The other night, Kyle and I took the kids up a canyon to do a little hiking. We hadn’t visited the canyon in a long time, and we ended up hiking right by a place where we used to rock climb years ago.

Suddenly, I had a flashback of a scary experience I’d witnessed years earlier with Kyle.

It happened when Kyle and I had been married for about one year. We went with our friends, a wife and hubby team who had never rock climbed before.

Kyle is very attentive to safety and instructed our friends with all they needed to know to safely climb.

Kyle watched our friend, Todd, as he belayed his wife (meaning Todd was holding the end of the rope on which she was climbing), and gave Todd instructions and pointers. Kyle stayed near him and offered correction when needed.

Belaying is quite simple, and it’s easy to certify in a rock climbing gym, even with just a few minutes of instruction. Todd was doing great and following safety rules.

After we’d been climbing for about an hour, Kyle picked a new route to climb and asked Todd to belay him.

I felt a little nervous as Todd was so new to belaying, but Kyle was climbing an easier route and felt sure of Todd’s capabilities, as Todd had been demonstrating safety.

Kyle climbed and I stayed near Todd just in case any assistance was needed. All went smoothly, and I breathed an internal sigh of relief when Kyle touched the top of the route.

Kyle asked Todd to lower him to the ground, but suddenly, something went wrong. I couldn’t tell what was happening exactly, but I heard Kyle shouting and I looked up to see him plummeting downward!

I looked at Todd to see what was going on, but he seemed stunned as the rope flew through his hands.

A voice inside me was screaming, “Grab the rope, grab the rope!” but another voice was also screaming, “Don’t tell someone else what to do!”

The two voices shouted inside me for painful seconds until I said, “Grab the rope!” and Todd squeezed the rope, flew into the rock wall due to the pull of the rope, and Kyle slowed just before he crashed into a sharp rock ledge that stood between him and the ground.

I sat down on a rock, visibly shaken, and after a few minutes, Kyle descended safely and slowly to the ground.  

We talked about the event and found out that Todd had thought that since Kyle liked to go fast when repelling, he would also like to come down from the climb really fast.

Kyle explained that when repelling, you control your own speed by braking with the rope very near your body and that when climbing, the belayer is braking for you and can’t anticipate all you’re experiencing on the rock wall. Because of this, and other reasons, you should always lower the climber slowly.

Kyle later told me that he’d been able to slow himself while falling by grabbing the rope that was allowing him to plummet to the earth, and squeezing it. Between his efforts and Todd finally grabbing the rope, Kyle was able to stop himself just before he hit the rock ledge.

I had heard many stories of climbers falling – and even dying – from climbing in unsafe ways.

Reflecting later on the experience, I remembered the loud thought that had been pounding in my heart at the time – “I’m watching my husband fall to his death.”

I’d known how to save him – grab the rope that was flying loose and allowing him to fall.

Then why didn’t I act? Why didn’t I grab the rope myself? Why didn’t I shout sooner?

There was a voice so strong in me then that wouldn’t allow me to act. I’d been raised to defer to others – to believe that others knew best and that they even knew what was best for me to do!

I was a people-pleaser to the extreme! I couldn’t speak up without feeling I was going to offend someone. That feeling was so strong, that it overpowered my instinct to save my husband from falling to his possible death.

It took this dramatic experience for me to start to assess what I was doing in my life. I never wanted to be in a situation again like that, where I knew what to do but was frozen from acting because my fear of offending someone would stop me.

I realized I was letting people guide my life because I didn’t speak up. I let doctors tell me what to do with my health even when I didn’t feel their suggestions were in my best interest. I let friends impose on me their well-meaning values when it went against what I wanted to do. I let family members tell me how to live my life because I was afraid of telling them what I wanted to do.

I silently disagreed with everyone from the local librarian to my mom, but kept a big smile on my face and nodded in agreement to whatever anyone said. I didn’t want to ever offend anyone.

But what I started to realize was that I was offending myself. I wasn’t doing what I truly believed was best for me. I was letting others dictate what they thought was best to include in my life. And it was taking its toll on me.

My silence showed up in that intense experience and made things ultra-clear to me that I would suffer in more major ways soon if I didn’t start to speak up. Had Kyle been seriously injured or died that day, I would have suffered the most from not speaking up.

I began to change, starting then. It’s been a journey over the past 8 years, but revisiting that rock wall in the canyon with Kyle and our kids the other day let me reflect for a moment about how far I’ve come.

I love to speak up now. I love to respect myself and create the life I envision for me and now, my kids. I love to make sure we live in a happy, safe environment where we can dream and grow and create.

I speak up at the dentist now. I speak up to my family now. I speak up at the park, and in the grocery store, and on the airplane. I’ve made very clear boundaries for myself in my life now, and when those boundaries get crossed, I let others know.

I’ve come to realize that I can’t live my life thinking about what others might be thinking. I would spend my whole life trying to please other people – and be so unhappy, myself.

I’m still on my journey of speaking up and speaking my truths. I become more grounded in my inner truths as time goes on. Do I still worry about what others might think? Of course. I care about people, so I care about what they might think. But I don’t let my fear of their reaction stop me anymore from saying what I feel is best for me. I let my voice be heard.

It’s a great feeling to know that I will never watch my husband or anyone else I love be harmed when I know exactly how to prevent it. It’s an amazing feeling to know that I respect myself and am willing to create an environment where I can thrive in life. It feels so good to respect myself enough that I speak up to create a life I really do love.

I am grateful I’ve found my voice, and that I let it be heard now. It feels better than I ever imagined it could. It took something pretty dramatic to start the whole process of finding my voice. But I’m glad the outcome was only positive, helping me to learn more about myself, and empowering me to take charge of my life. It really feels so good.