At no time during my SCUBA training did they talk about the possibility of dying from
codependency while SCUBA diving. I think they need to make a national curriculum change to include this very real threat to diver safety. Someone notify the authorities.
It was my very first dive after getting certified. We dove from a liveaboard dive boat in the waters near Catalina Island, off the coast of California. That's very cold water, so full wet suits were required. If you have never worn a full wetsuit, imagine Nanook of the North bundled up tight and thrown into freezing water. The tightness of that full body wetsuit is enough to trigger a claustrophobic panic attack while you are still on the boat! When you secure your buoyancy compensator vest, you can only exhale. No inhales, just exhales. Try being relaxed when you haven't been allowed to inhale for 45 minutes.
I was paired with an experienced diver who was mostly into spear fishing. A nice enough guy, but not interested in being anybody's "buddy." We scissor kicked off the boat into the freezing water, signaled the "OK" sign, and dropped down into the kelp forests. The post-dive banter indicated there were lots of amazing fish that everyone saw. I wouldn't know anything about that. All I remember seeing was my air pressure guage, which
My buddy signalled to me at a depth of about 60 ft that he wanted me to hold his spear gun while he roped in his line after spearing a fish. Fine. I'm happy to help. It's nice to be helpful to people and I'm good at it. Besides, it's the least I can do in return for his having to be stuck with a brand new diver. So I am kneeling on the ocean floor, holding his spear gun and looking at my air pressure guage. Being a wide-eyed novice, as I saw my buddy swimming far away from me, I could practically see the needle dropping as I was sucking air, bordering on hyperventilation. Consumed by deafening Darth Vader breathing, no other sound existed. It's generally not a good idea to hyperventilate when you have only a limited can of air and you are surrounded by deep ocean water.
When he finally meandered back in my direction, I showed him my air pressure guage and signaled a finger pointing to the surface, asking if we should start heading back to the boat in order to still arrive with the obligatory 500 lbs of air left in our tanks. I could see he was eyeing this grouper fish - a large glorified gold fish - that just swam well within easy spear fishing range. I felt guilty about possibly causing him to miss out on catching another fish. He nodded awareness of my air pressure guage, gave me the "just a minute" index finger signal, and then took off after the fish. My guage was at 750 lbs, and I realized I had no idea where the boat was. I didn't know the direction of the boat and I didn't know our distance from the boat. And my buddy just left me to go spear another fish. I looked up, searching for the surface above me. Darkness with some faint glimmer of light way up there.
That's when my crisis started. My God, I'm going to die down here! He knows how much air I have left. I'm not supposed to ever leave my buddy. Ever. Never. Ever. He just left me for a fish. Forget him, I've got to get back to the boat. But what if he comes back and I'm not here? I don't want him to be mad at me. I don't want to die. But I don't want to break the rule and I don't want him to be mad at me. Kneeling on the ocean floor, searching above me for the surface, searching all around me for my buddy. My air pressure guage shows 250 lbs. I'm going to have an "out of air emergency!" What should I do? Should I risk dying or risk upsetting him? Finally, the "forget him" voice took over. I shot to the surface, risking a lung embolism from that depth, by the way. I located the boat in the distance, and started frantically swimming and kicking, breaking all kinds of land speed records for SCUBA divers swimming on the ocean surface. With each sucking breath, I dreaded the experience of finding no air in my regulator mouthpiece. It finally happened within a few feet of the boat. I switched to my snorkel and they helped me up onto the pitching boat. As they helped me off with my tank and weight belt, I turned to see my buddy already on the boat right behind me. He had chased after me the whole time. He was desperately apologizing to me - in front of everyone - begging for my forgiveness. "I'm so sorry," he implored. That's when I met a person I had never met before. I found the voice - and the rage - of my survival instinct.
"Where the #*@! were you!?, What the #*@ !were you thinking!?" What about the #*@!ing "buddy system?!" "I just had a #*@!ing "out of air emergency" on my very first dive!" Whew! I ranted like I had never ranted before in my life. He begged me to give him another chance. "I won't take my spear gun. I'll just follow you and stay close and be sure you have a good dive. I'm so sorry." I finally calmed down, but was still shaking inside. I did eventually let him redeem himself and we went for another dive.
But what is really shocking to me is how close I let myself come to risking my life in order to prevent someone from being upset with me. How crazy is that? How pathetic is that? Honestly, how sad is that? Within a few months of this experience, I was with a friend at a concert in town. She started to have a severe asthma attack in reaction to cigarette smoke. We had gotten separated and finally found each other as she neared emergency room crisis. When I asked, why didn't you ask David for help, she said,"he was having such a good time, I didn't want to bother him." I flashed back to my SCUBA epiphany. This confirmed it for me. You really can die from codependency. It's not just about wanting people's approval or doing anything to avoid conflict. This is serious. This is far reaching. I think this is why I have such a passion about the topic of self-esteem.
I will be writing quite a bit about this. Self-worth and all that follows from it - from the absence of it, from the presence of it. Where did yours go? What do you do to get it back? I'll give you a hint. It's not about reading a self-help book. And it's not about reading my posts. That's a good start. Just like reading the map before the trip is a good start...but it won't get you where you want to go. How much time and money have you spent on "reading maps" - self-help books, workshops, therapy - and then you look up and complain with indignation, "Hey, I'm still in my living room! This book/workshop/therapy doesn't work!" There is a bit more to it than that, and I look forward to exploring the journey with you. Until then, may you always have a "buddy" who isn't into spear fishing.