Trapeze artists might be some of the bravest people in the world, but they're also among the most vulnerable. Tremendous trust—in themselves, other people, and the universe—is necessary to be able to climb up a 25-foot ladder, grab onto a thin bar, and jump.
Relationships have always been my trapeze bars.
When I started dating at age 13, I approached relationships completely unaware that I could and would fall—and with faith that, if I did, the net below would catch me. I put all of my trust in the boys I gave my heart to, and was blindsided again and again when, despite my total devotion, they didn't love me the way I deserved to be loved.
And it wasn't just men. Fair-weather friends also disillusioned me. I didn't truly understand that being a devoted friend or girlfriend didn't guarantee that others would act in kind. Instead of becoming hip to the ways of people who would mistreat me and avoiding them accordingly, I retreated into myself and tried unsuccessfully to block out potential sources of pain.
The cracks in my ability to trust men, and people in general, multiplied as the years passed. By the time I was in my early twenties, I had shacked up with a manipulative man who tamped down my spirit enough to put me—and keep me—in a metaphorical cage. He'd become a complete psychopath by the time we finally split, and I was so scared of him and traumatized by the experience that, after all was said and done, I was simply unable to trust people.
Of course, this experience was the furthest thing from my mind on the morning I decided to take a flying trapeze lesson earlier this year. I guess I had watched Peter Pan a few too many times as a kid and delighted as Peter, Tink and the children took to the sky singing, "We can flyyy!" It was my number one dream in life to be able to do the same. I'd dreamed of flying all the time. It seemed, to my small self, to be the ultimate joy ride.
Since my gravity-defying reveries had always been so blissful, I'd assumed that the flying trapeze would be an expertise bestowed upon me by some divine winged being of the sky. I'd pictured myself soaring gracefully like the trapeze artists I'd seen at the circus, leaping off the ledge and gliding effortlessly through the air with my legs folded over the trapeze bar and my arms extended out.
Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, I was far from the angelic fairy of my imagination. As I stood high atop the very high platform at the Trapeze School of New York City, searching the Manhattan skyline for the Chrysler building, my stomach seized. My toes dangled over the ledge and I felt small and nauseous. The kind instructor held onto my waist harness, as she had done in our mock ground trapeze lesson. She told me to bend my legs and lean forward to grab the trapeze bar. But all I wanted to do was lean back, away from the drop. I bit my lip and looked back at her.
"I'm scared," I confessed. "Don't overthink it," she replied.
Don't overthink the fact that I just climbed a rickety 25-foot ladder and am now shaking like a frightened calf in a slaughterhouse neck brace? Not likely, friend. I examined the mesh net below as my brain kicked into panic mode: Does that net even work? What if I fall through? Or what if I hit a pole on the way down and break my back? The hospital bills are going to bankrupt me.
I tried to get to a Zen place, but no amount of yogic breathing or positive thinking could calm me. I was failing myself because I couldn't trust anyone or anything that was happening. In that moment, the same powerless feeling I'd experienced from my manipulative ex began to wash over me.
I reached for the heavy bar, nearly toppling off the ledge in the process. I wanted to cry, but I refused to. Finally, success! I caught the bar. I immediately froze, wobbled and leaned back.
"Bend your knees!" yelled the instructor.
Fear was consuming me, and she was losing her patience. I needed to get over the emotional shit storm that had engulfed me and get it together or else I would have to climb back down the very high, rickety ladder. The thought alone made me want to hurl. I imagined knocking myself out with the trapeze bar. Despite the fear, I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and jumped off the ledge. Keep reading...
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