It is always a little frustrating as a coach to watch yourself get snared in the same traps you coach people to get themselves out of.
The other day, I sent my husband five texts over eleven hours and received no response from him. At first it was irritating, but each unanswered text left me feeing increasingly more troubled than irritated.
The last one was an actual question. “Hello. Are you alive?” Come on, THAT one deserves a response. The worrisome part was that my husband was in Japan, so he was very far away. How was I going to get ahold of him other than his cell phone? All of my texts were sent during his waking hours, so I knew it wasn’t the time difference. Why the hell didn’t he text me back?
Maybe something was really wrong. I tried Facetime. No answer.
I could feel my worry begin to shift into panic.
The whole time this was happening I was completely aware of the story I was telling myself. I could fully recognize it, but I couldn’t seem to stop myself. I kept cycling through talking myself out of it and getting trapped in it again.
My plot line was that he is missing, he is terribly sick, he is dead. Oh Stacy, I told myself, that’s ridiculous and definitely not true. But that’s a story, too, isn’t it? The truth was, I really didn’t know anything.
He probably just didn’t plug in his phone and doesn’t have his chord. Another story. I’m telling them all over the place. I’m trying to soothe myself by telling a different story to counteract the stories that are freaking me out.
Sometimes, we just get so stuck. I even knew it. I could feel the fiction. But I also knew it was stemming from not wanting to stay. In this particular case, I didn’t want to stay in the unknown. Sometimes, our stories are born of not wanting to stay in the sadness or anger or fear or a myriad of other emotions we try to avoid. This time it was the unknown.
Ding. Hearing my text alert would send me on a 5 second emotional roller coaster ride. Excitement and relief as I would hurry to find my phone. When it wasn’t him, disappointment, worry, and fear cycled all over again.
His day turned to his night, and then I was really stuck in the unknown. And I would be for 5 hours and 17 minutes to be exact. I wasn’t willing to call the hotel and have them bang on his door in the middle of the night. THAT seemed like an inappropriate amount of panic for the situation. I decided that I would text him once I knew he was up and if I didn’t hear back within half an hour, I would try to call the hotel. It felt good to have a plan. But, I had to wait.
How was I going to survive it without sinking my entire day lost in worry? Distraction would help. I could surely leverage that, but I know myself well enough to know that worry was going to creep back in throughout those hours. What was my plan for THAT?
I decided to just breathe. To stay. Resist the urge to spin another tale, like “he’s fine” or “he’s in trouble”.
Three deep breaths and three truths.
First breath: I don’t know anything.
Second breath: I have a plan.
Third breath: I will know something soon enough.
I took a lot of breaths that day, but panic and worry did not overwhelm me so I’m going to call that a win. I stayed. Because staying in difficult moments is something I struggle with, every time I do it on a small scale I strengthen my ability to stay when the big stuff goes down. And we are human, so it does. Breaths and truths, that’s what works for me.