by Susan J. Elliott, J.D., M.Ed.
I was raised in the Bronx where, last I checked, skiing was not a street game. So I actually reached adulthood without ever having skiied or even knowing the first thing about it.
When I was in my late 20s I worked at a job where people went skiing in Vermont and New Hampshire. The first time they invited me I was about 28 and said okay. The ONLY thing I knew about skiing was that there were jokes about broken legs. I assumed the way to avoid a broken leg was to stay upright. I rented my skis and took to the slope…a bunny trail that had a sharp drop at the top. I stood there poised on my poles, skis pointed straight ahead, and mumbled that I could do, I could do it! I pushed off and prayed that I did not land face first on the snow or break a leg. As soon as I cleared the precarious drop, I was still upright, pointed straight ahead, and I picked up speed. woo hoo. exhiliarating. I flew down the trail and went through a few schools of ski instructors with tiny tots. They all looked at me like I was Godzilla and they were Tokyo. They must be jealous, I thought. I am flying like the wind. At the bottom of the slope it leveled out but I was still flying. I flew past the ski lift….past the rental hut…through the snow covered lawn and out onto a (thankfully) frozen lake. And I was STILL standing. Woo hoo!!! My heart was PUMPING!!! It was a thrilling ride.
WOW. WOW. WOW. I didn’t fall. I was still upright! AMAZING! I LOVED this skiing thing. It was so EASY!!! I turned around and saw the unhappy faces of my ski-experienced friends and noticed a few of the ski instructors of tiny tots waving their fists at me.
What, exactly, was the problem here?
One of my friends caught up to me, red faced and looking a bit freaked out, “You have to slow down. You have to learn to stop.”
She explained that I can’t just go whizzing through schools of kids. I can’t just point myself in a general downward direction I wanted to go in and take off for that destination at 100 mph.
Really? Why not?
Something about safety. Something about keeping me and everyone else safe on the slopes. They said I couldn’t have a “little children be damned” attitude, and I couldn’t be the menace of the bunny slope. Damn. The rest of the day I learned to stop by “snowplowing,” which is a technique where you force your legs into an inverted V position. I kept falling…my snowplow looked more like a K than a V. It was excruciating. It was horrible. I was in pain. I hated every minute of it. This skiing things was hard!
I never did take a formal ski lesson because I’m a person who had taught myself to drive a clutch, ride a motorcyle, program a computer, etc etc. So I just went 3 feet, tried to snowplow, and fell down. And the next time and the next time and the time after that. All that day and all the next day. I was hurting all over. I was tired. Skiing was stupid. No wonder why no one in the Bronx ever did it.
I put it away for a short while, but then a couple of years later, I met another group of friends who skiied regularly and they convinced me to buy a pair of boots and skis and head for the slopes early and often. We went skiing all the time. And I was still teaching myself how to stop….eventually I graduated to the intermediate trails and learned to stop without snowplowing. I even went on the black diamonds a time or two. I didn’t always swoosh the way people who had lessons did, but I did learn to ski fairly well. I have fond memories of making wide glides on the intermediate slopes and just swishing along…swush, swish, swush…so peaceful. I did have some mishaps a time or two, but most of the time I was in control.
And later my kids got interested in skiing and we went together as a family to Maine and for a couple of years the boys took skiing lessons after school and I would meet them up on the mountain on Monday nights and we’d ski as a family and then go to the mountain lodge and drink hot cocoa and chat as family. My son Michael says it’s some of his nicest memories, skiing on Monday nights. The thing is that I couldn’t SKI until I learned to STOP. The key to skiing is learning to stop. And without learning to stop I would be a menace to myself and others.
Without learning to stop I would have never enjoyed those weekends with my friends (they were some of the most fun weekends I’ve ever had) or those great Monday nights with the boys. Eventually I was able to understand that relationships work the same way. Sure, rushing down the slopes at 100 mph is exhiliarating but it’s not how it’s meant to go. And it doesn’t WORK unless you know how to stop. It doesn’t work unless you know how to stay in control. Once I knew how to take care of myself by stopping properly, I enjoyed skiing a whole lot more. There was no inherent danger and I wasn’t going to take myself or someone else out. Sure the adrenalin rush is not as intense, but the dangers are not present and the rewards can be great. The key to having healthy relationships is learning how to STOP when a relationship is not good for you. It’s learning how to snowplow and fall down when you’re learning to stop but to keep learning to stop. Grieve your losses, take care of you, stay out of contact.
That’s how you STOP. When you know how to stop, how to stay out of contact and do your grief work and take care of YOU, relationships are less scary and more fun. Being in relationships is about learning to take care of you when it stops, whether you stopped it or someone else stopped it. It’s about knowing that no matter how it ends, YOU WILL BE OKAY. It’s about learning to stop when you are being carried away by the relationship. When it’s all goodness and gumdrops and honeymoons and lollipops, you have to learn to pull yourself out of the lovey-dovey and go spend some time alone or with friends or family. You have to learn to step back. Not get lost in the exhiliarating speeding down the slope. Not smiling as you whizz past the rental hut, not yelling “I did it!” as you careen across a frozen lake. No. You have to say to yourself (as I learned to do), “Whoa…this is fun but you’re going too fast for your own good. SLOW DOWN.”
My relationships became more meaningful and memorable when I was not afraid of crashing and burning or zooming through without regard to any thing else. If you’re experiencing a breakup, learn how to grieve the losses while taking care of you. Facing your pain and your grief and taking care of yourself while going through no-contact is a tough experience. It’s like spending the whole stupid day snowplowing when you want to be zooming along without a care. But it’s important to know how to stop. And to not lose you or what is important as you stop. And learning to do it opens you up to wonderful experiences later on. Experiences you cannot have if you don’t know how to stop. Learn to stop. You can do this.