Something happened the night Worry appeared to me.
Some of us are chronic worriers. There’s probably an adaptive reason for this, since humans who envisioned potential dangers would be more likely to survive and pass on their genes. But saber-toothed tigers aren’t lurking by our front doors these days. I know for a fact that worry generates misery while producing absolutely no benefit. Giving it up, however, isn’t an easy matter. Worry runs in our heads like movies of disaster to come, unbidden yet powerful, making some of us wary of the smallest choices.
I worried from the earliest time I can remember. It may have an adaptive start in my life too. As a tiny child I spent many nights struggling to breathe through asthma attacks. When I was five years old I got a bit of food lodged in my esophagus. When my worried mother called the doctor he said it couldn’t possibly still be stuck hours later, I was just overreacting. I stayed awake all night spitting my saliva into a bowl, since even a moment’s inattention caused it to run down my windpipe and sent me into fits of choking. The next morning my parents took me to the ER where a surgeon removed a very stuck bit of food. The year I turned nine my grandparents all died, catapulting me into years of obsessive worry that everyone else I loved would die too. I was assaulted by an adult when I was 13, telling no one until years later. The focus of my worry widened as I spent years searching for the causes of evil and suffering. Worry continued to be my companion when I hit my 20’s. Each of my babies were born with medical problems. The unknown dangers threatening even the most innocent lives suddenly resided in my house. Chances are my chronic insomnia has roots in all this worry.
One night as I lay awake worrying, I had an experience that profoundly changed me. That night I had plenty of things to worry about: serious concerns about my children’s health, our finances, and other problems. Normally I fought off worry with gratitude—focusing on the comfort of my family sleeping safely nearby and the many blessings in my life. But worry was there haunting my mind and hollowing my body.
Sudden as a car crash, something happened.
I know it sounds bizarre but it was as real as the lamp on my desk is now. I became aware of a huge black column next to my bed. It was comprised of the most immense energy I’d ever experienced. It was dark and powerful with a presence that seemed alive and completely aware of my thoughts.
I had the sense that it was of such infinite size and strength that it went through the floor and out the roof, stretching far in both directions. I should have been more frightened, but the moment this column appeared I realized, as if the message hit all my cells at once, that I had summoned this darkness.
It was born of my own intense worry. It was a profound lesson that went through me the way wisdom does, filling not just our brains but also our bodies and souls. Lying there, I resolved to bring forth every ounce of light I could muster.
The instant I thought to do this, whatever that column was disappeared.
I woke my husband to tell him. He kindly assured me that I was nuts. Until this post I’ve only told one other friend. But in today’s atmosphere of worry, I wanted to share this image—of fear so huge that it manifests next to you. It taught me that worry is a kind of unintentional evil. It presupposes things will go wrong. It’s the opposite of faith.
I’m not entirely cured of worrying nor would I ever change those earlier years of worry. They’ve made me stronger, more open to the beauty found just beyond despair, and left me with a positive quest. But ever since that moment, years ago, I have made a conscious effort to reorient myself.
Ironically, my family has been through times more difficult than I could have imagined back when this happened—crime, financial hardship, loss, and grief. But I know the antidote—to shine forth with all the light I can. Some days I’m practically optimism’s parasite.
But really, if all my moments of hope coalesce into some kind of vision, I can’t wait to see it.
10 thoughts on “Staring Down Worry”
This is so powerful! Thank you for sharing it with us!
I think the propensity to worry is strongly related to empathy – and being empathetic is what makes you such a good writer! I’m glad you have found ways to get it under control and think positively. Thanks for sharing this 🙂
I suspect you, my writer friend, know exactly what this is like. The pain of the world seeps right in to some of us. But there are limits to what empathy someone can feel and still function.
This is lovely and a lesson I will learn from you. Thank you!
Amy, I see from your blog that we share an interest in body-based development as it relates to the whole child. I’m eager to read both the books you suggest.
Snap! (Which means that you and I are on the same wave length again…)
I am doing loads of work around fear vs faith at the moment – although I don’t think I worry quite to quite the same extent. Fear = rational brain with limited outlook. Faith = intuitive brain with whole-picture outlook. I find, the more I focus on letting my hunches and flashes of intuition guide me through the day – the better my life becomes. And I just tell myself that I want definite leads as to what to do and they come. Spooky and true and I’m sleeping better than ever…
Thanks for sharing – always good to learn more about people. 🙂
So true Karyn. What I’m learning is that trauma (which at any age but particularly for children is a reaction to fear or pain experienced while helpless) lodges in our bodies. It creates hyper-triggers to stress (and other subconscious cues) that no amount of logic can undo. I haven’t summoned an article or post on this, the literature is vast and fascinating, but I’m learning a great deal.
I totally agree with your definitions of faith and fear. My key to recognizing intuition as opposed to irrational fear, anxiety or simple wants—-intuition is a sense of knowing without emotion attached. At least for me. The more I rely on this sort of whole body knowledge the more grounded and clear I am, also more connected to what really matters.
The whole body knowledge aspect of grounding is so important – and I agree with you the more I rely on it the better things become. I intrigues me how difficult I find it to let go of my ‘reasonable’ thought processes and just trust, though.
Those nonconscious patterns from our emotional life – particularly our preverbal life are a big part of my work. Actually facing them and dealing with them was really difficult for me. I think the most intense stuff is behind me – but I can never be sure.
You are braver than you know! Thanks for sharing such a powerful entry, from your own experience. I just finished reading Peter Levine’s: ‘In An Unspoken Voice: How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness’. It is profound reading, albeit somewhat scientific for many, but I loved it. I was most intrigued on the sections about why we shake/shiver when we release trauma. And how talk therapy will never untangle our fears and heal us, until we go back into our body and places we were trapped/immobile. I recommend the book, as all have suffered varying degrees of trauma that are yet unhealed.
That’s the book that launched me into learning about so much I’d never considered before. I’m not sure I understand how to really apply any of it but simply being aware makes a huge difference.