I think that there was a part of me when I first got sober that believed that once I worked my Steps and had a little bit of time under my belt all of my problems would somehow disappear. I remember working my 6th and 7th Steps wholly believing that after I had prayed about my character defects for two weeks they would magically disappear and I would become this spiritual being that would be able to rise above my own humanity. If you haven’t already guessed, this didn’t happen.
What did happen through the process of working my Steps is that I was no longer stuck in the bondage of my addiction, my relationships improved, I physically felt better and slept better at night, and I finally felt a level of peace that I had experienced for quite some time. I was also given a way of life that I never had before, but for all of these amazing things that occurred, I still had certain aspects of my character that continued to plague me, mainly my anxiety.
My overall anxiety has been reduced in certain regards over the past two years but I still get extremely anxious from time and time and I really have to work hard to manage it. If I am not careful I can wind up in full-blown anxiety mode where I feel paralyzed by everything that is going on around me. I also still experience a tremendous amount of social anxiety, which actually at times feels like it is worse than when I was using because I do not have drugs or alcohol to act as social lubricants.
I know that I am not alone in these feelings, as most alcoholics and addicts are anxious people. Many of my friends that I speak to about these things can relate to me to one degree or another, which made me think about the topic at hand, how to deal with anxiety in sobriety.
As people in recovery who are receiving services, we do not have the luxury that most other people on the planet have when it comes to anxiety. We can’t just take a pill or a drink and forget about our worries, so we have to deal with them. In some ways, this is a blessing because it means that we can’t just ignore our problems, but at times it can feel like a burden.
I know for myself when I begin to be burdened by my anxieties I have to do something about it, and a great way that I found to help relax when I am feeling anxious, is through exercise and yoga.
Many times when I am anxious about something, it is not even real. I get worked up over the future or the past, or the way that I think people are going to perceive me and I have found that exercise and yoga allow me to get out of my head for long enough in order to get perspective on the situation. Any time that I leave a yoga class I always feel calmer and my mind seem to have slowed down to a snail's pace, which I have found is not a conducive mindset for anxiety to set in. So whenever I start to feel my heart pounding and my mind racing, I try to do something physical in order to reduce my anxiety.
Unfortunately, exercising doesn’t really work for the biggest area of anxiety in my life and that is with social settings. If I get nervous at a large gathering or around people in general, I can’t just go outside for a quick run and come back sweaty, because God knows that would just make my anxiety worse. So I have had to find others ways to cope with this anxiousness.
While I have by no means mastered this, one thing that helps me with my social anxiety is remembering that no one is thinking about me, as much as I am thinking about myself. I am the sort of person who is hyperaware and hypercritical of myself. I am acutely aware of the things that are going on around me and am constantly trying to feel out what other people think about me. This however is not what everyone else is doing in regard to me. No one is watching me every little move that closely and I thoroughly believe that no one remembers the little “embarrassing” things I do in social settings that I later beret myself for.
Doing this doesn’t always work though and there are still sometimes when I have to be in a group of people and I am completely full of anxiety. When this happens I just try to relax the best I can and stay out of my head.
One thing that I have noticed during my time in sobriety is that my anxiety level when it comes to social settings or really anything for that matter has decreased with the number of experiences I have had. What I mean by this is that with more experiences comes a wider breadth of knowledge to draw from and so the unknowns of life are not so vast. Having experienced a number of things in sobriety means that when I face certain challenges that used to give me anxiety, I am no longer plagued by this unwanted emotion, because I have already experienced it and what to expect.
I have also learned that anxiety is not always a bad thing. It is can be a motivator for change and it can be a motivator to do great work. Studies have actually shown that students who are somewhat anxious do better on tests than students who experience no anxiety from the test or those who experience too much anxiety. Feeling some sort of anxiety means that you care about the outcome and because of this, you will more than likely try harder.
Taking all of this into account I try to put my anxieties into perspective when they arise. I try to remember that I have never gone without and I have always gotten what I need, so when anxieties start knocking at my door, I try not to answer.