I met a friend for coffee today. We went to Leaf and Bean (great food and coffee by the way, it was my first time there) and as we sat there for a little more than an hour chatting and catching up, it happened.
It was a “minor” one (i.e. the room swam a bit and I had that strange “detached” surreal feeling wash over me here and there with slight stomach twinges). I nibbled my sandwich and sporadically sipped my coffee, talking and trying my hardest to focus on my friend and our conversation while the anxious waves came and went. During the conversation, I mentioned to her that I have struggled with panic/anxiety throughout my life and hey, as a matter of fact, I am struggling with that right now, yes, at this very moment. She looked at me slightly astonished and said something that has stuck with me all day. She said that looking at me that she would never have guessed that I was having any anxiety issues, that I seemed composed and fine (not her exact words, but that was the gist). I told her that I had grown pretty good at hiding it (maybe “stuffing it” would be a better term.) and that I have also struggled with intense, paralyzing phobias as well since I was 11 but that only a handful of people know because I choose to hide it out of shame and embarrassment (I did, however, fail to mention the “eating disorder” that is a byproduct of said issues).
I made it through our lunch date and my friend was so loving and supportive, even stopping to pray over me before we parted ways. Then I got in my truck and just began to cry, feeling at first disappointed in myself (my initial thoughts after these episodes are usually self-berating because it happened AGAIN and why can’t I lick this thing for the love of Pete?) and I cried all the way to the store, that ugly, chest-hitching kind of sobbing that makes your face puffy and blotchy. As I was driving and ruminating on what my friend said another thought came to me: Doesn’t that make me a liar? To hide it and pretend like nothing is wrong, to not talk about it out of shame or fear of what others will think? To stuff it and try to ignore it and hope it goes away and not reach out for help or someone to just talk to or pray for me?
See, those were learned responses from a lifetime of dysfunction and self-destructive tendencies, of poor choices, of being rejected and mistreated and yes, even sometimes abused (by others and even by my own hand). It was a mechanism developed to deal and to cope in that world, in that life.
But that can only last so long before the whole structure built on lies and pain comes crumbling down. There’s only so much you can stuff down before something detrimental happens. Before the top explodes.
This is what the Lord has been patiently showing me, that those mechanisms and habits have no place in His children, that those old nature ways and compulsions and behaviors cannot cohabit with His light and Spirit inside of us. Light and dark cannot have fellowship. Where one is, the other cannot exist. Over the last few years, this truth has come to a painful head in my life. I have (almost) daily struggled with the anxiety/panic/phobias for over two years straight now. This has never happened to me before for such an extended period of time. It has gotten better as time goes on, but this process seems to be going way too slow for my taste, let me tell you.
It’s like there’s a tug of war between the darkness that has held sway over me for these last 40 plus years, that wants to keep me under lock and key and the Light that loves me intensely and wants nothing more than for me to be free of these things because they’re no longer needed and they’re all based on lies. I think the hardest part for me is learning this new reality is really real. My whole life (since birth) has been fear-based, those fears always being repeatedly reinforced and so those have been my “truths” for my entire existence. It’s hard to think of or imagine a life without those things being present because that’s all I’ve known and sadly I think we get comfortable in those places even though we say we hate them and want nothing more to do with them. We don’t know any other way and change can be scary, even if it promises to be good. You ever watch Shawshank Redemption? You get so used to living on the inside, being a prisoner, that freedom seems foreign and strangely frightening.
Jesus came to a man at the pool of Bethesda who had been sick with his infirmity for 38 years and He asked him, “Wilt thou be made whole?” Another translation says “Do you desire to become well?” This Jesus asks of a man who constantly came and waited by this pool for healing. It’s telling to hear the man’s response for why he is not healed: because no one helped him into the pool and others just went in before him. I have to stop and wonder: did he ever ask anyone for help?
I know that what stays in darkness festers & rots but I also am learning that in bringing those crusted, infected wounds into the light is when the healing can truly begin. It’s just hard to take that first step of being vulnerable and admitting to the dark, sad, imperfect things that are a part of you. I still don’t want to do it, I hesitate to push the “publish” button for my dirty laundry to be aired for any to read but I also know that when I have heard others admitting to their struggles and being transparent about their truths, I realize that I am not alone. I have felt that way more often than not in the midst of this turmoil, like I am the only one going through this thing and no one would understand. Yet, one thing the Lord has spoken to me recently is that I need to start being honest: to myself, to Him and to others, because anything else is a lie and I can’t become all He’s called and created me to be if I insist on being a liar.
So, here’s to another step in my journey of healing and change.
No, I do not have it all together even though it may seem I do and yes, I am sorry that I wasn’t honest about it.
Thank you for listening and God bless,