Live. I sat in the soaked sand as the waves washed over my legs. It was my first glimpse of the salty sea, and I had a smile on my face. I soaked up the sun and let the sand slip between my toes. What could be more real than this?
But then, much like every other time in my life, I drowned. Or at least that’s what it felt like. I was not someone who felt things without their whole soul. When I loved, it lasted; when I cried, I sobbed; when I laughed, I tossed my head back to release the full sound waves leaving me. And when I stumbled, it felt like every part of my world was crumbling, like I’d never be able to build it back up, so I’d bury it. That was easier.
The waves tugged and pushed my body far from the comfort of the shore. I couldn’t help thinking I am going to drown. I didn’t want to die, no, there was so much to do. Everything to do. But, I felt useless, I saw no way out of this chain inside and outside of my lungs and my throat. Pulling tighter outside and beating my insides raw until they burned and bled.
Somehow I got back to the sheltering sand and sun. Air had never been such a prize before. I was alive yet still couldn’t bring myself to be happy. I was embarrassed by something I had little control over, even though no one else cared. That’s always how I thought. Blow things out of proportion because of course that kid sitting at a lunchroom table cares what kind of shoes you’re wearing or how many times you adjust your shirt to try to grasp a little bit of comfort.
I didn’t deserve it, yet I did at the same time. My brain was wired to tell myself I deserve nothing if I messed up. How dare you stumble on a sentence in a presentation, how dare you have a hair out of place or a zit on your face, how dare you be anything but perfect. How absolutely useless. How embarrassing.
I didn’t touch the ocean for months after that. I hid from it and kept other people from going in it. Anything to help prevent other people from making the same mistakes. Burying it always works, right? The less you can see it, the less damage it will do. What you don’t realize when you shovel mounds of dirt and resentment onto your feelings is that one day they will overflow and ooze out of the mud and slosh in your head and trickle — no — pour out your tear ducts and flow out your throat and off your tongue in screams. Because try as you might, no one can keep everything bottled up forever.
One day you will drown in every mistake you ever made, even if no one else sees it. Even if it was only a mistake to you; even if you had no control over it. You can either drown, give up, and let it swallow you whole, or you can learn how to swim. So when I went back to the beach and saw the sky painted peach as the glowing sunset lowered into the waves, I decided to go with it and resurface with the moon.
Now I tread with the waves instead of against them, and I take enough breath with me so I have the time to see what I’d closed my eyes to before.
Now when I fumble in presentations, I understand that everyone does it and that I can always improve. When I feel uncomfortable in something I wear, I remind myself that I look good. If I don’t feel good in something, I should stop wearing it, stop doing it, stop letting it control me. And when I feel like I’m drowning, I focus on the surface, on floating, on swimming, on surviving, on living. Then I look back, learn from it, and laugh because now that’s one more mistake I don’t have to make.
Nearly drowning didn’t make me fearless, nor did my newly found confidence. I learned a lot and I push back the fear I feel towards many things so I don’t regret not doing them. I think I never realized that all the little things I was afraid of, like the ocean, or giving a presentation, or my appearance, hid my biggest fear, which is to not truly live. I don’t want to look back at my life and realize that I didn’t try anything out of my comfort zone. Because how boring it is to live in a box or just out of reach of someone’s expectations, especially your own. Now I live.