I wanted to loop back on something that I touched on in my last post . To quote myself (an exercise I never tire of): “I get depressed and suicidal less because I climb. And when I do get depressed and suicidal, I know what to do with it because I climb.”
Some people have voices in their head. Not the schizophrenia kind, but a background noise, a chorus of sorts, of voices. A hateful chorus of your own voice, whispering, whimpering, screaming, rambling incoherently.
These are what some of mine are like.
Some of them are constant, others only pop up occasionally or on holidays or anniversaries. Each one is as deadly as a bullet. They are an addictive poison that leaves me emotionally malnourished and starved. They are the sound of zero-sum outcomes, of the toxic agreements I make with myself.
If each voice is a bullet then sometimes it’s like nuclear war is about to break out in my head. Life is a suspended moment before total annihilation, it’s a finger hovering over a giant red button.
There’s something I’ve found myself doing when I climb gthat I try and replicate in daily life. I’ve found that when I climb I’m able to sit with all of those hateful voices of mine and let them take center stage, for just a moment. I sit with them and fear them doubt myself until I want throw myself from the face to which I cling. I sit with them all and let them be as loud as they want. I sit with them and I let them lie, I let them scream, I let them spit and terrify me, and then I look for ways to climb past them. Not ignore them, but accept them and pass by.
Climbing turns down the volume of my voices, often times hitting the mute button. Nothing has ever done that. Alcohol sure didn’t. Cigarettes, drugs, pills, pot, sex, possessions, none of it has ever done what climbing does.
I’ve quickly found that there are a lot of damaged people in the climbing community. So I know there are a lot of people reading this that know exactly what I mean, who’ve found all the same salvation on the sharp end that I have.
Maybe you’re one of them. One of those people who found that tying in helps keep them from tying off. Who have found that climbing has somehow made it just a little bit easier to hate and hurt yourself just a little bit less. We know how it feels to do something we’re scared of, because everything scares us but we keep showing up because we can manage this fear… we’re used to it. I think we keep showing up because if we can manage this fear, maybe we can manage one or more of our others. if we can pull that one move or work that project like we did the other day maybe we can do other things that will surprise ourselves. If you we feel that way we did when we were plugging that offset or pulling that jam or smelling the rock or getting chalk in our eyes or getting tears in our eyes, maybe we can feel that when we’re back from the rock, too. Because all of that, all those amazing feelings that have replaced all those voices, that all comes from within us.
You see, it’s the process of “if” and “then maybe” that I learned in climbing that’s helped me crawl through my worst days. Days this past summer that likely would have killed me 3 years ago, but didn’t because I applied the lessons we learn as climbers. I kept telling myself when I was scared, when I was frozen, when I heard all those voices that that one really loud, really scary ones, when I was clinging or right before I fired off the metaphorical hold, I told myself “If you look around, explore, close your eyes, feel around, then maybe you’ll find a better hold.” And I would, and I’d say “ok. now, if you repeat that process, then maybe you’ll find something else, something better, or then maybe you’ll find a good rest position” and I did. And I just kept repeating that process until I lived through that day.
I see you, dear reader. I know you, and you know me. we’re each holding a cup attached by a string of grief, trauma and pain, shame and guilt. Listen: you’re really showing up for yourself. Listen: Your struggle is difficult, it is real, it is valid. Listen: You are powerful, you are beautiful, and you are sacred. Deep breath, now say it with me: If I can just find a foot hold a little higher up, even if it’s just an inch, then maybe I’ll find a new hold. If i Find a new hold, then maybe I’ll find a better one, or a rest. And if I keep repeating that process, then maybe… no, no maybe. I’m going to send this fucker.
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