When it comes to skydiving, I believe there are three kinds of people.
The first kind hears the word “skydiving” and thinks: “The best. Idea. Ever!” These are people who enjoy rock climbing and rappelling upside-down, snowboarding, bungee-jumping, and eating strange foods for fun. For these people, life is a relentless Mountain Dew commercial, with all their experiences flickering by in jump cuts as they endlessly quest for the next big rush. Or so I imagine.
The second kind of person thinks skydiving sounds stupid and horrifying. This person is likely to say something like, “Why on earth would you jump out of a perfectly good airplane?” The idea of skydiving is entirely alien and goes against all instincts to this person.
The third kind of person has an instinctual fear of skydiving but also knows deep down that if they could find a way to break through that fear, they would really enjoy it. Hopefully. That is, if they are alive at the end.
I am the third kind of person. I have never been deeply afraid of heights, but I’ve never been real keen on heights either. When I’m pushed to an uncomfortably high place my body begins to war with my mind. My mind says “Hey, it’s alright…this is perfectly safe,” while my body enlists my stomach to climb up my throat in a futile attempt to throttle my senseless brain. The net result: nausea, vertigo, racing pulse, flop sweat…a clear message from my body that death is indeed immanent, so pretty please, with sugar on top, return to safer ground, NOW!
I went on my first skydive as a tandem student in November of 2008. I have a video and everything, which I’ll be happy to post sometime for giggles. The most surprising thing for me about my first skydive was that I never had a moment in which I was really freaked out and had to overcome the terror I described above. I was more afraid of being afraid then the actual thing, which was pretty easy peasy. But, unlike Adam, I didn’t go from one tandem to full-on addiction. I eased in.
My home drop zone is Skydive the Farm in Rockmart, Georgia. I did my first jump because my friend Sandy is married to the DZO (drop zone owner) and she’s pretty cool. So, because I was still friends with Sandy, I jumped again (another tandem) a year later. But I STILL wasn’t hooked.
This winter I went through a personal crisis. My marriage of 15 years fell apart. I was hanging in there okay emotionally and keeping busy (I have three kids. Don’t run away and think you’re too cool to hear this old chick’s story: I’m also a MILF!) with my kids and new solo life but I was freaking out deep down because, the end of a 15 year marriage is a pretty big deal. One weekend in March I went out to the drop zone just to hang out and did yet another tandem (I was starting to figure out how cool drop zone life and community can be), and Sandy started asking me when I was going to do AFF. I just shrugged, totally not getting it.
My breakthrough came about a month later, the day I broke down in sniveling tears as I realized that right now my biggest fear is being alone. While I am a fiercely independent and accomplished person, I am also very social and very much need to be connected. I had found myself in a vortex of dis-connect. My support system of 15 years had evaporated. Everything I knew about who I was, how I defined myself, had been obliterated. I felt bereft in a way that I imagine is similar to experiencing the death of a loved one. I HAD lost my loved one, my other, my soft place to land. I felt naked and vulnerable and terrified.
In that moment of realizing how raw and afraid I was of being on my own, my mind immediately jumped to the image of me, jumping alone from the door of an airplane. The idea terrified me. But with that fear was a clear knowledge that people face that fear and jump alone into the open sky on purpose, for a reason.
The outcome of being afraid and jumping anyway is something not many people can do, but when it is faced head-on, it is for many the purest form of joy. In that moment I knew that I would jump alone and I knew without a single doubt that I would not only be okay and that I would experience something so valuable to me that it couldn’t even be named.
Within two weeks I had sat my training course, spent hours in the drop zone (many of them grounded by winds too high for a novice like me), and many hours pouring over a training manual (SIM). On Sunday, May 9th, the weather cooperated and my instructors (the AFF course trains you by jumping with instructors who coach you throughout your jump with hand signals and reminders of all you have learned) went up to 14,000 feet so I could finally confront the door of the plane and see what I was made of. That was the day I became a skydiver.
The door of the plane has come to represent many important things to me. Even now, at a grand total of 25 jumps, each ride to altitude finds me in the grip of a numbing fear. My monkey brain begins to gibber that I am not capable enough, that I am not smart enough, that I am not coordinated enough, that I will look dumb, that I will fail, that I am not enough. I fight back. I breathe deeply and tell that monkey, “I can do it. I am enough!” Sometimes I believe myself and sometimes I don’t, but the most important thing is what I do next. Every single time, I keep breathing. I keep focused on the task at hand. And I keep moving.
In my profession (I am a chiropractor), movement is life. Life is movement. I keep moving. I do the next thing I have been trained to do, and the next, right up until I am in the door of the plane, looking over the most heart wrenching sight: the bluest of skies and the arch of our planet. And then, heart pounding and shaking, I remember that I am enough, I am more than the monkey voices, and I always will be, and then I keep moving until I have leaped from the plane and I am flying once again.
And oh, the flying!!! I could jabber on for ages about the thrill of flying. It is nothing like falling, or roller coasters, or anything you have ever done, except leaping from an airplane. There is nothing like it or ever will be. In the moment you leave the door, not only does the monkey voice stop, it becomes a joke. Freefall is the most perfect release and the most perfect form of “nowness” I have ever encountered. It is more than zen, more than fun, more than beauty. Flying allows me access to the place where all the BS drops away and I am left with only that which is real and good.
Skydiving has allowed me to redefine myself, to release myself, to trust myself, and to be myself in a way I haven’t in years. I have laughed harder, drank more (Oooh. That’s a story you’d love to hear soon), and made more true friends than I knew I could.
I can’t wait to share more details of my new addiction, and even more importantly I can’t wait to hear from you. All my posts won’t be this long and soul searching. Sometimes it’s just fun jumps and sunset loads and owing beer again.Speaking of which… (first post. crap).
Please post comments!