As we move into the next phase of recovery, many of us are suffering from anxiety. I think it’s because we know it’s time to move forward but we don’t know what to expect. We also can’t be sure that we’re not going to cause more harm to ourselves or to others. My morning meditation evoked a memory that boosted my spirit and I thought I’d share the story.
Several years ago, a friend and I went on a trip to Puerto Rico. While sitting on the beach sipping a drink, we stared at a small island in the distance. We were both about to turn 40, so we began tossing around the idea of whether or not we could reach that island by swimming.
Behind us, there was a small kiosk selling an assortment of beach items including snorkeling gear. The sales clerk was quite friendly. We inquired about the distance and she rented us the equipment easily.
We stood on the edge of the water and put on the black goggles and positioned the mouth piece. I was looking forward to scuba diving, like in the movies. I teased my friend, she punched my arm and we started our journey. Within seconds of my face hitting the water, I knew the goggles were tight and overwhelming. The mouth piece felt enormous. It wasn’t a very good feeling at all.
My friend took the lead and slowly, I got the hang of it. I kept my thoughts steady. I was careful not to let water get into the tube. I didn’t like the sound of my breathing, but I carried on. At one point, my friend turned around and gave me a thumbs up. A few silvery fish swam by. They were so small and curious.
About twenty-five minutes into our journey, I accidentally ducked my head too far under water causing trouble with my mouth tube. The gurgling sound alarmed me and I realized I was about to inhale some water. I had to stop swimming and empty the tube out. How was I going to do this while floating simultaneously? The idea worried me. I always struggled juggling two things at one time. I bounced to the top and got on with this strange maneuver. Meanwhile, my friend swam ahead. She had no idea that I had stopped. In the midst of all this, I looked up to take stock of our distance. The island appeared so far away. How was that possible, I wondered, we had been non-stop swimming? It dawned on me that we had veered off with the current.
My heart beat quickened and I felt my body weight. I started to doggie paddle while desperately trying to get my mask back down over my face. Regrettably, the inside of the goggles had steamed up and the mouth piece was still burbling. That’s when I lost it and began to go under. More water poured inside my equipment so when I opened my eyes and tried to breathe, it became agonizing. I was really panicking now. I realized I could drown right there. They’d find my swollen body floating in the great in-between.
The water was relentless. The silver fish, adorable just a minute ago, looked like piranhas. To my left a monstrous coral reef. I had to do something quick. I finally yanked off the mouth piece and goggles and tossed them into the water and now free, I swam my way to the top and gasped for air.
Thankfully my friend was nearby. She had seen me lag behind and had come back to fetch me. Both our heads were bobbing in the water, my eyes red and my breathing heavy.
“You alright?” She called out.
“No,” I stammered. “I can’t make it.”
“Try to relax. You can make it. Where’s your gear?”
“I tossed it. I was getting an anxiety attack. I can’t breathe with it on.”
She turned and looked at the island. “We’re not that far,” she said but looked worried.
“I think I’ll just swim now. I’m good at that.”
“Alright. I’ll stay close. Let me know if you need me.”
Suddenly, I remembered that I was a pretty good swimmer. In fact, I was awesome at the back stroke. I felt a burst of energy and began to move quickly. I flipped over on my back and within seconds, I felt my body glide ahead at a vigorous speed. My arms moved effortlessly through the water like oars. The strength returned to my legs. I didn’t stop and I didn’t think— I just sped through the water straight.
After some time, I turned over and slowed down to look where I was. The island was just a few meters away. I swam until I hit land. When I stepped out of the water, I looked for my friend who was close behind. I couldn’t believe we had made it. We fell hard onto the white, sandy beach and looked up at the sky. Then, we laughed.
“You scared the shit out of me,” my friend said.
“Me too,” I said, shaking my head. “I don’t know what happened. I just freaked out. I couldn’t breathe. That stupid snorkeling equipment just wasn’t working for me.”
“Well, you didn’t need it. You were amazing once you let go and relied on your back stroke.”