Feeling the Fear and Doing It Anyway

Uncategorized Mar 26, 2022

Anyone who has hugged me in the last 8 years knows that even the slightest pat on my back sends enough shock up my spine to rattle my brain and drop me like a puddle to the floor as my muscles turn to mush. So you can imagine my incredulity when 2 months ago I had the thought: “I think it’s time to go back to karate and kickboxing” (something I haven’t done for 20 years, due to both muscle weakness and extreme sensitivity to impact).

Feeling extremely tentative, but inspired to follow my intuition, I called a karate dojo and found myself in a class 2 hours later (before I could freak out and not go!)

I’m already in sensory overwhelm the minute I walk in the door. The dojo itself is lit with fluorescent lights that make me feel disoriented and weak when I stand under them. There is a cacophony of sound: background music, various groups of people working out and yelling KIAH and other fight sounds, and more conversations than I can count. Most of my mind is freaking out and telling me to leave immediately. It’s too much. This is crazy. What am I doing here?!

The instructor, Victor, is kind and welcoming. I explain that I have a major brain injury and I have no idea if I can even handle this, but that I want to try. I have been working diligently with an incredible magician of a healer for the past 9 months to unravel deeply stored trauma in my body. Thanks to her I was able to attend Christmas with my family for the first time in years, and I’m feeling more like myself again and getting stronger all the time. Victor quickly adapts by turning down the music, and conducting class without the normal yelling sounds.

When it was time to punch the heavy bags, he gave me a special softer bag and helped me adapt movements so it wouldn’t pull on my brain when throwing a punch.

The first hit was such a tiny tap … and I broke down in tears immediately. I realized that I have three layers to train:

  1. Emotional trauma / terror: having been rear-ended at 50mph in a stopped car (without seeing it coming) TWICE in my life, even the *idea* of impact terrifies me to the bone. I feel it deeply and viscerally.
  2. Cognitive learning: this practice requires me to learn new physical skills; to use my body in ways I cannot recall (much of my previous martial arts practice from childhood precedes the car accident that compromised my memory and cognitive function).
  3. Physical conditioning: having experienced muscle weakness for the majority of my adult life, martial arts requires me to develop tremendous strength in ways I have not done before.  

So I tapped the bag again. Cried a little less. Again. A little harder. More tears. I take deep breaths, and repeat a meditation mantra I learned from Thich Nhat Hanh that has been powerful these last months:  

I have arrived in the here and now. I am home in my body.

I have arrived. I am home. I have arrived. I am home. I have arrived. I am home.

I feel it in my cells. I focus on keeping presence in my body as I hit the bag again. Harder this time. I have arrived. I am home.

With each new style of punch and kick, I go through the process all over again. Slight tap. Cry, freak out, tremble in my knees but refuse to collapse to the floor. Tap again. Breathe. Insist that I stay in my body instead of automatically dissociating as I’ve done so many times before. So many times I barely notice how frequent the habit has become.

The second week we tried pad work, where I punch and kick defense pads held by another person. It’s one thing to hit a stationary bag, where I have *all* the control over the force of impact. It’s another thing entirely to introduce another person to the physics. Again I found myself hyperventilating, crying, wobbly as my whole body screamed to shut down into “freeze” mode (think “playing dead” in times of extreme danger). I cannot possibly express the depth of gratitude I have for my instructor holding space for me to freak out while encouraging me to persist - but always giving me an out, “it’s ok to be done; you don’t have to do this today if you’re not ready.”

I’m ready.

I am so ready to stretch the boundaries of the limits I have felt for so long. The pain of staying where I am far outweighs the challenge of facing my fears.

Now, 8 weeks into training several times a week, I feel stronger than I ever have in my life. This is made possible by the years of upspiraling in my healing process, but especially my work with Molly (the magician) this last year of returning home to truly and deeply living in this physical body.

I still cry at some point during every class. Not out of pain, but out of some combination of relief / feeling deeply proud of myself / as if the tears are falling out of the places where I’ve carried them for so long … and they are coming loose as I shed trauma and grow my capacity for experience.

I share this with you in hopes that it inspires you to 1) follow your gut intuition when you want to reach for something that seems crazy, and 2) to do the hard things. There is a massive difference between pushing and doing hard things.

Pushing has an energy of brute force, and is generally exhausting. We live in a culture of pushand as I have outlined on this blog over the last few years, I think that this habit of mine is a huge part of what landed me in a situation of life threatening illness.

Doing hard things is the effort of intentional growth and expansion. It requires rising above fear of the unknown (because all change is challenging, even in the right direction) and going bravely and confidently in the direction of your inspiring dreams.

May you always be brave enough to feel the fear and do it anyway: to persist in seeking and expanding into that which lights you up


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