At the beginning of a new year, like many people, I’ve been reminiscing about the past and eagerly anticipating the future.
In 2013 I experienced my awakening. Realizing that controlling and hyper-planning in an attempt to stay “happy” had left me emotionally disconnected from my life and loved ones was a tremendous step. Finding the amazing resources in The Happiness Trap allowed me to let go of those unhealthy coping strategies and embrace living in the moment.
For most of 2014, I practiced being present and mindfully embracing the moment. At first, it felt unusual to be connected, but soon it came to be the new normal. I’d sometimes go several days without experiencing that disconnected feeling of being “in my head.”
Early this year, I had a bout of anxiety brought on by insomnia. It felt like I was back where I started from. As I reread The Happiness Trap and practiced defusing my thoughts and feeling my emotions, it occurred to me that I still actively sought control, particularly when it came to sleep. If I was sleeping well, I felt good. But, after a long streak of falling asleep easily, I’d start to fear a night of poor sleep. Then, inevitably, I’d have trouble sleeping.
Through prayer, I came to realize that my deepest desire wasn’t to fall asleep easily every night (a ridiculous ideal anyway!) but to have a healthy attitude toward sleep. I wanted to feel like a “normal” person when I didn’t have a good night sleep, rather than spinning into several days of anxiety.
One of the things that trigger my anxiety about sleep was the idea of camping, something that I wanted to start doing with my family. I decided that I was going to face my fear head on. We purchased a couple tents in the spring and had our first family campout in the backyard over Memorial Day weekend. It did take me awhile to fall asleep that first night, but I expected it to, so it didn’t bother me much. Three nights in the backyard and, overall, I slept reasonably well. But, more importantly, I had fun and made memories with my husband and kids. I didn’t let fear keep me from embracing life.
We had several more backyard camping weekends throughout the summer. It was fun! And this simple activity helped me to greatly overcome my fear of not falling immediately to sleep.
Okay, so all of that is my way of saying that this year I realized we often need to reexamine the way we frame an issue or problem. When I feared having trouble falling asleep, my initial response was to control internal and external factors that would keep me from sleeping. But, the real issue wasn’t sleep, it was the anxiety it triggered. So, what if having trouble falling asleep for a night (or two) didn’t cause me anxiety? When I reframed the issue, I realized that purposely choosing situations where I wouldn’t fall right to sleep, would give me a chance to face my fear and overcome it.
Forgive me the juvenile example, but we recently watched Frozen and I found myself relating to Elsa… again. For most of the movie, she fears her ice powers and the results are disastrous. Whenever she experiences strong emotions, things around her freeze. So, she (naturally?) attempts to stop feeling anything. In this way, she tries to keep the people around her safe. But as her fears grow, the storm around her grows and she doesn’t know how to stop it. There’s a sweet scene where the grandfather troll (stay with me!) foreshadows the story’s conclusion when he tells Elsa’s sister Anna: “Only love can thaw a frozen heart.” In the end, Elsa realizes that she can thaw the frozen disaster she’s created by feeling love and letting go of her fear.
Seeing this struggle, between control/fear and faith/love, played out in a children’s movie is oddly powerful to me. Ultimately, God is love and, as my mom often reminds me, not the author of fear. Throughout these years of growth, I keep coming back to surrendering my will to God’s. When I try to be “in control” I eventually find myself strayed, not from God (he’s always there!), but from mindfulness of God’s will and gracious love.
As we start a new year, is there something in your life that could be reframed? I have found this helpful when issues arise and the solution seems illusive. Maybe I’m looking at it from the wrong angle? Maybe I’m asking the wrong question…?