Fear used to rule my life, but not this week. I put on my journalist's hat today, driving way the hell-and-gone out into the country to interview an elderly man about his pioneering family. Not so long ago, I struggled with intense anxiety to do such a simple thing as calling to make the interview appointment. Days of agony attended a simple interview.
They make pills to manage anxiety like that, but I can't take them. If I do, my mind says I need 10 pills because dontcha know I have a high tolerance. I would rather battle anxiety than tempt such a monster.
In five years, I've gone from not being able to leave the house without my husband to cheerfully undertaking a half-hour drive through the country to find a man I do not know and help him feel comfortable telling me his family stories. It's been a bare-knuckled fight, accompanied by visits to my therapist and calls to my AA sponsor, not to mention prayer and gritted teeth. Mostly gritted teeth, if I'm honest.
I don't know how many times I have (mis)quoted Mr. Nietzsche in this private war against the debilitation of anxiety disorder, which is officially a member of my mental diagnoses. The accurate quote is "What does not destroy me, makes me stronger," but "That which doesn't kill me makes me stronger" is my mantra. Saying it didn't help me drive my car when anxiety ruled my world or make any number of forays outside my comfort zone for a long time. But saying it gave me, over time, the ability to look my fear in the face and say SOMETHING to it instead of "Yes, master."
Fear is the mind-killer, I remember reading in Dune years and years ago when that book came out. That line has helped me, too. I see fear for what it is: a slayer of all that is good in the human psyche. Funny, how violent is the verbiage of courage for me.
I learned a gentler, softer language in AA. "Fear is the wind that snuffs the candle in the mind" was one thing I grabbed onto. Another was: "Courage is not the absence of fear; it is taking action in spite of fear." And finally, it still comes down to this one for me: "The battle does not have to be won today, only the first skirmish." I've boiled it down to this: Just take the first indicated step; let the rest wait until tomorrow.
I've done many things in spite of anxiety, that four-syllabled sister of fear, of which I am enormously proud today. I've read my poems to crowds in auditoriums. I have gone to visit my mother, locked in the morass of Alzheimer's, and found her doing things that broke my heart but did not break me. I have spoken in city meetings. I have driven hundreds of miles by myself to attend conferences. I've talked myself down from panic attacks. Well, let me rephrase that. I have prayed myself through all those things. Even Nietzsche is a prayer.
Once, four years ago, I allowed myself, with my sponsor's go-ahead, to take anti-anxiety medication to fly across the country on vacation. All it did was make me a loaded anxious person. After that experience, I flew stone cold sober, preferring prayer to my own stupidity.
My struggles with anxiety are assets today when I talk with women who are dealing with fear. Without fear, there would be no need for faith. Fear can be a faith builder, just as fear can be a mind killer. Everything has a shadow. Fear's shadow is courage. Every time I take that first fearful step, I prove to myself I can be more than I am afraid I am.
I know there is a God because I know freedom today. A woman who couldn't leave her home five years ago is free today. Shaking a little inside, sometimes. But walking out, nevertheless.
I'm a poet, gardener, and freelance writer who lives in California by the coast, in a small town surrounded by pastures, woods, and vineyards. Other things I am: recovering LA magazine editor and recovering alcoholic, wife of a tolerant man, mom to two beautiful daughters, mistress of beagles and cats, lover of mysteries and photography, a survivor of suicide, depression, addiction, and sundry minor ailments. I write for a living and write poetry for life.
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“Things turn out best for the people who make the best out of the way things turn out.” (Art Linkletter)
We are continually faced with a series of great opportunities brilliantly disguised as insoluble problems. (John W. Gardner)
Survival Tip #19
My strength lies solely in my tenacity. (Louis Pasteur)
I'm a recovering Lutheran
"This life therefore is not righteousness, but growth in righteousness, not health, but healing, not being but becoming, not rest but exercise. We are not yet what we shall be, but we are growing toward it, the process is not yet finished, but it is going on, this is not the end, but it is the road." (Martin Luther)
A Philosophy of Life
“It is by studying little things that we attain the great art of having as little misery and as much happiness as possible.” Samuel Johnson
Visitors are beautiful people.
My AA Recovery Story
I got sober in 1990 after a life of drug and alcohol addiction, and I had 15 wonderful years. Then I moved and left my homegroup behind. I didn't replace my sponsor, who had died. I didn't work with newcomers, and I went to only one meeting a week. Ultimately, I didn't stay sober. I experienced that strange mental twist, and I picked up. But I jumped back into the program, and my life has continually gotten better. I'm married to a man with 23 years of sobriety, and we work our program at home. AA is the hub the wheel of my life revolves around. I've been able to explore a creative side of my personality that once lived only under the influence of drugs. I have perfect moments during each of my precious days. We are none of us invulnerable to that strange mental twist that precedes the first drink, and all that stands between us and the drink is our constant thought of others. My prayer these days is: God, do your will in and through me today. If I can be an inspiration to others, then my life is rich. God bless you all.
Rosebud on Ice
If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant; if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome. (Anne Bradstreet)