I have been doing so well. But Thursday night I grabbed a bottle and gave myself to it. I have been managing my mental and physical health masterfully of late. A new phase of personal growth and expansion has been opened up to me. I wrote recently about my six pillars, meditation, mindful eating, exercise, task listing, seeking wisdom, and being present for loved ones. It feels amazing to be standing on a firm foundation of these pillars and it has created waves in my life. Last night, however, I made a deliberate choice to be weak.
This writing entry is all about being vulnerable, so I am going to just write this, and put it out there. No editing and tinkering for weeks before I feel right about it. We all have our darker sides and need to be honest with ourselves about it. I cannot always shine a light of positivity and be authentically representing myself. There is value in talking about our struggles in life. So here is one of mine.
For years, really my entire adult life, I have been at war with myself. My anxiety has never been diagnosed as I don’t really want it on my medical record. As a younger man, it paralyzed me with an irrational fear of disapproval. I was terrified to put myself out of my comfort zone because the foundation of my self worth was delicately thin. My self image was so fragile that one person criticizing me could shatter my entire world. One poorly worded piece of advice could send me into an emotional tailspin leading to a crash that could take months to pick myself up from. I would get frequent intense panic attacks, often triggered randomly by marijuana use. The symptoms would begin with my mind racing, then forgetting to breathe regularly, and suddenly my body would be racked with convulsions. My life partners would be terrified when they would see me in this state, curled up in a tight ball, as they desperately tried to calm me down wondering if they should call an ambulance. I would always blame it on the weed. That was part of it. But it was really just me. My thoughts would take me to that point. The anxiety was always there reminding me that it had all the power in my relationship with myself.
Because of this intense fear of rejection, and fear of the ensuing anxiety, I did not take chances in my life. I did not speak my mind about anything controversial, unless I knew my audience would be in agreement. I was so afraid of failure and criticism, that I never gave myself the opportunity to fail. As a result, my life became a failure.
There was an escape though! Alcohol! It was magical for me. All of the arguments in my head disappeared when I was drinking. And so I drank. A lot. Virtually every day for two decades. When I was 3–5 beverages in was when I truly felt myself. Anything beyond that was just more fun. All of the pain, fear, and self-doubt melted away and I could enjoy my life in those moments. People loved drunk John. I was fun, up for adventure, and I knew everyone. It all was so glorious. But even back when I was still loving that life, I was at war with myself. I knew I was going nowhere and that fear was my life’s theme. It was unsustainable and I knew it. A time came when I identified myself as an alcoholic. I wanted to stop, but it was too powerful of a tool in my battle with anxiety. So I kept drinking.
Over the years the drinking binges have slowed down. I do not drink around my daughter who I have half the time. I do not want her to grow up remembering me as a drunk. I could go days without having a drink. When I have company around I can handle the anxiety as there is enough distraction and interaction to keep my mind calm. The panic attacks have become increasingly rare. I developed a regular meditation practice which has helped a great deal. The times where I was at the greatest risk was when I was home alone. I fear being by myself. The last few years I have grappled with the meaning of this fear. It has only been recently that I feel comfortable with my understanding of it. You see, I want to be a do-er. I have graduated from the person who is terrified of disapproval, into being addicted to approval and validation. I have an unhealthy desire for adulation. I am working on detaching from this desire, which will be the topic of an upcoming article. My heart is in the right place in terms of why I want to start a non-profit, build kayaks, become a successful professional life coach and write a series of books. I want to change the freaking world and be a small piece of raising the energetic vibration of humanity. When we are by ourselves is when the real work gets done. When there is nothing to distract us from our true life’s work is the time when the do-ers shine. So, I have all of these dreams, and I have to make them happen on my own. So why fear being alone? I guess I am terrified of wasting my precious alone time on frivolous BS and not reaching my dreams. I am afraid of the degrading conversations I have with myself when I am not being as productive as I want to be. I am afraid that when I start this life coaching business, the clients will not be there. When I write the book, it won’t be good enough to be published. But mostly, I am afraid of disappointing myself. And sometimes that fear of being alone is powerful.
It was only 5 years ago that I had the courage to name my anxiety for what it is. It was at that point where I began to teach myself how to manage it. Major life events would continue to put me in that tailspin. Women and financial concerns were particularly powerful catalysts. Overall, I have learned to deflect it and keep it to an acceptable level. It is still there much of the time. But we are not enemies anymore. We are more like siblings that get along, but don’t really like to spend too much time with each other. Anxiety is still pissed off at me for taking away its power. Largely, I am in command of my relationship with myself now.
As the control I have over my anxiety has expanded, I have spent less and less time drinking. But the binges would still be there from time to time. A recent breakup was a wake up call for me to really take action in my life and start showing up in ways I never have before. I lost a truly amazing woman for reasons I don’t want to admit. So, I looked inward to find new ways I can be present and show up for myself and be more authentic. I realized it is time to say goodbye to that old rusty tool, alcohol. I don’t need it anymore, and over the last year, it has evolved into a source of anxiety for me instead of a magical cure. It is time to let it go and see what a life of sobriety feels like. It has been over three weeks, and I feel absolutely amazing. I am standing on my pillars and for the first time healthy routines are a part of my daily experience. The shackles are off and I am running toward a new life. I have never felt better about any decision I have made.
Thursday night I fell down, hard. Like the kind of fall where you skin your knees and your shins are bruised. Where everything hurts for a few days. The recent breakup was on my mind and there are a lot of unresolved feelings about the situation. There is actually a beautiful story in there and it is one I will tell, when I know how plays out and I am ready to. For now, we can just leave with I am still in love with her, and I am not ready for our story to end. This had been weighing heavily on my mind all day on Thursday along with other consuming thoughts. I am putting a lot of pressure on myself to be productive, lose weight, and elevate myself energetically. I have been doing great. I am probably the happiest I have ever been in my life despite the recent life changes.
Thursday, an old friend suddenly showed up to ruin my night. On my way home in my car from my men’s group, anxiety erupted with a ferocity like I had known in my younger years. The best way to describe the feeling is like taking 5 rails of blow, or a handful of ephedrine. My whole body buzzes. The hairs on the back of my next are erect and there is a constant tingling in my skin. There is an excited but agitated energy coursing through my veins. My mind is racing and I start having a rapid internal dialog, going through all the scenarios and possibilities tied to a situation. This is the final stage where I am in danger of slipping into the full on panic attack that has left all of my exes so fearful.
For one night, I decided I didn’t want to feel it. The new tools I have been honing to manage these feelings were pushed to the side. I wanted to bury my feelings and forget all of my self inflicted pressure. So, I grabbed that old rusty tool and stopped by the store, grabbed a 375 of Crown Royal. I pounded it. It was gone in less than an hour. I don’t remember feeling drunk. As soon as the last drop was down, threw my clothes in the laundry bin and laid down to a restful, mindless sleep.
The next morning, I woke up to my second alarm. Made it to work. Of course I felt like shit. I have lived these mornings for twenty years. So, I knew what to do to push myself through the day and still be productive. The intensity of the anxiety was no less though. It had just been delayed and it would still have to be rationalized and overcome. In fact it was worse. My life coach training kicked in and I started asking myself questions. What had triggered the anxiety and what could I actually do about the situation? I asked myself to describe the feelings and explain what was so bad about them. After writing the feelings down on paper and spending some time contemplating how to flip this experience into something positive, I started to feel some hope. I started to really think about the actual physical symptoms and how I related them to being on stimulants. There was something there that needed to be explored.
I reached out to a good friend who is also a life coach and started to describe what happened and my feelings about it all. As the words flowed through the texts, something dawned on me. I had named these feelings as anxiety. Is it something that could be renamed? Thoughts of the little devil that famously sits on the shoulders of cartoon characters came to mind. Then it dawned on me. My anxiety is a gremlin. A little monster that had been summoned many years ago to protect me. It works tirelessly to protect me from my fears, keeping paths in my life closed in an effort to protect me from my own disappointment. It would rationalize with me with skill and veracity when faced with a challenge or a tough situation, convincing me to take the safer path. Throughout my life, it has usually won. Over the past few years a better, stronger version of myself has learned to prevail in these tests of will and I have started taking chances in my life. But here I was, once again being bested by that little demon. I asked myself, what purpose was my little gremlin serving at this point in my life? Did I want to be held back anymore? Do I need to be protected from my feelings at this point in my journey? Do I want to fear being rejected by the people I love? Do I want to fear not receiving the affirmation I am seeking for my life’s work? Do I want to be shackled by this little monster I have created and kept from reaching my dreams?
I know the gremlin is not really going to go away. At least not right now. He has been with me since the beginning. It was, however, past time to give him a new purpose. A new title that he could wear proudly, knowing that it was still serving my greater good. So, I drafted him a promotion. My mind went back to the feeling that I felt when the demon fought so hard to defend me. I thought of that raw stimulating energy that courses through me during that test of will. There is a powerful frequency in that “anxiety.” Having studied Reiki a few years ago and having an awareness of my own energy and that which passes between two people when they interact, I began to see this as wasted potential. The idea was this well of energy being consumed in these internal battles was something that should be harnessed and utilized in my life.
When I got home from work on Friday night, I made a massively ambitious list of small things to accomplish over the weekend. I set to work on checking things off with the gremlin and his well of energy on my mind. Every time I felt his presence creeping into my consciousness I distracted myself with another small task. At 10 pm I looked down and everything had been checked off. During this flurry of accomplishment, I made a call to my life coaching partner, Anthony. I described my experience and asked him to help me find a new name for my anxiety gremlin. We talked for a while as I ran around my house getting shit done. At some point the word “magic” came up, and I knew what this promotion for my old companion should be. He is the Keeper of my Mana. The Protector of the Mana Well. From this point forward he is tasked with preserving and dispensing from my well of energetic potential. I will never again refer to him as anxiety or my gremlin. He has a greater title and purpose in my life now. I still feel his presence, and his energy feels much the same. My perspective has shifted though. From this point forward, he is a champion of my life. A torch bearer that beacons me to push forward with greater energy and tests my will to overcome obstacles.
It is now Monday night. The last four days have still been full of emotion. My Mana Well is very full and I can say without hesitation, the last four days of my life have been the most productive in my life. The script has been flipped and a part of my mind has been rewired. Something that has been working against me for decades is now working for me. I have leveled up and I am excited for what lies ahead.
John Cecil is a professional life coach, father, avid outdoor enthusiast, kayak builder, volunteerism promoter, and men’s retreat organizer. His life mission is to continue to grow in profound ways and be an inspiration to help others along their paths to discover their limitless potential for happiness.