How a cup of coffee saved me


i don’t remember how long (years) ago this happened after that horrible  experience of my first panic attack. it was a time of daily  struggles to learn, understand and overcome.

the irony about anxiety  and fear is that the more you try to overcome them intellectually and  emotionally, the closer you keep them to you. they are the constant focus. throughout my struggle all those  years ago, even though i was making progress, i was still the person with the anxiety problem. it defined me as  i worked on it. and that is what i resented most.

i had made much progress, no doubt about it. i no longer thought anything of driving on my own,  going places or socializing. sometimes i got a bit nervous, but it  passed.

still, there were things, specific things, i was irrationally afraid of.  one of them was coffee. caffeinated coffee that is, a former staple  in my daily routine, now literally a monster to be avoided at all  costs. i could not so much as look at a cup of coffee knowing it had  caffeine in it without feeling my body freeze up and cold shivers running down my  spine.

i don’t know what got into me one day, but i remember walking into  the kitchen and seeing coffee had been made. it was real coffee, as opposed to  my “safe” decaf version. and for whatever reason, at that moment, i stood there and  thought there is no way in hell i am going to live the rest of my life afraid of  a friggin liquid.

i poured a cup and faced my demon. it looked harmless, just  brown liquid in a white ceramic container. i poured some milk in. i remember  shaking inside, thinking that i was going to literally die, or  worse, go insane. (people who know anxiety will get this)

and then i said it out loud…SO BE IT! i would rather  die or go insane than be a slave to fear. and i grabbed the coffee and drank  it.

nothing happened.

everything changed.

that is the day i  understood for the first time that describing a problem, understanding it and  even trying to overcome it in our minds and hearts is not going to solve it. we  will be more educated, perhaps calmer, have more insight and  tools for change. but the only way out is through…literally. all the  preparation, education, thinking and intention are never going to replace  action.

we become anxious because we’ve each had experiences where we felt threatened, trapped  and out of control. so our minds seek to protect us from the possibility of  ending up feeling this way again by trying to anticipate and predict similar circumstances where that might happen.

i had my first panic attack right after drinking a cup of coffee, so even though i overcame fear of other things, there was no way in hell i was ever going to touch caffeine again. my anxiety made sure of it. and no amount of rational thinking, analysis or understanding made a cup of coffee any less  frightening.

two quotes come to mind now, as they did then…first, that every time we choose safety (or withdrawal), we reinforce fear. and, second, what eleanor rosevelt said: “you must do the things you think you  cannot do”.

damn that woman i used to think…how on earth am i going to try something that has me paralyzed with fear?

i did  not think that day i would survive drinking that cup of  real coffee. honestly. it was THAT bad. the funny thing is that the caffeine didn’t even  make me fidgety or more alert, probably because i was too busy laughing out loud with  relief.

since that day, over the years, i’ve met fears again many  times. and sometimes they did become panic. even though i knew better, at first, my instict was to run… then to study and analyze some more. by now i know more about anxiety than i care to think. my issues are so  neatly outlined i can write volumes on them…as i’m sure is the case with most people who’ve  had a similar experience.

but each time i actually solved  a problem at hand, it was always through  action. action leads to familiarity, and the mind has no more reason to anticipate  danger. so it stops trying to protect by creating a fear response. action leads  to habit, and things that seemed impossible become not only possible, but start to come naturally. it is not a change in personality, it is  simply a change in habits…reinforcing the positive and letting the negative fade into the background.

people don’t need fixing; they  sometimes need re-conditioning in an insightful, compassionate and consistent  way. and change happens by living, not thinking about living.

by taking action and standing up to fear, so many things in life that were closed to me suddenly became  accessible…possible. turns out that i am not afraid of but rather like adventure, that i don’t freak out on planes, that i am a strong woman who isn’t scared of the dark, and doesn’t need her hand held at all times. ok, so i still don’t like camping.

in my coccoon of  so-called safety that had made me so anxious, in that place where i didn’t have to  try anything new, risk anything, be inconvenienced or change even when i was miserable, the world was  safe…and closed. it wasn’t until i got on that first plane on my own, and did things i didn’t think i could do, that my eyes opened to my true nature, and i started truly living my life.

but long before all that, it was drinking a cup of coffee, real coffee,  that saved me.

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