Initiation well at Sintra, Portugal

one of the things that spurred me on to take the leap into sobriety was an ongoing experience of anxiety. I wanted to know whether the varying levels of anxiety I was dealing with were contributed to, or entirely caused by, alcohol.

since stopping drinking my background anxiety levels have dropped to a point where I am clear in my own mind that medication is not a path I need to take (whilst respecting that as an option for others and keeping the door open for me to do so in the future.)

I blogged previously here about dealing with anxiety, likening it to getting off a revolving chair, and also redefining my experience of anxiety as primarily one of anticipatory anxiety. I’ve also come to terms with the fact that there are two circumstances under which I am more vulnerable to anxiety episodes – if I go for more than one day without running (even if only for a mile) and also at days 14 to 21 of my cycle (well gee, fuck you very much, ladyhormones.)

so these feelings do still sometimes come to stay for a while, and they do a good job of imprisoning me against my own will.

having gone through a bad patch today, I’m feeling a bit better now, thank you! but tough day also ahead tomorrow so thought I would sum up some recent thoughts and helpful actions I have found specifically for anticipatory anxiety. it struck me that these might also be helpful for anyone who finds themselves worrying about how to handle future events such as Christmas and New Year without alcohol…

for me this anticipatory anxiety can appear rapidly, most often in the few hours prior to the dreaded event. it is excruciating. I have never had a dread of public speaking, but how others have described that best reflects my experience. I think it is Jerry Seinfeld who tells the story that when asked to describe their worst fear, public speaking comes top of the list, ahead even of the fear of death. which means that at a funeral, the average person would rather be the person in the coffin than the one giving the oration…

one useful thing I found out in re-reading the article (already linked to above) on anticipatory anxiety is that it can only be treated by specific classes of medication. I will bear this in mind and be better informed in case I ever do decide to take the medication route.

another aspect was how anticipatory anxiety re-inforces itself over time. as the article says:

‘Our attempts to avoid the anxiety makes it stronger. We feel like we are avoiding in order to reduce anxiety, but the truth is that anticipatory anxiety generates additional anxiety.’

but the real thing that saved my bacon today was finding this approach suggested by the Australian physician Claire Weeks, who suggests that we can float through anxiety.

image: Mallory Morrison

‘First and foremost, she meant to convey the opposite of fighting. The way to regain a sense of calm is to go along with the sensations of anxiety and panic, rather than oppose them.

She described floating as “masterly inactivity”, and said this meant:

to stop holding tensely onto yourself, trying to control your fear, trying ‘to do something about it’ while subjecting yourself to constant self-analysis.

That’s a tough sell! Claire Weekes knew that, of course, and wrote:

The average person, tense with battling, has an innate aversion to …letting go. He vaguely thinks that were he to do this, he would lose control over the last vestige of his will power and his house of cards would tumble.’

these passages hit home hugely for me. I am so tired of trying to ‘fix’ my anxiety, to slam a door upon it, with the lingering fear always that it is the only thing between me and utter oblivion….

I also find this visualisation, of floating, very helpful. it is almost as if my mind is relieved to not have to think any more in concrete, distinct thoughts, but to be able to focus upon an image instead. and it gets to a deeper level, somehow, which words cannot.

the other tactic which worked well for me today was deliberately bringing to mind images of being loved and being safe. I even looked at photographs to embed those images into my own mind.

Expecto Patronum, folks…Prim xx