, everyone was plunged into the river and pushed downstream by a fast, strong moving current.
It happened so quickly. Suddenly, I was underwater, being pushed along and looking up towards the surface light into the terrified eyes of my friend’s 5 year old little boy who was being pushed along underwater above me. There was this intense eye contact that we made that I will never forget. Both underwater. Both being pushed by the current. And both thinking “I am going to drown right now.” Instinctively I guess, I grabbed him by the straps on his life vest (which was not keeping him above the water!) and tried to push him up. Reaching with my arm as high as I could to keep him above, and at the same time being dragged underwater by the current.
Somehow I got to the left side of the river and grabbed onto some rocks with my left hand while I held on to the little boy with my right. Friends who had managed to scramble out of the river ran up and pulled us out. I was in complete panic and crying. The little boy was screaming. That moment when me and the kid locked eyes underwater was the most intense moment I have felt. It was, as they say, like looking death in the face.
Other than being completely terrified, luckily everyone was unharmed. Well, other than the roughing up that everyone gave the asshole who guaranteed he knew this river. Clearly that was a lie. No one could believe he would do something so careless that could have costed someone their life!
Needless to say, I think that’s when I really started to fear the water. Moving water. Deep water.
Fast forward a few years and I was slowly able to enjoy the water again, little by little. A few months after moving here, I went with a group of friends to go snorkeling off the island directly in front of Tamarindo. I wasn’t aware of the strong current that passes through the canal between the island and the Langosta Beach point. So when I dove off the boat into the water with my face down snorkeling, I didn’t notice how far out I had gotten pushed. When I came up, I saw that I was very far from the boat and at that point realized how hard I was getting pushed out into the ocean, past the island.
Of course had I remained calm, I would have just relaxed and tried to read the current for a second and let it take me out to the break point. But all the fear and panic came back and I did exactly the opposite, I tried to swim against the current toward the boat. Obviously, that didn’t work out so well. I quickly exhausted myself, between the swimming against the current and the adrenaline, I was in a bad place and completely depleted of any energy to even keep myself above the water. Luckily, one of the guys I was with somehow noticed I was not with the group and appeared out of no where. He helped me out of the current, and eventually back to the boat. He saved my life. What a tragic story that would have been “Girl drowns in snorkeling accident 3 months after moving to Costa Rica!” What a headline!
After that – it was difficult for me to go into the water past my hips. But living here in front of the ocean it’s impossible not to be drawn to it. Eventually I decided that I wanted to start surfing again and so slowly started to venture back in.
I still haven’t conquered my fear of deep or strong water. I know how to surf, the paddling, getting up, etc. But I can’t get myself out past what I call “the scary line” which on most days means water over my head.
My fears still manipulate my perception of things and hinder me from having the confidence I need to break past that point. The minute I get in the water and paddle out, the smallest of waves appear to me to be tsunami size. Not joking. If I sit on the shore and watch those same waves, they look beautiful. Not large. Not scary. Not intimidating. Intellectually, I know they’re small. But when I get in the water and the wave starts heading my way, emotionally, I’m intimidated and have this internal dialogue between fear and fact. The fact is the wave is not large and I am able to swim. So the fear is misguided.
So this interests me because it is a fear driven misperception. It appears a certain way because I feel a certain way about it.
I wonder if this theory applies to me in other areas of my life? Are there areas that my fear (maybe even an unconscious fear) have distorted my reality and obscured from me how things really are? And are there areas of my life that I am unable to truly enjoy because of these misconceptions? Food for thought.