Though there’s some debate about how to best extract yourself from the pull of these currents that whisk swimmers away from shore, the generally agreed-upon method is to first stay calm: Take a deep breath and remind yourself that the current does, indeed, flow away from shore; it doesn’t pull downward. Then, wave and call for help, if there’s anyone around. Allow yourself to float with the rip tide until you feel its grip loosen; that’s when you can try swimming again, parallel to shore until you’re free and then diagonally until you’re back to solid ground.
People drown in rip tides not because the water pulls them under but because they struggle against it and exhaust themselves.
You might put that in your back pocket as part of a fuller picture of the beach trip to come once we muscle through this coldest part of winter, at least in the northern hemisphere.
Or, you might keep it front and center for those days when the rip tide isn’t made of ocean current but rather gremlin cruelty. That, too, can feel as though it will pull us under and drown us. That, too, is made worse when we exhaust ourselves by thrashing wildly against its might.
When those voices that tell us we’re not enough, we’re not valuable, we’re not loveable – when those voices get loud, we tend to resist in our own way. We might drink or eat or yell at someone we love. Years ago, I left a dent in the door of the car I then owned, some part of me thinking the pain of my abused toes might relieve me of some of the pain caused by my abusive gremlins.
These days, I endeavor to take a deep breath and remind myself that the current is temporary, that I will, eventually, swim out of this one, too. I call out for help, sometimes by way of a literal call to a trusted confidant, sometimes by way of a walk or meditation or journaling. I try to be patient and accept the discomfort, and wait for a window in which I can slowly, gently pull myself out of its grip and swim carefully back to shore.
Often, there’s then a need to lay stretched on the sand, feeling the sun and relief and last jangle of nerves as the adrenaline wanes. That’s where I find myself this morning, chest still heavy from a full-bore gremlin rip tide over the weekend, brought on not because something was going poorly but, rather, because things are going wonderfully. There is possibility everywhere and if there’s one thing that riles up our gremlins like nothing else, it’s possibility. In these moment, the gremlins are Newton’s equal and opposite reaction.
This work that we do of learning to live with our gremlin voices is not a journey toward perfection but rather a journey toward consciousness, of remaining connected with that quiet and wise part of ourselves that says, “Breathe. This current will inevitably run its course.”