Recently I finished reading the book, Wild by Cheryl Strayed. On the surface, the book is about her solo hiking the Pacific Coast Trail, but the themes woven throughout the story transcend that. The threads of personal strength, bravery and healing the broken parts of yourself apply to anything – motorcycling, cycling, simply to living. My copy of the book has many pages with folded corners to mark spots that I need to read again. Someone else’s words will sometimes say the things that you cannot.
I’m often cautious about sharing my interior world beyond superficial niceties and so I find it compelling to read stories in which the author shares their struggles with a frank fearlessness. Or that they are even able to identify and pluck out the difficult, guilt-riddled, venom-laced words that humans say in their inner monologues. Especially at times when they “should” be feeling pity or remorse but are instead feeling put upon or resentful. When someone can put the shame of those feelings to bed and share them, it pierces my heart. I know I am not alone.
When it comes to being forthright, I often dwell in the murky waters of fear. I wrap myself up in its familiar safety. What am I without my fear of judgment? How about the fear of what it would mean if other people knew my secrets? What about the fear that I could become unlovable because of my humanness? The true words, the uninhibited ideas – they’d surely summon a demon if I spoke them aloud.
Or maybe, through the telling – I would exorcise them and become free of their possession.
The ulnar nerve in my left arm has been periodically irritated over the last year. When I bend at the elbow my pinky, ring finger and half of my palm experience pins and needles as if they’re asleep. When my hand is only half awake I can still carry on with daily functions, there is no pain, I can use it as I normally would but I don’t feel full sensation. Instead, I’ve got something that is almost right but is muted by a peculiar numbness.
It dawned on me yesterday that is exactly what I don’t want for my life. No, I want to be fully awake and to experience it deeply. I don’t want to just go through the motions with nothing more than vague sensations. I’ve got to stop bending in such a way that puts parts of me to sleep. In order for me to do that, I will have to go toe-to-toe with my fears a million times over.
When I was younger, I fell into the trap of thinking that to be a success I would need to buckle down and pore myself into the role of being someone’s wife. And part of what being a “good wife” meant was stifling the fanciful desires and the whimsy inside of me. They were childish impulses that I should grow out of. When I stood at the altar of a Vegas wedding chapel at the age of 25, it was nothing short of a miracle that I didn’t pass out. As words were spoken my head began to swim and I felt woozy. Sounds and voices became watery and muffled and I felt that I might lose consciousness. I chalked it up to cold feet. But the truth was that every part of my body knew that what I was doing was wrong but I was too afraid to admit it.
Needless to say, my first marriage didn’t work out. Its breakdown was completely my fault and I take ownership of that. At the core, the issue was that I wasn’t honest. Not with him and worst of all, not with myself. I lacked the self-confidence to speak my truth or to even allow myself to feel it. I was afraid. Instead, I was willing to believe that someone else knew better what was good for me or that they could fix how fucked up I was by teaching me to be “normal” through repetition. I’d bought into my lie.
Thankfully, there was a little spark inside of me that continued to whisper in my ear even though I’d worked at smothering it for years. Be quiet, wild thing. You’ll only get us into trouble! At some point though, I realized that there is no trouble worse than self-deception; cutting yourself off at the knees by denying your passions, your potential, your thirst for living the life that you want. One of the unfortunate side effects of your self-deception and fear is that you leave a field of collateral damage in your wake.
After a long and torturous build up, I finally cracked under the pressure. I gave up the game, secret by secret and walked out of the prison I’d built for myself. I had to stop being afraid.
Most of my personal issues have one thing in common and that is fear. Fear is often a lying bastard. I can’t think of anything I’ve gained by sitting around biting my nails because of it. But I sure have lost a lot by giving in to it.
Why am I telling you all this stuff about myself lately and what does it have to do with motorcycles? Well, I’m writing it down because frankly, I have no idea what I’m doing. I’m trying to figure it out day by day, probably just like a lot of you out there. When I ride my motorcycle, I think about things. The motorcycle connects me to people who help me to think about things and it connects me to you.
“Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told. I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave.”
-“Wild” by Cheryl Strayed