I’m afraid of heights, terribly so. Once I’m higher than six feet above the ground, my guts turn to ice and my asshole clenches tight. I become dizzy and lose coordination while desperately seeking anything to cling onto. My head is flooded with the fear of falling, with images of hitting the ground mangled and broken, with the imagined sensation of wind whipping past me as I fall faster and faster. Panic forces me away from the edge and my overwhelming need to get down onto the ground sweeps through all my thoughts. I hate this fear. It makes me feel weak and not in control. So I choose not to be ruled by my fears. How do I overcome my fear of heights? I climb.
My girlfriend is a climbing fiend. It’s her passion, her one true love. When she’s overwhelmed or highly stressed, climbing puts her mind and worries at ease. She loves the challenge, both mentally and physically. She loves conquering hard routes in the gym and taking to the rock outside in search of the amazing view that rewards her at the end of a climb. The expression on her face when she’s reached the summit is pure joy. And because I love her, I want to share that joy and not let my fear get in the way.
It’s been a year since she first took me to the rock climbing gym. I was resistant for months afterward, going occasionally just to spend time with her and bask in her joy for her passion. Then I started to like the mental aspect to climbing. It’s problem solving, sort of like a puzzle. And I love puzzles. They distract my overthinking mind and force me to focus, to accomplish. So I started going more often and I joined her on a trip to Yosemite, climbing outdoors for the first time. The fear almost crippled me. Being so high on the rock face of a mountain…I nearly shat my pants. The amazing view wasn’t worth the fear-ridden journey up the rock. I’d rather see the photo. But again, Emily’s joy was so rich and wondrous to behold. There’s no fear in her gaze when she looks down, only freedom. I wanted that same liberation from my fear. So I kept going to the gym. I kept my determination to conquer my fear. I kept getting better, my fingers stronger, my technique much improved. And each time I went, once I climbed about six feet up the wall, the fear would set in. I did my best to ignore it. I told myself that I’m safe and securely fastened in my harness to the rope and that the love of my life was belaying me below and would never let me fall.
Little by little, the fear would subside. After a while, it would only seize me on the first climb of the day. My trust in the rope, in the staff that maintain the gym and in Emily would reassure me and put my fear to rest after the initial climb. And then the most amazing thing happened a few days ago. We went to the gym and I climbed the whole time, free from my fear. It was one of the most amazing things I’ve experienced. I made the first climb with nothing but thoughts on how to get past the crux and make it to the top clean. When I reached the ground after that first climb, I was elated. I felt a childish joy at the fact that I hadn’t been scared. We climbed a bunch of routes that night. I almost couldn’t believe it. I went up and down, never once scared. And for the first time, when I saw Emily’s joy, I felt the same and knew she could see it.
I know the fear isn’t completely gone. But I’ve experienced substantial heights without it for the first time in my life now. And now I’m looking at my fear as something that’s been driving me, to do more and to grow. To quite literally reach new heights. Don’t let your fear rule you, let it be your motivation to explore and become free from it’s limitations. There is joy to be had on the other side.