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Facing your Fears

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Lesley Hibberd

Winter 2015

Facing Your Fears…

Because I said I would…

When you’ve stared death in the face, had a knife pressed against your chest you’d think not much else could scare you, but you’d be wrong.

It was a damp, cold Saturday morning in February 1988. I had already thrown up twice in the last 10 minutes and my legs were like jelly. I could no longer perform the simple act of putting one foot in front of the other. My heart was beating so fast that I could not hear anything other than it pounding in my ears. I had lost the ability to talk and all rational thoughts had gone out of the window. I was standing on the runway at Headcorn airfield in Kent and I was terrified.

I had just completed 18 weeks basic training at Hendon Police College and I was starting out on what would be a 25 year career in the Met police. During my service I faced a lot of violence, danger and even starred death in the face on more than one occasion. I was posted to central London and worked during the IRA bombing campaign in the UK. It seemed that every week I was dealing with a live IED (improvised explosive device). I was dealing with drug dealers, armed robbers, and people armed with knives and the odd firearm. I received 5 commendations, 3 for bravery. I never backed away from the danger and there was nothing that I could not handle. But I had a dark secret from that February morning that had stayed with me. I was an utter fraud and failure.

It’s a tradition at the end of police training to raise money for charity, our class decided on a parachute jump. Rather than admit that I was frightened of heights, after all I was a police officer, I said that I would do it. I could overcome my fear, I would not let it beat me and no one would know that I could not even stand on a chair without feeling sick. As soon as I agreed the nightmares began but I kept telling myself that I would be ok.

Soon I found myself standing on the runway waiting for the all clear to board the plane. I was frozen to the spot and I knew that there was no way I was going to be able to get on that plane. I was just about to have a full blown melt down when the instructor announced that the wind speed had just gone above the safe jump limit. He was very sorry but we would not be able to jump. I could have kissed him. I put on my sad, disappointed face, while inside I was literally jumping with joy. We would have to re book the jump for another day. I knew at that moment that I would not jump and in fact everyone else did the jump a week later but not me. I felt an utter fraud. I had let this get the better of me and I had failed. I kidded myself that it was OK and that it was no big deal, but it was.

My fear was very specific; it was not heights but standing on an edge and falling. So it was very easy to avoid during my career. I could stand on a roof as long as I did not go to the edge of the building. So I learnt how to live my life around this fear.

Fast forward 25 years and I began my journey with Quest. I completed my diploma course in Feb 2015. I was not new to Cognitive Hypnotherapy as I had received therapy from Gill Wood for over a year. After gaining my diploma I enrolled on the Master Practitioner course. I used both the diploma and Master Practitioner course as an opportunity to get rid of all those little niggling, annoying things that get in the way but there was still one big thing left and it was now time.

So one weekend Tony Burkinshaw worked on my fear in the cafeteria at Regents College over a cup of coffee. What happened in the next 20 minutes completed blew me away, something shifted. I went from that cafeteria into the quadrangle and, with Tony having kittens, I stood on a wall. The wall overlooked a basement area, the drop was about 15 feet. I stood on the edge and looked down into the basement. I stood there looking and waiting for the fear but it never came. I could not believe it.

Was this a complete fluke, would it stick, had I dreamt the whole thing and none of it was real. Only one way to find out, so I did a 30ft abseil. I loved every minute of it.

I was driving back home feeling very proud of myself when it happened. A tiny voice in my head whispered “What about a skydive?”

I posted on our Master Practitioner Facebook page asking if anyone would be interesting into doing a tandem skydive. Now I must admit I expected to be told, very politely, where to go but to my amazement 15 people said they would love to… Sharpe intake of breath and before I knew what was happening I had arranged it and we were set for our jump on the 30th August 2015.

What happened that day has changed me forever. We arrived at the airfield in Salisbury. As I drove into the car park I could see parachutes descending and I remember thinking ‘this is really happening’. When it came to the crunch could I actually do it? We had our training and we were all kitted up. I went and met my jump instructor Henk, whose nickname was the Mad Dutchman!!! I was putting my life in the hands of a man who I had only met 1 minute ago, no control issues there at all (sarcastic voice). I walked to the plane, I kept waiting for the old feelings to return but they never did. Before I knew what was happening we were at 15,000ft and the door was open.

Everyone had jumped and there was just me and Henk left. We started to slide forward towards the door, my heart began beating faster but not with fear just sheer excitement. Henk sat on the edge of the door with me dangling out of the plane. Me, dangling out of a plane at 15,000ft only attached to a stranger by 4 carabiner clips. He shouted in my ear ‘Are you ready?’ You bet I was and then we were out. Those first 10 seconds are difficult to describe. You literally go from 0 to about 120mph and I wondered if my stomach would ever catch up with the rest of my body. Then you get into freefall position and the ground is far below you. OMG I am flying. For 60 sec I felt free, we buzzed a cloud, very surreal, and the exhilaration was beyond words. It was almost a shame when the parachute opened, almost. Suddenly the noise of the air whizzing past you was replaced with silence, I checked around to make sure everyone else’s chutes were open. The weight of responsibility lifted, they were all safe. The remainder of the jump was peaceful and gave me a chance to take in all the sights, Stonehenge and Salisbury Cathedral but all too quickly I was back on the ground.

A few seconds after landing I just exploded with sheer joy and excitement. I went around hugging everyone, the first person I got too was Bex and I almost flattened her. I had done it. I had conquered my fear; no longer would it conquer me. For 25 years this had beaten me, eaten away at me but not anymore. Never again will I let fear get in my way. If I can jump out of a plane I can do anything.

All of my fellow jumpers fought their own demons that day and beat them. I am immensely proud of each and every one of them.

Fear at its worse is paralysing, it can leave you feeling not good enough, worthless, a complete failure, preventing you living your life to its full potential. But your fear is what you do, not who you are. It can be overcome and on the other side of your fear lies something truly magical. So ask yourself this ‘what am I frightened of and what am I going to do about it?’ The life you want is waiting for you and you can have it, find that strength within you and see where it takes you. Who knows I may even see you at 15,000ft next time?

You can watch the fun here: