The recovery process will – unfortunately – include days where you still struggle. This is to be expected. In this episode I read lesson 5.5 from my book which discusses the struggles you will encounter. I then discuss the basics of creating a “playbook” that you can turn to on the bad days when you need an easy to follow script rather than thinking on your feet.
CREATING YOUR “BAD DAY PLAYBOOK”
Bad days and period of struggle often include the onset of confusion and forgetting. I see people declare that they can not remember what they are supposed to do when they find themselves faced with period of struggle in recovery. This is clearly a normal situation experienced by many. When discouraged, feeling defeated, and feeling confused and lost, having a playbook or a script that you can reference is VERY helpful.
What should your bad day playbook look like:
- Take some time to be human. It is OK to feel defeated, upset, angry, disappointed, discouraged, or even hopeless. You are not a machine. You will experience these emotions. Allow yourself the space to feel them and be mindful about not piling negative interpretation or judgment on top of these normal emotions.
- Remember that natural tendency when struggling may be to simply stop, sit still, and wallow in a victim space. Humans tend to do this. Do not judge yourself harshly for this, but also be aware of when you are doing it, and understand that you can act to steer clear of this common mistake.
- Share this episode, or this lesson in my book with someone close to you. When you find that you are struggling and tending toward disengaging from the recovery process, reach out to that person. Ask them to remind you of what you are learning in this podcast/lesson. Ask them for love, kindness and support, but also ask them to use this information to coach you and encourage you to re-engage with the process rather than standing sill.
- Have GOOD online support groups ready to turn to when struggling. Be sure that your online support team goes beyond simply trying to soothe and coddle you. Your online anxiety family should do that, but should also encourage you to return to this information and to re-engage with the process. Online support is more than being told that “it’s OK”. Good online support will show you how you can exercise some power to make it OK.
- Have some very basic activities and/or exposures scripted in your bad day playbook. Regardless of how far down the road to recovery you are, you can execute very basic, simple tasks to get you moving forward again. You’re not required to fly around the world or run a marathon on a bad day. You are only required to move, and to accomplish SOMETHING, regardless of how small. Your pre-planned, scripted bad day plays can be small, so long as they allow you to show yourself that you are capable and competent of doing life even while struggling. This is HOW we counteract the pitfall of disengaging with the process and becoming a passive victim when faced with recovery obstacles.
Remember that your bad day playbook is not there to make you instantly feel better. It will not create instant sunshine and rainbows. It might, but that’s now what it’s there for. It exists only to keep up connected to your humanity, and to the process. It is designed to prop you up and get you back to the basics that will show you that struggle or not, you are still in control and capable of making change in your life.
LESSON 5.5 – EXPECT TO STRUGGLE
An excerpt from “The Anxious Truth : A Step-By-Step Guide To Understanding And Overcoming Anxiety, Panic, And Agoraphobia“. (Please do not copy this text on other websites. Rather, link to this page. Thank you.)
This is a lesson that I wish I didn’t have to write, but I’d be leaving out an important bit of information and experience if I didn’t write it. Before you read on, I am going to remind you that I did everything that I have written about up to this point.
I lived this thing.
I was you.
And I’m still here, better than ever.
Millions of others have also traveled this path before you. They also encountered obstacles and challenges, yet still completed the journey. Do not get discouraged, and do not let any of this frighten you. It is better to be prepared with a detailed and realistic road map. I could paint you a rosy picture to make you feel better or inspire you, but that would be the easy way out. Inspiration is great. It’s not everything.
Expect to struggle as you execute your recovery plan. It happened to me. It happens to everyone. It is to be expected. Unfortunately, this is not an easy process. There will be struggles, uncertainties, and periods of slow progress. Trust me on this. It will all be worth it.
Don’t misunderstand me. You are not going to live in a torture chamber for the next few months. Nobody is going to beat you with a stick as part of this process. You won’t be shot at, stabbed, or called names, but you will still struggle, nonetheless. The struggle is in learning to ignore your body and mind when it literally hits the panic button. The struggle is in telling your self-preservation instinct to sit down and shut up. The struggle is in doing hard, scary things, again and again, to learn that they’re not actually hard or scary. The struggle in this process is primarily mental and emotional. It isn’t about enduring pain. It is about enduring doubt, uncertainty, and disbelief.
Recovery from an anxiety disorder does not happen along a straight line either. Progress toward freedom from anxiety, panic, and fear is like the stock market. From hour to hour and day to day, stock prices rise and fall. Money is made and lost. This is normal and expected. One rarely succeeds or fails in the market based on two trades made on a Tuesday. One succeeds by having a smart investment strategy executed over time. A smart investment strategy rarely involves huge trades that make you millions overnight. The most successful people invest wisely in proven companies. They go with what has been shown to work. Most importantly, they are patient and willing to play a “long game.”
This strategy also applies to your recovery plan and it’s execution. You are not day trading with anxiety and fear. You are playing the “buy and hold” long game with it. You are building a plan based on what works, knowing that it takes some time to complete that plan. It is very important to remain aware of this as you go about the business of getting your life back. Do not expect every hour to be better than the previous hour. Do not expect every day to include giant victories and steps forward. As jazzed as you may be about kicking anxiety in the rear end, this is not an express elevator to the top of the recovery mountain.
It is a common experience for people to struggle more when first starting out on this new path. This is normal. You are learning how to do new things and how to approach your anxiety in a totally different way. The struggles thus tend to be many in the early days. The good news is that when you stick with it, it gets better. In later days you will be more advanced in your recovery. The struggles will then be fewer but can be harder from a mental and emotional standpoint. When you’ve gone a long way, it can be hard to feel like you’ve been dragged back to the starting line (even though that doesn’t actually happen.) This is also normal and to be expected. You will struggle more in the early days. You will struggle less later on, but those struggles may be deeper. Keep this in mind as you go.
Now let’s talk about the different struggles and challenges you will likely face along the way.
Some days you will not want to get out of bed to face the hard work. You will be tired. You will be sick of being afraid and on edge and unsteady. Frustration will set in. You will get angry with yourself. Sometimes you will get angry with others in your life because they are not doing what you “need” them to do. You will sit and wish it all away, knowing that it doesn’t work that way. You may find yourself full of regret, sadness, or anger over what you see as so much time wasted on anxiety and fear. You will be tempted to beat yourself up over how this problem has diminished the person you used to be. You will think of yourself as a bad parent, partner, friend, or employee because of anxiety. Some even experience a crisis of faith or spirituality during recovery. They may wonder if a higher power has abandoned them or is punishing them. These are the emotional and mental obstacles that you will face as you execute your plan. Expect them. Do your best to prepare yourself for these obstacles and recognize them when they pop up.
When doing the actual work itself, you will hit roadblocks. You will try to meditate and focus for five minutes while your mind is racing at close to the speed of light. You will attempt to relax your body, and your body will put up a fight. You will want to do the work but will find yourself almost paralyzed with fear that tells you that you can’t. You will want to allow fear to wash over you, but your survival instinct will scream that you must do something to save yourself. The weather will change on you, introducing new road or travel conditions. This may cause you to incorrectly gauge your safety again. This will fuel more fear. You may get sick with a cold, a stomach virus, or some other ailment. Your fear of your own body will turn a simple temporary condition into what you may be tempted to call a “nightmare.” Schedules will get disrupted. Family and friends will accidentally make things difficult for you sometimes. On some days, maintaining some semblance of a life will feel like a huge burden added to an already full plate. These are the practical challenges and obstacles that will struggle along the way. Again, expect them and prepare for them.
It helps to have a plan in place that you can refer to when it comes to struggle and challenge. When you feel like you’re stuck in cement, progress is coming at a slow pace, and you think you can’t do this, what will you do? I would suggest saving this lesson somewhere convenient so that you can see it regularly. You’ll need a reminder that the struggle you’re experiencing is part of making progress. This lesson is that reminder. Use it. I would also suggest talking about this and sharing this lesson with someone close to you. When you struggle, it is helpful to revisit information like this to gain perspective. It can be more helpful to have a person (or people) point out that you are sitting passively in the struggle rather than taking action to address it.
Online support groups can be a useful part of your “struggle contingency” as well. Use them as a source of motivation and inspiration (not only for sympathy and soothing). Whichever way you choose to execute it, having a plan is always going to be better than feeling defeated and directionless.
Look at the differences in the thought processes and how one will move you forward on your path to recovery.
“I’m struggling and lost. This is a hard place to be.”
“I’m struggling. So, I will go back and re-read, learn, and look for sources of encouragement and motivation to get me past all this. This is still hard, but it’s way better than the first option.”
Do you see the difference?
I want you to remember that anxiety disorders are masters of deception. Anxiety, fear, and panic are excellent at magnifying and distorting EVERYTHING bad. They are also excellent at hiding and minimizing everything good. A bad day quickly turns into hours of lament and fear that you will never get better. Panic during an exposure that had become easy for you can be turned into an exasperated feeling that you are back to square one. The realization that your progress hasn’t been fast enough to get you to some important event may get warped into a three-day catastrophe in your head. Remember this at all times. Write it down on your wall if you have to.
ANXIETY AND FEAR ARE LIARS AND
Do not forget that there WILL be struggles and challenges. It can help to remember that they will not actually be as disastrous as your mind will make them out to be.
I know that challenges and struggles can be demoralizing and discouraging. I’d like to share some of my own personal experiences with you in the hopes that it will provide you with a little inspiration to keep going. I want you to know that I lived what you are living now. I was you. I went through all the ups and downs of recovery. You will not find a more determined, driven person than me, but I struggled, too. I promise I know what it feels like.
I will admit that I never doubted my ability to get better. That may simply be part of my personality. But even in the face of a high sense of confidence and competence, some days were discouraging. Actually, some days were VERY discouraging. Many people hear me speak, or see me on video, and conclude that I’m “super strong.” They assume that it must have been easier for me than it is for them. Untrue. There were moments when I wanted to go to sleep for a very long time to get a break and forget about this job I had to do. There were days when I was shaking, unsteady on my feet, and my heart was pounding like a jackhammer. I had to literally drag myself out the door to do the work. For a while, my energy levels varied between tired and exhausted. I was very frustrated on days where I felt like my progress was too slow. At times I was plain angry at the whole situation and at me for having gotten myself into it.
Especially in the early days, my recovery wasn’t fun in any way. It felt like a very large mountain to be forced to climb. I did not breeze through this process by any stretch of the imagination. While I was very consistent in my approach, that doesn’t mean that everything went forward at a fast pace every day. I assure you, it did not, even for me. I struggled. I faced mental, emotional, and practical challenges that were difficult to go over or around.
As time went on, as it will for you, I saw hours here and there that showed real promise. Those hours then became days. Not consistent days. One good day, then three less than ideal days that felt like crap. Then there would be two good days in a row. At some point, the struggle became less a part of the journey. My brain was learning new lessons and un-learning the bad lessons it needed to leave behind. The fear wasn’t constant and pervasive. The anxiety habit was breaking over time. The clouds started to lift. Then there would be a day that felt like it came straight out of the first week of my recovery. I would get SO angry and impatient and frustrated by that. Invariably, that would pass, and the skies would turn blue again for me. It was quite a rollercoaster of ups and downs.
In retrospect, I can say with absolute certainty that my recovery—like the stock market over a long enough time—was always trending in a positive direction. Even when it didn’t seem like it, progress was being made. But in retrospect, I could not recognize this progress until later on. It was progress, however. I know now that even the “bad” times served a teaching purpose. They provided experiences that became part of who I am now. The lessons that I learned through the struggle still serve me well today and will for the rest of my life.
You will struggle.
We all struggle.
I promise you that you will not struggle forever. Knowledge, planning, determination, and the experience and guidance of those who have come before you will get you through. You will find blue skies after the storm. I know you will.
In the next lesson, we’ll talk about avoiding the judgment trap and how best to judge and evaluate your progress during recovery.
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Intro/Outro Music: "Afterglow" by Ben Drake (With Permission)