“We intensify fear by trying to force it away. It might seem counter-intuitive, but the first step in healing fear is accepting it … Instead of pushing away our difficult moments, we soften to them, allowing those moments a wider pasture & meeting them with clarity and compassion.” ~Stephen Levine (from Unattended Sorrows)
The last few days have been very difficult ones for me. I am dealing with a number of issues (business and house related) that I feel completely incompetent to address. And in the midst of this sense of complete overwhelm, I am recognizing yet again how tiny my support net has grown. I have lived alone for the majority of my adult life, so it’s not being single that is the problem. It is the recognition that I have never had this small of a support network, especially when I look at people who live close enough to provide the kind of help I need at times.
It’s not that I don’t have friends—I want to make it clear that I have a couple of very good ones—but both live about an hour’s drive from me. And my wider network is not a great deal larger than these two. (And yes, I do realize that I bear the responsibility for determining how large my network is, but I also know that there have been a number of mitigating factors in recent times that have led to this current state.)
So as I’ve faced some of these challenges and decisions I am needing to make over the last few days, I am feeling very vulnerable. This vulnerability has been causing me deep, almost unbearable pain. As I sat with this sense of vulnerability today trying to understand all that was creating it, I realized that I can’t remember a time when I have ever felt truly safe. I know this pain that I am experiencing right now very, very well. And I realized today for the first time that it’s not really pain … it’s an unbearable level of anxiety—anxiety so sharp it is painful. It’s something just the slightest shade shy of a panic attack.
As I made this discovery, I had the vivid flash of memory of a conversation I had with a friend last week. My friend has just been through a devastating breakup and commented, “I need to find a new girlfriend; I am too co-dependent to be alone.” I remember at the time thinking that this was probably not a very good idea, but as a co-dependent myself, I know well that feeling that if I don’t have someone to love and care for, then I may cease to exist at all.
However, this memory made me realize how often I have made choices that were not in my own best interest (at times even knowing that they were not in my best interest) simply because the anxiety (which I perceived as pain) was so intense that I was willing to do anything at all to reduce it in that moment to a level that was bearable. The panic wells up in my belly until it feels like it will rip its way out through my chest. The fear rises up into my throat and restricts my breathing. In those moments, it feels like I will die if I cannot find a way to alleviate its death march through my body.
So in this time of feeling overwhelmed and afraid of the decisions I am forced to make and feeling like I am doing it with so small of a support system, my resulting sense of vulnerability causes the same anxiety attack masquerading as pain that I have experienced so many times before. My patterns are used to this being triggered by the loss of relationship, so any hint of relationship loss (and I am experiencing that right now too) suddenly become larger than life, and I find myself obsessing about the state of my relationships instead of focusing on the real issues presented by these decisions.
This is not a helpful pattern … so I think it’s time to change it. To clearly recognize that this feeling is anxiety—not really pain—is an enormous first step. It is also helpful to see how often the urgent need to alleviate this feeling has caused me to make poor choices for myself. The challenge, therefore, is to find ways to reduce the level of anxiety without taking any outward action that could prove to be a choice I will regret. I know from experience that pushing this feeling away does not work. So I am trying the advice of Stephen Levine that opened this post and trying to soften into it, in the hope that doing so will make it bearable and that I will be able to breathe freely again.
I’m not there yet, but I have also managed not to avoid frantic outward action so far. (This is progress!) I am practicing my self-care as best I can. I am breathing. I am finding things for which to be grateful. I am reminding myself that I am enough, even when I am alone. I am reminding myself to treat myself with gentleness and compassion. I can do this.
Just recognizing the pattern may be more than half the battle. Now I soften … and breathe …
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