On Friday afternoon, I kept getting texts:
“I’ll be there at 1:00”
“Dead standstill on 75. Looking more like 1:30”
“Alrighty. 6 minutes away according to Waze.”
When she finally peeked her head around the corner in the elementary school cafeteria, the two kids were right in the middle of a dance number. Or was it a song? Maybe it was a mashup. Sometimes its hard to tell in a first grade talent show.
When I saw her, I jumped out of my seat (among all the other amused and (relatively) proud parents), stifled a squeal, and ran over for a hug. Was I a spectacle? Eh. Maybe. Did I care? Nope. After hugs, I drug her back to my place in the crowd to watch Jane sing (and dance. Turns out first graders rarely do one with out the other).
It was all remarkably normal. For other people. For me, inviting a friend to share my space for a long weekend is remarkable. Because it means being seen–really seen–for days on end.
I spent all of my 20s and the first part of my 30s hiding behind a bunch of bravado and too much Miller Lite. Most of what I did and said was a red herring, anything to distract people from how anxious I became when I had to be honest, vulnerable, real.
Even 7 years into being sober, I struggled to connect one-on-one with people. I was terrified, way deep down where the fear feels cold and makes it hard to breathe, that I had nothing to offer. That if people really saw me, they’d be… what?… bored?… maybe. I don’t really know.
7 years ago, I couldn’t even manage to go out and get COFFEE with my friend who visited this weekend. I mean, it’s true that she’s kind of infinitely cool. I’m totally not. But anxiety is more than being afraid someone won’t like you… it’s a fear of being seen that is so deep, and so horrifying, that running away feels like the only answer, even when what you desire most is connection.
So, how did Captain Anxiouspants end up inviting a friend to stay for a long weekend?
I did the simplest (and most difficult) thing: I just let life happen.
When circumstances pushed me toward friendship, I stopped talking myself out of coffee dates, hanging out, opening up. When I felt nudged by the universe to befriend someone, I began to honor that as a higher calling (ignoring my anxiety completely). When I was in a one-on-one situation and felt the onset of a panic attack, I owned it, by giving voice to my anxiety. Anxiety doesn’t like to be spoken, I found. The light of day makes it haul-ass. For me, at least.
I began to choose for myself the power anxiety got to have in my life. The answer for me: none. It’s not that it’s never there. It’s just that I address it the same way I address all the other parts of me: my lack of height, my nearsightedness, my flat feet. None of these things stops me from living my life. I just mentally stuck my anxiety in the category of things that sometimes require a workaround.
So far so good.
One Sunday, I texted my dear Florida friend to tell her how much I miss her. She responded by searching her calendar for a long weekend she could come visit us in Atlanta. Excellent! I love a woman of action! But, truly, it didn’t even occur to me to be nervous about her being here all weekend. We’ve been friends for several years now. We don’t see each other much, but she’s part of my tribe. So, of course she could share my house–and my life–for three days.
I didn’t panic until the morning that she was supposed to show up. Fortunately, I didn’t have much time to panic, because there was book fair, and a talent show, and the last day of school (read: I was living my life instead of pandering to my anxiety). But sure enough, by the time we were an hour away from her arrival, I was teetering on losing my shit. Why? Dunno. Anxiety isn’t logical. It’s just destructive. So, yeah, I thought I was totally going to puke. I was fidgety. But, notably lacking was any real desire to run away.
Which is nothing short of miraculous.
She arrived in time to see Jane’s performance. I did not puke. She blended right into our family for three days. And, yeah, I felt seen. Girl kept me up til 1:00 a.m. talking about, well, ALL the things. But I’m okay with being seen. It’s worth it to love & be loved back.
Because I may not ever be all that cool. But I am pretty damn worthwhile.