The anxiety dominos.

When we have day to day anxiety, we’re running a well-conditioned pattern of thinking and feeling. 

It’s a pattern we run over and over again— and patterns that are repeatedly run, get much easier to run. 

That doesn’t mean it’s your FAULT that you run this anxiety pattern of thinking and feeling every day. 

The truth is, the overwhelming majority of people who have daily anxiety developed that pattern by default— usually because they’ve been exposed, over and over again, to unpredictable, uncontrollable environments. 

OF COURSE you’re going to develop anxiety when you grow up around people who are unpredictable and volatile. 

It would be weird if you DIDN’T develop anxiety growing up in that kind of environment. That’s not your fault. 

My dad was an addict. Those who grow up with addicts in their household know that you can never quite expect which version of the person to expect when they come home at night. 

Anxiety is all about our body and brain trying to arm itself against an impending threat— a threat that it can’t predict or control. 

OF COURSE that ends up being exhausting— especially after years. 

But we can’t just “let it go,” either…because it’s a pattern. 

When we repeatedly think, feel, and do things in succession, those sequences literally get “wired” into our nervous systems. 

The neurons that govern those responses become physically fused together. 

When one neuron fires, the other neurons in the chain fire. 

We can’t just “decide” to stop that chain reaction— it’s a biological reality. 

What we CAN do is try to scramble that chain reaction as it’s happening. 

Imagine a line of dominos, stood up next to each other. 

When one tips, the rest of the chain is going to go, because, you know, physics. 

But what happens if you put a finger in between two of those dominos? 

The chain reaction still happens— there is still force propelling those dominos forward— but the sequences is kind of screwed up. 

Now imagine doing that at multiple points along the line of dominos. 

Eventually the line is going to get so screwed up the dominos won’t fall in their neat, predictable pattern anymore. 

That’s what we need to do with your nervous system when it comes to anxiety patterns. 

We need to screw up the pattern so it can’t run the same way anymore— and eventually, so it can’t run at all. 

This is not a matter of “willpower.” 

This is a matter of choosing specific things to think, say, and do when you become aware of running that anxiety pattern, that screw up the pattern. 

This is how affirmations work. They’re not just empty phrases you repeat and hope they take hold— they’re verbal pattern interrupts. 

This is how “opposite action” works. It’s not just doing something incongruous for the hell of it— it’s a behavioral pattern interrupt. 

This is why we keep things to listen to, like songs, and short things to read, like quotes, handy on our phone— you can pull those out and use them to interrupt the pattern of anxiety. 

This is even how posthypnotic suggestion works— when used appropriately, those suggestions put things in the way of the anxiety dominos so that the pattern gets wonky. 

When you find yourself jumping out of your skin with anxiety, think to yourself: “Oh, right. I’m running that anxiety pattern again.” 

And then immediately turn your brain to the question: “How can I interrupt this pattern?” 

Keep asking that question, over and over again— and you WILL come up with answers that work for you. 

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You bet we’re “needy” and “attention seeking.”

It’s normal to want to feel visible. 

It’s healthy to want to feel visible. 

It’s not “narcissistic” or “dramatic” to desire to be, and really feel, seen. 

It’s true that narcissists typically want to feel overwhelmingly visible— usually at the expense of everybody ELSE around them’s visibility. 

But what makes a narcissist a narcissist isn’t necessarily their desire for visibility— it’s more often their lack of consideration or empathy for the other humans in their orbit. 

To a narcissist, being seen (and, most often, worshipped) tends to be the only priority in their worlds— outstripping any consideration for healthy, reciprocal relationships. 

But the desire to be visible is not, in itself, narcissistic. 

We don’t want to feel visible because we think we’re so great. 

Human beings kind of construct who we are in relationship with our environment and the other humans out there. 

For eons, we literally couldn’t see ourselves, so the only way we even knew we existed was the reactions and responses of other people and animals, or the impact we had on the environment around us. 

Thus it was really important for us to have relationships where we were seen and responded to. 

When we’re babies, our entire existence is wrapped up in other peoples’ responsivity to us. 

One of the reasons why babies are so sensitive to attachment and attention is because, if a baby isn’t appropriately attended to, it literally cannot survive. 

All of which is to say, there are really good evolutionary reasons why we want to be and feel seen by other human beings. 

Visibility is really important to love. 

Love is an experience where we feel we are uniquely valued by another person. 

How can we feel uniquely valued if we don’t even feel seen? 

To really feel uniquely valued— to feel loved— necessarily implies that the other person has taken the time and the care to really see us. 

 And yet, many of us are shamed when we express our desire to be seen and acknowledged. 

We’re made to feel as if we’re a burden. 

Some people brandish the label “attention seeking” at us as if it’s the ULTIMATE insult. 

What if there’s nothing wrong with seeking attention? 

Maybe we NEED attention, especially from the important people in our lives, to function well. 

Most of the time when someone accuses someone else of being “attention seeking,” there’s an implication that they are “creating drama” in order to gain attention they wouldn’t otherwise be entitled to. 

It’s become cultural shorthand for “being a pain in the ass.” 

Yes, it’s inconvenient when people we don’t want to pay attention to, do things to try to gain our attention. Yes, I get as frustrated as you probably get by those behaviors. 

But attention seeking itself isn’t bad. 

Seeking to be visible, especially to those who say they love us, isn’t bad. 

Needing attention and acknowledgement and affirmation isn’t bad. 

Some call this behavior “needy”…but is there any human (or any animal at all) who DOESN’T have needs? 

You bet we’re needy. 

And you bet we’re attention seeking. 

And sure, maybe it’s important to try to develop ways to seek attention and to get our other needs met that aren’t overly intrusive or inconvenient or exhausting for those around us. 

But let’s not shame ourselves for having needs. 

And let’s not pretend we don’t ALL want to be visible. 

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Avoid the self-blame and self-shame trap.

When we begin exploring the possibilities of healing from depression, trauma, anxiety, or addiction, sometimes we can get up in our heads about what it means to “recover.” 

One of the things we discover when we begin really investigating the subject is that there are things we can do to feel better. 

Maybe not totally better; maybe not better all the time in every way; but there are techniques, habits, and rituals that we can develop that can make our lives easier and results in feeling better and more stable every day. 

We discover that the possibility of recovery is, at least partially, in our own hands. 

The thing is, when we discover that, our brains often try take a leap ahead of us— and cut us down before we get too far down that path. 

“Ah HA!” our brain will try to tell us. “So how we feel IS in our control! See, I TOLD you it was ALL YOUR FAULT that you feel terrible! I KNEW we were just doing this to ourselves!” 

That is to say: sometimes, when we learn that the way we feel can be responsive to things we do or don’t do, we often turn back around and blame ourselves for feeling bad in the first place. 

This is a trap. 

This is your depression trying to twist the facts around to unfairly shame and blame you. 

It is NOT the case that “we create our own misery” when we are depressed. NO ONE asks to be depressed. 

No one wants to feel this way. No secondary benefit— attention, sympathy, whatever— is worth this hell. 

The fact that we can influence how we feel does NOT mean that we must have been “choosing’ to feel depressed. 

We need to be very careful to avoid this kind of self-blame…because if we don’t it can really lead us down a rabbit hole. 

Let’s be clear: yes, of course we can influence how we feel, in numerous ways. 

If we couldn’t influence and change the way we feel—if the way we feel is just the way we feel, and there wasn’t anything we could do about it— then therapy itself would be pointless. 

(In fact, many of the people who DO think that therapy is pointless take exactly this position— that they just feel the way they feel, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it, so why bother?) 

But we know we CAN change the way we feel. 

Why does any form of entertainment exist? To change the way we feel. 

Why do we ever get into relationships? To change the way we feel. 

Why do we crave and seek out certain foods or use certain substances? To change the way we feel. 

We can change the way we feel. We’re not “stuck” feeling this way. 

But that doesn’t mean we’ve “chosen” to feel depressed or anxious in the past. 

What has ACTUALLY happened has been, we’ve been exposed, over time, to external circumstances that have literally shaped our brains, and made it very easy to feel depressed and anxious. 

Those circumstances have interacted with our already-existing brain structure and chemistry. 

By the time we’re self-aware, we have no real awareness of all the factors that conspired to make us feel the way we do on a daily basis— we just think this is how it is. We feel how we feel. We are how we are. 

You didn’t “choose” to feel depressed any more than you “chose” your genetics, your brain structured chemistry, or your environment growing up. 

You didn’t “choose” how to interpret the world growing up. We have no idea what’s happening to us as our brains are being shaped by experience after experience. 

Don’t fall into the trap of believing you “chose” to feel the way you do. 

Recovery is not about self-blame. 

It’s about identifying what, realistically, we CAN change, now, about our thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors, and changing them…one by one, on purpose. 

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Realistically learning the SKILL of self-compassion.

Self-compassion is a skill. 

We’re often told we need to “be compassionate” toward ourselves. I say variants of this on my social media pages almost every day. 

But what does self-compassion actually look like? 

How do we put it into action? 

For the concept of “self compassion” to be meaningful or helpful, we need to have practical ways to put it into action. 

Which is rough, because many of us were very much NOT taught how to be compassionate toward ourselves. 

We didn’t see it modeled. We weren’t told it was a skill, let alone an important skill to learn. 

For that matter, many of us were taught that there was some sort of virtue to being hard on ourselves. 

I’ve even seen where people are encouraged to be “harder on themselves than anyone else will be.” 

The idea, supposedly, is that if they hold themselves to a “higher standard” than anyone else would expect of them, then they will easily exceed the standards that other people in the real world WILL expect of them. 

I have some questions about this logic— I’m not at all confident it actually works that way— but I’m always curious about why holding ourselves to a “higher standard” often equates to being ruthless toward ourselves. 

Holding yourself to a high standard doesn’t have anything to do with being mean to yourself. 

It doesn’t have anything to do with insulting yourself. 

It doesn’t have anything to do with degrading yourself. 

The idea of holding ourselves to a “higher standard” gets entwined with the notion of “tough love”— which itself is a notion that often gets defined as “behavior that may not feel loving, but is intended for our growth.” 

I agree, there are some behaviors that we may not experience or “feel” as loving, but which can help us grow. 

But it also seems to be the case that many times when people pride themselves on showing “tough love,” they’re mostly looking for an excuse to be “tough,” end of sentence. 

So what does self-compassion look like? 

Self-compassion is paying attention to our own needs and reactions with respect, not disdain. 

Self-compassion is prioritizing getting our needs met for things like nourishment and rest— without giving ourselves a hard time for needing those things, let alone needing as much of them as we do. 

Self-compassion is really all about attention and attitude. 

We need to pay attention to ourselves with a loving, tolerant attitude. 

And we have to do it EVEN IF we are frustrated with ourselves. 

We have to do it EVEN IF depression or trauma has convinced us in the moment that we are somehow terrible or inferior. 

We have to do it EVEN IF we were never taught or shown how to do it. 

We have to do it EVEN IF everything around us is falling apart and everyone around us is turning on us. 

Our self-compassion cannot be contingent upon us “feeling” like it or other people approving of us. 

We are deserving of self-compassion and we need self-compassion no matter the circumstance. 

Self-compassion is not a goal to aspire to. 

It is an important life skill to use every day. 

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Justice doesn’t guarantee closure.

Photo credit: New York Post

Sometimes we are lucky enough to see steps toward real progress or justice accomplished. 

An abuser gets held accountable. 

An organization is forced to change. 

These moments can take the form of legal decisions, administrative changes, or even public acknowledgements. 

It can be extremely validating when these moments occur. Justice and accountability are important. 

However: it’s really important to not confuse public justice or accountability with personal healing. 

The two can be related— justice and accountability can be helpful in some peoples’ healing journeys. 

But it’s also the case that sometimes people assume justice or public accountability will result in comprehensive closure for their traumatic wounds. 

Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen. 

We need to remember that when you’ve been abused or traumatized, the damage done has been to your nervous system. Your brain and body have been wounded, and are trying to heal. 

Holding perpetrators accountable is overwhelmingly important from a public health and safety perspective— but your brain and body STILL need to do what they need to do to heal. 

Justice is important…but it doesn’t guarantee personal healing. 

Moreover, sometimes survivors are called upon to play a role in ensuring public accountability and justice for perpetrators and organizations…which often means sharing their stories and experiences, sometimes very publicly. 

Often this happens before those survivors are quite ready to be sharing those stories—let alone publicly. 

As a result, it can be the case that, even when the cause of justice or accountability is moved forward…the survivors who contributed to those efforts are left retraumatized, triggered, and otherwise suffering on a personal level. 

Sometimes ensuring consequences for perpetrators has the effect of leaving survivors in pain. 

The public usually assumes that survivors must be happy or satisfied that the perpetrators are facing consequences…and, of course, often they are. 

But what the public does not see is that this accountability very often comes at a price for survivors who have shared their stories in very public ways. 

Then…the news cycle moves on. 

And survivors who have risked and invested a great deal in sharing their experiences and coping with everything that has been stirred up are sometimes left feeling very alone. 

The public often assumes that justice represents “closure” for survivors…and, yes, seeing perpetrators and organizations held responsible for their behavior and policies can contribute to survivors’ process of healing. 

But public consequences rarely complete a survivor’s process. 

All of which is to say: we need to be realistic about how healing happens, especially when a trauma has been part of a public narrative. 

We need to have no illusions about public accountability being any kind of “magic bullet” that heals our PTSD surrounding these events. 

And we need to be VERY realistic about the emotional consequences of publicly sharing our stories— especially in a world where social media encourages “hot takes” and polarized judgments. 

I’m overwhelmingly glad and grateful survivors have the opportunity to bring their perpetrators to justice. 

But it is essential that we be mindful and respectful of the real world costs involved…and that we continue to support survivors even after the news cycle has moved on. 

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You did what you could, with what you had.

You have been coping as best you can— and there is no shame in it. 

In fact, you’ve been quite successful— at survival. 

You’ve made it through. You’re here. You’re reading this. 

A lot of the time, we are made to feel shame about what we’ve had to do to survive. 

We’re told we did it “wrong.” 

We’re told that because we chose coping mechanisms that ended up being harmful to ourselves our our relationships, we are failures. 

It is not the case that you are a failure— even if parts of your life have been painful, and even if you have contributed to that pain with some of the choices you’ve made. 

The truth is, we do the best we can with what we have. 

If we’ve made choices that have resulted in pain, we did so because we did not see or feel able to make decisions that would result tin less pain. 

Maybe we were scared. 

Maybe we thought our options were limited. 

Maybe we’d never gotten the kind of role modeling and mentoring we’d have needed to make “better” decisions. 

Maybe we didn’t believe ourselves to be the “kind” of person we’d need to be to make “better” decisions. 

Maybe we didn’t even have an idea of what a “better” decision would even look like. 

I guarantee you: nobody cuts themselves, or abuses substances, or otherwise behaves self-destructively because they are thrilled that those are their options. 

We behave self-destructively because those are the options we think we have— and the options we think we deserve. 

Nobody asks for that mindset. Nobody tries to wind up in that position. 

You did not make a choice to be at that level of desperation and despair. 

Chances are, you FOUND yourself there. 

You might have even been told that you “deserved” to be there, because of how “bad” you are. 

Then, along come people who supposedly want to help make our lives better…and they reinforce the idea that we are bad by focusing on the poor quality “choices” we made. 

When I was at my most self-destructive, I didn’t see it as a “choice.” 

I didn’t feel I had the option to behave differently— to do so would require me to be a “better” person than I believed I was, and to “deserve” better than I believed I deserved. 

We make better choices when we see better choices. 

We make better choices when we believe we can make better choices. 

We strive for better lives when we believe we deserve and can realistically create better lives. 

What happened in the past is in the past— and it is a product of who we were at the time. 

We did not ask for the circumstances we found ourselves in. Even if our choices helped create those circumstances, we did not do so because we were excited and happy about creating painful situations. 

You do not require forgiveness for your past choices. 

You made the choices you perceived to be available to you. 

You didn’t know what you didn’t know. You couldn’t do what you didn’t believe yourself able to do. 

Your options were limited by what you believed and what you’d had modeled.

You do not require forgiveness for things that happened to you. 

You do not have to apologize for not having what you didn’t have. 

You did the best you could, then. 

Now it’s time to do the best you can…now. 

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Cancer IS a traumatic stressor. So?

We all know— or most of us can infer, anyway— that being diagnosed with and treated for cancer is, by definition, stressful. 

Many of us, myself included, have had the sad experience of watching a family member or friend struggle with cancer over the course of years. 

There are many people who make significant headway in their battle with cancer; there are people whose cancer goes into remission and people who are declared cancer free at various times along the way; and, conversely, there are people for whom the disease progresses unexpectedly quickly and tragically. 

I don’t need to tell anyone who has struggled with cancer, either personally or in their sphere, how stressful it is, simply on a physical level. 

What I wish was more widely understood, however, is that being diagnosed with and treated for cancer, particularly over the longer term, is a trauma of the kind that produces post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

While of course many people acknowledge how stressful cancer can be in the abstract, it seems I rarely see cancer (or other chronic, unpredictable, serious diseases) explicitly identified as the precipitator of traumatic stress. 

I assure you: cancer is a traumatic stressor…and it is helpful for those whose lives are touched by cancer to think of it as a form of trauma. 

What does that mean? 

That means that, whatever physical symptoms and side effects caused by cancer and cancer treatment…there is GOING to be an emotional impact as well, both for cancer patients and those close to them. 

The depression that many cancer patients experience is not simply sadness at receiving a potentially serious diagnosis— it is a very prominent trauma symptom, described by almost everybody who is exposed to traumatic stress. 

The anxiety that many cancer patients experience is not just uncertainty regarding their personal future or their health outcome— it, too, is a very prominent symptom of post traumatic stress, so much so that PTSD has historically been considered primarily an anxiety disorder. 

When you’ve been exposed to traumatic stress, you will often find yourself vulnerable to “triggers”— things in the environment that touch off an emotional response that might seem outsized in the actual moment, but the intensity of which is related to its relevance to your past and ongoing trauma. 

While it may be predictable for cancer patients to experience ups and downs in mood, energy, and motivation, it’s important to realize that that’s not JUST about their physical prognosis or symptoms— trauma itself has the effect of throwing off our ability to regulate our mood and direct our focus. 

Why is any of this important? 

Because when you’re facing a serious health situation like cancer, you need to have as developed an understanding as possible what you’re up against. 

And as intimidating and exhausting as trauma responses are…we know things about how trauma works. 

We know things about how trauma can be managed and, eventually, healed. 

We know, for example, that the depression that comes with traumatic stress may not be as responsive as you’d expect to standard antidepressants and cognitive behavioral therapy…but that psychotherapy focused first on emotional regulation (i.e., managing your emotional ups and downs, rather than improving your mood) can start to make headway with trauma-based depression. 

We know that the anxiety that comes with trauma disorders can be resistant to over-intellectualized assurances of safety (i.e., reminding yourself that you are “safe”)…but that using visualization and your senses to create a FELT sense of safety that touches your right brain and activates your parasympathetic nervous system can be effective. 

We know that one of the most common trauma responses is to “dissociate” from moments of pain and feeling overwhelmed, and that it doesn’t work to try to “force” ourselves to be present…but that if we learn to recognize when we’re dissociating, and use simple grounding and centering exercises, we can learn to both be present and handle those feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. 

All I want to do with this blog entry is raise your awareness to the fact that, if you are right now dealing with cancer in your life, you are, by definition, taking on a trauma. 

There is no shame in responding to trauma like human beings respond to trauma…though trauma is really good at making us FEEL ashamed of our responses. 

Please take a few minutes to familiarize yourself with what is known about PTSD and complex PTSD. 

Please include coping with traumatic stress among your priorities as you continue to deal with cancer going forward. 

And when you are triggered— as many people are during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, for example— remember that what you’re experiencing is not mysterious or evidence that you are broken. 

You’re going through a trauma, and your nervous system is recognizing it. 

Give yourself the tools to effectively handle this aspect of what’s happening to you. 

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Coping skills and tools are not optional.

One of the reasons it’s so important to develop strong coping skills is because when we are busy investing all of our energy in just emotionally surviving, we have no energy left to be who we are. 

We can lose ourselves in our struggle to just keep our head above water. 

When we are anxious; when we’re depressed; when we are coping with trauma; when we’re fighting off addiction…all of that takes effort. 

Anyone who has been depressed knows how much effort it takes just to get up in the morning, let alone leave the house and go to work or deal with children or pets. 

Anyone who has been chronically anxious knows how much effort it takes just to be out in public without freaking out or melting down. 

Anyone who has struggled with the intrusive memories or runaway emotions associated with trauma knows how exhausting it is to focus on ANYTHING else when we’re triggered. 

Anyone who has struggled with addictive cravings knows how virtually impossible it can be to yank our attention away from our substance or behavior of choice when ALL we want is to give in to it. 

In addition to the suffering that we go through enduring these struggles, we’re faced with a very practical challenge of energy management. 

How on earth are we expected to devote energy and attention to those things that make us, us, when we’re exhausting all of our focus and energy just trying to survive and exist in the world? 

This is why we need to focus first, and most, on developing effective coping skills. 

Our first job in recovery is working on strategies and tactics that will allow us to get through the day without being exhausted and depleted (or, any more exhausted and depleted than we need to be, anyway). 

The idea with coping skills is not to “heal” or “process” anything. 

The idea is to manage what we’re feeling and experiencing. 

To modulate emotion so we’re not overwhelmed. 

To rein in impulses so we don’t behave self-destructively and create all new problems we didn’t have before. 

A lot of us don’t want to focus on coping skills. We want to get right to the heart of our emotional problems— to “process” our trauma, or otherwise heal our emotional wounds. 

I can’t express how any times I’ve witnessed people try to skip over the development of coping skills…and then, when they try to do the emotionally intensive healing work of therapy, fall into destructive patterns and have very little idea how to manage them. 

Developing coping skills is not optional. It is an essential part of the healing process. 

Using coping skills is not optional. We have to bring them out every single day. We don’t get days off. 

Even if we don’t “feel” like using our skills. Even if we’re tired of bringing out our tools. Even if we’re sick of thinking about strategies. 

The thing is: developing strong, effective coping skills pays off in the end. 

If you go slow and develop effective coping skills, it is less likely you’ll lose ground in treatment due to symptomatic relapses or impulsive behavioral decisions. 

Developing and regularly using coping skills can make the difference between healing being a years-long or decades-long process. 

When we get so good at using our tools and skills that we don’t fight it, we just whip them out when necessary— that’s when we star to have energy to be ourselves again. 

That’s when we start being ready for the deeper work. 

The collection of tools and skills that will work for me, will be different than those that will work for you— and that’s okay. 

There’s no rule that says you have to benefit from every coping skill equally, or that your toolbox needs to look the same as anyone else’s. 

What your toolbox needs to do is work for you— and you have to be willing to use it. 

Unless you’re cool throwing all your energy at coping with overwhelming feelings and impulses every time they hit as if you’re facing them for the first time. 

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What my addiction whispers.

My addiction is like a ghost. 

It’s there, but I can’t see it. I can’t touch it. 

But I can hear it. 

It’s always just behind me, whispering in my ear. 

Sometimes it whispers so quietly that I forget that it’s there, and I think my addiction is me, just “normal” thoughts I’m thinking. 

But it’s not. It’s its own thing. 

“Wouldn’t it feel better if you were high? 

“You don’t have to feel this way. Pop a couple pills, and you’d feel so much better.” 

“No one needs to know.” 

“You’re never going to feel good on your own again. You know that, right?” 

“You’ve damaged your brain and nervous system too much. You’ve wrecked any ability you ever had to feel good naturally. You NEED to pop pills now to feel good. There’s no use denying it.” 

“You’ve lost any ability you might have once had to navigate the world without pills. Maybe you once had a chance to develop into a strong, independent person; but that ship has sailed long ago. At this point you need all the help you can get.” 

My addiction doesn’t seem to tire. It doesn’t sleep. It doesn’t take breaks or vacations. 

When things go well, it’s there. 

When things go not-so-well, it’s there. 

Literally all it does is come up with arguments for why I should use. 

And it knows all my buttons. 

It knows what I care about; it knows what I’m afraid of; it knows what memories and regrets are virtually impossible for me to think of without pain. 

My addiction is patient. 

And it is cruel. 

My addiction finds ways to blame me and confuse me. Things that couldn’t have possibly been my fault, my addiction finds ways to convince me were my fault. 

And in standing up against my addiction, I am always alone. 

People may want to help; people may love me; people may want me to succeed. 

But they’re not in my head. They’re not there behind me in the middle of the night. 

My addiction is. 

And nobody understands what that’s like. Not really. Even if they want to. 

My father was one of the smartest, most willful, most intimidating, most memorable people I’ve ever known— and he couldn’t stand up to his own addictions. 

I’m not half the man my father was. 

“What chance do you think you have?”, my addiction whispers to me right now, as I write this. 

“Do you think writing about it’s going to help?” 

“Nobody’s going to save you. You may hold out for a night, or a week, or a year, or a couple years. But I am more patient than you are. I will always be here.” 

“For you to win, you have to be strong and lucky every night. I only have to win once— and then you have to start all over.” 

I’ve lain in bed, my breathing sufficiently slowed by overdosing of opiates, that I’ve realistically wondered if I would wake up if I fell asleep. 

My opiate usage has resulted in constant, high pitched ringing in my ears that may never go away. 

My nervous system has never fully recovered from the chills and sweats that occur when you stop long term opiate overuse. Nobody can give me an answer about whether these symptoms will eventually go away. 

“Wouldn’t it be easier just to use, and feel a little better for the rest of your life? After all, you’re going to die at some point, and all this effort will have been for nothing. You’ll have given up using for what, to be able to say you quit using? Is it worth it?” 

I’ve learned not to argue with my addiction. 

For as much talking as it does, it’s not interested in a conversation. 

It’s not interested in my comfort. 

It’s not interested in anything other than getting me to use. 

I wish I’d never felt the warm rush of pleasure and comfort that I first felt when using opiates. 

The memory of that feeling has become a thing that has haunted me on the brightest day and in my darkest nights. 

And maybe it’ll win someday. 

But not today. 

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Panic and Progress.

It’s really important to remember that having symptoms doesn’t mean we’re not making progress— and that making progress doesn’t mean we’ll never have symptoms. 

This morning, I had a panic attack. 

I’m a pretty self-aware person. My skillset and toolbox for handling emotional and behavioral reactions and struggles is pretty extensive. My job is literally teaching people how to do this. 

I’m also someone with a history of having been abused and bullied, and who has struggled with depression, anxiety, and addiction. 

This morning, I wasn’t in particular danger— what had happened was, I had unwittingly gotten entangled in a situation that vey suddenly triggered intense fears and memories. 

My nervous system responded as human nervous systems respond when it detects a threat— particularly when the threat feels familiar. 

I’ve worked with people who get enormously frustrated when they experience symptoms like panic attacks. 

They assume that if they’re freaking out, despite there being no “actual” danger, all the work they’ve done must not matter— because they’re having a moment where they’re struggling. 

It doesn’t work like that. 

There is nothing we can do, no progress we can make, that will GUARANTEE that we’ll never have symptoms again. 

What our work on ourselves is supposed to do, however, is better equip us to handle triggers when they do come along. 

In my own situation this morning, I realized fairly quickly what was going on— and while it was still unpleasant and inconvenient, it didn’t lead down the self-destructive rabbit hole it might have years ago. 

There WAS a time when, confronted with the anxiety I experienced this morning, I would have done essentially ANYTHING to escape from that state— including things that were not safe or healthy. 

The way anxiety and panic attacks work is that they hit you seemingly out of nowhere— and in your rush to feel “in control” again, you frequently swing to an extreme that, paradoxically, creates even more problems or a bigger crisis. 

However, when we’ve taken the time to work on ourselves, put words to our struggles, and assemble a coping toolbox and skillset, we don’t have to swing to that compensatory extreme. 

We can realize what’s going on, and return to baseline— relatively faster, and without having damaged our life, health, or relationships in a rush to change how we feel. 

All of which is to say: it IS worth it to continue working on your coping skills. 

It IS worth it to keep working on your emotional expression and regulation skills. 

The goal is NOT to banish anxiety, or even panic, from your life forever— but to furnish you with the tools and skills to realize what’s going on, not ruin your own life by trying desperately to escape those feelings by any means necessary. 

Do I wish I could be free of anxiety forever? Sure, if that’s an option, I suppose. 

Is the fact that, as a trauma survivor and recovering addict, I will probably never have a day that is ENTIRELY without anxiety, a bummer? Yes. Yes, it is a bummer. 

But I will tell you that it is much less of a bummer than it was before I had sufficient tools and skills. 

It is much less of a bummer than it was before I had done work to gain psychological insight into what triggers me. 

And if I have to endure these symptoms and struggles as the price I have to pay in order to do this work that I find so rewarding and fulfilling? It’s worth it. 

I wish I hadn’t had a panic attack this morning. I wish the trigger to which I was reacting didn’t mess with my head like it does. 

But I did have a panic attack, and that trigger does mess with me. 

I’m not thrilled— but I accept the necessity to keep working on that issue…and my responsibility to help my body and brain feel safe, day by day. 

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