on the flight home from canada, i had my usual truly-agitated moments. to be fair, flying sober is WAY better than it used to be. before i’d be sick with worry before, during and after, EVEN WHEN things were calm (anticipatory anxiety). now when i fly, i’m temporarily jiggled, ONLY to do with something that is specifically currently happening in the present, and then i reset back to zero as soon as it’s over.
but during, i have some routine things i say to myself. one is Stay Here. and then that has over time morphed into Calm Within.
the cool thing about ‘calm within’ is the double meaning. it’s ‘let’s feel calm on the inside, shall we?’ but it’s also about finding some calm within the agitation. so i count to 10 and then i force myself to be calm for a few seconds. then i jitter and wiggle for a count of 10, then i force myself to stop. of course, it can be done. the calmness isn’t my natural state but i can do it.
so while mr.B sat eating his steamed chicken and frozen vegetables, i was counting. and untensing.
the other thing about ‘calm within’ is finding the calm patches and relaxing when they happen. it’s not 24/7 tense. it’s tense, then oh look it’s smooth for a second, so then you can relax. then it starts up and then it stops again. the goal being to find the calm within the event.
this sort of reminds me of the experience of being in the palliative care ward when Mr. Cinnamon Toast was there. It was shitty. obviously. and there were moments of real sunshine, of laughter, of lobster dinner, of poop jokes.
the other mantra i have is about under-promising. but this is long so i’ll save that one for later today maybe? or tomorrow. Depends on how this hurricane thing goes. calm within. within you. within the event itself. find the tiny breaks.
some notes from my inbox:
leener (day 382): “I’m not an ‘art person.’ but i have *some* art in my house. Stuff i see that i like. usually colorful things that speak to me. i don’t know squat about skill or technique or meaning or whatever. so my (not very) snooty assessment of Mr. B’s art is this: i like it. i like to look at it. i like the colors. i like that it means something to me. i like that sometimes, the Exit is hard to find. But it’s there, you just have to keep looking. that’s some deep sober shit. but its also just a pretty thing to look at, and that’s cool too.”
amazon sister (day 82): “I had a great day yesterday, met with lovely friends, felt positive about so much. I’m back to feeling some uncertainty today and that may be due to how many life ups and downs I’ve had over the last few years, lots of uncertainty and financial insecurity, etc. and I covered the fear with almost nightly drinks. I’m getting better at feeling these things even though I don’t know what to do about them. I do hold a lot in, maybe checking in more and writing about me feelings will help. I put your duck pond photo on my bathroom mirror tonight and I have 2 of the cards in my current journal that is ready for me to write in. I so appreciate the services you offer, it is truly a special and a wonderful gift, creating better sober lives all over the planet. And what a great compliment Mr. B’s art is to the work! I also really appreciate your email updates, reading how you have everyday struggles is helpful in seeing my own. I hope you are rested and settled back in to being home!”
emsyface (day 260): “… I was at the centre, and one of the girls was talking about putting things on the walls to encourage. I imagined one of these paintings — a message to say ‘there is a way through somehow — an exit does exist’ Sometimes it’s about holding that belief for someone when they can’t themselves? Can you tell your hubby how much I like his art ?! xx”
W (day 123): “So, shitty news, cancer is growing again. I’m tired of fighting it. Wolfie says cancer is going to kill you anyways, why are you sober? I say I don’t know. Wolfie says why would you go on this epic family vacation with your aunts and uncles to Ireland and not drink with them? I say I don’t know. Wolfie says what’s the point of being alcohol-free? Especially when you know that wine will take the edge off the pain? I say I don’t know.
Sitting in my car crying. I just don’t know anymore. about anything, what’s the freaking point?
i guess when I get too busy and don’t appreciate the life I have the Lord, or the universe, or whoever or whatever’s out there slaps me down to make me appreciate what I have.
and when I tell people in my family that my cancer is growing again, I have to f****** comfort them. Because I’m the caretaker, I’m the mama, I’m the matriarch. Who comforts me? Wolfie? Wine? F*** that.
I actually feel a little better having emailed you because generally I can’t say things like that to people. Thank you for listening, or (as the case may be) reading.”
[What do you think I replied to W? Add your ideas below, and then tomorrow I’ll pick the comment that seems closest to what I said (in tone, in content) and that person will get a $20 podcast bundle.]
when we last left our heroine…
i was having an ‘incident’ at the airport. You can’t just refuse to reboard your own plane. everyone else was seated, waiting. I was quite calm, i went to the counter, crying, and i said “that thunder storm scared me. i’m not ready to get back on right now.”
this becomes an ‘incident’ in an airport. And the counter agent calls for help. Security sends out a nurse and a policeman on a golfcart scooter. The nurse is there to medicate me (i declined medication). The police guy’s job is to write up the ‘incident report.’ Are you on any drugs? do you have any psychiatric conditions.
No really, I just don’t to fly right this second. Yes, I was crying. but mostly from being freakishly overtired, and i was crying in that way you get when you start crying and can’t stop.
The counter chick checks and there are no later flights available. The nurse finally talks me into going down to talk to the pilot. She walks through the boarding tunnel with me, drops me off in the cockpit. I talk to the pilot. He says: “that storm was a bit rough? well, you know we wouldn’t do something that wasn’t safe.”
I say: “it’s not about what’s safe, it’s about how i feel.”
they settle me into a new first-class seat, with no one around me, and assign a first-class stewardess to ‘take care’ of me. (they don’t want to risk that i am psychiatric and might start screaming “help me help me we’re all going to die” on the plane. I didn’t.) mostly i just cried.
I arrive, wrung out. and i swear to myself that i will never fly again.
And after that, i didn’t fly for two years. i drove 9 days cross country (alone) 4 times, instead of flying.
and really, by then, i had talked myself into a big gigantic anxiety loop. i was afraid of everything. being a passenger in a car, riding the ferry.
After two years, i decided that i’d had enough, and i called up a psychologist who specialized in panic and anxiety. After a mere 5 hours of one-on-one talk therapy i was mostly fixed.
Well, fixed enough that i could fly again.
I loved my therapist guy. he was smart and very hilarious. after even the first session with him, i felt like like my very firm ideas about my well-earned and (naturally) correct self-preservationist anxiety about flying were going to dissolve. It’s like i had a tight gridwork of ideas, and after just one session i could see the puzzle of ideas wasn’t made of concrete, it was made of Jell-o. and he had started to push on one corner of the puzzle and now i could see gaps in my logic.
two great anecdotes from my time with him:
(1) Potato Peeler
one activity was to describe what was the worst thing that could happen. I said i was afraid of flying, and of having a panic attack, and that i’d lose control in some way while on the plane.
He rolls his eyes and says: “i wish i could show you the transcripts i have in this drawer here. Everyone with a flying phobia says the EXACT same thing. Lose control. Now tell me Belle, when you’re making dinner, do you ever peel potatoes?”
“Do you use a potato peeler?”
“Do you ever take the potato peeler and jab yourself in the eye?”
“Of course you don’t. you don’t ‘lose control’. on a flight, you might feel bad, and so what’ll you do? you might start crying. no one will notice. They’ll think that you’re missing your boyfriend back home. They’ll think you’re traveling to a funeral. No one will care.”
(2) Toilet handle
When i tried to justify that my phobia was based on real facts, like planes do crash you know, he countered that with logic and statistics.
and he said, “you should come with me sometime when i do group therapy with my compulsive hand-washers. They think their phobia is logical, too. I have this activity where I take the whole group of them into the bathroom, and i TOUCH the toilet flusher lever thingy … and then i RUB my hands all over my face! They start shrieking and groaning!”
we laugh. of course, their phobias are ridiculous. aren’t they.
OK, so maybe i’m a particularly good poster child for therapy. Yes, some people need more help, need medication, need longer therapy. need different kinds of ongoing treatments. I was clearly in the right place, with the right guy, at the right time, and I was motivated to change.
and now, thankfully, i not only can fly (!) but i also feel quite solid in realizing that our self-destructive and limiting thoughts don’t have to be listened to. It’s like a mis-firing, a weirdness that gets started. but that doesn’t mean we have to give in. “I feel like a glass of wine” does NOT mean “I will drink a glass of wine.” a thought is just a thing that flits past.
and i wrote this to heidi: yes, your brain may have thoughts, but they’re not truths. they’re just thoughts. compulsive thoughts are irritating, they’re the wolf, but they’re not the truth. you just look in the mirror and look in the eyes of one of those babies. the truth is in there.
Fuck You Wolfie.
Allie: I’m having a lot of anxiety today which is bullshit because I walked/jogged almost 5 miles this morning which is supposed to help me relax. Anxiety/nervousness is my #1 trigger. My usual solutions are #1: drinking, #2: exercise, #3: reading. Fuuuuuuuck. It’s a beautiful day, my life is overall pretty great and I’m still miserable. Any suggestions?:) thanks for listening!!
me: is your anxiety directed at anything that’s happening now? or are you worried about later? just sit with now for a minute. is there anything happening right this minute that is scary or gross or difficult? got both arms and legs attached? no bear in the room?
If your body is having a ‘feeling’, that doesn’t mean it is in reaction to anything. It’s just ‘misfiring’ because it thinks there’s a threat to you, but there isn’t. look around. is there anything scary happening right now?
you’re smart to reach out and to ask questions. take a minute and figure out if there’s really something to be anxious about. or if it’s a mis-firing. your brain got confused. no bear here.
Allie: I feel much better. Thank you. The whole idea of the brain misfiring is a new way to think about anxiety for me and it makes a lot of sense. Working all day today. Keeping busy will be a really good thing. Thanks again for your help. Day 6 sober.
i’m afraid i know more than i want to about anxiety. and if anxiety is partly genetic, which i believe it is, then i’m hard-wired as i come from a long line of tightly wound wing nuts. I angst-ed my way through my undergraduate degree with gut pains. had all the tests for IBS, gall bladder, blah blah, and they never found anything. Things were better for awhile, between degrees, and then i started having panic attacks while driving. like that i’d get stuck in traffic and panic about having to go to the bathroom … “what if i get stuck here when the big poo comes?” (it never did, by the way, just anticipatory anxiety at its best).
soon after i took a flight to my hometown and the plane flew through a thunder storm and i had a super large anxiety attack. When the plane landed for a brief stopover (back in the days when you could get off the plane and walk around the departure lounge between flights), i just couldn’t get back on the plane to continue the flight. and lemme tell you, if you decide you can’t get back on a flight where you have a seat, and your luggage is loaded, and the rest of the plane is boarded — well they don’t look too fondly on this kind of behavior.
it becomes an airport ‘incident’.[holy christ belle, you’re long-winded … yeah ok, this is going on too long and i suddenly have a lot to say so i’ll continue tomorrow]
i’m sitting at my desk. i work on projects. I send out a newsletter to a group of clients who haven’t heard from me in two years… I clean off my desk. I make lunch, make dinner. I am working my way through eating the entire contents of our deep freeze. In January I said that it’s something i should do at least once a year. Now i’m actually doing it.
i’m running more or less consistently four times a week. I’m getting to bed at a set time and getting enough sleep each and every night. I laugh with my husband, i’m reading good books, and i’m at peace, relaxed, at ease.
it really feels like something is missing.
so this afternoon i tried to put my finger on it. staring at my computer screen. nothing. then i closed my eyes. Can i just be still for a second and see what’s missing?
well, the fact that i can be still and listen is the clue. the thing that’s missing is anxiety.
anxiety. my life-long friend. a continuous low grade thrum. a physical feeling in the stomach, a tenseness of body, a constricted way of thinking. it’s gone. I just realized today that it’s gone.
I used to come up to tedious tasks and then put them off because “i just can’t handle that right now.” can’t handle what exactly? getting out the Windex and cleaning the glass desk? really? how much energy does it take to grab a spray bottle and roll of paper towel.
I used to look at my inbox and sigh — so many people to contact, “i just can’t face them now.”
I used to let the phone ring. Clients calling and I’d stare at the call display. I’d even say out loud: “yeah, i’m not talking to YOU.” even if i didn’t know who it was.
and now i realize that the anxiety is gone.
no wonder i’ve been feeling so good for days, tiring everyone with my endless pink cloud gushing.
I mean REALLY! Drinking CAUSED the anxiety? i thought i drank to settle the uneasiness. this could almost piss me off.
it seems perverse. it doesn’t seem logical. Let’s try standing up in front of a room full of people who want to be sober, and let’s tell them: “you think you’re drinking to ease anxiety, but in fact if you give up booze for 70+ days, you might find that your anxiety disappears. entirely.” The boozers will smile nervously; they will not believe you. it’s not-believable.
and yet. here i am.
feeling un-anxious does occasionally mean that the wolf’s voice speaks up with stupid things like: “i must not have been a very bad boozer, because i’m feeling so great so soon.” When the truth is that without the poison of alcohol in my system, i actually now get to feel GREAT more often … without feeling pushed-forward, tense, irritable.
And so i don’t drink. Not today, and not tomorrow. and probably never again.
I’m living in a ‘room’ now that has been unaccessible to me my entire life.