She has three parts of her life that she wants to change: her job, her marriage, and her anxiety. She’s starting to see that each of these are perpetuated by her self doubt. It’s the most common challenge of Adult Children Of Alcoholics (ACOAs). We don’t simply second guess ourselves, we do it endlessly and it keeps us stuck.
She’s afraid to make decisions and so she procrastinates. Her illusion is in believing that her choices are not being made by default. I say this to her and she doesn’t grasp it, so we run through the list.
What’s the choice for you to make regarding your marriage? “I need to decide whether I will stay or go.” Ok, what do you choose today? “I choose not to make a decision.” Do you see that this is by default a choice to stay in your marriage?
“Well, yes…but not because I want to…it’s because I’m afraid to make the decision.”
Second illusion – the fear is of making the choice, not of everything involved in leaving.
We discus it further and her fears expand. “What if I never find the right guy? What if I end up alone forever?” Somberly I agree that the only course of action then would be to buy a mobile home on a dead end street and start collecting cats. She manages to laugh. I ask her in earnest, “Let’s say that what you fear comes true. Would you rather be with him or be alone?”
She tells me alone would be better. Not a moment passes before she starts listings off the financial problems and stress that would be incurred through divorce. I stop her. “First make the decision, then consider how to deal with everything that follows.” She changes the subject.
We talk about her job – how unfulfilling it is and how much it takes out of her to pretend that she’s not smarter and more talented than the people she works for. Her resentment comes to the surface and so she flip flops emotionally. She describes how afraid she is to start somewhere new and how unsure she is that she can reach the next rung in her career path. There are a lot of steps between where she is and where she wants to be.
The third illusion creates a catch 22. She can’t take the steps until she makes the once and for all decision and she can’t make the decision until she’s sure she can handle the steps.
I share Martin Luther King’s quote that, “Faith is taking the first step when you can’t see the whole staircase. She knows the truth and worse, she knows that no amount of analysis is going to make her less afraid. I ask her to tell me what she knows from her gut.
“I could do it if I worked my ass off.”
Hells yeah. There it is – the pure and simple truth and once your say it out loud, it’s real.
Every day of her life, she is pretending. It’s taken a toll on her physically, mentally and emotionally. Up until now there’s been more self deception than truth and more repression of her emotions than expression. This is why her anxiety runs high.
She wants to trust herself more fully. She wants to put stock in her intuition. I share with her that her heart and head are battling endlessly and that her heart always gets the final say because fear is more powerful than facts when we don’t speak them. I share with her the acronym for Denial my friends in Recovery taught me long ago:
Lying (to myself)
The easiest lie to tell yourself is that you don’t know what you want. This absolves you of all personal responsibility. If you don’t truly know then there’s nothing for you to do.
We talk about her belief in a Higher Power. Her faith was born out of desperation but it’s been nurtured and grown through the course of her Recovery. I ask her if she’s considered putting an end to her agonizing by surrendering her endless debate in favor of what her HP wants for her.
“But I don’t know what that is!”
Ok. Does the God of your understanding want you to be married to a man who consistently fails to respect you outside of the bedroom? “No!” Does S/he want you to play it safe professionally and be less than what you’re capable of? “No!” Does your Higher Power want you to face fear alone? “No.”
Ok. It’s time to stop agonizing. There’s really only one choice to make. In the short term she’s going to be afraid. Her choice is to remain with the familiar or explore paths that lead to freedom and transformation.
I grab a piece of paper and scribble: The 23rd Psalm, the Knots Prayer, the Step 3 and Step 7 prayers and the names of everyone who wants to support her in facing her fears. Then I remind her that the halls of AA and NA are filled with folks who know about being scared shitless.
Our greatest obstacle is ourselves and our tendency to face fear alone. Getting out of our own way allows us to build what folks in recovery call, “A life second to none.”