“I just got over this big stress with her coming to visit,” I said, speaking with my sponsor, “and now I’m inviting more by preparing to visit her. I feel frustrated, overwhelmed, and I don’t want to do it.”

This was not entirely true.

Yes, my long-distance date (now girlfriend) and I finished our first in-person visit a month ago, and yes, I am preparing to go soon to visit her. Yes the distance between us and traveling feels daunting. But the stress and the frustration and the deflection of not wanting to do it? It’s a decoy. It’s all fear in disguise.

Acronyms for fear: False Evidence Appearing Real, Forget (or the other “F” word) Everything And Run, Future Events Already Ruined, Forgetting Everything is All Right. . .along with many others, I found close to 40 of them. But none of them mentioned the sultry step-sibling of productivity, and how we can use that in an attempt to detain (or even contain) it.

This genealogy of somewhat questionable qualities started with the Cousins Motivation and Commitment (see previous post The (UN)Accreditation of Accomplishment), and the Brothers Compare and Despair (see previous post The Anger Apothecary). They seem to be arriving pairs.

“Work the problem Amy,” my father used to say quite religiously whenever we were in distress about something. (As an aside, do your parents repeat the exact same colloquialisms as though they were the golden rule? As if, hearing it for the fifth time this year will suddenly shift the underbelly of annoyance planted 10 years ago when you heard it the first time? Worse yet, do you do the same thing?)

So of course I tried (to work the problem). . .until I couldn’t. . .and then came an onslaught of shame at my lack of control.

It wasn’t until I was in a small group going over my finances with two other 12-step program people who suggested that I focus on working the solution, not the problem, and maybe, just maybe, there wasn’t anything to work at all. Perhaps it was about relaxing into the moment, and allowing the facts and feelings to wash over me with their great source wisdom—not through a force of my own.

I have written about this “need to do” before (see previous post The Daunting Deception of Drive), and how it comes with a built-in barrier to what is, and is fueled by the compulsion to correct it (preferably immediately) in a way I feel is best.  Most of the time this manifests around things that cause discomfort (READ: growth). On occasion, however, when things are ever so slightly too comfortable it can also show up by me meddling in someone’s business “just for fun.” Of course I’m not consciously doing it. But my guess is if I have been in “being” for too long my “doing” gets bored.

“It takes practice,” someone reflected back to me on an outreach call. “It doesn’t go away, but the recognition that I am trying to take control happens a little faster each time. The more helpful question is not necessarily Why am I doing this again or What can I do to stop it, but Do I trust the handler in charge?

Whoa, I thought, that’s a big one.

“You mean God?” I asked.

“The Powers that be,” she said, “whatever that means to you. If we trust the handler, we can be more quiet and observant, and get centered in what we need to (and can actually) do. It is an opportunity to be grateful and see that things can turn out beneficial even if they seem painful and overwhelming.”

I’ve always joked that I’ve needed a handler, more than one and on numerous occasions. Perhaps I’ve had one—for goodness sakes I’ve made it to 50 and with that it’s been a hell of a year.  But it never occurred to me that my mistrust could be the mischievous gardener that gets in the way. And with a little fear as the fertilizer? Seems this “family tree” might have a larger cast of characters than I originally thought.

Can’t wait to be at the table this Thanksgiving.

“I think that if you shake the tree, you ought to be around when the fruit falls to pick it up.”
—Mary Cassatt