About 15 years ago, I participated in an ultimate thrill seeking rush. A group of friends asked me to join them in the Mojave Desert…to go skydiving. To this day I still consider it to be one of the most intense endorphin rushes I have ever experienced, far more than anything I’ve done in a playroom. I can still recall the huge “whoosh” of hot dry air rushing in with the deafening whir of the propellers of our DeHavilland Twin Otter as the door of the fuselage was raised, and the pit in my stomach as my turn was called. I can relive the look of the “Divemaster”, tethering my static line to the cleat, and instructing me to take my launch position in the doorway as my friends cheered on. Even typing this, my heart rate increases a bit and my palms get sweaty. This was to be a monumental day for me.
You see, I am actually afraid of heights.
I mean, I’m DEATHLY afraid of heights.
I have a very difficult time being in a skyscraper or on the edge of a bridge looking at the ground below. The idea that I might possibly fall causes an immense terror for me. I even have a difficult time watching movies with scenes of rock climbing or cliff dwelling because of this phobia.
So why the skydiving then?
Well, I considered it a kind of experiment. It was a chance to have a major insight about my fear, and engage in life regardless of it.
I wanted to see if I could experience jumping out of an airplane despite my fear of heights. There was this inaccurate way of thinking that this fear of mine could somehow be “cured” by going on this quest. Perhaps they were two separate entities. Perhaps, it was something I was always going to have…but could take action anyway.
In that moment when I was getting in the doorway of the Twin Otter – and I will tell you, there is something very clarifying when you are dangling your feet outside an airplane that is several thousand feet in the air – the Divemaster saw that I was shaking, and that there was teary glassiness in my eyes. He knew how big this was for me. With a very kind, very fatherly grin he looked at me and said, “You don’t have to do this if you’re not ready”. And it was never clearer to me in that moment. Yes he was right. I could choose not to do any of this. I could choose to be scared, and let my fear control me. I could pass on my turn, take my seat again, and land with the plane, and my life would look just as it did before I ventured out on this great challenge. All would be fine. All would be recognizable. But …that’s not who I wanted to be. I wanted to know what skydiving was like…because it was supposed to be fun! I took a deep breath, looked at the Divemaster and said, “Let’s do it!” His eyes lit up, and with a huge smile he yelled “JUMP!” With great aplomb I pushed away from the plane…the air howling around my body…the image of the plane disappearing from my line of vision. The actual free fall was only 6 seconds….that’s what we’re told at least. In that moment I had no concept of actual time. But when the chute popped open – a sensation as intense as my first orgasm – and I suddenly was able to see the amazing panorama of the Mohave as I glided down, I felt exhilaration. I had done it. I had acknowledged what I was afraid of, but I jumped anyway. And I had almost missed this amazing life experience. Later that day, I went a second time!
This brings me to present day, and a pivotal time in my leather journey, where I am now having clarity on another one of my most debilitating fears.
My biggest fear in life is a fear of abandonment.
Without going into maudlin detail, as I believe we all have a saga of some sort and sometimes as gay men we have a horrible tendency to try to “out-trauma” each other …but, I was an abused child. In a nutshell, starting at the age of eight, I was mentally and physically abused by my stepfather, while at the same time being sexually abused by a neighbor. It went on for years. All at a time with a mother that chose to not protect me. Many of the things my stepfather did to me were outright devastating, and done all under the guise of “trying to make me a better child”. Perhaps one of the most debilitating things he did was as a result of my “mouthing off” to him one day as I was standing up to the way he was treating me. He later retaliated by having my dog put to sleep and told me that “if I fuck up again like that, more things will be taken away.” Years later, I was sent away to a boarding school while my stepfather moved his son into my room. A transition that became permanent. You can imagine the lifelong scar this has left. Human beings can be cruel…and this is a reality.
Although I feel I have done extensive work in my life on this traumatic event and made tremendous growth over the years, I am now at a point where I am seeing much more clearly just how much this terror has been running me, and the choices I make. I spoke of the scorpion in a previous blog post. I would like to stop stinging.
Herein lays the insight.
In my leather journey as a presenter, Sir, and collared boy, many of my reactions have been based on that past, as if it was happening again. When I do that, I am left with the pain of what happened then, and blind to what is actually happening NOW.
I have projected this problem onto others. I have tried to make others to believe that my fears were their responsibility. But as a dear friend told me recently, “this is my shit to own”. No matter how much assurance I may receive, no matter how much I may be told all is “safe”, this demon will make me think contrary …as long as I allow it to.
Leather relationships enable us to take a deeper journey into ourselves, and in turn connect with those around us. Through the bonds of communication and honor, we have the opportunity to attain greater senses of self. And to do that, we sometimes have to face our greatest fears, and to simply trust. All the groundwork can be laid, all the concerns and all the hopes can be put on the table. A common goal can be reached. But in the final hour, we are the ones who have to choose for ourselves.
This fear will always be a part of me. It’s been inherent to my design, my being, and has shaped the man I have developed into. Many of my qualities as a leatherman have grown out of having survived the trauma of my past. There is an overused mantra of “just let go of your fears”. But this is not reality-based. There will always be triggers and pain to contend with. But, just like my fear of heights…the key is to learn to make amends with it, to peacefully co-exist with it, and eventually allow myself to engage in the present without being controlled by the darkness of the past.
I don’t know how to do this. But I know that I want to do it.
I am now back in the doorway of that airplane again, ready to jump. It is what I choose. I want to trust, because at the end of the day it simply feels better than not to. I don’t know what this looks like…but I am ready to jump. And this time, there is no parachute.
This time, I have wings.