May 6

90. Perceived Limits Are Not Always Actual Limits

A few words about what you "can't" do because of anxiety.

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Wake up every morning to a hot cup of anxiety support, empowerment, education, and inspiration in your inbox. The Anxious Morning is written and recorded by Drew Linsalata.
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Before you go on reading, take a few seconds and make a short list of things that you can’t do because of anxiety. If you’re listening instead of reading, hit the pause button.

I’ll wait.

OK, now that that’s done, I need to tell you something. You CAN actually do everything on that list. You CHOOSE not to, because you are afraid of how you might feel if you do them. This is such an important concept in recovery because we must accept this truth before we can really grasp why we are doing hard and scary things on the daily. If we continue to insist that we “can’t”, then we get frustrated quickly with this process and run the risk of declaring that it doesn’t work for you.

When we choose to avoid because we do not want to be afraid of uncomfortable, and when we do this again and again, things get a bit twisted in our minds. We perceive ourselves as unable or incapable, but this is not accurate. Think about it. When you first decided that you did not want to stay home alone for two hours, you were clearly making that decision based on the idea that you might feel anxious or afraid while alone.

“I don’t want to be alone because … what if I panic?”

See how that analysis says nothing about how capable you are? It identifies the obstacle (panic or anxiety or fear) and resolves the conflict with that obstacle by choosing to go around it or run away from it. In those early days of avoidance and escape, you did not say you couldn’t. You knew that you were choosing not to for a very clear reason.

Over time, though, this morphs. We stop seeing the avoidance and the escape strategy and instead we simply say things like, “I can’t work because of my anxiety.” This is a slow and quiet process, and it is insidious because after enough time, you have yourself convinced that you can’t do things any more. You perceive obstacles as limitations. You adopt the avoidance choice as a defining characteristic of who you are.

“I choose to avoid situations that make me uncomfortable.”

“I can’t do most things.”

Look at the huge difference in these statements! The first is accurate. Limiting, but accurate. The second is full of defeat and hopelessness for no good reason.

If you take anything out of today’s edition of The Anxious Morning, let it be the hard truth that you always COULD do things, but that you CHOSE not to, then repeated that choice. That doesn’t feel good, I know, but this realization is full of empowerment and hope. Let me be clear in saying that I am not accusing you of choosing to suffer or saying that your situation is somehow your fault. Not at all. Humans are experts at avoiding discomfort so NOBODY is blaming you. I am only pointing out that when you step back, blow the dust off, and really look beyond your assertion that you “can’t”, you give yourself a fighting chance to start moving in a new direction.

Thinking has, many a time, made me sad, darling; but doing never did in all my life... My precept is, "Do something, my sister, do good if you can; but, at any rate, do something". - Elizabeth Gaskell

Every Friday I’ll share one of my favorite quotes. They’ll often have direct application in recovery, but sometimes they’re just generally funny, inspiring, or thought-provoking.  I hope you enjoy them.