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The Terrifying Zip Line

Updated: 5 days ago

Research by developmental psychologists suggests that personality traits are formed in early childhood with half being inherited from our parents, while the other half is developed in response to our environment.

If accurate, half of me was genetically predisposed to physical endeavors and strong will, while the other half of my personality formed while I stood upside down on my head.

Right side up, my world seemed chaotic and difficult to navigate. When upside down, I felt more “normal” and could escape to an imaginary world.

I was born a Gemini and entered the world earlier than my parents planned. I weighed only 4 pounds and 4 ounces and was born with a condition called tibial torsion (aka out-toeing) that caused my hips to splay open and my toes to point outward.

In the 1970s, treatments for out-toed children involved wearing special hard white shoes and leg braces designed to stabilize and limit the excessive range of motion so I could learn to walk.

I didn’t speak until I was almost three. My first word was a 3-word request for “more pudding please.” I'm guessing my sweet tooth was the motivation I needed to speak.

My mom told me she and my dad were somewhat concerned by my silence but attributed the delay to me having an older sister who could speak for me. Later they concluded it was more likely my stubborn personality that made me unwilling to speak, rather than being unable.

When I was six, doctors prescribed me penicillin that sent me into cardiac arrest. That same year I was stung by a bee and blew up like a puffer fish.

When I was seven, I finally learned to tie my shoes. My parents chalked up that learning delay to my stubborn personality, but the truth was that my brain had trouble understanding the roles of the right and left hands. Using the singsong bunny-ear method they showed me on a regular basis made absolutely no sense. One day, however, I watched my mom’s left-handed-firefighter-friend tie his shoes and it suddenly clicked. To this day, I write with my right hand but am left-handed dominant in other areas.

When I was eight, I was in a bicycle accident that changed my life forever. Against my parent's instructions, I stubbornly conned our babysitter into letting me ride my bike to the convenience store with my best friend.

In the alley behind our house was a stormwater drain covered by a metal grate. On the bike ride home, my front tire slipped into the space between the grate bars and dropped into the drain, while the inertia propelled the rest of the bike forward, flipping the bike upside down and smashing my face into the concrete. The world went dark.

When I regained consciousness, I was strapped to a hospital table with doctors and nurses hovering above me to stitch up my face and wire my jaw shut.

With a black and blue face and a mouth wired shut, I couldn’t eat solid food, bike, swim, attend gymnastics or do much of anything except suck liquids through a straw.

I didn't know it at the time, but the events of my childhood skewed my personality. Instead of developing my Authentic Self, I developed the Survival Self, which manifested in nearly every situation, including church, friendships, family, and sports. Survival Self had grit and tenacity. She was scrappy and at war with the world.

Everything became a competition (win or lose) or a fight (live or die.) I lived the better part of my life inside the "OR."

The Survival Self is the starting place for all of us to a greater or lesser degree. It is our adaptation to the expectations and demands of life. While the Authentic Self is based on the natural expression of who we really are, the Survival Self is based on the demands of the environment.

The trouble with this approach is that I identified with my survival side, and less with my authentic side. When that happens, psychologists suggest that "we lose awareness of our self. We almost forget who we truly are." (


In my mid-thirties I began to examine the Survival Self and went on an expedition to re-discover Authentic Self. It has/is an ever-evolving journey because she's been dormant for so many years, but she is finding her voice, her purpose, and her sense of adventure.

The challenge is teaching Authentic Self to peacefully co-exist with Survival Self. It has been an interesting experiment.

I was on a trip to the Smokey Mountains where my brother, my significant other, and my bonus boy #1 decided it would be fun to go zip-lining -- an action-oriented activity that involves riding a steel cable on a belted harness between two points.

Riding up the mountain to 2000 feet elevation was an adventure. Stepping into the safety gear that snuggly accentuated the thighs and hips built camaraderie with the other zip liners wearing the same unflattering harness. Climbing the stairs to the first platform didn't trigger me.

Realizing that zip lining required me to step off of a platform without a net was terrifying. I felt my body tighten with fear because I hate heights.

Hello Survival Self.

When it was my turn to zip, the guides asked me to step up onto a box (on top of the platform) so they could safely attach my cable/harness to the line.

Panic struck and the world went dark. My hands were sweating, my legs were trembling, and I couldn't catch my breath. I was paralyzed with fear.

I stood with my hands on the makeshift handlebars for what felt like hours. My mind wrestled with ways to get out of the predicament without causing a hassle for the rest of my group. I knew the best way down the mountain was on the six zip lines, but fear is not rational. Fear causes anxiety and tricks us into believing we are in a fight for survival -- even when imminent danger isn't real.

On that platform I had a front row seat to the struggle between Survival self and Authentic Self.

Survival Self was causing conflict and chaos. Authentic Self was whispering to breath in the magnificent views.

Authentic Self reminded me that I wasn't in real danger and didn't need to be in survival mode. I had chosen this. I wanted to experience this.

I made a silent pact with Authentic Self and asked her to take charge -- and she did.

As I stepped off the first platform and zipped toward the second platform a football-field-length away, moments of my life literally flashed before my eyes. The leg braces, the disfiguring bike accident, the birth of my son, and every major milestone since.

When I arrived at the platform on other side, my legs couldn't hold the weight of the adrenaline surging through my body and buckled under me. I cried tears of relief. I cried for the little girl who thought she had to wage war on the world to survive. I cried for the triumph of Authentic Self.

As I write this story and relive the adventure with a smile, my hands are sweaty and my heart is racing. I've realized that Survival Self and Authentic Self are both me. They've battled for their turn at the helm, but their reigns are not mutually exclusive. They need each other to exist. If Authentic Self does not feel safe, Survival Self shows up. When Survival Self becomes ridiculously oppressive, Authentic Self reminds her that life is about more than survival. Life is experiencing each moment with awe and wonder -- even when those moments appear to be perilous.

Yes, life can be hard and real danger exists, but fear is not the same as danger. Fear is a belief system that convinces us that we are here to simply survive. Fear suggests that we are separate from each other and source -- that life is about the OR.

You OR me.

Win OR lose.

Fear OR faith.

But life is more complex than that. Sometimes losing is a win and sometimes faith is about fear. It's been my experience that life is rarely about you OR me. It's about both (all). OR serves Survival Self while AND serves Authentic Self.

Life is richer and more meaningful when we embrace and appreciate all pieces of ourselves AND others.


Powerful Perspectives begin with self-awareness and move upward toward acceptance, forgiveness, and love.

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Chaos Creator's Toolkit



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