BANG ANXIOUS BANG FEAR BANG ANXIOUS BANG FEAR BANG ANXIOUS FEAR BANG ANXIOUS FEAR BANG ANXIOUS BANG FEAR BANG. Right. For some, the prior sentence will evoke bad memories of gunshots. 49 people died in a nightclub last weekend. Keep in mind that us old geeks pronounce exclamation points as, “bang.” And I do understand that in the heat of the moment, as fear is screaming in our heads, it’s tough to slow down enough to interpret, “bang” as something other than a metaphor for a gunshot. Stay with me. Anxiety shouts down the voice of God. We can’t hear His love, his calming voice because our reptile brains are screaming “FLEE!, FIGHT!, DO SOMETHING!” For us less sciency folk, it is the devil trying to shout down our Father’s voice.
The thing that worked for me, that broke through the devil’s shouts, was the Holy Father making a demand of me. He told me to quit whining, quit crying about whatever thing lately was yelling in my head to “DO SOMETHING!”. Instead, I was to pray a mantra every time the impulse to fear arose within me, “I trust you, Lord.” I did that tens of thousands of times over a few years. Small water droplets of words that began to wear down St. Lucifer’s awesome wall of emotion and let me see out of the valley of the shadow of death, on the living side of the River Styx.
My Mom died recently. While she was with us she suffered from Obessive Compulsive Disorder and tremendous phobias of those who may be offended by her choices and words. Life was a noisy stream of trepidation in which she could not hear that she was loved, that she could love, and that the things which bedeviled her were lies. She lost her mother and the hope that she could hear these words from the woman that gave her life, “Ginny, I love you.” Didn’t happen, so the family legend goes.
The way anxiety works, though my Grandmother could have said the words and still the legend would carry the day. Story, especially story that resonates with our mess, is more powerful than fact. In this discordant, 24-7-365 wired world where we are all immediately connected and deeply alone, rumor that feels true is repeated as fact far faster than good reporting and facts backed up by multiple verified sources. George Zimmerman was acquitted but there are those you can’t dissuade from their certainty that he killed Trayvon Martin in cold blood. My friend Cray Cray won’t listen to words that shift the blame from some vague, big bad other to his own choices. It is someone else that has to fix Cray Cray’s world to his or her satisfaction. Someone else has to save Cray Cray’s world.
I am saved. I gave my life to Jesus when I was 14. Now, being raised in the church and a graduate of catechism class, being saved would be for overachievers, no? Well, one of the little bits of nonsense afloat in the world of the saved is that being baptized a Protestant or Catholic isn’t enough. Nope. You have to get saved by one of those rock-band non-denominational churches, the ones where there is Spirit. Never mind that the Catholic Church was the church for a couple thousand years and us Protestants have been following Jesus as dissidents of the Catholic Churches for almost half a millennium. Those bible-believing, holy spirit, Pentecostal folk want you to come to Jesus in their church for it to be real. So . . . I did. And . . . I was still afraid, am still afraid.
Like my Dad, I wanted, want a better life for my son. My piece of it was to backstop the fear and loathing I felt from my childhood so it didn’t infect my kid. I did mostly ok with this but married a Chinese woman who feels bipolar to me. My ex-wife’s ordinary world is filled with monsters and dragons that keep her day filled with dread. She seldom feels safe. She copes by cycling through storms of anger, bouts of depression and fits of mania. My son was born sanguine so he isn’t as choleric as his Mom. But he isn’t solidly sanguine either. He carries some of his mother’s ordinary world and it bedevils him.
It aches me that he has reached adulthood somewhat unsafe, with his own inheritance of anxiety tormenting him. I watch him make his way as a young man and wish there were some words, something I could do to teach him that fear and loathing is a lie, that God does love us and the shield of Christ will protect us. Though I am saved, should not fear, I do. My son also is Christian, is baptized and saved, yet he too has an inheritance of anxiety. There is knowledge and their is knowing something in our stomachs.
I’m doing better. The answer for me was prayer. I repeated, “I trust you lord” many thousands of times over a few years to slowly drip away at the loud voice in my head that was chanting fear and loathing. That voice lives on as Ray, who I’ve decided will be the hero in my novel. I remain faithful. For all I’ve done to keep my practice as a Christian I find I’m still growing, still deepening my love for Christ. I’m fighting the urge to preach, to tell you that your anxiety has a cure and it isn’t a pill.
I’ll tell you this, that discovering Albert Ellis, Daniel Goleman and the Dalai Lama, that all three say a version of this, that we choose our behavior beyond the initial moments after the trigger, was a huge relief for me. I grew up believing that I was born this way, immutable, fated to be somebody’s punching bag, always bumbling along, something of a near-do-well, always the black sheep, the reason my Dad has to apologize.
That history was not destiny, that we can change, be something more than our circumstances, was big news to me. My head exploded when I met Darlene, who is spoken of on this blog, and she was better at keeping it together than I was, for all my privilege and presumed advantage. This is the thing, what worked for me is a simple prayer, repeated as many times as necessary, to sooth the impulse to panic and quiet the voice of Ray, who is sure the apocalypse is nigh, the sky is falling, the water glass is half-empty and any of a dozen other tropes about how much of a shit-show this world and his life is.
Most of the above is stuff I’ve said in prior posts. This is where I want to end this time: Anxiety shouts down the voice of God. It promises, at best, a fight to a draw. A win seems out of the question. There is no opportunity possible, only a truce where the fight can reawaken to once again scream louder than the Lord. I never considered victory. I never thought of myself as one on the podium speaking about my journey to public acknowledgement of my success. My image is of a near-do-well who bumps along neither a complete failure nor a success. Anxiety and I remain in an uneasy peace with the weapons hot on either side of our DMZ. Ray is a god of the dead at the start of his story. It won’t end like that, though.
What if . . . the things we fear are the ways in which victory will be won? What if Ray’s novel ends with him a god of the living? What if our 15 minutes comes because we are able to turn our weaknesses into strengths, our fears into the ways in which our story is beautiful? There is precedent here. Plenty have been on Dr. Phil because they triumphed over adversity. Those few who spend under a minute answering a question from E-News on the red carpet were not bestowed that moment simply because of their privilege. There was toil and trouble. Tomorrow, after the Klieg lights have gone cold, there will be more hard work. The hard work, the toil & trouble is the constant, not the few brilliant moments in the lights on the carpet talking to a TV reporter. We are lied to by our anxiety that it is the klieg light moment which ought to be our normal with no thought as to how we got to the bright lights and red carpet.
So, what if our the words our anxiety is battering us with became our triumph? Our anxiety is telling us the things it says will happen to us. These are familiar, almost comfortable, like the sweaty pajamas we need to wash but won’t because they smell of us and our partner. These familiar words are lies. The truth is we can win, God does love us and the way to all that is to put in the work. Courage isn’t the lack of fear. It is doing the needful while being afraid. It is accomplishing things while the panic attack is in full-song. Our anxiety has 100,000 words on what it claims will happen to us when we fail. What if we win? What if we have that selfie taken at the top of the Eiffel Tower after a lovely meal in the restaurant? What if we have a short video of safety, of us on-shore after the river rafting adventure? What if we write that term paper and it gets an A? What if we win?
That’s the question I want to end with. Anxiety obsesses with failure, with danger, with some sort of death. It is loud, louder than God. It never considers victory. That’s not part of the storm of words and emotions overpowering us as we feel afraid or anxious. It is the winning lottery ticket thrill not considered by the voice in us screaming to fight or flee. It happens though. It happens enough that we should do the needful in spite of what we feel or hear in our heads. Yes, get support, be around the right people as you let that voice tell you what a shit you are, how disgusting you are, how you will fail again like last time like last time like last time you miserable wretch. We are stronger together. Medication? Not as a chronic, life-long thing. Maybe as a near-term thing to help you turn down the volume so you can hear God and learn behaviors which enable you to get off the medication. Better is this: with support and discernment that this is something you can do in spite of the fears, do it. Win. Boom.