I lay in bed and the fear rose up in me. For the first time in my adult life I did not send my brother a birthday card. I haven’t spoken to him for years, but still the cards at Christmas and on birthdays were sent and arrived, a white flag in the silence. A nod to the unspoken rules of the family.
I’ve been breaking the family rules for some time now and each time I do, it continues to frighten me.
I didn’t think much about this one, I just didn’t do it.
And then the fear came in the night.
My instinct was to run from it. Divert my attention, distract the menacing hum gathering in my body. Instead, I let myself feel the fear. I allowed the voices to have their say.
As the nun from my dream the night before instructed, I looked inside myself.
And when I did, I saw the fear of abandonment, of not belonging, of getting in the kind of trouble that can hurt a child, dependent on her family. But now it was as if I was observing the feelings instead of feeling them. That what my body was experiencing had nothing to do with the person I was at that moment.
There was a flash of color and light, an indecipherable image and a sense of before and after. I felt the freedom before my mind made it all into the words: The other side of this is freedom.
Not only did I know it was true, but I could feel it. I knew myself as the person who lived in that freedom.
This was a panic attack averted.
My panic attacks turn me into a frightened child. They make me irritable and short-tempered. When I’m having a panic attack, I feel so out of control, I go to extremes to feel in control. Small things that have no great importance become big in my mind. An object out of place or in my way can become the target of my fear-driven frustration. As can a person or animal who doesn’t behave exactly what I want them to.
Panic attacks are also physically and emotionally exhausting and distract me from doing my work.
Just the thought of visiting my mother throws me into a panic attack. Days before the visit, I start to sink into a fearful and depressive state. After the visit, which is always cordial, I am relieved and wonder why I had the reaction I did before the visit.
I’ve been consciously repeating this pattern for years.
I’ve been to therapists, healers and have read many books on the subject. I understand that contact with my family is a trigger. I have learned techniques to deal with it to a point.
I’ve also learned that it will probably never completely go away.
So today, when I was trying to walk off the physical effects of a panic attack, I found myself yelling at Fate, loud enough to hurt my throat, who was eating the remains of a deer.
After we had moved on, away from the deer, I stopped and gathered myself. This is not who I am, I said out loud. I am not a fearful controlling person, not anymore.
It was at that moment I decided I would not put myself into a situation that caused me to panic if I could help it. I knew what I was going through wasn’t healthy for me or the people and animals around me.
And I knew I could avoid it.
The panic came when I thought about making plans to visit my mother. But it began to subside when I told myself I wouldn’t do it today. I would take it a day at a time, gauging how I felt and not doing anything that caused me to have a panic attack.
I don’t want to hurt my mother by not visiting her when I said I would. But I also don’t want to put myself through this anymore.
Right now I’m not feeling the guilt and obligation that made me consider making plans for a visit in the first place. I’m not sure why, maybe they were pushed aside when my sense of self-preservation took over.
I’m not thinking about tomorrow. I’m only trying to hold on to the feeling of what is best for me and my life right now.
And I’m also trying to hold on to that feeling of freedom that lives on the other side of fear and panic.
10 thoughts on “The Other Side Of Fear Is Freedom”
So much of what you say resonates with me, Maria. I used to get those awful attacks of fear when I had to “do” family, too, and no, it didn’t ever go away. I’m so glad you recognize it for what it is and have the courage to face it down. I think I was all wrong about my family and they probably would have been astounded to know how I felt, but there was never a chance to resolve it.
I agree about the picture. My first thought was that it was a female body. There are so many interesting shapes in Nature.
I’m working on it Carolyn. Thanks for your words. They are comforting.
I’ve never experienced anything like this in my life, but I could FEEL it in your words. Thank you for expressing this so well. I hope you can get to the other side of fear and stay there. I fervently wish you lasting freedom and peace.
Ah Judy, not that I wish to pass it on,:) but to know I can convey the feeling to someone who had never felt it, is a great compliment. Thanks for letting me know.
Maria, I so relate to the host of feelings you describe regarding your family and regarding anxiety. I know the panic, the flashes of anger, shouting at those closest to us, which in my case is often my confused cats. And then, or now, rather, with age, the experience of stopping to observe the behaviors, which creates a space separate from the reaction. A place to be kinder to ourselves. Or at least to observe without judging. As a fellow traveler who cycles through the mire and back up onto the sunny path of bliss, I won’t offer any advice. I do appreciate your stories. One thing that has been helping me in recent months is letting the burden of other people’s decisions (in this case I’m thinking of your brother’s decision not to communicate with you) rest more squarely on their shoulders. I’m not strong enough to carry the weight alone of maintaining healthy relationships. I know that at the age of 56. It takes two people to do that. I appreciate your acknowledging your limits. This past year has been a series of forced surrenders that certainly facilitates that kind of self knowledge, yes? Sending aloha
Yes, Donna. This year had surely brought it all closer to be examined. Although it is I who have separated from my family. I belive they would be happy for things to go back the way they were, but I can’t do that anymore. Thanks for your words. It’s always good to know we’re not alone.
Dear Maria, know that you are not alone. Many of us grew up in families that were somehow out of whack. I still twinge when I see mother and daughter scenes on TV, talking and hugging. I have no recollection of hugging my mother. It has been almost 7 years since she died and the freedom I now feel cannot be described. I didn’t realize how possessed I was until the feeling left me. You are much braver than I to take those steps to freedom.
Thank you Deb,for sharing your story. It really does make a difference when so many of the stories and images we see tell us something other than what we experience.
Thank you for sharing such an honest, open post with us.
The only obligation you have is to yourself and your inner child.
On our life long journey of recovery, healing, and getting to know ourselves, as you know, there will be times of experiencing growing pains. It’s not easy to go through them. It can be diffucult as hell. But oh the feeling of peace, of having clarity of awareness that is part of and the result of growing pains is so much worth it.
Just because you were birthed into a family and share the same blood does not mean they have the right to be your family. Family is made of up those we choose to trust, those who have earned our trust.
Blood family or not we are not obligated to allow toxic and/or unhealthy people to take up space in our lives or in our head.
I cut ties with my only sibling over twenty years ago. Even though they had been dead for over twenty years plus, I struggled through the growing pains of not letting them take up space in my head, in my life.
I have watched as my husband struggled with and come to the decision to have very limited contact with his birth family. I have watched with love as he became more at peace with himself. How he has grown over the years since that period of time.
Marie, this is going to sound strange but I am bursting at the seams with excitement for you. Seeing your self awareness continue to grow. Seeing you growing in love for yourself. Taking diffucult but feet firm on the ground steps in doing what is heathy for you in mind, body, and spirit.
Thank you for the gift of trusting enough to open up and write, post this blog. So many men and women including myself are on this journey as well. A therapist once told me that in a manner of speaking, always carry fresh flashlight batteries with us just case we meet someone who’s flashlights light is dim.
with sincere admiration and respect, alexa
Alexa. Thank you for your story and for your encouraging words. They give me hope that all of this is possible.