• Nat

What Learning to Roll my Kayak Taught Me About Trusting Myself

Updated: Dec 22, 2020

I have a reliable roll in flatwater, but a combat roll is a different story. The thought of flipping upside down unexpectedly in the middle of a rapid, sealed into my boat, gives me pause. I do my best to take buttery lines so I can shrink the risk of flipping my big creeker to nearly zero, and as a result, I've failed to push myself as hard as I'd like in this sport I love so much.

kayaking and learning to trust myself on the James River in Richmond, Virginia
at home on the river in Richmond, VA

On the surface, that makes total sense! Who wouldn't be nervous as they learn to roll and have reservations about being able to execute when it actually counts? But I sensed there was something else there for me, and I wanted to dig deeper.

So, I flipped more in flatwater; like, a lot more. And I stayed underwater until I was massively uncomfortable, waiting to roll until a millisecond before my lizard brain would abort and grasp for my skirt.

I got intentionally more acquainted with the feeling of being trapped, in a controlled way, and I began to see parallels to how I navigated being trapped in a previous unhealthy relationship.

I was afraid to roll because I didn't trust myself to pull it off.

I was trapped before and hadn't gotten out when things got bad, so why would I be able to do that now, here?

I was mired in darkness and didn't have the strength to pull myself out of it.

Better to just avoid being trapped in the first place.

Best not to take such risks.

Of course, my subconscious wasn't making a distinction between these wildly different situations. It only saw danger and threw red flags.

Powerful negative beliefs about myself planted during long-term trauma are still deeply rooted, and they still dictate decisions sometimes. They say, Who am I to take care of myself? Who am I to make the right call at a moment's notice? Who am I to move forward instead of freeze up?

Who am I to save myself?

SUP / stand up paddleboarding the James River in Richmond, Virginia
paddleboarding with friends

I wasn't always aware of these beliefs. They were less like conscious thoughts and more like invisible puppet strings orchestrating my choices, eroding my confidence and self-worth, controlling my life.

The first step was to truly hear them when they crept in to hold me back. Once I became aware of them, I started to notice just how often they piped up. How much they were affecting my daily decisions and thus, overall direction.

But instead of cursing them, cursing my abuser, (though there's been plenty of that) and throwing my hands up in defeat, I started thanking those thoughts as they arose.

Those beliefs, however toxic, were a twisted way for my heart to try to save me from what it saw as certain demise. I express gratitude by whispering to my heart that it's OK- I know it's just trying to keep me from pain and harm, but that I know it was taken hostage a long time ago.

And with every roll, every stroke of my paddle, every spike of adrenaline before dropping in, I promise my heart I'm working to free us.