I’m in my thirties and I still use coping mechanisms.

I'm in my thirties and I still use coping mechanisms 3

While riding in the back of a golf cart, holding my toddler in my lap, and bouncing through the rows of trees in the apple orchard a thought confronted me: I am enjoying myself.

Before we arrived at the orchard, precautions had been taken to make sure each person was wearing layers, gloves, hats, and boots. But preparation isn’t everything, I’ve prepared for things like this before and still hated the experience all the way through. Every minute felt like pain, and none of it seemed worth all the effort. I love my family, and lots of times the experience we are aiming for was my idea. So I don’t know why I have grudged through so many should-be-good times.

But this morning, as we were bumping along in the golf cart – the confrontation of my thought startled me. I could feel that I was in the moment. I wasn’t worried about finding the right apple variety. I wasn’t anxious about holding my toddler while not in a seat buckle. I knew the whole excursion would be exercise (not my favorite thing). I accepted that this was going to be work.

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I breathed in and knew that it was good. I thought, this is good – no matter what happens, no matter how much it costs, no matter how much my kids appreciate it – this is good.

So good that I was giddy, fully alive with joy.

I breathed in and knew that I wasn’t afraid. I looked at the sky, clouds threatening to block out blue and sun, and felt the energy of the day. I embraced the strength that was available to me in that moment. And that’s when I knew I was changing my habits. I was focused on breathing so I couldn’t be fixated on trying to control the outcome of the experience.

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It’s the outcome that fools me into thinking that I can control the experience. Like a mathematical equation: We are here to pick apples. I will pick apples, pay for them, leave with them, and eat them. Money and time out – apples in. Whenever I get caught up in this sort of mentality, I get fooled into thinking that the life in between making the plan and acting on the plan should be easy and controllable.

It never is.

I'm in my thirties and I still use coping mechanisms 6

I’m still learning this whole hard work thing. I’m a slow learner, so I’m not the most exciting member of our family to be around when the going gets tough. I’ve missed out on the joy of so many fun family activities simply because I was trying to control the outcome so much that I wanted to fast forward through the moments that seemed like filler just to get to the point.

If I had been in this mindset, I would have missed the golf cart ride.

I would have held my breath through the filler part. I would have stressed about all the things I could not control and missed the moment. But instead, I took a deep breath and thanked God for that very moment – the bumpy, exciting, unknown, beautiful moment. And that’s when I realized that my problem hasn’t been that I’m just a grumpy person with a bent toward complaining. My problem is I’m a fearful person who simply needs to learn to breathe again. I’m learning that pain has created a lot of bad habits in my life, some that have nothing to do with other people and everything to do with how I experience my own life.

Confession: I’m in my thirties and I still use coping mechanisms. I hold my breath when I’m scared.

I'm in my thirties and I still use coping mechanisms 1

I know there isn’t any logic in holding my breath. Like the analogy of bitterness: drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die. I fear the lack of control in my experiences and hold my breath, waiting for someone or something to hand me back the reigns.

I don’t hold my breath consciously, but I do remember the first time I consciously took in a full breath and practiced that over and over. I realized that I had been making my daily life more difficult because of my coping. I started to recognize – like waking up and seeing objects come into focus – I was holding my breath all the time. I just did it automatically whenever I found myself in new situations or in fear inducing circumstances.

I didn’t know that all my breath-holding was a means of grasping for control. I didn’t connect that my grasping was actually robbing me of the freedom to enjoy my own life’s experiences. But learning to breathe – the simple full breath in, full exhale out – in the midst of new or scary experiences has taught me the beauty and joy of letting go of the things that are unknown.

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So when the thought I am enjoying myself jolted me – I took a full breath, thanked God, and told myself that no matter what happens in this orchard I will breathe. I will choose to remember this moment of pure joy and be grateful for this life and this experience. I won’t worry about the outcome or about whether I have enough strength for the hard work. I will choose to rest in my spirit and trust God for my next breath.

And that’s exactly what happened. I kept breathing, and I enjoyed myself all the way through the experience. One small victory over fear, one giant amount of joy, one breath at a time.

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