Finding Peace — Manuscript Post #6
I asked them if everyone that takes lessons actually learns to swim. They told me that most people do. The people that stick with the program, the people that actually try, they have a high success rate. They told me that many adults had learned to swim with their program. But they did not guarantee that I would learn to swim.
I was nervous about starting this process. I was afraid I would fail. I had to deal with the fact that I was actually going to take a different approach, after many years of justifying why I didn’t need to know how to swim. At the same time, it felt good to be actually dealing with this issue instead of rationalizing my inaction. It felt good just to start the process.
Our instructor was very young. His name was Christian. He wasn’t much older than my sons. I had to accept that he knew more than I did. I had to get in the pool. I had to get wet. I had to buy a pair of goggles that made me look even more ridiculous than normal. I had to be in the pool, struggling to learn how to swim, while persons a fraction of my age sped up and down the length of the pool like dolphins. Sometimes it seemed humiliating. But I wanted to learn more than I wanted to be right that I didn’t need to know how to swim.
Lessons proceeded at a reasonable pace. The next step was learning to breathe while swimming. Until I could do this, I couldn’t swim for very long. I was trying to do what they told me to, but it just didn’t seem to work. When I would turn my head to one side to get my face out of the water so I could breathe, I just got a mouthful of water. When this happened, Christian would calmly explain that when I turned my head to breath, I stopped kicking. In order to move through the water I needed to pull myself through the water with my arms and propel myself by kicking my feet. When I stopped kicking, I slowed down which meant my body began to sink. And that meant my face was below the water when I tried to breath.
When this happened, and Christian told me what I was doing wrong, I would tell him I was sure I was still kicking as I turned my head. He was polite and encouraged me to keep trying. I was full of shit. I continued to try. I was getting comfortable in the pool and I could propel myself in the water as long as I could hold my breath. I decided to simply try to kick harder all the time. I found I could breath once in a while. I kept trying.
The more I relaxed in the pool, the more I actually observed my surroundings. The pool was lined with small square blue tiles with very sparkly reflective flecks. When I was swimming, or trying to swim, I would see the light glinting off these tiles under water. As I continued to simply try to swim, I relaxed and my mind started to wander. I found myself moving through the water and I was able to breathe once, and then again. I was told to turn and take a breath after each time I rotated my arms. The process was simple: Left arm, right arm, turn your head, breathe.
I remember the moment clearly. I was moving along, I was able to take a breath and then, I had a thought. My thought was simply this — “I don’t want to breathe right now”. I had progressed from being afraid of the water to a point where I was so confident I could breathe when I needed to I could actually chose when to breathe. In that moment I began to actually swim. I was thrilled. To this day, I can’t really remember why it was so hard to breathe before.
Christian was, of course, completely correct. I wasn’t kicking enough. He knew what I needed to do. I was resistant to what he said I needed to do to get better. But I kept trying.
I started this process being afraid to even get in the pool. I was embarrassed I couldn’t swim. I wanted to get over this issue and I realized I needed help. I had to give up my long held position that I didn’t need to know how to swim. I found a place where lots of other people had learned to swim. The environment was a safe place to learn. The pool was heated so I wasn’t physically uncomfortable. The pool was shallow enough that I was confident I wouldn’t drown. I found a place and people that removed most of the barriers to my learning how to swim. This allowed me to focus on actually swimming.
Once I could breath while swimming I could move on to other strokes. Backstroke was surreal. I had to believe I could keep myself on top of the water. I could hear and feel the water going by all around my face and I was upside down. I couldn’t see where I was going. I had to believe I was going to swim. And I did. There is a real feeling of confidence when you overcome something that has scared you for a long time.
One time, while practicing my backstroke, I didn’t realize where I was and hit my head as I swam into the end of the pool. It hurt. I had gone from being afraid to be in the water to swimming with confidence, so much so that I lost track of where I was.