My feelings got hurt.
I was talking to a trusted friend and without warning the conversation took a turn. Suddenly what had felt like a soothing float over cool calm water turned dangerous - pitching and rocking around in the salty sea.
Conflict of any kind has always made me anxious. It doesn't even have to involve me; I can overhear a whispered argument between a couple at a restaurant and my stomach turns icy with fear. My husband can get angry at his computer because the printer won't work, and I'll be wincing in the next room like a puppy about to be scolded. I can't even watch political debates without needing to pop a few Tums
It's exhausting, absorbing the world's negativity and filtering it back and through me. A big part of my recovery is learning - as cliched as it sounds - that not everything has to do with me. Slowly, I'm learning not to jump to conclusions about people's moods. If my husband comes home tired and irritable, for example, it doesn't automatically mean that he's upset with me. With practice, I'm better able to separate myself from everyone else's mood, to stop thinking everything is somehow my responsibility.
When I was drinking, I would presume that everything was all my fault. I felt so broken, so insecure, that I didn't have the ability to view myself objectively, to stand up for myself. I agreed with everyone else's opinion of me, because I didn't have my own opinion of me.
So when this conversation turned a sharp corner, morphed from an idle chat to an exchange of hard truths, of barbs, I froze. The old me, the cowering me, wanted to pick up my purse and run away. But I didn't. As difficult words flowed from this person's mouth, I simply sat still and listened.
As a sober woman, I can't duck and run from feelings anymore. I can't stuff them down to some inaccessible place and wait until evening to numb them away.
As I listened to my friend, who was upset with me, a little hurt, a little disappointed, I pushed down the urge to run, and instead I thought to myself: this is someone you trust with all your heart, someone who wouldn't hurt you for sport. Listen to what is being said. Listen and absorb.
So I squared my shoulders, put my Big Girl pants on, and listened. And it hurt. It hurt to hear the words, it hurt to see this person hurting, too. I felt stung. I felt sad. But I didn't agree with everything that was said. I didn't automatically jump to that apology place - my usual default just to get the conflict over with. Apologies from me meant nothing for so long, because instead of apologizing for some wrongdoing on my part, what I was basically saying was: I'm sorry for being me.
What I thought this time was: What is my part in this? What could I have done differently? If these words are stinging, they are laced with thorns of truth. So find the truth.
And I did. I owned up to my part, and apologized for the things I did to contribute to the problem. I talked about the ways I felt wronged, too. We talked about a plan as to how to avoid this conflict in the future.
The icy grip of anxiety was melted by the glow that comes when people care about you enough to tell you their truth instead of slowly drifting away, and the warmth of loving yourself enough to listen and absorb without losing yourself to fear.