Alison's Insights

Making Sense of Addiction Recovery in Midlife One Slow Deep Breath at a Time

The Scare: Listen to Words Said, Not Fears Heard

In my last post I wrote about how I stopped listening to my doctor after I heard him say a spot on my lung was detected via the x-ray for a suspected cracked rib. I tuned him out the second he uttered those words, spinning directly into the wind of my fears.

In a split second I skyrocketed right back to my childhood home where I sat alongside the rest of my family. I could feel that same sense of nervous fidgeting as my father explained to us what his doctor had just told him. I had no idea how quickly images I’d presumed erased long ago would emerge. There, at the forefront of my mind I saw the look in my father’s eyes as he tried desperately to cobble together the least frightening words to share with his precious children. Just as swiftly came the image of sadness and fear resting on my mom’s face and then the confused expressions of my sister and brothers. I remember thinking, “What in the hell is my father even saying?”

I didn’t understand cancer then and to a certain extent still don’t. When my father was diagnosed in the late 70’s, there was much the medical community didn’t know about the insidious disease. Today so much has been uncovered and, thankfully, so many more lives are saved. Yet in that moment, sitting in my car, I felt like that young girl looking to my father to provide answers to questions he couldn’t.

Yep, that’s what I heard in my head. I heard “cancer” which is not at all what the doctor said. He simply said I needed a second x-ray with instructions to come back as soon as I could.

So here’s my first of the many lessons learned during “The Scare”. Listen to the words being said, not to the past emotional fears erupting inside. When I pay more attention to the latter I react rather than respond. In this case I immediately reacted to fear; protecting myself from emotions I’m afraid to feel. In that split second, I felt paralyzed and unable to calmly respond.

As I drove home, I started crafting the words I’d tell my husband; how I’d present what the doctor said in order to draw him into my fear. Historically, this was how my reactionary chain of events would unfold. When I was in fear, you must fear too. When I was in fear, I needed you to feel sorry for me. When I was in fear, I needed to feel important. Somewhere along the road of life I found my fears were soothed by becoming the center of attention, thus feeling important.

In order to stay focused on healthy recovery I must remain teachable. Through the years I’ve learned a lot and with the same anticipation of Christmas morning for a child, I’m excited knowing there’s still much more I’ve yet to discover. Yet in this instance, I’m grateful to have firmly embedded in my soul a few of these lessons. First, there are far healthier ways to soothe my fears than by dragging others into them. Another is, I’m not responsible for my first thought yet I am responsible for my first action. In this case, although I allowed myself to mentally script the “story” I’d tell my husband, almost immediately I reconsidered. I played the situation all the way through and realized I needed someone calm by my side, not someone equally sacred. My husband has proven to me time and time again he is my rock, my foundation for when I feel emotionally fragile.

As I pulled into my driveway I knew I needed that level of support. I was fully prepared to share with him exactly what I heard the doctor say, not what I feared he did not.

Upon walking in the door I could hear he was on the phone. As I approached him, I tried very hard to assure my body language matched what I was about to say. He took one look my way and said to the person on the other end of the line, “Uh, I’ve got to call you back.” He knew something was going on of importance. I slowly recanted precisely what the doctor said and within minutes we were on our way back for the second x-ray.

He had listened to my words. He didn’t hear my fears.

As we approached the doors of the medical center I felt calm. My hand was being firmly held by my husband and I felt strong knowing whatever would come next, I’m going to listen for the facts and not respond to my fear.

Up next … a second call from my doctor.

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