On Long Island, there’s a water park called Splish Splash. It opened in 1991. It’s way out east. You can see the tallest slides from the highway as you drive by. During elementary school years, we went to Splish Splash on field trips through the Summer Recreation program, a day camp through our school district. Bust through those gates, toss your stuff in a locker, don those less-than-stylish water shoes and run through concrete paths to find the shortest lines, the fastest ways to hit the water.
I’ve never considered myself a thrill-seeker. I’m the safe one, the organizer, the monitor. I’ll hold your wallet while you’re on the ride. As bold as I seem in communication, I’m equally conservative in physical challenges. Even 9-year-old Denise had her limits. I stuck to the smaller rides and, of course, the Lazy River.
In the mid-2000s, I revisited Splish Splash. I was hanging with a group of people who made the pilgrimage to the water park as a summer tradition. I tagged along. The park was bigger than my last visit, more attractions, bigger, faster rides, longer lines. 26-year-old Denise was even more reticent to climb the wooden stairs and rocket down a plastic slide than 9-year-old Denise was… but this group of friends was not letting me get away with hanging by the fences, waiting for them to hit the pool at the end of the ride.
Every single step up the stairs of every single ride was mental torture for me. I didn’t want to do it. I was scared, plain and simple. I was a bit more confident for the rides with the tubes than for the ones where it was skin on slide but it was a struggle to get me on any line for any ride. Yet this group was a relentless bunch. Thinking back, I can feel the anxiety that rose with each rising step of those long lines (the wait didn’t help!). I wanted to turn around and head back down every time. They wouldn’t let me.
I screamed in terror for every twist down and around the hard-plastic slides. At the end of each ride, we rocketed into a pool of blue water (ew… don’t even think about it). Without fail, as we waded out of the pools, I said, “Can we go again?!” I loved it. But, next new ride, same mental pattern.
That day, I went on every ride, except the one you can see from the highway. I have my boundaries. And ten years later, as I learn about terror barriers from my coach and my coach’s coach, I realize that each attraction at Splish Splash was a literal terror barrier for me. With coercion (from people who are lovely in their own right but I don’t associate with anymore), I blasted through each terror barrier that day. I was scared, I was anxious but I was exhilarated and empowered at the end every time.
So I’m channeling that bravery as I step into my light. Rather than hold everyone else’s stuff while they climb the stairs and take the adventures, I’m stepping up too, this time with myself as coercer. If I could hit the pool and want to go on every ride again, I can step up and share my work without fear. No more playing small—we have big work to do. Much love.