November 22, 2013

Falling With Grace.

My college admissions essay was titled Learning to Fall.

Six years ago this concept seemed so obviously smart: life was about falling down and finding strength to get back up. In fact, I let this be my mantra for years, telling myself that if I had the courage to simply pick myself up, I was building strength.

In my eyes, strength came from the ability to overcome obstacles and not necessarily the courage it took to deal with and be with difficult emotions. It was always about finding a way out: a way to move on quickly and with grace.


Fast forward six years and here I am, contemplating this idea of falling—specifically, hitting “rock bottom.”

Typically, I’d do everything in my power to find a solution for quickly picking myself up and moving on. While I saw this as crucial in moving through life, I also saw it as a complete defense mechanism to avoid everything surrounding that initial fall—being so quick to get up, find answers and fixes that I didn’t feel the fall at all.

 At the age of four I stepped onto the ice for the very first time and without hesitation began skating backwards with “a confident grace”, as my mom puts it.

I remember my very first group lesson just one week later, in which the primary goal was to learn how to fall properly, aka: falling with grace and learning to quickly bring myself up as though nothing happened at all.

Falling down properly.

It sounded like an oxymoron, or as though the hurt and pain from falling could possibly be avoided with a 10-minute, “how to” lesson. I wished life worked that way and for a while, I tricked myself into believing it actually did.

In Learning to Fall, I wrote, “there is no shame in losing balance if I have the courage to regain it.” I still fully believe this statement to be true, but six years wiser, I see the complexities surrounding it. What if the real courage lies in the messiness of a fall or a loss of life? What if feeling, processing and actually grieving are what build the strength to actually move forward and up?

The building blocks to healing actually involve a surrender to grace and an embrace of raw emotion.

Pulling myself up off the ice like it was nothing may have won me medals in the world of sparkling dresses and cutthroat competition, but in the world of life, the falls and the losses required a sincere willingness to face the pain, let tears stream and to give myself the permission to process and feel before the real healing could occur.

I thought I had experienced “rock bottom” before, but nothing quite compares to the last few months, dominated by uncertainty, anxiety, fear, regret and an overwhelming sadness I couldn’t describe if I tried. I spent most of my time trying to get over this sadness, agonizing over the fact that I would feel this way forever.

“Just pull yourself out of it.”
“Make the choice to just be happy!”
“Pick yourself up, you can’t stay down forever.”

I tried to do the whole “fake it ’til you make it” thing, but as a master of wearing my emotions on my sleeve, I wasn’t fooling anyone: I missed laughing. I missed smiling without force. I missed it so much that I had no choice but to face my sadness and confront it head on, without necessarily trying to “pick myself up” in order to do so.

I needed to cry indefinitely in order for my laugh to surface again.

I needed to lay on the cold ice and feel the shiver of sadness crawl its way through my body in order to be able to find the strength to slowly pull myself up, ice crystals slowly melting.  I had to be with my pain before moving away from it. It’s been anything but quick and graceful. In fact, I’m still in the midst of messy– and I’m finding it to be building more grace and strength than I could have imagined.

The second part of Learning to Fall was titled: Getting Back Up.

Getting back up, regaining balance, pulling ourselves out of the “funk”– it doesn’t need to be within a millisecond. I’m finding that true courage is not so much in the act of “getting back up” as it is in the process of dealing with the fall; the journey is about experiencing true emotion and working through it rather than skipping around it or faking my way out of it.

I don’t believe there is a such thing as learning to fall. However, I know there is a such thing as getting back up. It’s in the process of facing the falls, feeling the pain, the sadness and sometimes even the scars that allows us to find our way back, or better yet, our way forward—after all, the only way out is through.

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Ed: Bronwyn Petry

{Photo Credit: Elephant Journal Digital Archives}


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