I have experienced anxiety for almost as long as I can remember.
When I was six, I got very sick, and I almost died. While steroids saved my life, they also made me blow up like a balloon. I became a target for bullies.
By high school, I had found my place. The anxiety never completely left me, though. And while my peers drank to have fun and get a little crazy, I drank to feel normal, to have some confidence.
After graduation, I went right to work. I had stopped drinking. Most of my friends went off to further their educations, and I found myself trying to fit in with people a generation older than me. It wasn’t long before I started drinking again.
And so the vicious cycle began: feeling anxious and drinking, drinking and feeling anxious.
Eventually, I had enough of working hard for other people for very little money, so I enrolled in nursing school. It was there that I met a new best friend, and I stopped drinking.
Marie and I did everything together, even helped plan each other’s weddings. We each bought our first homes and shopped together to decorate them. Then I got pregnant, and things started to change.
Marie’s husband, David, did not want any children.
Eventually, she stopped returning my calls.
About ten years later, I had gotten a letter from her. She wanted to be friends again. I had heard that she had stopped taking her birth control pills, twice, and that she and David had two children, and I just knew her marriage had broken up because of it.
I threw the letter away.
Another ten years went by, and my husband was being admitted into the hospital where Marie worked. She stopped in to see him and we made peace, or so I thought. Her parting words were: “Facebook me.” So I did.
While I would like and comment on her posts, she ignored me for a whole year. So I sent her a note and asked her why I never heard from her. And the reply I got really stung. She said we had “made different choices” over the years and she didn’t have time for me because she was a single mother.
I freaked out and told her that, yes, we did make different choices. I gave up my career to take care of a sick child, while she tricked her husband into having children he didn’t want. I said it was her own fault she was a single mother.
How dare she think she was better than me? The thought just ate at me. I hadn’t had a drink in over 20 years and now I suddenly wanted one. Bad.
Thank God for the internet. I looked up toxic friends and read success story after success story of addicts who have triumphed over anxiety. I had no idea how many alcoholics relapse due to dysfunctional friendships.
In the simplest of terms, I had to learn how to tolerate uncomfortable feelings without doing anything about them. I had to develop positive coping mechanisms.
I learned that my fear of feeling emotional pain was actually harder on me than just dealing with it. So I began documenting things: my feelings when I felt bad and, most importantly, all of my successes. In the process, I realized that I was so much more than anyone else may think.
I didn’t need anyone’s approval, nor did I need to drown myself in alcohol. All I needed was love, to love myself.
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