“Don’t look down. Don’t look down. Don’t look down.” I recite aloud to myself dangling over 20 stories above the posh street. My eyes focus on my reflection in the mirrored glass windows on the side of the skyscraper in front of me. I see hundreds of office buildings, thousands of trees, a large outdoor shipping center, and not too far in the distance, the ocean’s deep blue meeting the sky’s. All behind and below me.
I look down.
My fear roars out snatching my brain and my neck snaps my head back upright and forward again.
“I can do hard things. I can do hard things. We can do hard things,” I repeat, this time louder. This time hoping that a pep talk will remind me of why I chose to do this, why I volunteered to hang from a rope high above hard, hard cement, and why I asked my friends and family to help me get here.
“We can do hard things because it matters that we do,” I say out loud to myself trembling, tears welling up in my eyes. Now is not the time to tremble and shake, and yet I can’t help it.
My left hand focuses on the stemmed mechanism that keeps me from falling quickly, my “gas pedal.” My right hand down low at my hip grips the rope before it enters the mechanism, and even through the thick worker’s gloves they gave me I can tell that my knuckles are white.
Slowly I pull down on the plastic grip and watch the reflected view behind me roll up like I’m descending in an elevator, an elevator with no floor. The tips of my sneakers gently touch the glass and graze it as I slide downward a couple of inches at a time. I don’t think I’ve ever been so focused and acutely aware of such details.
“Why does anyone do this for fun?” I think to myself.
Only 15 minutes before, I was making small talk with the other rappellers, making light of my fear in the hopes it would subside or that I’d maybe find a kindred spirit in line to make me feel less insane. No takers. Everyone seemed invigorated by the prospect of what we were about to do. I’m sure some were adrenaline junkies, or maybe I just got unlucky—God does have a sense of humor—but I quickly realized I’d be doing this fear-facing thing alone. Solo.
Well, except for the group of screaming, cheering, cow-bell ringing lunatics I love who made sure I heard them the entire way down. They grew especially raucous if I paused, held up by fear and praying for peace in my heart, hoping that I’d not sealed my own fate.
“Inch by inch. I can do this,” I repeat to myself reinvigorated by their applause. “I CAN do this!”
I do this, not for fun or to get an adrenaline rush or even to make a point. I do this for them. For the nights of terror and the tear-soaked drives to hospital emergency rooms, for the flights to family weekends and the hours spent journeying to appointments, treatments, and meetings, for the courtroom appearances and the rides in the backs of police cars, for the afternoons left searching in encampments, and for every precious moment just like this one, when the five of us are all together, healthy, smiling, and inevitably, acting like fools.
I raised more than $1,500 thanks to some of the people who love us. They allowed me the privilege of facing my fears, so that I could be here for people just like my family. Those with a different set of specifics, of course, but the same constant deluge of addiction and elation of recovery. We’re on this rollercoaster with them, all 140 million of them.
And selfishly, I do this because facing my fears is imperative to my survival, my true survival—the one where I don’t simply live, but thrive. By staring my fear square in the face, rejecting my compulsion to flee for safety or duck for cover, and instead, charging straight at it—and in this case, off a building—I offer my brain a chance to change, to rewire itself. Each time, I grow stronger and more courageous.
“But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles (and above the streets of Newport Beach). They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.” – Isaiah 40:31, parentheses mine
I hear the bells and the screaming and I howl back feeling triumphant and thinking of wolves. I found out later that they couldn’t hear me at all, but they kept whooping and hollering, disrupting any kind of business-as-usual conduct that must’ve been happening behind the glass I faced.
Each time the cheering starts, I can pick out the distinct cry of each of my brothers, my dad, my mom, and my boyfriend. One by one and sometimes all together. Each time, the tiny rivulet of tears returns and through my overwhelm, I keep going, keep sitting in my fear and continue down towards the ground.
“We can do hard things.”
Thank you to everyone who donated to Shatterproof as part of my campaign. YOU made this possible for me, and helped raise awareness and over $180,000 for those advocating on behalf of families just like mine. I hope to take each and every one of you to lunch or coffee, and to connect because there’s so much more to tell.
You all are magic and I’m grateful to know you.
The Square Peg