I learned a valuable lesson this summer while surfing. I learned that without the proper support, I am doomed to failure, but with the proper support I am destined to succeed.
Here’s what happened.
I’ve always wanted to surf. Last summer, as I sat on the beach watching my kids surf, I decided it was time to learn. After convincing them I wasn’t on a suicide mission, that I actually felt strong enough to give it a try, they taught me the basics. I got a few weeks in but had to cut my mission short after breaking my finger in rough surf. This summer, I was ready to pick up where I left off.
I was using a red foam board, and no matter how hard I tried I simply could not stand without immediately falling. After a few weeks I was ready to throw in the towel. I decided it was ludicrous of me to expect to surf at age 54, and I left the red board at the house when I took the kids to the surfing beach. I watched them catch wave after wave, and by the end of the day I couldn’t stand it; I had to try again. But I didn’t have my board. What to do?
My niece generously lent me her foam board. She calls it the Big Blue Bastard and on my first wave I understood why. I finally Stood!!! (not for long of course) I spent the last few days of the summer using the Big Blue Bastard and I stood more often than not. It was thrilling! It was also odd, because the boards are the same make, bought at the same time in the same shop. The red one has flattened out, making it extremely unstable, while the blue one held it’s shape. Who knew?
As I left the beach for the summer I pondered this turn of events. I knew there was a message in there, but what was it? Initially I thought the message was that no matter how many times I fall, I have to get up and try again. Honestly though, that is not always true. There are times, like my marriage, when I am better off staying down and giving up.
My second thought was that I had definitely nailed falling with grace, and there is something to be said for that. We all fall at times, so to handle it with grace and dignity is a valuable lesson. While this is a great lesson, it didn’t account for my sucess.
It finally dawned on me: I will never stand without the proper support. I could have spent years trying to stand on that red board and it would not have happened, because it wasn’t the support I needed.
That was a huge eye opener for me. I thought back to all the times during my marriage during which I was falling down. I always blamed myself. I always ruminated over what I could differently to make myself stand, when in fact there was nothing I could have done to stand – I had no support. It wasn’t I that needed to change, it was my relationship that needed to change, and without that, I was destined to fall, over and over again.
My entire life I’ve been ashamed to ask for help. I don’t know how this originated, but it was thoroughly reinforced during my 25 year relationship with my ex. I learned early on that there were certain things he would do, like home renovations, but picking me up when I was falling was not on his list. I look back over the beginning of our relationship and I remember a time in which I was unemployed for 2 months. I had a friend who was there for me, lent me money and put me on their health insurance, but my ex was not there at all. I can’t remember a single time during that 2 month period that he helped me, either emotionally or materially. I’m not even sure I saw him during that time! As the years went on in our marriage I learned very quickly that if there was something wrong, I was the problem and I was on my own; at least according to him. After years of hearing this I bought it. If I was falling it was my own damned fault, and only I could stand myself back up. Eventually I shut myself off from all of those who love me, I was so mired in shame at my neediness. It was a really lonely place to be, and I hope to never go back there.
People are social beings. People gather in groups, tribes, neighborhoods, associations, etc. Everywhere we look we see people in groups, supporting each other.
I am surrounded by family and friends, my personal tribe, and they want to support me. They want to help me stand, and I will accept their help with gratitude. As I begin this next phase of my life I feel stronger and more capable than ever, not because I have changed but because I’ve accepted that I can not stand alone. Humans aren’t meant to stand alone. We are social beings, and we all require our own personal tribe to make it through each day. I have a great tribe and I’m going to lean on them.
I hope to remember what the Big Blue Bastard taught me – If I keep falling, look at my support system and readjust! It’s all in the tribe.