See that smile? Looks pretty convincing doesn’t it? I am actually dying on the inside. Not really “dying” but I am really freaking anxious. I’m so worried that the photographer thinks I am crazy for asking her to take pictures of me for a blog that I haven't even published. My hands, and back, and armpits, and feet are sweating and I can barely sit still. I am having a million and one self doubts and I've teared up at least twice. But, there’s something different this time. I am pushing through and doing it anyway.
I first noticed my anxiety when I was 11 years old. I was in church during the Lords Prayer. I had sweaty hands and during the Lords Prayer everyone in our parish held hands. I spent the entire mass trying to position myself so that when it came time to hold hands I would be sitting next to my mom. If someone was sitting next to me, I would panic and rush out of the sanctuary just as the parishioners were uniting.
In middle school I couldn’t sleep for 3 months because I had the fear that if I went to sleep I would stop breathing. My parents took me to doctor after doctor and I was finally diagnosed with “acid reflux” which was thought to be making me choke. So, I took antacids and propped my bed up on an angle.
As I got older my anxiety grew. But, instead of worrying about what someone would think of my sweaty hands or if my “acid reflux” would flare up I became anxious about……….well everything.
My anxiety was/is triggered by things like being alone with myself, work, travel, people, parenting, any news about current events, and writing this paragraph. These seemingly normal life things would keep me awake for days, consume my thoughts, and send me into the cycle of worry-control-worry that was sometimes impossible to escape.
Over the years I tried a million different methods for trying to manage this (medicine, therapy, denial, avoidance, control, more control, more avoidance). But nothing ever seemed to make a lasting impact. I now know that’s because I wasn’t really committed to getting better.
So, drinking started to become a pretty good fix. After just two drinks I had instant relief from the symptoms of anxiety. I felt great! It was literally the only time I could relax. The weight lifted and I could go a couple of hours without worrying. If you have been around me while I was drinking I am sure that you too could feel the tension release and the ease set in.
But when I woke up the next day the anxiety would creep back with a vengeance erasing the calm from the night before and making it hard to live. Sadly I didn’t realize that it was the alcohol making my anxiety way bigger. I just thought things were getting worse and I didn’t know what to do.
Over time I told myself the lie that self care meant “checking out” and allowing myself to escape the things that I didn’t want to feel. Very wrong. Checking out only made the problem worse. I recently heard someone say that sometimes self care looks more like self discipline-that is so true for me. In order for me to live my best life I have to be taking care of myself 100%.
My anxiety (ego) told me all kinds of crazy things like-you can never do this, you won’t have friends if you quit drinking, your life will be miserable, you will have no fun, you think it’s hard now…..And for a while I listened. Fear set in and prevented me from moving forward. But, after my three day hangover that left me so anxious that I was unable to speak-I wondered what exactly I was so worried about sacrificing? Feeling like that?!
I had it all wrong. I thought that making healthy changes would be too difficult and would be no “fun.” I thought the alcohol made me live. I thought that “treating myself” to a drink, or to a bad habit, or to a late night, or to another was going to make me happy. But it did the exact opposite. Alcohol stripped me from my stability, my energy, my memory, and my purpose.
There are still times that I am shocked how much easier it is to live this way. Those few uncomfortable moments of feeling sorry for myself are NOTHING in comparison to the mental anguish I felt when I wasn’t taking care of myself. I guess the thought of living like this was the hard part. The thought of change.
But now I have seen the other side and it is so so good. I keep going because I remember WHY I want to live out the rest of my life feeling ALIVE AF.