I was screaming at the top of my lungs, screaming as we rolled down the steep drop and screaming as we banked to the side and accelerated upside down through a loop. At one point the roller coaster slowed and I thought to myself – I really don’t need to scream this much, it’s not that scary, but then I remembered the grief and sadness I’d been feeling the last few months and I decided to keep screaming. In fact, I screamed as loudly and as fully as I could! It felt exhilarating to release emotion in an audible way, and I was grateful for the laughter and joy that followed. Who knew that a roller coaster could have such healing power!?
The last few months of 2013 were difficult for me. In November, after 4 years of ‘trying’ with holistic support (acupuncture, ayurveda, yoga, massage, ceremony) and then western medicine, I had finally gotten pregnant through In Vitro Fertilization (a physical and emotional roller coaster all its own). 5 1/2 weeks into the pregnancy I found out that it wasn’t viable and I miscarried. Having become attached to the 80% chance of success that we had, the loss felt devastating. I’ve leaned heavily on my yoga and meditation practice, my community of women’s Circles, the unconditional love of my sweet husband, our energetic dog and our love of getting outside for healing. All of this has been helping me to grieve fully and healthfully, and to remember that I am not my emotions and not the stories that circle around in my head of crushed dreams, failure and loss.
Interestingly enough, kayaking has been the last thing that I’ve wanted to do to deal with my grief. It’s not that I’ve stopped loving kayaking, but I found that paddling brought up a lot of anxiety for me. I was running the Cascades on the Nantahala with Andrew (my husband) one day and I just missed the entrance to the first rapid, the Horns, and ended up going down the right slot. It was no big deal, truly. I just bounced down the rock and landed fine, but that little missed line brought up a whole lot of emotion. I let myself get pulled into the far eddy and the tears started streaming down my face. I was seeing myself through the lens of failing to conceive and carry children of my own and so, to me, the small mess up of missing my line was magnified by the power of a million. In that moment I had the overwhelming feeling that I wasn’t good at anything and it felt really painful. Andrew, the amazingly supportive husband that he is, walked up the bank and told me how much he loved me and that he thought I was good at a lot of things, including kayaking. After a few minutes the initial pain subsided and we continued down the river. I was grateful to have had good lines the rest of the way, but I didn’t have fun. I had never had that feeling before. The river had always been fun, even if I didn’t have the best lines or if I had been feeling a little down. I was really hesitant to write this because I feel like it’s blasphemy – especially in my line of work. But, that’s how I felt and so this winter I respected my body, my mind and my spirit’s need to step away from kayaking for a few months even though that felt really different.
And that brings me back to screaming my head off on the Dragon Challenge at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando, FL. Something big shifted for me on that roller coaster. When you think about it, it makes sense that roller coasters can be healing – where else can you scream at the top of your lungs in public for more than a minute and it be completely acceptable? You can scream running a waterfall or a rapid, but it doesn’t last for a minute and you end up swallowing water! I’m a big Harry Potter fan and it felt great to immerse myself in a man-made fantasy world for a change. The details of Hogsmeade and Hogwarts, along with the fact that a lot of people (other visitors to the park) were dressed in full HP/wizard outfits, made it feel like I was a character in the story. My friend Tori and I drank Butterbeer, ate at the Three Broomsticks, enjoyed the rides and just had fun hanging out. It’s like going to Gauley Fest with 3000 of your paddling friends who are just as stoked on paddling as you are. We were surrounded by 10,000 + Harry Potter fans who were just as stoked on HP as we were! It felt very liberating to engage in child-like play and fun in a different way than kayaking.
On that same weekend trip, we visited Crystal River, FL to paddle with manatees. As much as I loved the theme park, getting on the waterways/springs and paddleboarding felt peaceful, soothing and familiar. The water is amazingly clear, blue and beautiful. Manatees have no natural predators, but they are endangered mainly due to human activity – especially motor boat collisions. I was very grateful for the protected areas within the springs and for the Fish and Wildlife volunteers in kayaks monitoring people’s interactions with the manatees. You can touch the manatees, but only if they approach you. They are so trusting and curious that they often do approach humans to be touched. I even saw one roll over onto her back to let a little girl scratch her belly! Witnessing this trust and gentle curiosity was very healing for me. It reminded me of how beautiful trust can be – whether that’s trusting yourself, trusting others or trusting that your life is putting exactly what you need in front of you for your own personal growth and awakening. And, having a manatee – or any wild animal – approach me and let me pet them felt like an affirmation from nature letting me know that I’m OK. That I am loved. And feeling loved is important for all of us, especially when we’re feeling sad.
Ever since this trip my energy has shifted, the sadness has lifted and I feel lighter and more joyful. I’m grateful to say that I’ve found the joy in kayaking again. I’ve known for a long time that child-like play and discovery are great healers – the joy of whitewater taught me that a long time ago. This winter, and on this trip to FL in particular, it was important for me to step outside of how I usually travel (on whitewater trips) so that I could go in without expectations at all. Having no expectations makes it easier to accept life on life’s terms. And that, for me, is the key to living life to the fullest, no matter what kind of terms life throws at you.