I gripped my husband’s hand and the armrest, and concentrated on controlling my breathing. It was my first time on a plane and we were getting ready to take off. We rolled down the runway slowly at first, then faster and faster, and I waited for my heart to outrun the pace of the plane as I felt us leave the safety of the ground.
Years and years ago, another lifetime, I had the chance to go skydiving for a newspaper article I was writing, but I refused. I was too afraid to even get on a plane. I couldn’t wrap my brain around the idea of taking risks when life was already tenuous and full of scary things. Hitting, bleeding to death, homelessness, etc. It was all enough adventure for me. Fear had a strong hold in my life, and it could just keep on having that hold.
Only five years ago, I had another chance to jump out of a plane, this time with my eldest son on his 21st birthday. I declined and sent a friend with him instead. The whole time those two returned to the ground, I felt that stirring of regret in my belly. Fear still had a hold, even though life had taken its own interesting turns for the better.
So here I was, finally on a plane at 41, and while I had no plans to jump out of it, I needed to be OK while I was inside of it. So I concentrated on my breathing. I focused on relaxing my body and reminded myself to stop gripping the armrest so tightly. I could feel my seatbelt digging into my waist because I had it cinched so tightly, a false sense of security if the worst actually happened.
As we took flight, darkness swallowing our plane into the night, I realized I wasn’t scared. I peeked out from behind my mask of steady calm to see that I really was feeling calm. The unknown was simply just the unknown. Nothing inside me was quivering with fear.
I leaned over my husband and looked down on miniature cities, their lights creating magical stories. We flew east into storms that rocked the plane, bouncing us around, and as I checked in with myself, I again realized I was not scared. The lightning in the distance created a light show that I could have never experienced if I stayed on the ground, afraid to fly, afraid of what I was finding was not scary at all.
As the hours passed in the middle of the night, I leaned my head back to try to sleep. The turbulence was soothing, rocking me like a baby to sleep. The sounds of the engines became a beautiful white noise, and I got lost in reality of what I feared this would be versus what it actually was.
When we landed, I was ready to go again, unafraid of the next leg of our journey. Eager to get started, to see what’s next, to experience flight in the light of day.
Over the years, so many of my battles have played out in the darkness, in places of fear of the unknown. I’ve kept to the rules, playing safely, avoiding flight over the “what if?” that comes with it. In recent years, I’ve been taking risks more often, leaving the safety of what I know for what I do not. There has been turbulence in each new change, no doubt, but as I’ve grown into myself, I’ve come to accept the challenge of learning to thrive, not just survive. I did that already — I did what I needed to do to survive. But taking flight, leaving the safety of the known, that is uncharted territory.
I’ve been on a journey of healing, of growing for a few years now, and now my journey begins anew with thriving — really thriving. That is where I stand today, on the other side of flying, on the other side of playing it safe, and on the other side of pain that once tried to keep me grounded.
Strong mind, strong body, strong spirit. Yes, yes, and yes. Onward.