Fear, anxiety, panic, triggers…these can make certain things seem impossible because you feel like you are dying or battling lions or jumping out of airplanes. We can’t do it because we have the stress chemicals in our bodies as if we are in a life or death situation. We can try reasoning, you will be fine, and it helps, but is not always enough to overcome how we feel. If you feel like your head is in the mouth of the lion already, you are sweating, heart racing, choking, about to scream, vomit or pass out…saying to yourself, or hearing someone else say “you are safe, you will be fine” seems like a lie. In that moment I have to trust my feelings, it is how our bodies are designed to keep us safe.
So I can wait out this response though, and try not to trigger it to level 10. If I approach something that causes this response in me very slowly, breathe through it, wait until I am calm again, I can keep moving forward.
I have successfully tackled a few items on my avoidance list using this method. I prefer to do it all in one day, but very slowly, rather than repeated exposures on multiple days as my counselor suggested. I use my ability to hyperfocus.
There was an entire city I was avoiding. I completed an art commission there with an intimidating man. He fooled me and my name got involved with a lawsuit from another artist. I had huge amounts of guilt, shame, and overall feelings of failure. I have avoided the city to avoid seeing my art, avoid running into this man, and avoid confronting my feelings.
Last week I decided it was time to stop avoiding this. I headed to that city and got to my safe zone, about 5 miles away, and pulled over at a park. I stayed there about 20-30 minutes until I felt restless and bored instead of anxious. I drove a little closer until I felt like choking and pulled over at a Walmart. I went in and bought some cookies. I ate a few until I was calm and drove a bit closer. Next I stopped at McDonalds and got some coffee to go with my cookies. This stop took a little longer. I did some writing on my phone to distract me. I drove a little closer and stopped at a movie theater. I looked up the movies and considered seeing one, but nothing sounded interesting or worth the back pain of seats not meant for me. I drove closer and realized I was on the same street now as my art. I was feeling dizzy, so pulled over again and did some breathing exercises and texted my sis in law. I drove again and parked across and down the the street from my art. I could just see it now. I cried. I cried a lot.
I sat there for about 2 hours, looking at my art, crying, feeling hurt, angry, guilty, sad, whatever came up I allowed myself to feel it. I listened to the radio and wrote to online friends. Then another wave would hit and I cried again. Once it was dark and the place had closed, and I was sure I would not run into the owner that hired me, I drove across the street and into the drive next to it to really see my art close up. I have not been here for years. It was in bad shape. Many spots were damaged by weather and many were repaired by less skilled artists. Oddly, this made me happy. It brought me comfort that it no longer resembles my work and I can get some distance from it now.
I drove past it again yesterday with no anxiety, no hesitation, just a bit of sadness, no crying.
So I am learning how to process these huge emotions, stop avoiding so much of my life, and keep moving forward as I heal.