Last Monday night, I left the therapy session feeling satisfied that I’d said what I needed to say and realizing that those sessions aren’t for the faint of heart. There have been plenty of times when I would have benefitted from a therapist, a trained professional that would’ve helped me sort out my life; but now is the time and I’m thankful to have a guide to lead me on this new path.
My therapist has helped me to identify three main feelings I’m experiencing and to understand the source of each. Anger wells up when I feel I’ve experienced an injustice. Sadness shows up when I realize what I’m losing. Anxiety hits when I’m focused on the future– fearful due to uncertainty. Not only am I to recognize these feelings, I need to experience them, avoiding the urge to push them down rather than deal with them; No running away through my favorite forms of escape, no numbing out or denying– just facing things head on then moving through rather than getting stuck.
The sessions are helpful and exhausting and leave me feeling ’emotionally hungover’ the next day, dragging through Tuesday and hearing tapes in my head from Monday night.
Last Tuesday afternoon when I was driving to my hometown to see my mother, I decided to listen to one of my new audiobooks that I’d I bought because the title caught my attention: The Power of Vulnerability: Teachings on Authenticity, Connection & Courage by Brené Brown. I’d heard of Dr. Brown, a PhD who researches vulnerability, shame, courage, and worthiness at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. I’d never listened to any of her TED talks or read her books, so the content of the audiobook was fresh– and timely.
In her warm, Texan accent, she described vulnerability as uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure; I could relate to all three at this unexpected time in my life. Not only has it felt like marital separation has produced all those feelings in me, the conversations about this change have also felt like uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. Meeting individually with family and friends and facing their feelings about our separation, having frank conversations to the extent that is appropriate, has also made me feel vulnerable. There is uncertainty in those conversations yet there has been depth that may have been avoided in the past. There are moments that have been raw and some that have been prickly, but overall, there has been support and tenderness.
Brown says, “Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and Courage aren’t always comfortable but they are never weakness.”
There have been many times in my life when I’ve held back with speaking the truth, been so tactful you wouldn’t know that I was confronting you. That may have been rooted in my Southern, Christian, middle-of-three-daughters upbringing. But dealing with the truth about my marriage ending, something I didn’t choose, has forced me to speak boldly in order not to be pulled under by the situation. I’ve had to talk more honestly about difficult things; It has taken more courage than anything in my life.
When I’ve recognized my anger at the injustice, I’ve spoken that anger aloud, pushing myself to be specific about those feelings. When sadness moves in like a storm cloud over me, I remember my therapist’s instructions and name what I’m losing, allowing that to wash over me. But identifying anxiety has been more difficult, because it seems to grab me from behind, only registering as anxiety when I can’t catch my breath or feel momentarily dizzy.
One of the things I heard when listening to Brown’s audiobook, was how to confront anxiety. She talked about how when we’re anxious, we go into that scared brain mode of needing to run toward survival. When I have moments of feeling anxious, I jump to worse case scenarios that are not based on what is real, but on fear. She suggests that the best way to stop that anxiety is to switch the brain into a different mode, to turn on thankfulness that expands the heart and mind. You can’t keep on with anxious thoughts if you’re thinking about things you’re grateful for. Because anxiety is about the future, and not what is actually happening in the present, we can be robbed of joyful times we are experiencing if we’re in an anxious mindset ‘waiting for the other shoe to drop.’
Brown says, “We simply cannot know joy without embracing vulnerability—and the way to do that is to focus on gratitude, not fear.”
It occurred to me, an Ah-Ha when I was almost to Mama’s, that I’d read a scripture in the Bible a few months ago that seemed impossible for me to follow in the shock of those early days:
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” Pilippians 4:6 (NIV)
Now, I think that I’m to attack that sneaky stalker, Anxiety with remembering each thing I have to be grateful for, the good memories of our marriage, the family we created and continue to enjoy, the unforeseen ways that God is working out the plans He has for me. I can speak those things out loud, with the same brave voice as the one that has spoken the difficult truths over the past weeks.
What About You?
Are you dealing with feelings of anger, sadness, or anxiety? How can you recognize the feeling and deal with it so you don’t get stuck?
How can you practice gratitude in place of anxiety?