This past Thursday, I had the pleasure of attending and telling a story at RAW Storytelling in Fort Lauderdale. Every 2nd Thursday of the month, storytellers and appreciaters of the spoken word gather together at Collective Ventures over a night’s theme for firsthand accounts into the human experience. Led by Enid, founder of Witchcraft Branding, writers take to the stage one at a time to bear all in front of a room of strangers.
The night’s theme was Triggers and when I committed to telling a story back in November I had no clue what I was going to talk about. Luckily I had two months to think about it and as I did I knew exactly what I wanted to talk about. Few things in my life have impacted me as much as the open ocean and one of the biggest events to impact me there is learning how to freedive. So that’s what I wrote about and share with you now. Enjoy.
“It’s a Working Title”
The word trigger has two uses. As a noun it’s defined in the Merriam Webster Dictionary as:
a. something that acts like a mechanical trigger in initiating a process or reaction
b. to cause an intense and usually negative emotional reaction in (someone)
The way I see it, when faced with a trigger there’s seemingly only two ways to respond. Either you react or you don’t. But I argue there’s a third option: we turn a trigger into a choice. Rather than robotically reacting or blindly ignoring our triggers, we have the option and the power to make calculated decisions in reacting – or not reacting – to our triggers. In shifting this paradigm, the trigger is no longer the item in control, we are. We become the trigger. And when we consciously pull triggers with purpose, great things happen.
// Diving Deep
Like you, I’ve experienced my share of triggers and with each trigger I’ve reacted instinctively to what the trigger demands. I was hungry, I ate. I was thirsty, I drank. I needed money, I got a job. I was lonely, I got a boyfriend. I was rejected, I compromised my values to fit in or got rip roaring drunk until I didn’t care anymore. Each impulsive reaction to a trigger, especially external triggers, drew me further and further away from myself. I listened to triggers brought on by family, peers, employers and less than significant others. Each trigger I reacted to without question. I just no longer wanted the discomfort of it prodding me. Because of this, I’ve stayed in shallow waters thinking I had reached my limit. Because the trigger to breathe was stronger than my will to overcome it, thus I stayed in the shallows.
As I grew older, I began to outgrow the shallow end. I mean this both figuratively and literally. Growing up in South Florida I’ve always loved the ocean. The ocean is my safe place where I go to meditate, heal and rediscover happiness. I’ve been a fish in the water from a young age getting into every water sport I could get my fins on but it’s diving under the water I love most. Just one little problem, everytime I go underwater I feel the trigger to come up for air. I’m sure you can relate.
This all changed over the course of a weekend when I took a freediving course. I bought a pair of long diving blades and shelled out the cash at Florida Freedivers. The course claimed that by the end of two days I would be able to dive to 66 feet and hold my breath for 3 minutes. I didn’t see how this was possible. The deepest I could go was 30 feet at which point my throat would tighten, panic set in and I would bolt for the surface, gasping for air at the top. To me, maybe 40 feet sounded more realistic, not 66.
// The Diving Reflex
The journey began in the classroom where we learned about the physiology of breathing and how humans are actually made to dive to depths farther than we believe thanks to a function known as the ,a href=”https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/breath-holding-dive-reflex-extends/” target=”_blank”>mammalian diving reflex. We learned in detail how the body reacts to long breath holds and that there’s a whole series of stages your body goes through to enable you to descend without air. Next we moved onto safety and the process of drowning which by the end of that hour, despite watching copious black out videos, the fear of drowning dissipated. Next was proper breathing technique before we hit the pool.
“Alright, 3 minute static time,” said my instructor.
Seriously? I thought. No practice, we’re just going to do this thing? He told us the key is to find our concentration. Find that rhythmic thought you can get lost in. We’re going to feel the trigger to breathe, it’s going to happen, but stay with the thought. Push through it. Don’t react. I practiced my technique, slowed my heart rate, filled my lungs and lowered my head to float in the water. My lungs felt tight and I wanted to exhale to get comfortable but knew I needed those sweet bits of H2O. My buddy tapped me. I had hit the one minute mark. I felt calm. I focused on the sound of the water as a trance. Two minutes. I focused on the rainbow waves the light made on the pool wall. Another tap signaled 2:30. Fuck, this hurts as my body reached it’s first stage of convulsions. It felt weird, foreign as I tried to push it farther but gave in and came up. Fuck! I wasn’t even winded. I could’ve stayed longer.
Next day we took everything we practiced into the ocean. A 66 foot rope was lowered into 400 foot deep water with pieces of tape marking 20 feet, 30, 40, 50, 60 and a heavy weight anchored it at 66. We pulled down to each mark slowly. Each move of the arm deliberately to save energy. On my first pull I turned, level eye to eye with a hammerhead shark cruising by. Luckily, I like sharks and hung with him for a while before realizing I had to surface.
Now that our bodies and lungs were warmed up, it was time for the real thing. We would be kicking down to 50 feet. I made my dive. Simple enough. As I turned, I felt it. That trigger. I wanted air. I looked up and immediately regretted it.The surface was far and I needed to breathe now. As I quickly extended into position I caught my instructor down at depth with me. He calmly looked at me and slowly nodded. You’ve got this. And just like that, the trigger was gone. I was the one in control. I serenely broke the surface, not the least bit winded. However, my instructor was there hooting, hollering and high-fiving me. “Yeah! That was perfect.”
// Breaking the Wall
At the moment I was ecstatic. I had broken a wall I didn’t think I could. Not only that, it really wasn’t that hard. But now it was time for THE dive. The big 66 foot, 20 meter, dive. More than double the depth of my limit not even an hour ago! I felt the anxiety, the fear of the trigger rising in my chest and thought about my instructor. His calm demeanor. How much fun I was having. His faith that I could do this which pushed me to have faith in myself.
I put all my complete focus into my breathe up and form. Inhale: 1, 2, 3. Exhale: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. Again. Inhale. Exhale. With my last inhale I breathed deep into my diaphragm, lower lungs, chest, shoulders back, duck, remove snorkel, extend, sweep, kick. I watched the rope with a meditation and determination that only comes with being completely in a moment. I pass the 30 mark, 40, 50. I feel the weight hit my hand at 66 feet. I feel the urge to breath but brush it aside and instead focus on what I feel. I feel weightless, the cool of the water on my face, at one with the ocean, true complete peace. I look up and the light framing the silhouettes of my classmates so far away is beautiful. I wanted to stay in the moment forever but despite overcoming the trigger, air is still required. I turned to kick. Back up. The rush of the ocean flowing by as I returned to the surface relaxed, in control, clear-headed. I reach the surface, 3 recovery breaths “I’m okay.”
Later in the car on the drive home the emotions caught up to me and tears welled up in my eyes. The joy was overwhelming at what I didn’t quite know. Was it the accomplishment? The peace of mind? The endorphins? The beauty of it all? It’s a feeling that has followed me since and continues to resurface in all areas of my life. It serves as a constant reminder to not ignore your triggers but to listen to them while not letting them control you. Triggers are neither good nor bad but a necessity for guidance.They cue us in when something is happening, but it’s our choice to decide in what way to react. Do we blindly turn to what we know or use it as a propulsion to discover something new?
When Enid asked me what to call my talk, I honestly didn’t know. Naming things on the spot is not my strong suite. Do I appease the trigger and say the first thing that comes to mind? Do I remain blank? So I just told her “It’s a working title.”
A big thank you to Enid for hosting such a great event and to her wife for capturing the event so beautifully. Thank you to all the other storytellers for bearing it all and sharing their human experience with everyone as well.