moving through anxiety

Trust Me

1:30 PM

"Can't Touch This" by Rachael Ibanez

Lately, my days have been more peaceful. My "buttons" get pushed less frequently, and at least some of the time, I am able to claim the space between what happens...and my reaction to what happens. This space is a gift, miraculous, offering the opportunity for me to make choices without slipping on the ice of reactivity, clinging instead to the shore of  just-do-the-next-right-thing.

As I string together my beaded chain of aha-moments, I am aware of progress. There are certainly a few more bricks mortared into the foundation of the life I hope to have lived before I’m through, but my experience of that foundation has limits. I still have days when I seem to fall through the center of the Earth and find myself spinning and sinking into an ancient, manufactured reality that only exists in my memory, a memory that is mewed more to subjective perceptions than objective truth. In other words, some days, I forget what’s real, and tumble into old ruts rooted in anxiety.

When I was little, I remember singing the song “Trust and Obey” in church; for me, the song seemed to have a sort of ominous subtext. In my experience, the emphasis settled on OBEY, while TRUST had little substance or meaning. And very little comfort.

 We learn about fear when we’re little. We learn it from the things people say and, also, from the things they do. More so, we learn from the way it feels to be in the presence of others.

Our parents take the brunt of it as we observe them more than anyone else. My parents were and are, wonderful loving parents. They were also chronically human. Even though I knew my father liked me, loved me, and would always care for me, his occasional anger when challenged scared me causing me to re-calibrate the trust I had in my own perspective. My mother, lovely and loving, managed four little girls with tenacity and a magical sense of order, but her own inner current of anxiety left me wondering, where’s the fire?

 And my concept of God confused me, too.

When I was younger, the god-of-my-understanding seemed to talk out of both sides of his mouth claiming comfort and forgiveness and unconditional love on one side while, according to biblical tradition, threatening and carrying out mass destruction of those who didn’t submit to His will. He also seemed impotent in regard to the suffering of his creation, refusing even to intervene in the death of his own son on the cross. If the Father stood by while Jesus was tortured and killed, how could I trust that he would intervene on behalf of my little interests? And more significantly, why did Jesus seem to accept his fate with so little argument?

It's almost as if he chose to put more emphasis on the life he was living than the way he would pass from one life to the next...

I have mostly made peace with these questions without necessarily resolving them, and I think this trade is a real bargain. I admit that I don’t understand all of the truths woven into the stories, and I accept that it’s more important to trust than to know. At the crux of the issue, however, has been this nagging and unnerving inability to trust myself.

When we arrive here on Earth, the fine print hidden in our agreement includes this isolating truth: I will be required to figure things out for myself, on my own. People I love and lean on will offer input, and they will have strong opinions, but at the end of the day, it’s completely up to me to choose how I will spend my time and resources on the planet. I will have to choose who and what I listen to, as well as who and what I believe. I will be hurt, and I will hurt others unintentionally. This is what freedom looks like.

Second-guessing my intuition, a less-than-productive pattern that has hamstrung my ability to move through the process of making decisions, has plagued my capacity to move forward since I was small. A classic codependent, I learned the art of imagining how others may respond to any move I make, causing me to freeze even when action was acutely necessary. I can’t say this trait has been useful. Decisions, and the consequences that follow, are a powerfully organic force of life, and it’s torment to live at odds with our choices. What ifs burden my thinking, and it hasn’t gotten better as I age; it mostly ebbs and flows.

So, although these issues have stalked me all the way to my 59th year, I have declared my 60th year will be the year I shed the automatic anxiety I have carried all of my life, and learn what it really means to trust.

I called my friend a few days ago, drowning in unbearable crushing worry. I made a good case for it, for the sense that something bad was about to happen, and worse, that I was responsible. I had strong rationale for my own guilt in the situation; this is always the greatest hurdle.

After first asking if apologies for past offenses had been offered, he patiently reminded me that I could use the tools, the only tools, that could start to level the ground under my feet: awareness, and contrary action. In other words, pay attention, and when I experience an emotional trigger, do something entirely different than I normally would in response.

First, I can become more aware when my chest is tightening, and my breathing becomes more shallow. At moments when this is going on in my body, my mind is usually racing around in circles, too, so I want to notice any familiar patterns there. Then, I can do something different from my habitual pattern. Avoid the rut, and go another direction. Go on a walk, write about it, help someone who needs a hand.

 Maybe, I can’t “know,” but I can believe that I am loved and led, and that it’s going to be all right.

 This is the choice. This is the path.

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