Monday, August 5, 2013

Staying alive.

When I was little, before my mum died, I used to have a reoccurring dream about drowning. At least twenty five years later the details are still vivid in my mind - I had this dream a lot. There were three occasions in my childhood where I came close to (or at least was convinced at the time that I came close to drowning.) Twice in the sea, and once in the school swimming pool. The times in the sea were a combination of unexpected currents, and bad judgement. The time in the school swimming pool is more difficult to define in just one word.

My primary school had its own pool. Every class had a swimming lesson once a week. Each class was split into four groups - the best in group one, the worst in group four. I was at the top end of group two. The lessons were designed to get us working towards achieving swimming badges. Group one students took all their badges at least a year early, along with a few kids from the top end of group two. I was one of those kids. When we were about nine we were doing something called 'lifesaving 2' - the idea was to test your endurance in the water and put you in near drowning situations - you had to swim a length entirely underwater, swim around the outside of the pool continuously for thirty minutes, dive for objects on the bottom of the pool in the deep end, and tread water in full clothes for five minutes with one hand in the air. That was the longest five minutes of my life. I was already physically tired from the other challenges. My clothes were impractical, thick and water logged. I kept treading water. I remember my limbs growing heavier and heavier. I remember reaching a point where every part of me was aching, and thinking I couldn't possibly go on - believing that I was going to drown. I didn't try to swim to the side, somehow I didn't understand that there is always a choice, that I could go to the side of the pool and get out any time. Failure was quite literally not an option because I hadn't the brains to realise I could stay no. I carried on treading water. A lifetime later the whistle blew and the test was over. A few weeks later I got a new badge to sew on my swim suit.

It was a pivotal moment for me, although quite a slow burning one. The memory of that morning in the pool stayed with me. The initial relief at getting out and succeeding didn't. Gradually I grew to hate going in the pool. A few years later I worked out that I really did have choices about what I would and wouldn't do and I chose never to go swimming again. For five years I held to this policy, despite my grandpa having a pool in his garden, despite numerous visits to countries far hotter than the UK, despite living within spitting distance of the sea, I stayed dry. Then a boyfriend, who was really more of a best friend, and really really should never have been a romantic interest, encouraged me to try again. We were in Lanzarote, it was hot hot hot. There was not much to do aside form sitting by the pool, I went in once or twice. I found I didn't want to repeat the experience.

Another five years and I was living twenty steps from the beach with a child who thought there was nothing in the world more wonderful than going in the sea. So I went in with him - it was not something I wanted to do, it was simply my fear of him paddling too far was far greater than my dislike of being in the water. We moved away from the beach and despite 40 degree summers I never expressed any interest in finding a pool.

Five more years have passed. We live by the sea, we have a swimming pool in our garden. Up until a few months ago my attitude remained unchanged. I would go in with Hero and Rafey, but not to be refreshed, just to settle my fears of something happening to them. When they went in the sea without me there was no going out of your depth, there was no going past the depth of your knees.When they go in the water I don't sunbathe, I don't read. I stare without blinking, my stomach in a knot until they are out, and dry, and at least 10 metres from the shore line.

Or at least I did. A few months ago I had a very rough time. Things too painful and too personal to share on a blog were happening. In effect I was drowning myself on land. I had another pivotal moment, a moment where I realised I need to get the fuck over it, let go of all my hang ups, of the thousand and one things I do to inhibit myself on a daily basis and live. I am a good survivor, but living I struggle with. I survive like one of those creatures that builds a bunker under ground and only comes up for air at night, if at all. I had grown far too desperate to be secure, at the expense of connecting with the world around me. When we were in Ankara I lived a life of indifference, I didn't realise how deeply unhappy I had been until we finally left. In Fethiye I was so desperate to never have to leave I was refusing to take any chances, any risks, indulge any slight change to my "stable" little world that might upset the balance. It was idiotic in the extreme - I was destroying my own security by being so fearful - stilling myself into a coma, just one step away from being dead.

That moment of realisation changed me. I have been trying to say yes instead of always an unthinking no. Trying to do, and to change, rather than just to accept.

On Sunday we went on a boat trip. This was a big deal for me. Boats have been on my list of "things I don't like, so I'm going to say no" for nearly two decades now. We live by the sea, there is a large boating community, there are hundreds of beautiful, private bays and islands, reachable only by boat. I was missing out by refusing to try, and my new policy is not to miss out just because. The worst part was the drive to the marina. My body was jittery with adrenaline and nerves, simultaneously my brain was trying to shut down and I felt ready to sleep. It was a long walk down the pier to the boat. We were out for twelve hours - we sailed to Rabbit Island (there are rabbits there, and seagulls, and  rats), parked (is there a proper nautical term for "tied a rope around a rock and stayed"?) and hung out. We all did a lot of swimming. We had a barbecue on board. Three hours in my nausea had just about worn off. I only ended sentences with "...if we make it back" in my head rather than out loud. The boys had a blast. H wants to buy a boat and spend the summers cruising the coast and I haven't said no.

I don't know how long this new feeling of freedom, and saying "yes" will last - it's not the blaze it was to start with, but to be honest nobody can live as Pollyanna forever. I want to do stuff now, not make excuses to burrow. I don't think I am being horribly naive in wanting to open my arms and embrace life - my personality has become too tempered by protecting my children and running my home, and just being a real proper grown up, not to remain a little tentative and a little suspicious. But for the first time in a long time, I feel like I can do, and the only thing I can't do is give that up.