Week 6: Skiing
I went skiing for the first time in 19 years this Sunday. I was already intending this to be my new experience for the week, but I also thought I was only 'going skiing.' (BTW the thumbnail picture isn't of me, just a badass skier.)
Someone is assisting me with this growth-project more than I anticipated. Skiing ended up turning into a therapy session on snow.
I didn't see coming the fear I'd feel with the sensation of sliding on ice. I was in an accident in November 2015, when the car I was driving slid on slush while I was changing lanes. We slid across 3 lanes of freeway onto a snow bank, slid more, and ended up upside down. As you can see in the picture, we were so fortunate to not have crashed into the barrier that began a few feet after we crossed from the road into the snow. A rescue worker trained with firefighters and a doctor saw the accident, and each pulled over to help pull us out, and although the car was not salvageable, we walked away without injuries. (Although my friend and I were each billed $100 for having our blood pressure checked in an ambulance. So that might count as financial injury.)
When I skied as a 7-year-old on the same Big Bear slopes, I was fearless, as I noticed most children were this Sunday. It was difficult to know how I was back then and not compare it to how I am now, even though I understood early in my lesson where the terror was coming from. It's easy to want it to go away, ignoring that something in me is only trying to protect myself. It's easy to want to 'overcome' the fear, without feeling it, acknowledging its intelligence, and moving through it slowly.
I decided to have another lesson, and on the first ski lift up with the second instructor, Robert, I did something I hadn't in my first lesson: I told him about my experience with the car. Very fortunately, he understood the depths of what this would mean for my skiing, and let me clearly know that he would focus on techniques that would allow me to gain confidence and relax. He did, and I somehow had so much trust in his capacity that I never left the present moment with his instruction. He told me when to breath at e.v.e.r.y turn I took on both runs down the mountain.
From that place of being able to be each in individual moment, instead of spinning into my trauma, I was able to relax into skiing, and from there - even in that 1-hour lesson - I became much better with the skiing itself.
- One week later -
Before skiing the first time, I hadn't planned to go again this season, but because I wanted to practice the progress (with the trauma more so than the skiing) I made with Robert, I decided to return 5 days later, on the Friday of President's Weekend. And thank you mom for paying for it.
I had a mid-day group lesson with a different instructor, and even before the lesson, while practicing on my own, I noticed that I was breathing. For my hour-long lesson on Sunday, breathing was essentially what I, with prompting, had practiced, and on my own it was now coming to me. That, I felt, was the greatest step forward I could ask for, and the basis of the new technical skill I developed with Robert and practiced again on Friday.
When we are able to work with another person to slowly walk through trauma, pausing when we need to and repeatedly working with fear in bite-size servings, we are able to slowly metabolize it and come into a stronger, more resilient self.
Before this, I have worked with terror and trauma in environments designed for healing - also through movement, but not on a mountain with people flying at me - and I was surprised and enthused to find in the baby slopes an environment to physically work through it. Of course, it will take more time and practice, but the steps I made in two days were huge: yes, I progressed in my external technique and skills, but only on the basis of addressing my internal state first. Thank you, Robert!
And some thoughts on Big Bear as a whole...
I haven't been to Big Bear in more than a decade, probably since high school, and when I was younger than that, in elementary school, my aunt used to live in a small wooden house on Rainbow Blvd. Before that, my parents had a timeshare there, and a few of my first memories are on the lake with my dad, at 2 or 3 years old. I spent time there mostly in the summers, swimming in the lake, parasailing, boating, eating pancakes at Grizzly Bear Manor.
It is heartbreaking to see the water level of the lake now. It seems like half the lake it was. We passed by high rocks that used to be in the middle of the lake, that I would jump off of into the water. If I did that now I would break something, if not die, because there is only earth around them. Big Bear is, to me, an essential part of Southern California, and I would hope to see the mountains and lake flourish in the generations to come. The forces of nature are one thing, and change will always be the an integral part of life in this world, but with all the extreme, human-induced catastrophes happening, it's hard to be secure in knowing that when change does come, it won't be because of the carelessness of our species.
I did take a picture of a beautiful sunset over the lake after skiing this weekend.