- By Natalie Cooney, LMFT
My husband Ryan and I have walked down to the beach a few times this weekend to enjoy the cool water in the afternoons. This is not something we take very lightly. Both raised in small towns, he from a west Chicago suburb and I from northern California gold country, we didn’t always have the option to stroll down to the beach. More like a stroll to the next house, a river or tire swing.
As he discovers how to surf, I am a sucker for diving under waves. We part ways and I am belly button deep, feeling the coolness of the salt water, when I begin to panic. I feel a drop in my stomach. I feel suddenly very alone. Something about seeing no one close triggers this. I am no longer in this current moment enjoying the crashing waves or the beautiful warm sun on my skin, I’m back in my old world of being a child who is worried over our safety & constant uncertainty. I’ve collapsed into my inner world. Alone. Danger ahead, big waves, deep waters… unpredictable environment.
No I have never been stranded in the ocean or taken too many hits by waves, but I have felt utterly alone amidst danger and I recognize the feeling deep in my bones. Danger, like the shock of not knowing what will happen next, the clutching onto every word, or promise, or plan because it is all too uncertain, makes me feel sick. For a moment I am stuck, I can feel the beat of my heart radiating through my whole body preparing me to survive, whatever the cost. I am a survivor, I remind myself.
The feeling under my skin is a feeling I have felt many times before; the anxious waiting for how the world was going to be that day, who was or wasn’t going to show up, how I was going to keep everyone I felt responsible for from falling apart, that was danger to me. Loneliness, fear, paralysis are all too familiar to me. There were many times I felt emotionally safe, but the times I felt the pang of danger blazed a trail in my system that I will always be recovering from. That’s what happens when we are in danger; our inner world remembers that feeling with uncanny precision.
For a second, in those waves, I was gone, obliterated because I was alone…again.
Then, out of the now neck high water, spurts up an older woman with a shoulder tattoo, tanned skin and short, red hair, smiling in the waves next to me. Smiles cross both of our faces. I’m back! Someone has reminded me that I am here & that they are here. We begin smiling & giggling because the sun is warm and the water is delightful. “Amazing”, I blurt out in my shock. Her bright eyes turn to me and she says, “Magnificent”. Yes, I would say so.
This experience invites me to remember that I have people around me to help me come back to who I am, especially when I am facing big waves & deep waters. The woman reminded me that yes, it was dangerous to be out in all that craziness, but that it was also thrilling, magnificent & necessary. That moment we shared invited me to see that taking risk in deep water, wrestling with my past in my body brings me more aliveness. Facing the depths takes a lot of work but once you get there you never want to leave.
For just a moment I disappeared but it only took another moment to bring me back. Then I was free again. The spray of salt water on my face, the tingle of sand under my feet and the pull of the tide coaxing me out to face the waves, like I always do.