You don’t understand… Those are the words addicts first use when I get them to open up about their problems with anxiety. I smile.
Looking at me now, you wouldn’t guess that I was among the first to begin shopping online because going to the mall was too much for me or that I sometimes made my assistant make simple phone calls for me when I was too scared to make them myself. And you probably wouldn’t imagine that at almost fifteen years of recovery from alcoholism, I still struggle from anxiety from time to time, but I do.
Anxiety is just fear, usually irrational, though its irrationality doesn’t matter much when you’re experiencing it.
In my case, I was terrified that somehow, some way, I had misunderstood and that my father wasn’t really dead, but was going to find me and hurt me as he had when I was a child. He was dead. I knew it. My brother had been to the funeral and I had been to the grave. But I was still terrified.
A lot of it was PTSD, a heightened startle response that made me jump out of my skin if anyone walked behind me or touched me on the shoulder. There were times I got so scared that I locked myself in my bedroom and prayed every prayer I knew of protection for the door so that he could not come in. And yes, I was stone cold sober. Drunk, my father couldn’t hurt me because I felt nothing. Sober, my world felt fragile and I felt weak and vulnerable.
Now, my issues with anxiety are predominantly limited to flights of great duration. Today, I am able to go where I want to go, sit where I want to sit, and speak to whomever I need to speak to without issue. What made the change?
Here are some of the tools I used to live a nearly-anxiety-free life:
1. I remind myself of the now.
My biggest fear when I first got sober was of my father. I had to remind myself that I was no longer a little girl, but an adult women capable of caring for myself. My father was not going to return from the dead and I was competent to meet any real-word challenges I faced. It took a lot of self-talk and I wasn’t always successful, but in time, I was able to self-soothe by being in the now.
2. I put my feet on the ground.
My desire when I’m scared is to get into bed and pull the covers over my head – literally. I did that a lot, but it caused my anxiety to race out of control. Instead, I learned to put my feet on the ground. Doing so put me firmly in my surroundings. Was there something truly to be afraid of? No. There was not. Then, with some deep breathing, I would be able to pick up and nip an anxiety attack in the bud.
3. I talk to a friend.
When I begin to feel anxious, I tell someone. Usually, I call a friend or tell a person that I’m with. We will quickly get to the root of what I’m anxious about and generally laugh about it – because what I fear is never real. Laughing helps a lot; refusing to live in isolation helps more.
4. I take it easy.
Very rarely, anxiety does creep up on me. It can be frustrating, but I don’t give the fear too much power. I know what it is and that it will pass. I am gentle with myself. I’ve done my very best and sometimes old traps get sprung. This too is okay – because I have experience that tomorrow, or maybe even the next hour, will be better.