The other day I braved going paddle boarding by myself. I’ve been a few times with my husband but I had never been bold enough to go on my own. I have this fear that I’m going to fall off, knock myself out and drown. This was pretty evident in my first solo foray out onto the lake. My body rigid and hunched, my legs like concrete. I didn’t fall, but I also didn’t have much fun. I was so focused on not falling that I forgot to pay attention to anything else – not the beautiful surroundings and not my body either. I finished my session dry as a bone and stiff as a board.
Later that same day I went out with a group of friends I hadn’t seen in a long time. The evening quickly devolved into debauch. Endlessly replenishing drinks led to blindly inhaled cigarettes and even more drinks. My night as loose as my day was tense.
Needless to say I woke up the following morning burdened with a pounding head, an ache in my lungs, sore shoulders from paddling and a crushing sense of guilt and failure (also an immense craving for McDonalds). I had been doing so well moderating my drinking, and I hadn’t smoked a single cigarette in months let alone helped a friend to polish off a pack. I had been eating home cooked and healthy food. I wanted to crawl back into bed and never come out – although not until I’d downed a burger.
On my walk the next morning I pondered how I could get off track so quickly. I chastised myself and vowed not to go out again any time soon. I felt a rising anxiety and a tension in my shoulders and a feeling of failure. I completely let myself forget that I had actually had a really fun time with excellent friends. And then I had a small but profound revelation.
My repeated, failed attempts at adopting healthier habits share a lot with my paddle boarding style. I have been approaching my health so rigidly, so afraid to ‘fall’, that I haven’t allowed myself to enjoy the day to day experience of learning to be kind to myself. I’ve forgotten that some of the key components of self-kindness involve having fun with people I love. In focusing on being ‘perfect’ I’ve become so inflexible that any little ripple sends me careening so violently into the water I’m in danger of drowning.
Falls, or lapses, are part of life. Over time they may become less frequent, but they are the way we learn what our limits are, and when it’s ok to push them. Falling teaches us the confidence to get back up and try again, because the fall is rarely as bad as the threat of it seems. Lapses are similar. We can use our lapses to reevaluate and refocus our efforts. Sometimes it might also be good to see these blips not as falls or lapses but as breaks in monotony. It can get hot up there on the paddle board (or the virtuous, self care high horse) and sometimes a swim – planned or not – can be just what the doctor ordered.
While I still aspire to get to a point where these lips never touch another cigarette, I don’t feel the same about my other bad habits. I just need to shed my fear of falling and learn to approach unplanned lapses with strength, grace and confidence that I can get back up again in a minute…after a burger and fries and a nap in a darkened room.