The Anxiety Elevator Breaks Down

Searching for jellyfish or enjoying the beach?

Searching for jellyfish or enjoying the beach?

Last summer, we took a family vacation to San Diego. In addition to the practical preparations of packing for a family of four, my husband and I went through our mental preparations, which couldn’t have been more different from each other. My husband is in that quirky species of people called ‘positive thinkers’. His thought process looked like this:

We will travel through the desert with no complications. Our vehicle will climb the mountains effortlessly and traffic will be light. We will arrive safely and will find that we packed everything we need. Our trip will be filled with joy and we will create memories that will last a lifetime.

My mental preparation went more like this:

If we crash and both kids are trapped, I won’t try to remove them from their car seats. I’ll just unlatch them and remove them still attached to their seats. I’ll have enough snacks and water to last days in case we drive off the side of a cliff and can’t be rescued right away. I’ll pee on jellyfish stings and bring the necessary supplies to perform minor surgical procedures. I’ll take enough pictures in case I can’t stay present. That way, I’ll have proof that we had fun.

These kinds of thoughts have always come naturally to me. While I don’t write them on a checklist, they play in the background like muzak on the anxiety elevator. These thoughts have been the soundtrack of my life for as long as I’ve thought out loud.

I’ve been working with Lisa Neumann at Sober Identity since the end of July and she’s coaching me through the childhood issues I mentioned in my 2 year soberversary post. She’s my Trusted Professional, a person whose experience and compassion are guiding me through some of the toughest work of my life. I wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of progress and what it would look like, but I had a really good moment this weekend.

I work from home and I had a meeting with a company on Friday to see about doing some work for them. The meeting went great and while I still need to submit a proposal, it looks like we’re going to do business together. I came home feeling fantastic. There was something about this joyful feeling that felt different for me but I couldn’t put my finger on what it was. When I woke up Saturday morning, I put some thought into the proposal and then filed it away, knowing that I won’t have any real time to dedicate to it until mid-week.

Then, it hit me. There was something missing in this joyful contentment that I was feeling. Where was the anxiety? There’s supposed to be an underlying sense of doom here, something to caution me against getting my hopes up. Where are the thoughts preparing me for the worst? I hadn’t had one imaginary conversation in my mind where I had to defend myself or my qualifications. I like to think of myself as a hopeful person but my hope has always been tempered by a sense of foreboding.

For people like my husband, people for whom positive thinking either comes naturally or has been cultivated, this flash of understanding may not seem momentous. For me, it’s a God-given glimpse into what healing looks like, feels like and is. It’s a sign that I don’t have to be ruled by old habits or held captive by illusions that no longer serve me. Without my finger on the alarm button, hope can simply be hope. Joy can be joy.

I don’t feel “cured” and I know that maintaining this sense of ease is going to take mindful practice. But, for right now, I’m going to rejoice in it because it feels damn good.

19 Comments on “The Anxiety Elevator Breaks Down

  1. I can absolutely relate to your tragic negative thoughts. Wow. My God, I’ve been decades like that.

    Congrats on your soberversary 🙂

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  2. Ha ha…I love this. We’ve lived our lives on tenderhooks, waiting for the proverbial other shoe to fall, preparing for the worst – that late night call, that hatchet attack by zombies (well, that’s just my personal one), that dreaded email or visit from the past, the firing from the boss, etc. Hard to look ahead when we’re always looking over our shoulders, eh? That is how I lived. It’s like a dog trying to find a place to settle down, sniffing, looking, waiting for contenders, etc. so when we get into a place where things are just…right…it’s unsettling. There is an almost comfort in being uncomfortable. So leave it to us to be uncomfortable when we’re comfortable. Oh alkies…what a laugh riot we are.

    Anyway, I am so glad that you’re on the path you’re on. I haven’t worked with Lisa, but I am sure she is fantastic. She sure is an important part in many of our recoveries, even just by knowing her. And your story jives with a lot of how I have felt and feel sometimes today…and so I read your work with great interest. you have a wonderful way with words and can solidify emotions that sometimes I can pin down. You have a gift here, and your own personal growth continues to shine. Even when it passes through painful landmines.

    Keep shining, my friend. thank you for this post…made my day to see that you’re doing well like this.

    Paul

    P.S I know people like your husband. Where do they make them? They are alien like me still…lol (I say that in a nice way)

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    • I love the analogy of a dog trying to settle down. And then also barking at imaginery home invaders! I totally get what you mean finding comfort in being uncomfortable. It’s what I’ve always known. Lisa is fantastic and her guidance is truly a gift. She’s helping me see the illusions I’ve created and it’s really exciting and scary.

      Thank you for the kind words about my writing, Paul. This is my only form of service and it’s a privilege to have people read my musings.

      I still wonder where my husband came from! He knows that his outlook on life is special. It’s taken 20 years but he’s finally rubbing off on me!

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  3. Great post I can definitely relate to. And I got a chuckle from your vacation preparation thoughts, though I know when you’re thinking them, it’s not so funny. Sounds like you’re on the right track now…….good for you! Enjoy your vacation!

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    • When I think of all the time I’ve wasted with thoughts like that, it drives me nuts! Still, we do what we know. Thanks for your comment!

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  4. this is a wonderful post and very inspiring. I have known for a long time that these kinds of outcomes come from doing the work, and a lot has changed for the better with me. But there is more work to be done, and knowing is not always doing. and this is a great reminder! Thank you!

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  5. Wow. If that’s what the end of all this getting-sober business is, sign me up! My anxiety comes in the form of comparing myself to others, and literally not doing because I fear that I am not good enough, or *as good as.* I look forward to the day when I don’t have to compare, and can just do me. Thanks for this insightful post! xx

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    • I’ve always had issues with comparing myself to others too. My father-in-law calls it “compare and despair”. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight in sobriety. It’s a cliche but it really is a journey! We’re all in this together and if we keep sharing, we’ll keep making progress!

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  6. Hi Karen, this was such a great post! And since I have the same mind as you (not quite as evolved because I am probably not even aware of most of the droning of negativity), I do consider that quite the feat! It is so incredibly cool that you work with Lisa, I am very jealous, and I can’t wait until you are writing about that process… what a miracle it is when we find one another in the blogging world!

    Can I ask a really stupid question? Why does my email come up with the title Mended Musings, but when you reply to comments it says karenperrycreates? I’m sure I should know this answer, but, as usual when it comes to technology, I am confused…

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    • My blog is called Mended Musings but my identity (gravatar) is karenperrycreates. I could change it so that they match but I’m just not that motivated! 🙂

      I am really lucky to be working with Lisa! She is a Godsend.

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      • Hee hee – but I know that dialogue of doom you speak about. I’m working on changing the ‘sound track’ in my head…starting the morning with all the things I’m grateful for and that I know are good. At least if I know nothing else, I know that.

        My father called me up to tell me that basically everything bad will happen b/c our family is cursed… I was appalled that a parent would impart this upon their child who is struggling with stress. I told him I did not need that kind of negativity and that it really depends on how you look at a situation – there are positives in things as well. It’s like going up the hill backwards with him sometimes.

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        • I’ve tried positive affirmations, I’ve tried everything. This feels different because I’m not trying. There’s something organic going on and I don’t want to get in its way! Every family looks cursed if you look too closely. Your dad probably thinks he’s helping by helping you to lower your expectations. It’s backwards but he probably really does believe it!

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