Darbella’s Articles — Memoirs of a Phaser, part 2

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Staying in the Anxiety

A friend I met from my Come Alive last year was attend­ing two pro­grams at Haven about a week after I left. My attempts to call him dur­ing my Phase pro­gram result­ed in tele­phone tag so I decid­ed to try to reach him at sup­per on his sec­ond night at Haven. He report­ed that he had a feel­ing of anx­i­ety in his stom­ach that was not going away. I rec­og­nized this feel­ing. It was there through out the whole Phase pro­gram. I felt it in my stom­ach also.

The inten­si­ty of the anx­i­ety changed from moment to moment. Some­times I was just bare­ly aware of it being there in the pit of my stom­ach and some­times I thought it would over­take my whole body. There was also the whole range in between. In that anx­i­ety, I knew that I was alive and present. If it dis­ap­peared com­plete­ly, I knew that I had shut down. I want­ed the anx­i­ety to be there. I think it was a vital part of any new learning.

In the past, my ten­den­cy has been to avoid this anx­i­ety. My pat­tern has been to shut down, going deep inside to a place that I feel safe. In that place, I have put up very thick walls that cut me off almost com­plete­ly with the world around me. In my iso­la­tion, I felt safe. This strat­e­gy worked well for me grow­ing up. It was a place I could always escape to when the insan­i­ty around me was too much.

This place that had become my secu­ri­ty for so many years was becom­ing a place of greater and greater dis­com­fort. It was not work­ing for me. I was becom­ing aware of many things that I was miss­ing. AND I was choos­ing to stay there! It was so much eas­i­er to stay in the old pat­terns rather than cre­at­ing new pat­terns. For this rea­son, with the first sign of the anx­i­ety over­whelm­ing me, I tur­tled inside with my hard exte­ri­or shell to pro­tect me.

I’ve been stuck in this old pat­tern for so long I don’t even know what it is that I am pro­tect­ing myself from. I imag­ine my worst fear is that if I show who I tru­ly am — peo­ple would not like me and turn their back on me and go away.

When grow­ing up, my father was very crit­i­cal of me and I have no mem­o­ries of expe­ri­enc­ing his love for me. I was nev­er quite good enough to be loved by him. I grew up expect­ing the whole world to treat me the same way. Rather than giv­ing oth­ers a chance, I tur­tle away. Bet­ter to be safe than sorry.

In the past few years as I have had some expe­ri­ences of stay­ing in that anx­i­ety and imag­ine my sur­prise to learn that the whole world is not like my father. The oth­er amaz­ing thing that I have learned as I con­nect with peo­ple is that every­one I have met has sim­i­lar feel­ings of anx­i­ety. It is only in stay­ing in that anx­i­ety that I can con­nect with others.

At Haven, in Phase One, I became more com­fort­able in that place of anx­i­ety and I would actu­al­ly seek it out. I was able to rec­og­nize when I was dis­tract­ing myself from the anx­i­ety. I could catch myself more quick­ly. I learned how to do that with­in myself and also strate­gies for times when the anx­i­ety over­whelmed me. I learned new patterns.

I made a con­nec­tion with a dear friend ear­ly in the pro­gram. She was my anx­i­ety bud­dy. I remem­ber often being with her as she strug­gled to stay in her anx­i­ety. I sought her out when the anx­i­ety was start­ing to over­whelm me to the point that I want­ed to with­draw. Sim­ply telling her what was going on for me was enough to keep me present with the anx­i­ety and to keep it at a lev­el that was man­age­able. Eye con­tact with her from across the room and a deep breath was often enough to help me choose to stay present in the anx­i­ety. In talk­ing to my friend, the phys­i­cal con­tact or the eye con­tact, I was putting myself into a posi­tion of choice. I could in that moment choose a dif­fer­ent way of being rather than sim­ply allow­ing the old pat­tern of turtling to engage.

Last week I wrote about my strug­gle to speak in the large group and how I felt more part of the group when I did man­age to get my voice into the group. A cou­ple of days into the pro­gram we divid­ed into two small groups that met dur­ing the evening part of the pro­gram for the rest of the month. There were no new peo­ple, just a small­er selec­tion of the large group that I had worked so hard to get myself com­fort­able with. The ener­gy of this group was quite dif­fer­ent from the ener­gy of the large group. I found myself right back into the place where the anx­i­ety was over­whelm­ing me and I des­per­ate­ly want­ed to with­draw and yet using every bit of courage that I had I hung on by fin­ger and toenails.

That night small group start­ed with a check in as it often did. A check in is a time to take a body read­ing of what is up and report that to the group along with what’s been hap­pen­ing in your own process as the pro­gram unfolds. I was expe­ri­enc­ing a very high lev­el of anx­i­ety. I felt the uneasi­ness in my stom­ach. I felt a tight­en­ing in my chest. I felt my shoul­ders roll for­ward. I expe­ri­enced a dry­ness in my throat. I des­per­ate­ly want­ed to go away.

My turn even­tu­al­ly came and there was no avoid­ing say­ing any­thing. I expressed my anx­i­ety. Next for me came anoth­er expe­ri­ence of Haven learn­ings ‑self-respon­si­bil­i­ty. The ques­tion was asked of me — why did I need to keep my anx­i­ety at a lev­el that was com­fort­able and not over­whelm­ing. I had to think about that for a moment. 

Ear­li­er in the pro­gram, I learned the rela­tion­ship between phys­i­cal con­tact and my con­nec­tion with oth­ers. I expressed that I thought I might feel bet­ter in that moment if I had a hug. I then asked my friend and we met in the mid­dle of the cir­cle and hugged. Self-respon­si­bil­i­ty 101 again — Breathe. Take a check inside. How was I? Was there any­thing else I need­ed? I request­ed anoth­er hug from anoth­er friend. I met him in the mid­dle and hugged. In my next check inside, I real­ized that the anx­i­ety had dropped and I felt more com­fort­able about speaking.

From this expe­ri­ence, I learned the val­ue of reach­ing out to oth­ers. When I was aware of my anx­i­ety lev­el ris­ing, I would choose to sit with some­one I had made a stronger con­nec­tion with. Some­times it helped to reach out and hold that per­son­’s hand for awhile. In that place I knew that I did not have to face my fears alone. This was a valu­able learn­ing for me again and again as the pro­gram progressed.

The old pat­tern was becom­ing less and less auto­mat­ic. It does not mat­ter what the pat­tern is. I’m sure the process is the same for many of us. By tak­ing the time to breathe and check inside, I was in a place of being where I could notice what is going on rather than in a place of the mind where I would nor­mal­ly think my way through. In that place of the mind, I tend­ed to fol­low old pat­terns very quick­ly. They worked in the past did­n’t they? In this new place of being, I could notice what was going on. In that notic­ing, I had more free­dom to choose dif­fer­ent strate­gies for life. All it took was a lit­tle breath and time to check inside.

I, too, have been read­ing Rad­i­cal Hon­esty by Brad Blan­ton. I am thor­ough­ly enjoy­ing the book and am savour­ing it slow­ly, chap­ter by chap­ter. He described the old pat­terns that I referred to as being a vic­tim of pre­vi­ous­ly learned ways of han­dling life. These pre­vi­ous­ly learned meth­ods do work. They are meth­ods of sur­vival. Blan­ton sug­gests that we be will­ing to expe­ri­ence what­ev­er comes up as part of being a cre­ator of life. When we take the time to notice, we can choose new meth­ods and in that place active­ly cre­ate a new expe­ri­ence of life. It is all a mat­ter of choice.

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