Breaking the Fear Bubble

by Jonathan Wamback, current working guest

For as long as I can remember, I have had a paralyzing fear of heights. It got to the point that even when I stepped up on a ladder a couple of rungs off of the ground, my body would freeze in fright. Obviously, this fear had a debilitating influence on my life, preventing me from joining in some kinds of recreation and in some cases, limiting me occupationally.

I remember a particular time, when I was on an abuse recovery support group’s retreat, when we had the opportunity to climb up to the top of a platform which was suspended by ropes, and leap off a little ledge.

This was a symbol of being free from fear. I remember making it up about three rungs of the rope ladder when I suddenly felt dazed and had to lower myself back to the ground.

This would have been a triumphant victory for me and something within me has always regretted not doing it.

When Christ entered my life, I began to learn tools to scrutinize my fears more. I started to recognize that even though our fears can serve a natural survival purpose, they can instead be only in our minds, elements of our imagination.

The Evil One can use our sufferings, our experiences, our feelings as a way to twist our thoughts into bitterness. He uses our pains and fears to tempt us to disobey God, to sin.

One day, I decided to pray the full rosary—all twenty decades—daily. As I did this, my negative thoughts almost entirely evaporated.

I learned that I did not have to believe the thoughts I was having about myself. I began to recognize Christ’s victory, and in his victory, my own growth in sanctification. But I was still afraid of heights.

There is a rational element, a survival instinct, imbedded within a fear of heights. But my fear was excessive and I couldn’t make sense of why I still struggled with this.

So I began to meditate on the topic, considering possible practical ways in which I could overcome this fear. I thought of hang-gliding, bungee-jumping and sky-diving, but I had neither the courage nor the desire to put myself in that sort of danger.

Then one day when I was at a coffee shop, I happened to catch a glimpse of the video somebody next to me was watching, a video about the CN Tower in Toronto, the second tallest tower in the world.

I watched for a few moments, enough to see that there were people walking about outside at the top of the tower. They looked like they were harnessed in well, but they were performing fantastic feats like leaning over the edge, even backwards. I shuddered at the thought.

But after a couple of nights of thinking about this, I thought that it seemed like something I wanted to do.

I researched the CN Tower and found out about the EdgeWalk, which was what I had seen at the coffee shop. You go up to the top of the CN Tower, get harnessed, and walk along a grid outside the top. I bought a ticket for the EdgeWalk.

In the days leading up to the experience, I started watching videos on YouTube about it. All the while, my anxiety was nearly overwhelming me, increasing with every video I watched.

The morning of my experience dawned. Lying on my bed, I experienced a paralysis of sorts. I let my limbs relax a bit, said a prayer, and got up slowly. I was feeling such dread. It seemed like every thought passing through my head was a foreboding of certain disaster were I to go through with this experience.

I recognized these thoughts as lies and prayed the rosary on the subway ride down to Union Station. I intentionally got there a bit early so I could allow myself time to settle my nerves before going up.

When I arrived, I walked slowly to the Tower and dawdled in front of the receptionist for some time, pestering her with questions. I asked her questions about my physical health and about the strength of the harness. And what would happen if I were to faint while I was up there?

At that point, I was terrified and visibly shaking. Then finally, the experience began. Those of us doing the walk suited up and were gathered into an elevator. I sank to the floor, and the elevator shot into the sky like a bullet.

When we reached the top, attendants attached our harnesses, and we were asked to step out into the cool, windy air at the top of the CN Tower.

Making that first step was like having a tooth pulled. And walking onto that grated platform! All that was separating me from a freefall seemed to be little meshes of metal. In reality, I had the harness and the metal grate was inches thick.

My first couple of steps were very tremulous and filled with fear, but I walked out. About a quarter of the way around the platform, we were asked to put our toes over the edge. This first experience I missed out on. Not because of fear I felt but because my body simply shut down and wouldn’t allow me to move closer to the edge than I was.

Half-way around the platform, I took a bolder step toward the edge to lean over. This I could only do for a few seconds before I recoiled back. I remember saying, “I trust in you, Jesus,” as I did this. Three-quarters of the way around, I leaned over the edge. Then I did so backwards!

I spent forty minutes up there. With each passing minute, my boldness increased and my fear lessened. Finally, it dissipated, and I experienced such a powerful and exhilarating peace. I could have spent another day up there.

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you. He will never leave you nor forsake you. (Deut 31:6)

This verse was on my lips as I walked about up there. Christ always gives us the grace to challenge the lies of our thoughts and feelings and to live free from the bondage of fear.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid (John 14:27). We will never know what we are capable of if we submit to our fears. They are like bubbles we surround ourselves with to avoid experiences that could be life-changing.

Life is about love, joy but also about pain, hurt. In that hurt, pain we can learn to grow. There is no question that the mind is a battlefield.

Looking back on that day on the CN Tower, I can see that most of the fears I was experiencing were lies. They were lies trying to keep me enslaved. God does not want this.

Looking back on that experience, I can see that there were a couple of choices I could have made. I could have continued avoiding the things I feared. Or I could have done what I did and challenge them.

This is the reason I am writing this article. Our feelings are real. Our fears exist and Christ does not take away our pain, our hurt. He does, however, give us the grace to endure and to persevere with love and faith.

In my life that has been burdened with fear since I was young, this event served as a springboard for me to begin really challenging my fears and living my life the way God wants me to live it.