In order to get past a very traumatic or life crippling experience we often need to do something life affirming – something that requires no thought, just sensation. My first life affirming moment after my husband died was 2 hours worth of moments, in a raft, with a group of people I barley knew, hurtling down a super fast moving river somewhere in the South of France.
My best friend suggested that I should try white water rafting so, in a rash moment after several glasses of red wine, I agreed. Then, a week before we were due to leave, I tried to back out. I didn’t really know why on a conscious level but, I suppose, sub-consciously, it was the first time I’d actively decided to do something where there was a risk of me actually enjoying myself. After a lot of panic and more than a few tears I was persuaded to go so, one Saturday morning I sat waiting for my lift. The guy I knew and liked and he spoke pretty good English which helped me no end as my French wasn’t great at the time; his girlfriend I’d never met. She spoke no English, didn’t like English people (still doesn’t) and was rather possessive of her boyfriend. Subsequently, he and I had a nice chat and then he and she had a row in French and didn’t speak to me or each other for about half an hour – still, the countryside was amazing so at least I had something nice to look at whilst feeling more than a little uncomfortable.
We picked up some more people along the way, who I also didn’t know, and eventually reached our destination. I knew that we would be staying in a hotel over night but I didn’t realise that I would be sharing with two other girls – it really was a case of being thrown in at the deep end but it was a great way to get to know people. Aside from the stroppy girlfriend everyone in the group spoke at least a little English and encouraged me to try out my basic French (which got better as the weekend went on I’m pleased to say).
So, off to the river. As it was the middle of summer it was pretty damned hot – around 28-30 degrees. I’d never been rafting before so I wasn’t really sure what to expect but I figured sitting on a boat in a bikini would be a great way to improve my tan. When I was handed a wet-suit, a life jacket and a helmet I was a little surprised and actually began to think about what I’d let myself in for; maybe this wasn’t going to be a nice little trip on ariver boat after all!!
My first experience of pouring myself into a wet-suit was memorable to say the least; I could barely stand for laughing. It was like trying to get toothpaste back into the tube! Eventually I managed to get everything on and we headed off to a small lake to practice getting in and out of the boat and to listen to our safety instructions. We were standing waist deep in water as I watched the others climb into the boat without any trouble at all – they’d all done this before. My first attempt was so girly; I hoisted myself up and flailed around on the edge of the boat like a beached seal. The guys encouraged me to put in a bit more effort so, the second time, I launched myself using all the strength I had and almost ended up flying over the other side; fortunately someone caught me and I got settled in. Then we had the safety lecture. In French. As the guide didn’t speak English, one of the guys filled me in on the basics and then said ‘don’t worry, you’ll figure it out’.
We carried our boat the the edge of the river to begin our rafting experience. As soon as I saw the speed of the water I began to wonder what on earth I was doing; had I lost my mind?? Oh well, there was no going back now!
The next two hours passed in a flash of adrenaline and exhilaration. We paddled like crazy and the boat was thrown along the fast moving river between rocks and boulders. We were thrown around, almost turned over more than once and one of our team was literally bounced out of the boat but most of all, we laughed. Half way along the route, we stopped. Our guide took us a short way up the river bank to a water-fall; we stood underneath and felt the power and the strength of the water and tried not to fall over on the slippery rocks. Some of the guys then jumped into the water from a huge rock, maybe 15 feet up. Part of me really wanted to give it a try but I thought I’d reached my limits for the day in terms of being out of my comfort zone.
After we got back to the centre, divested ourselves of our wet-suits and other paraphernalia we all just talked, laughed and relived our experiences. Later that day we took a drive into the mountains with a few beers and talked and laughed some more.
Over the course of this one weekend I learned that I was capable of far more than I thought, that making friends doesn’t need to be hard, language doesn’t need to be a barrier and that it is OK to laugh and have fun after you’ve lost someone. Since that day I’ve tried to push myself to do new things all the time and, as a result, I have had some great experiences and made even more friends. This summer we are going canyoning and there is a group effort to persuade me that I should do a sky dive – we’ll see with that one – but I really hope I reach a point where my comfort zone is just a blip on the horizon.After all, that’s what life is all about isn’t it?