To Thine Own Self Be True

Blake grew up in a stable, comfortable home.  His parents were professionals and his family was well respected in the community.  Beginning in adolescence, Blake began to be an “Angry Young Man.”  He had much frenetic energy, and it didn’t take long before that energy became increasingly chaotic and began to get him into trouble; first at school, then at home, then with the police.  Before long, his initial experimentation with drugs became a hard core drug habit.  He was obviously drawn to “activating” drugs – at first cocaine, then on to methamphetamine.

This downward spiral came to a peak when he was 29 years-old.  While in an intoxicated state, something very bad happened.  Not only was he responsible for damage to property, but someone get very injured in the process.

At that point, he woke up, with a little help from the judge who mandated him to intensive drug treatment.  He immersed himself in the 12-step program religiously.  From that point forward he was completely clean.  His spiritual growth blossomed and he invested tremendous time and energy in quieting his mind and his heart.

He became a substance abuse counselor and then went on to become a psychotherapist to treat individuals not necessarily addicted to drugs.  He married, became a father and led a stable life.

One day recently he made a new friend who inspired him and through their conversations, Blake was forced to think about things in a very different way than he had grown accustomed.  He welcomed the opportunity to challenge ways of thinking he had adopted in his sobriety.  Usually anxious internally, through these conversations he found an inner peace that had eluded him up until that point.

And then something odd happened.  He went to play soccer with his friends, a weekly ritual.  Within twenty minutes of the start of the match, he was overcome with tremendous anxiety.  Usually soccer and exercise were anxiety-reducing activities for him.  But this time it became the source of his angst.

He planned on speaking with his new friend a few days later.  As always, he very much looked forward to the conversation.  However he noticed a growing anxiety within him in anticipation of their meeting.  When the tête-á-tête took place, Blake revealed his anticipatory anxiety and pondered why he had experienced that inner discomfort, both playing soccer and awaiting the encounter with his friend.

Blake’s explanations were those he had been telling himself for years, that he may come up short, not be “good enough,” be judged; in short, the “insecurity” excuse.

It was abundantly clear, although not to Blake in the moment, that he is most definitely not insecure and had no reason to feel he would judged by an individual who had never been judgmental with him.  So what was his anxiety about?

The clue was two-fold.  First, he experienced the angst during soccer, an activity that normally makes him feel at peace.  And second, he emphasized the fact that he was exhilarated to see his friend again.

What did the soccer game and the anticipation of his meeting have in common?  Not anxiety and insecurity, but rather excitement – adrenaline, high energy, joy.  At first glance, it would seem paradoxical to be nervous at the very time one is excited.  But not for Blake.

In the more distant past, Blake was addicted to high energy excitement and this addiction got him into a lot of trouble.  Back then, he had to change his ways and through sheer force of will, adopted a completely opposite lifestyle that ensured constant stability.  His dedication to that stability saved his life and in that mode, he built for himself a very meaningful existence both personally and professionally.

These many years later, Blake needn’t worry that he will relapse on drugs.  His sobriety and abstinence are stable.  But when he begins to experience a “natural high” from life, be it from an adrenaline-inducing soccer game, or a rigorously stimulating interaction, he becomes terribly anxious because the healthy “high” reminds him of another type of high – one that was unhealthy and extremely destructive.

Blake is naturally high energy.  As much as these past years of maintaining a consistently moderate energy level have allowed him to create a wonderful life, his natural rhythm dictates that he allow himself to experience those “natural highs.”  Otherwise, he will not be who he truly and authentically is.  His challenge now is to again allow himself to experience the “highs” of life, dissociate those highs with the prior drug-induced ones, and thereby gain confidence that he can give that “high energy” part of himself expression in his life and it will not deteriorate into harmful, destructive behaviors.

Until he permits himself to have these experiences, he will never get past his fear of relapsing into a dark space.  True, during this process he will feel anxiety.  But his challenge is to push through that anxiety:  Tolerate discomfort for the sake of growth.

The alternative is to never again permit himself to experience the highs in life and to settle into a mode of a stable and predictable energy level sans highs, sans lows.  And then every time he begins to feel inspired, he’ll simply become anxious again.  But more importantly, he will not be true to himself.

Relief is the reward for finding our way out of very difficult and dark places.  Growth however requires that we return with our new-found strengths to those very difficult places once more to truly recover our authentic self.