The glass of wine had no effect on me at all. I lowered myself into he hot tub. My body ached and I couldn’t get warm.
I knew I was scared, but I didn’t know I was having a panic attack until Jon told me. That’s how it works with panic attacks, when I’m in the middle of one, I’m blind to reality.
For the previous couple of weeks I listened to my Bellydancing playlists and chose a fast and slow song that I thought I could dance to.
In a few weeks my Bellydancing class will have our annual Hafla.
A Hafla is a celebration with dancing and food. Last year when I attended, it was all so new to me. Everyone in the class brought something to eat, then us new students got to watch everyone else dance. Towards the end of the evening, we all danced together.
This year, I’ll be dancing with our teachers Julz and Kathleen. There will be a few more people attending the Hafla. Members of our families and an ATS Bellydancing group from Half-moon NY, will be joining us too.
I hadn’t really thought about it much. I knew we were going to be practicing, but I didn’t know exactly what that entailed.
Last night, at the end of class, Kathleen took me to one side of the room, while Julz queued the music. “This is where we’ll be dancing,” Kathleen told me. She motioned to the empty space in front of us, “and that is where the audience will be”.
I assumed, as often happens in class when I’m learning something one on one with Julz or Kathleen, that the rest of the class would be doing their own dancing. But as I found my place in our trio, I looked up and saw the rest of the class watching us.
Suddenly, they were not longer, Emily, Callie, Trish and Kat, women I’ve been learning to dance with for over a year, they became “The Audience“.
There was no time for me to think about it. The music started and for the next five or six minutes I may as well have actually been dancing on a real stage with a real audience.
It was only when I was alone in my car, driving home, that the voices started.
Old voices telling me how bad I had danced. I started to imagine everyone in class making fun of me. Talking behind my back, saying I’d never be able to dance.
Then I tried to talk myself out of it.
I asked myself what I would tell someone else who was experiencing what I had. I told myself I never really considered dancing in front of an audience and that I made a lot of mistakes, but that’s what practice is for. It was natural to be nervous. That was part of learning. I did fine.
My self soothing didn’t work any better than the glass of wine I downed when I got home. It was only this morning, when I began to see it clearly.
The fear of people ridiculing me goes all the way back to childhood. In many ways, the home I grew up in was a scary place for me. Being the youngest, getting me to cry, to feel bad about myself, was almost a sport for my brother. I learned not to speak, to hide who I really was to protect myself from the ridicule of him and my father.
The only safe place was one I created inside of myself.
It was a big Victorian house at the end of a dirt road, with a garden, and endless rooms, including a library, the books reaching higher than I could see, and a single stuffed chair and lamp. It always welcoming, always warm, always safe.
Jon is quick to say that panic attacks happen when we’re lying to ourselves.
This morning I could see the lie.
My fear came from the lie that the “audience” had seen the truth about me. That I had done something wrong. That I was such a bad dancer that I’ll never be able to learn. I had exposed myself for everyone to ridicule me, and in my panicky mind, of course they would.
The truth is that I danced fine last night. No better or worse than ever before. And of course, no one is ridiculing me, except myself.
This morning I got an email from Kat, “I’m sure it was a little scary doing the first run-through with Julz and Kathleen. Don’t worry, that’s why rehearsals start a few weeks early and it will be a very warm, intimate, affirming audience.”
That’s what’s real. Not the voices in my head. Not the panic in my body.
I am safe now.
I haven’t been to that big old Victorian house at the end of the dirt road for years. I’ve surrounded myself with people like Kat, who are kind and encouraging. And I’m seeing, for myself, and showing more of who I really am, all the time.