“You’ve been through this before,” a friend told me this morning after I mentioned that I was feeling some anxiety about work. Yes … I breathed …. I have. It always amazes me how simple the problems in life are. Each one seems unique and can seem catastrophic, but they all boil down to just a few core issues. There is loss and there is fear of loss. Whether we lose a job, hope, trust, a beloved person, money, faith or love, it’s all loss. And, with every loss comes the work of plugging the hole, moving through it, denying it and/or moving on. It’s so simple if you really think about it. But, it’s so very, very difficult.
I’ve been lucky in my lifetime that I’ve not lost many people really close to me in unexpected ways. There have been a few – my friend Lorna and my cousin Jerry come to mind – but my immediate family is intact, and my grandparents all went in an orderly fashion in old age. I’ve not lost a job – knock on wood. I’ve always been able to move on before the ax fell. But, I’ve certainly had fear of losing one. Working in corporate America, I couldn’t escape it. In fact, I’ve come to realize that job change and job loss are pretty normal these days. We hate to think of it and feel like it’s unfair, but there’s really no job security. Even in nonprofits and other heart-filled work, if there’s no money, there’s no job. I have lost marriages … significant losses. I have also lost hopes and dreams and coping mechanisms that helped me feel safe. So, even though I haven’t had major tragic losses, I have experienced loss. Even my dog has experienced loss. It’s part of living … this scary, shattering experience of loss.
My issue is that my fear of loss is much greater than my actual experience with loss. I spent years and years trying to hold together marriages out of fear of loss when I could have let them go their grave much more quickly and quietly. My fear of what would happen when I lost them was much worse than what actually happened. The loss hurt – a lot – but I got through it, and I thrived. Even when good things happen, I can get caught up in loss and the fear of loss, sometimes to the extent that I can’t see the blessing and the excitement in it. When I moved here, I had very mixed emotions about moving. It was exciting, and it was a great opportunity, but it was overshadowed by the fear that the job wouldn’t pan out, I’d miss my life in Memphis too much, and I was losing money to come here. I got through it because I’m better at dealing with my feelings of loss now, but it still caused some anxiety. The adventure of life is often muted by my fear of losing what is in the past or what will be my past sometime in the future.
False Evidence Appearing Real… That is an acronym that I’ve heard tossed around about fear. I have really good intuition, so I might say that I have pretty good insight into how things will be, but, honestly, I don’t know anything except the facts. For instance, I thought that my second divorce would be the worst thing that could ever happen to me. I could see myself living out my 50s and 60s in desperate loneliness, turning into an old hag, maybe even becoming a bag lady because I had nothing in my life worth living for. Well, I foresaw the divorce, but I couldn’t foresee the future. I also gave myself very little credit for knowing how to adapt and change with my life’s needs. Like my friend said, “You’ve been through this before.” I forgot I’d learned how to navigate life without a husband, live fully and engaged without addictive substances, and make the best of bad situations before. I’d done it all before … in tiny ways … in big ways. It’s the same process no matter the loss. Accept what is. Take care of my own needs. Stay connected to God and others. Look for joy in the simple things. Keep moving forward. Learn from it.
The bad thing is I have more problems with ‘accept what is’ than I do any of the rest of it. I’ll go down fighting reality until I’m laying on the battlefield bloody and torn, lifeless from the struggle. I am getting better. I at least know ‘accepting what is’ is a concept now, and I realize from past experience that ‘what is’ is not always as bad as it seems because my perspective is so limited. I love that saying ‘Let go or be dragged.’ I resemble that. I will hang on for dear life, and I’m pretty strong. I can hang on a long time. I was talking to my therapist after my second divorce, and it dawned on me how strong I was to have endured the trauma from that relationship. I felt like a victim in the moment, but I was the one holding on, and it took a lot of strength and stamina to get through that on a daily basis. If I could re-direct that energy and focus to my own life, I’d be unstoppable.
The practice of letting go… the acceptance of what is … the willingness to take care of my own needs without depending on someone else to do it … staying fully connected, transparent and honest … enjoying the simple things … one step at a time … one day at a time … doing the next right thing… and learning from it all so that I can use it the next time. And there will be a next time, you can count on it. I’m guessing this is what they call the survival instinct, right?