When I Wouldn't Confront My Trust Issues, They Confronted Me

relationships, intimacy, trust issues, trapeze
Love, Self

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. 

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It was instant euphoria. The wind seemed to blow from all directions, but my body cut through it like a bird in flight. All I could see was sky. I was free and soaring through the air. I was unhinged from my fear, past pain and distrust, and transported to the heavenly dreams of my childhood.

"Legs up!" screamed the male instructor from the ground. I had forgotten about that dude. I was having such a magical time flying that I wasn't at all ready to switch positions. "Put your legs up, now!" he said.

Alright, alright. I swung my legs over the bar with ease, surprising myself. "Arms out!" he hollered. Damn all these rules.

I arched my back, reached my arms out, and looked forward. I felt like a free bird; I wanted to stay like that forever...or at least 10 seconds.

"Legs down!" Already? "Legs down now!" Fine.

"Wait!!" he screamed.

I plummeted like Icarus (another fellow who didn't listen to flying instructions) onto the net. My arm and face crashed into it first, followed by the rest of me. I stumbled around like a scratched up, drunken sailor to make my way onto the ground.

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"You didn’t listen to me," the ground instructor said, helping me down from the netting. "I tell you when to drop. You have to listen."

I nodded, my face, arm and ego burned and raw. Although the teachers were all skilled trapeze artists, I was having an incredibly hard time listening to them. I had decided long ago that I would never let another person boss me around like my ex did, and although these instructors were only trying to help me master the flying trapeze, the intensity and vulnerability of my fight-or-flight feelings made me wary of them.

As my classmates took their turns, I chugged purple Gatorade and realized that my trust issues had officially infiltrated all areas of my life. Trying to protect myself from ever getting into another abusive relationship meant I had created a fortress around my heart guarded by nimble relationship sabotaging gnomes that would bar me from getting truly close to another man.

I've sabotaged a few potentially great relationships by acting like a skittish cat, darting off when I should have stayed, shutting down when I should have communicated my feelings. I was overwhelmed thinking of the experiences, lovers, friends, and opportunities I had I missed out on.

By my last jump, my fear and anxiety grew more intense, and I froze in the middle of the very tall, shaky ladder. I could fall off this ladder and that would be that, I thought. Yep. Dead.

I thought about how much I've tried to self-protect in love and life, and how I will never be in total control. I exhaled dramatically, imagining all my pent-up trust issues departing from me with my breath. I thought of my dad's favorite saying (via FDR), "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself," and climbed my ass up the rest of that ladder.

By the time I got to the top, I was freely crying. My lack of trust wasn't reserved solely for others. The fact was, I didn't really trust myself, either. Reacting purely out of fear, I've cheated myself out of some really cool life experiences.

I jumped and flew for the last time.

I left the trapeze school with a headache and some scratches, feeling completely exhausted. The intoxicating rush of adrenaline I'd just experienced was nothing compared to the revelation I'd just had.

My biggest, most pent up fears had manifested during my flying lesson, leaving me with the choice to face them or lay-down and let them win. When I finally surrendered and faced my fear, when I stopped thinking about what could go wrong, and when I laid my ego down and put my trust in the instructors, I flew with grace, and I landed with it too.