Updated: Feb 10, 2020
Anxiety is something nearly everyone struggles with in addiction recovery. Seeing the wreckage our lives became is enough to cause anxiety. In truth, most of us lived with it long before we took the first drink or drug.
“What we lived with, we learned. What we learned, we became.”
Growing up afraid means learning self-control through unhealthy means. We learned to hide our needs, wants, and most of all, our vulnerable emotions. We hide things, bottle them up, and put enormous amounts of pressure on ourselves. This leads inevitably to either implosion or explosion.
Learning to deal with emotions in healthy ways is a tall order. With anxiety, we’re learning to do the opposite of what comes naturally to us:
Moving away from excessive anticipation and preparation (for things that often never occur)
Dealing with things as they happen
Separating what is our concern/responsibility and what is not.
Identifying the mix of emotions we’re experiencing and expressing them.
Allowing ourselves active support from others
One of the toughest lessons about overcoming anxiety is learning how to let go. It requires that we be aware of ourselves, honest with ourselves, withhold judgment of ourselves, and consciously choosing to release things that cause us to suffer. Especially:
Toxins, tension, and negative emotions.
Massage therapy is one of my favorite forms of self-care. All I have to do is lay there and tension gets released. It often hurts while it’s happening, but it’s always worth it (metaphor for recovery). I was surprised the first time a massage therapist told me to drink extra water on the days I get massage. It turns out this thing I enjoy so much releases toxins within my body.
You know what else releases toxins? Tears. As I let go of painful emotional experiences, my body releases things it doesn’t want.
One more – sweat. It releases toxins too. I’m a big proponent of hard work and recovery is undeniably hard work. As my friends in 12 step fellowships say, “It works if you work it so work it cuz you’re worth it.”
Release is vital to overcoming anxiety. It’s natural to let go, yet the things we fight to hold on to are always things we don’t want anyway: pain, loss, rigidity, fear, resentment, disappointments, and isolation.
Release is natural: laughter, crying, hugging, artistic expression, singing, prayer, and surrendering things we’re powerless over. Release comes from healing activities like acupuncture, chiropractic, energy work. And cranio-sacral massage.
The two most difficult forms of release for folks with chronic anxiety are spiritual and sexual. Anxiety leaves us seeking excessive amounts of control. This manifests as rigidity both physically and emotionally, which is the opposite of release.
Anxiety can absolutely can be overcome. It takes a lot of investment in self to do it, but it is always possible. I urge folks to use the third step prayer from AA and to share everything we were taught to hide with kindred spirits.
Let go. You’re worth it.