It was December 26th and I stood on a rickety bridge swaying almost forty feet up in the air while people behind me screamed and tried to rock the dangling overpass I stood frozen on back and forth. I had recently been coming to terms with my high levels of anxiety I was experiencing, even PTSD, and yet here I was clinging to a woven rope in each of my shaking hands, on a network of twenty-three bridges strung through branches in the night sky, famous for the fact that none of them were anchored to the redwood trees of New Zealand by more than taut ropes.
I had heard that the 115-year-old ancients were lit with two and a half meter tall lanterns and that it was a breathtaking and memorable experience to walk amongst them quietly after dark. I did not know that the experience was on suspension bridges, or that on many portions of the walk there was less light to guide you than a seven year old’s clandestine flashlight, or that tourists walking them loved to screech and yell to heighten their own courage and delight. It was a nightmare for me.
Even worse: I was stuck. I had climbed the multiple flights of stairs to reach the entrance and I wasn’t allowed to go back down. I had crossed the first bridge with denial and attempted bravado and now - stomach knotted, queasy with a stark awareness that I may actually start crying, I realized there was only one way out for me - one bridge at a time.
I had a professor in school introduce us to Reality Therapy and Choice Theory during his class, he taught us that first we need to know what we want and second, we need to understand that everything we do is chosen. Everything. “We are driven by pain to make choices,” he said, “and choosing beings driven by pain sometimes choose misery in an attempt to meet our own needs. Our behavior is our best attempt to satisfy what we most want and need."
For human beings locked into patterns of pain-coping choices that are not working for them he highlighted one simple tool: rather than focusing on what we cannot do, ask what the choices are that we can make.
Choices that I would not have believed I could make were made that night. I did not stop to read the dimly lit educational plaques, I did not soak up what others might have experienced as a lovely family experience, I just walked across every platform and onto each swaying rope-braid some engineer had deemed safe for crossing, and I kept choosing over and over to get to where I wanted to go.
My prof taught us that Choice Theory is asking what can I do, and that the answer has to be simple, attainable, measurable, and immediate. One step at a time. One bridge at a time.
I didn’t think that I was capable of crossing even one of those bridges in the dark, let alone twenty-three of them. However my greater fear of breaking down in front of those around me and the tourists taking video footage of everything, made me aware that my strength to choose was greater even than my feelings of panic and shame. My need to get over and off of those suspension bridges in the dark forest in New Zealand was tantamount and by surviving that experience I showed myself something I had no idea I was capable of.
I have come to believe that being offended is a portal to life's deeper enjoyment. After experiencing multiple personal losses in my life right before this experience on the swaying bridges, I had come to accept that I could not control almost anything in life. Life informed me that I cannot protect my family the way I want to - completely. We could be on an airplane and plummet 30,000 feet to the ground and feel every second of that scream. When my child drives away I can do nothing to stop someone distracted by their little white iPhone from plowing into her. When my baby boy was born purple after fourteen minutes of not breathing I could not hold or comfort him because I was in a coma. Our bodies really are fragile and this life is temporary and full of searing grief. That offends me. Deeply. Feeling those offenses to their core requirement of relinquishment and seeing what is beyond my control has let me see what I can control – my choices.
Late at night in a dark forest I learned that I could actually feel something unbearable and take care of myself. I could experience body-encompassing fear and shame and still make intentional choices that I wanted to. PTSD, grief, anxiety, back-to-back experience of loss, depression, heart ache, misunderstanding, disease, broken relationships - none of those are things that can keep us from making the choices we want to.
What is one small choice you could make this next week towards a goal that is important to you?
If I can be a support to you on your own journey of making one choice at a time on your own network of bridges, please feel free to reach out to book a free phone appointment so we can talk about that.