Avoidance of life is never due to the fact that life is this big scary thing to no longer engage in; it is due to the fact that we don’t want to feel anxiety/fear and so we avoid life in the hope of not feeling it. Life itself is never at fault here, it spins exactly the same for all of us, it is only our mind’s fears and perceptions that make it appear different.
I had many aha moments in my own recovery and realised that life was not to blame for my fear and anxiety. If it was, we would all be scared of the same things and avoiding life when that simply is not the case. Most people happily engage in it and find joy in doing so. I realised that if life was not to blame, then I had to stop avoiding it. By doing so, I was teaching my mind that it was a scary place to be avoided and with this approach, my life became narrower and narrower and my mind’s fears just grew.
I then realised that by building up my knowledge, I was trying to get to the point where I had such an aha moment that I would be able to get rid of fear and anxiety and just go out and live again. I realised this approach would never bring any real results and would be an endless waiting period and that if I wanted my life back, then I had to take the plunge and go out and live it once again. I had to understand that through my past avoidance behaviours, my mind would still have a lot of worries and fears when engaging fully with life again, even if they were false.
Recovering from anxiety beyond just knowledge
There really was no getting past the fact that if I wanted to my life back, then knowledge would not do this for me. The only way to get my life back was to go and live it fearlessly. This does not mean that fear would not arise; it means I understood that it would do and that the feeling of fear was part of growth. Its presence was a sign of me stepping out of my comfort zones and building new habits, beliefs and perceptions. My mind would come up with every reason I should stay within my comfort zones, as it would falsely believe that it was keeping me safe. I don’t blame it as I had taught it that the outside was to be avoided. It was just doing its job and trying to protect me, but I needed to teach it that life was not something to be avoided; I had to teach it that I was fine and I did not need its protection anymore, and within time it would listen.
I also realised that it was never about trying to get rid of fear which is a hard-wired part of each person’s mind; it was about being OK with the feeling of fear. I am not saying you have to enjoy it; it’s not a nice feeling, but ultimately it is a harmless surge of energy that has its limits. I didn’t like the feeling of fear, but in time I lost my fear of it and in doing so I was then no longer moved by its presence. I could make my own decisions on what I wanted to do and that is when my life started to expand once again. My mind’s perspective also changed hugely when engaging in life once again, as my mind’s fears started to fall away and it no longer fired off its protection when it was not needed. I had taught it through non-avoidance that actually engaging fully in life was fine. I was its teacher and it was my pupil and the best way to teach it was through my actions.
Recovery from anxiety is more than just understanding what the problem is
I always tell people that I never came to some huge understanding and then I was fine. Once I understood things, I still had to go through a period of reversing everything, which entailed feeling anxiety and fear. I just came to the conclusion that if avoidance had created so many problems, then the answer to reverse this was obvious and, yes, this would entail a lot of discomfort at times, but getting my life back was far more important than that.
Some people believe they can rid themselves of fear and anxiety through knowledge alone and so jump from one person to the next hoping to be free of anxiety and fear in one go and then they can go out and live again. In doing so they stay stuck in seeking mode as they don’t want to go through the period of discomfort that is needed to reverse the process of avoidance.
Knowledge is important, but we have to implement it through living again
Yes, knowledge does help unmask a lot of myths about anxiety/fear, it helps you to be able to accept its presence better through understanding it. It helps to understand why you are doing what you are doing and the process you have to go through. But at the end of the day, knowledge is pointless if you never take the actual leap to go out and live your life once again. Doing so beats any amount of knowledge hands down.
I am not saying it is easy and a lot of people may get defensive and go on about how tough it is. I understand this – it was for me also – but it is through the toughest moments that real freedom comes. Even if you make small steps at first and stay committed to expanding your life little by little on a daily basis, then this is enough to start the process of reversal. Building my understanding was massive for me, but the only reason I live my life fully now is that I engaged in living again no matter how I felt.