I Had Been Taught That People Always Leave, & Good Things Always End, So Why Let Anyone or Anything Close?

Have you ever felt like you were about to lose someone or something that means so much to you? I’ve experienced that loss before, and I know the pain and hurt that arises within. 

I had also been taught through my experience with his alcoholism that some people leave. And sometimes, they never come back. Or, they may come back partially, but often not fully the same person. And when that happened, neither did I.

At that moment I made a pact with myself to never allow someone or something new, to get close to me ever again. 

Self-Preservation Is Learned

This choice was deliberate. Despite knowing it wasn’t healthy, past pain drove me to rely solely on myself. 

So recently, when I felt like I was once again losing, actually multiple people and things so important to me, some of which I hadn’t even allowed to fully get close to me, I knew I had to fill the space. I couldn’t feel empty again— I remembered what “empty” felt like.

The Feeling of “Empty” Cannot Be Ignored

Recently, I saw the movie “The Boys in the Boat” in theaters. I loved it so much it’s now on “repeat” like all my favorites I beat into the ground. I saw it five times in the theater, then rented it three times, and recently I was just able to buy it. So now I watch it every afternoon after I row. 

When I first saw the movie, something inside of me woke up. Rowing was something I was always curious about, but never had the guts to try. And the real life characters in the movie were so relatable, I found a piece of me within each, or something endearing about each guy that made me love them.

Then, as I began to lose those people and things so important to me one by one, a crazy thought entered my mind: Why not try rowing?

At first I laughed at myself. But then that empty feeling kept coming back, and that void kept knocking on my shoulder. It was not to be ignored. Something needed to fill this space.

I knew I needed a distraction. And it had to be something new. Something challenging, physically and mentally, that demanded my complete presence.

Try Something New: Pick Up That First Oar

On that first brisk, windy Thursday morning, when I first picked up that oar, and my rowing coach showed me how to flip the shell and walk it out to the shore, I literally prayed to God midwalk and said, “Please don’t let this be a mistake.”

Knowing my clumsy self, phone and keys were left in the boathouse, being fully prepared to fall in the water. Literally, my goal in the first lesson was just to stay in the boat. As Coach Ulbrickson said to the University of Washington JV team’s first race against Cal, “Try not to tip over.” That was my only objective as well. I’m a very simple person.

And to be honest, that’s pretty much all I accomplished. The first day rowing was a disaster. There was a lot of yelling, and a lot of room for improvement. I rowed like 20 yards. That was it. But I didn’t feel like a failure— because it was 20 yards further than if I had never stepped into that shell. 

Rowing is something completely new to me. It is the unknown, of which I have no prior skill. I was never taught to row, even row a rowboat as a kid. So first, like every rookie, I had to get technique down. 

And I kept failing. I kept failing hard. It was looking like this was a lost cause. I wouldn’t feather in unison, causing my boat to give me a splash of the cool water waiting, just begging, for me to tip with each mistake. Or, I wouldn’t follow through with the catch. And, I kept using my arms instead of the power of my legs, and forgetting how to sit at the release. My knuckles became raw on my right hand as my left skimmed the top, taking out chunks of skin little by little with each repeated row out of rhythm.

I was, in no uncertain terms, awful. But, I kept correcting myself. I kept going. Because that empty space needed to be filled. I wasn’t going to fill it with another person or situation, I was going to fill it with something that was mine, and mine alone. Something that I was fully self-reliant to follow through with; that I didn’t need to rely on anyone else. 

Because that lesson I had learned over time and time again, that I was the only person I could fully depend on, stuck in my mind like unwanted gum on the bottom of a shoe. And whether that belief or not is true, only time will tell. And, if I’m being honest, sometimes I wish I didn’t have to always hold on so tight. 

Even Though My Lack of Abilities Gave Me No Reason To Believe, I Still Kept Going

My last lesson was do or die. I was either going to figure this out, or I wasn’t. And my coach knew it, too. So this time, he just threw me out there. I had to figure it out. And that’s just what I did.

For the first time, in a long time, I let go. I stopped holding the oars with a death grip. I allowed myself to not hold on so tight. I forgot what that felt like.

I also took a breath. A real one. I closed my eyes, and in my mind there was no one on that bay, just me and my boat. The sun on me, water like beads of blue crystal diamonds skimming the surface. 

And then, I began. I let myself feel the connection between my hands and the oars, and enjoy the glide of the boat beneath me. I was going backwards anyway, so why the heck not close my eyes. I began to get my rhythm. I began to row.

When I opened my eyes, both my coach and I were in actual disbelief. I had done it. “Do it again,” he said. And so I did. 

Back and forth, back and forth. I had to learn to turn the boat, turn my head and get direction, watch to not run into other boats, and later get beached by my coach and figure out how to get out.

By the end of that day, I picked up speed and power, and traveled three times the distance. My coach told me that I had improved “Quadruple fold.” 

I looked at him and smiled, and said, “Well, that’s not saying much. There was nowhere to go, but up.”

When You Invest In Yourself, the Possibilities are Endless

So if you’re feeling a sense of loss, find a positive distraction. Physical activity, especially, can improve your mood. Once you’ve picked your distraction, follow through. Embrace the possibility of failure with a sense of humor. And when you feel like all hope may be lost, try one more time. You might surprise yourself.

Because what I do know is that every time I row, it’s like getting an old piece back of me. A piece that I lost, a piece that I let go of, a piece I was afraid to keep.

I discovered parts of myself quietly when there is no one around. I found my courage when I first began. I found vigor, when I knew I couldn’t quit, while my butt was being handed to me on a silver platter— I got humble real quick. 

Yet, there was also a peaceful inner strength that evolved right out of the gate, knowing I am completely dependent on myself for success or failure. When you’re out there on the water, it’s a peace I’ve never known or experienced. Sights, sounds, feelings, smells, the rush of air all come in at once. 

I feel more alive out there on that water, in that boat, than I ever do. Who knew that the love of a shell would overwhelm the senses, taking me back to who I used to be, and daring me to evolve into that girl I know I am.