That is a very good question!
Yesterday morning, on January 2nd, I woke with the promise of my last day off for Christmas. It's fair to say, immersing myself in cold water on the southern coast was the last thing I wanted to do.
I've a great break; I've spent valuable time with friends and family, received lovely gifts, worked incredibly hard on cultivating my food baby, got drunk and bellowed out my party-piece rendition of L.L Cool J's 'Mama Said Knock You Out'. I've dreamed and journaled like mad about the year just gone by and set soul-led intentions for the year ahead.
Cocooned at home, safe in my cardigan-clad bubble, the no-mans-land that is the space between Christmas and the New Year, was where I wanted to stay. And I was scared... what if I couldn't face it, couldn't get in this time. What was the point?
I told my husband, 'I think I have a cold coming on, maybe the sea isn't such a good idea?' and tried to convince us both that maybe getting on top of the housework was much more sensible. He didn't put up much of a fight... 'yeah, OK, maybe you're right'.
But as the morning went on, the sunshine beckoned to me. 'Come on Bex, just do it - you won't regret it... it will be lovely down at the coast' said my wild side. And, anyone that knows me, also knows how allergic to laundry I am, so in a flash I decided.... 'Right, I said, we are going... let's do it!'
We grabbed our swimmers, a hip flask of whiskey, chocolate, dogs, socks, sliders (necessary for the pebbles, when you want to get out quick!) and headed down the A3 to Eastney Beach.
It was just as we left that I received the devastating news of a client's passing on New Year's Day. After her heroic battle with cancer, I knew it was imminent, nevertheless, the news hit me hard. As tears flowed for the loss of such a wonderful woman, who had become a friend over the past two years, I imagined her smile, her hope and her wisdom. I looked up to the sky and felt her presence. The sunshine, the seaside, the shock of the cold waves against my skin suddenly felt like a huge privilege. A fitting tribute almost. My fear vanished and I knew it was absolutely the right thing to do.
In less than an hour, we had arrived a busy sea front, sun glistening off the water. I noticed that everyone was wrapped up in cosy coats, with hats and gloves as I tentatively stripped down to my swimsuit. Before too long we had run into the water, dunked ourselves, run out again and dressed in warm clothes. We sat swigging the whiskey and scoffing the last of the celebrations on the shoreline, gazing out at the horizon, all tingly and smug.
As we headed back with our hot coffees in hand, I reflected on this yearly ritual, that nearly got abandoned this year. I was so lucky. So lucky to have my husband and the dogs, so lucky to have a car to travel, so lucky to have warm clothes, so lucky to be able to run and laugh and jump in the sea. I was so lucky to be here now, to be alive and well and have the promise of a future. I was lucky to have problems, work to go back to and mountain of laundry to do. I was grateful for it all. And, I was ready to take on the challenges the year ahead had to offer me too.
The yearly swim acts as a gateway between the old and the new. It is a rite of passage and a necessary surrender to what is. When every bone in my body is urging me to stay warm and dry, the act of immersing myself in the cold and wet reminds me I can do difficult things. I can get out of my comfort zone and reap the benefits of doing so. I can commit and I can let go. Swimming in the sea in January is life-affirming, exhilarating and fun. And that is why I do it. I'm not sure I will ever become a regular cold-water swimmer - I like the idea of it, but I'm not sure my nerves could take it week-in, week-out. Once a year is enough for now. It is more than enough. And I am so so thankful for the opportunity to do so.
This blog post is dedicated to my friend, Claire Hollands, who slipped away on the afternoon of 1st January 2023. And also to her son, Rufus, her husband, James, her mum, Pauline, her dad, her sister Lisa and the rest of her family and friends, who I know will miss her more than words can say.