Why I Climb

Climbing, Friends

I am the last person anyone in my high school would have predicted would be a climber. Honestly, rock climbing is such an “out there” sport as it stands that I doubt anyone from high school would have predicted any of us would be climbers. Beside the point.

The point is that I used to be a sick person- mentally and physically. A heart defect, depression, and anxiety prevented me from being the person I wanted to be.

You can read more about that here (blog posts I wrote on my friend’s blog about climbing as therapy):

Part 1: http://climbingjourney.com/exotic-caribbean-journeys/its-not-just-how-high-you-climb-but-how-high-climbing-makes-you-feel/
Part 2: http://climbingjourney.com/exotic-caribbean-journeys/if-i-can-you-can-too/
Part 3: http://climbingjourney.com/exotic-caribbean-journeys/what-are-you-really-afraid-of/
Part 4: http://climbingjourney.com/exotic-caribbean-journeys/steps-to-overcoming-your-fears/

The point is that climbing saved me and continues to save me. It has provided me with confidence, self-esteem, an amazing built-in friend group, fear and anxiety reduction, and ultimately happiness. Climbing has been the most incredible avenue for self-reflection, self-discovery, and self-work.

This weekend, I took my first climbing trip without my husband. For me, this was kind of a big deal. D and I have grown up in climbing together and we’ve been climbing partners since day one. I climb with other people, but going outdoor climbing with others is always admittedly more or less “officiated” by D. I’ve never been nearly as confident in systems, rope work, etc. D has never had any issues with confidence in the realm of logic (at least not while I’ve known him). And so until this weekend, I did what my natural tendency is, which is to go “Ok, you’re better at this- you handle it.” A certain amount of this comes with the territory in marriage- I’m better at cooking, so I generally cook more and he is better at cleaning the tub and so he cleans the tub (as examples). Chores are easier when divided. However, when it comes to climbing, the reality is that what prevents me from taking on responsibility is my fear of the outcome in my lack of confidence.

So when I received the offer from an experienced climber friend to come out with her for a weekend, my initial emotion was fear. The offer was appealing and I knew deep down I wanted to go and should go (how many opportunities would come up like this after all?). After too much hmming and hawing, I said yes. My own expectations of myself were high. I knew this friend was pretty picky about who she climbs with, so asking me was a compliment in itself. It meant I passed the initial test of obvious belaying/climbing skills at the gym. It meant she had at least enough faith that I wouldn’t kill her and I would be able to climb the routes she planned on leading. Given that I had little faith in myself doing either of those things, I knew I had to be at the top of my game- refresh my memory on all the skills I let D control otherwise, focus, calm down, and most of all not freak out.

I doubt my friend realized how important this trip was to me, how much I didn’t want to screw up with her. I doubt she realized that at the many times during the climb I knew I would have freaked out in the company of D and my typical climbing crew, I said to myself “You’re scared. That’s fine. But you have to get up this pitch and not embarrass yourself. Just effing do it.” So I did. Without hesitation. I came out of the weekend a more confident climber and with a few new experiences under my belt. It was an amazing feeling to will myself to be who I know I am strong enough to be….and just be that. I am immensely grateful to my friend for the opportunity to climb together and to show me that I don’t need to hide behind others or fear myself. I am imperfect like everyone else, but I am worth putting faith and trust in.

Above and beyond these revelations, I realized that climbing is one of the few (if any) sports where friendships are strengthened through depending on each other (literally- our lives are in each others’ hands), participating in the same experience together, needing to communicate very effectively, encouraging each other in one anothers’ successes, supporting each other in one anothers’ “failures,” and having to revert to some tough love when the going gets tough. When we climb with others, we are there to witness them at their best and their most vulnerable. These moments where fear creeps in, we see who people really are- their rawness, their emotions. There is no time or energy to falsify, create a mask. Accepting someone in their most raw and exposed state is the most loving acceptance there is. And thus, climbing friends are something more than just “friends.” They are unconditionally loving family.

I suppose that is where the saying comes from- “Friends who climb together, stay together.” 🙂

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