(Here is a post from guest blogger, Corey Rotella! I hope you enjoy this.)
Ah anxiety. It’s good to see you, old friend. I felt that nagging vague fear attempt to sneak in the back door of my mind. I know this dance well. That quiet feeling of impending doom has defined aspects of my life for as long as I can remember, though I didn’t realize it until I was in my thirties. It’s hardwired into my psyche. As a child, I did my best to escape it. I felt so awkward ALL THE TIME, as if everyone got a manual to life that I was somehow lacking.
I remember the exact moment when I realized that I lacked the ability to be anyone other than myself. Seventh grade orientation. A brand new school! I was going to be cool! No more “passing Corey germs” from bullying sixth graders. This was a whole new ballgame! So, I borrowed my Grandma’s coolest shirt (my awkward ideas of fashion at the time are a topic for another post) and hit the ground running! The potential of what junior high could be lay before me in all its glory! Life at home during this period of my life was chaotic and I was filled with constant self-doubt that I hid behind a smile so I had placed all my hope for happiness in my school life. And what an extravaganza it was! Cheerleaders and show choir and the dance team exhibiting their skills; extracurricular activities abounded and I soaked up the possibility for an amazing junior high school experience. It wasn’t until the festivities were almost over that I felt a tap on my shoulder.
“Your shirt is inside out.”…and I knew right then that no matter how hard I might try and how fervently I may wish, I was who I was. I was the girl who wore shirts inside out and lost notebooks and lacked any kind of mental filter and…well I was a weirdo. But not in a cool, intentional way. I was the girl who lived in her head and vacationed in the real world. Any attempt to change this would be an exercise in futility…Seventh grade orientation, I was twelve and I knew that was a fundamental truth.
Before that fateful day, I could pretend. After, I could only escape. I escaped into books and daydreams and writing. ANYTHING that would pull me from the depressing and difficult realities that surrounded me. That worked…until it didn’t. See, no matter how far I tried to run in my mind and how much I tried to force circumstances to conform into my own personal world view, reality would always show its ugly face and the real world has sharp teeth.
So, pretending didn’t work and escaping didn’t work. What came next? Fighting! I fought myself and I fought my life, all the while that devious anxiety whispering in the back of my head…you are a failure. You are weird. You are a loser. What’s the point?…Only I wasn’t aware of those thoughts. I didn’t realize those soft and deadly notions had been there all along. It was at that point, those demons began to drive the train. By the time I was in my mid-twenties, I had given up without realizing it. I was pretending, escaping and fighting. I pretended that I was fine. I escaped into any substance that would pull me from reality and I was fighting the idea that there was any other option available. It was exhausting. By all rights, I should be dead a few times over. I don’t know why I had a moment of clarity when so many don’t. I don’t know where I found the strength to grab a hold of that opportunity. I only know that it saved me. That was the day my life began.
By the time I began my path to recovery, I had such shame and fear that I had no idea how to live. I had no idea who I was and what I wanted, other than for the pain to stop. I wasn’t rebuilding a life that I had lost, you see. My troubles started long before I ever picked up the bottle. I was starting from scratch and that was every bit as exciting as it was terrifying. Clean slate. Tabula Rasa.
Eight years later, what have I learned? I do not have the luxury of pretending, escaping or fighting certain truths. My level of pain is directly related to my actions. Feelings are just feelings. To deny them is a dangerous waste of energy. Today I OWN those feelings. I AM awkward. I DO feel anxiety. Occasionally, I wear two different shoes by mistake. I feel anger and fear and doubt and insecurity. I have made some gigantic mistakes. I accept these facts on a day by day basis and I own it and in doing so I am free to learn and grow from all of it. When you own who you are, who you are does not own you. I have been my worst possible self and survived it. Now I get to use that to help others. That is the very definition of redemption and in discovering that truth, I’ve learned what it really means to be free.
Corey Anne Rotella co-authored the book CNA Edge: Reflections from year one along with Bob Goddard and Hannah Hedges. It’s collection of essays from their blog CNA Edge: a Voice from the trenches of Long Term Care
She also writes commentary about her life experiences on her personal blog Chasing Wonderland https://howdoyoueatanelaphant.wordpress.com/