Bubbles float from my body with each exhale. The dissonance of the gym, muffled. Bloop bloop bloop of my bubbled breath, creates a symphony with the whoosh movements of my strokes underwater. My body feels fluid and easy, a stark contrast to the weighted ache I felt just moments before diving in.
If you go to the outdoor toy aisle of any store, there’s a solid six by 8 foot space dedicated to bubbles. Children are entranced by these translucent, delicate spheres of soap floating up and away from them. As I flip turn at the end of the lane and kick off the wall, I realize how 4 years old I still am, smiling at the bubbles my movement in the water creates for me to glide through.
I want to stay with the bubbles forever.
I close my goggled eyes and try to remember what it felt like inside my mother’s womb. The fluid warmth. The easy, contained movement. The quiet wonder in my growing brain, untainted by the outside world. I sink to the bottom of the pool and hold my breath. The bubbles slow their ascent from my nose and mouth as the last bits of air escape my lungs. I am suddenly calm. Calmed by the inability to breathe the water around me. Calmed by the sound of my own heartbeat drumming so loudly, its echoing off the pool walls surrounding me. I am free, just for now, from the requirement to take a breath.
I’m tired of breathing.
My therapist is kind. Attentive. Wise. I pay her $85 an hour to be that way. I shock her a great deal, but she never falls speechless. My first appointment, I inched my way off the couch, into a seated, knee chest tuck position on the floor. She smiled, and matter of factly stated, “Ahhh, you are an earth baby.” Every subsequent appointment, I have walked into her downtown office, complete with perfectly inviting IKEA coaches and chairs, and sat on the neatly folded blanket placed on the floor just for me. Any doctor who reserves a spot on their floor to talk, is worth paying for.
She’s helped me see how I leave my physical body to cope. How when my heart starts racing, breath quickens, and my inner voice becomes a cruel, judgemental dictator, my mind literally leaves my body. My incessant wandering into waking dreams now has a word: disassociation.
I like words.
As self preserving as disassociating has been for me in my crumb trail of trauma, it no longer serves me. Though retired from living in a battle zone, I am stuck feeling I’m still in it. In order to live, rather than just stay alive, I must learn to be present. So, we are working on keeping me in my body.
This is what I remember as my chest begins to burn. I spring my legs off the bottom, gasp for air, climb out of the pool, and into the spa. The hot from the cold. The breathless to the breathing. I settle into the warmth, then jump back into the icy pool. My body jolts me awake. Goosebumps form.
I am living.
“Excuse me. Didn’t you just get into the spa a minute ago? You came back to swim more laps?” He’s an older, speedo wearing European in the lane next to me. His chest hairs have their own zip code, and the five wrinkles between his eyes, he’s now pushing together like an accordion, trying to wrap his mind around my apparently baffling workout routine. “Yes?” I respond, making my own accordion wrinkles. There’s 3 open lanes. Is he upset that I’m back? “How does that work for you?” I look at him and relax my face to a halfway smile. “It’s shocking. I like it.”
I take off in the frigid water, chasing bubbles with Freestyle laps. I pause and laugh at the end of the 25 meter lane. Speedo climbs out of the pool, into the spa, then back into the pool. I swim back to the start. “You’re crazy. This feels terrible. Why would you do such a thing?” He’s now completely puzzled by me, maybe even annoyed as he hugs his arms together, dancing in the water to adjust his body temperature back to the cold. I smile and respond, “Because it reminds me I’m alive. You feel alive now don’t you?”
A smile releases his wrinkles, as a brightness fills his face. “Touché” he says. “Touché”.
Have you done anything to feel alive today?