Fear no Fall

There’s a school of thought that says you should strive to be an expert at something — something that’s a personal signature. Something you can — as they say — hang your hat on. For me — I think I’ve finally stumbled into it…my thing is falling.

I’ve gotten good at it. I’ve fallen all over the place: at home, walking down the street, at the supermarket in the checkout line, in the office (where you try to subtly recover and make it look like you didn’t fall but you clearly did), and at the gym (you haven’t lived till you’ve made serious gym-goers uncomfortable when you get up from a weight rack and just face-plant).

Some context: today celebrates the two year mark of my journey as an omniped — starting with an aneurysm in my left leg and resulting in an above the knee amputation.

OK, back to my special talent… After you’ve built up plenty of falling practice — once you’ve gotten used to and fully comfortable with spending time on the floor — you get your footing. You actually go several days without falling. Then several weeks. Then even a month. You build up some confidence. You shift your gaze from looking down — at every potential shift in the ground and obstacle — to looking up — looking ahead. It feels good. That’s where I was at just a short while ago — feeling almost like I did when I had two fully attached legs — when I went to pick up some take-out on the way home from the airport. With grilled chicken and sweet potato in tow, I sauntered out to the car, unknowingly planted my prosthetic on a slick surface in the parking lot, and went sprawling, landing fully on the tasty tuber. Outside of the inconvenience and the embarrassment I didn’t think anything of it — just another fall — nothing to worry about, right?

Weeks later though, my behaviors had changed. I wasn’t looking up with confidence or stepping boldly forward. Instead, I was back to looking down…cautious…careful…reserved. In the moment, I didn’t notice it. I didn’t figure it out till I started the process of learning to run with my prosthetic.

The process of running with a prosthetic — especially an above the knee one — is very different than walking. You have to throw your prosthetic out there and pull it back with force to generate the momentum that a calf would otherwise provide. As I started the training, I found that even though I logically knew the technique I couldn’t get myself to quite get moving. Time and again I’d hit the gym or track and just not get it right. There was always a bit of a pit in my stomach…a worry…a fear. I feared the fall. I worried that the leg wouldn’t catch up with me…wouldn’t be there and then there would be that feeling, that lack of control, that slip, stumble and fall.

As I realized this it got me thinking about fear in general. It’s not a new thing for me. It’s held me back from many things in my life. Before my ambulatory change, I would let fear get the best of me — from legitimate worries to irrational concerns. Was I living up to expectations? Would I be able to provide for my family in the way they deserved? Would I let my clients or colleagues down? All normal questions but for me, in many cases, that fear of the fall got in the way of me actually meeting my own expectations and ability to be the husband, father and friend that I should have been. The fear of the fall doesn’t have to be an actual, physical, gravity infraction. It can be the fear of falling short of expectations, falling out of favor, falling down in your own eyes.

So, here I was, nearing two years since a rather life-changing moment where, as a side benefit and blessing, I had been able to throw off the shackles of fear — letting that same spirit of fear come back and impede my progress. Deep down we all have some small little fear holding on to us that keeps us from moving forward. In my case — in learning how to run — it was actually keeping me from physically moving forward. It took me realizing this, going back through my journaling and notes — to remember how much I let fear get a hold of me in the past, and the freedom from fear that I experienced when I let go of it and replaced it with a spirit of love, trust and triumph. That renewal process resurfaced a verse that helped me through my initial amputation with even more meaning now — from the Bible in 2 Timothy 1:7: “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, and of love and of a sound mind…” I think we all can be quick to trade the power that we have to influence our surroundings, the love that surrounds us from those that support and care for us, and the sound mind to make rational, smart decisions, for worries, cares, concerns and stress. I’ve been quick to do that so, so many times. Thanks to my faith, my family and my amazing wife who have stayed by me even in my worst, and my friends who have offered often undeserved support, I’ve gained the perspective I need to move beyond many of those fears and be a better man as a result.

My lesson learned to share here is: no matter what fear you’re facing or fall that might be ahead of you, don’t let the fear of the fall keep you from looking forward. Full disclosure — I’m still working on the running thing. There are days I get it and find some momentum. There are days that it doesn’t click. I’m staying at it though. I’ve been able to overcome the fear of the fall — returning to happily finding myself sprawling on the ground, learning from the latest mistake and getting up to try again.

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