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  • Freedom From Fear

    Math word problem of the day- grab your coffee…

    Hot summer days = lots of inside time with my puppy. Hot summer days + one very fluffy puppy = lots of shedding and furry tumbleweeds rolling around the house. Hot summer days + one very fluffy puppy + furry tumbleweeds rolling around the house = boring Saturday deep cleaning the house.

    I did the math for you on that one. You’re welcome.

    Some people use a thermometer to measure the temperature outside. I measure the temperature by how many times I must empty the vacuum cleaner canister that has filled up with my little sweetie’s no-longer-needed-in-July winter coat. Today was a code red day with 5 rounds of emptying the canister. All from a 20-pound dog. Still can’t get that math to add up. You would think she would look like a plucked chicken by now.

    In addition to having mastered the art of shedding, my puppy has a serious case of FOMO. You know- Fear Of Missing Out. Raise your hand if you know someone who has FOMO. Raise your other hand if it’s you.

    My puppy’s FOMO makes her a great helper. We vacuumed the floors and the baseboards together. We dry mopped and wet mopped the floors together. We dusted furniture and washed area rugs together. Up the stairs, down the stairs. Up the stairs, down the stairs. Again… and again… and again, my little girl at my heels every time.

    At first, I was annoyed. I was trying to carry a vacuum or cleaning supplies and not trip over her. And for a moment I wished for the early days when she hadn’t mastered climbing stairs.

    Then therapist brain kicked in.

    I paused in that moment of feeling annoyed. That’s what I work on with my clients- learning to pause when they notice a feeling developing inside. It’s an important skill to master because that pause gives the brain a chance to decide what that feeling is, label it with a feeling word, make a plan of what to do with that feeling, and take a first step in executing that plan. Lots happening in that moment.

    Instinct drives us in the direction of making a plan that keeps us safe, physically and/or emotionally. It’s that flight, fight, freeze instinct. That makes sense. After all, other than first responders and some other helping professions, who makes a plan that puts themselves in danger, right?


    That’s the other thing we talk about with this idea. Words have personal meaning. They hold aspects of all the experiences we have collected in our lifetimes and reflect who we are in this present moment. We forget that some words hold a different meaning for other people.

    Like the word safe.   Pause for a moment.  Let yourself reflect.   What does safe mean for you?

    For me, safe has aspects of cozy, warm, trust, vulnerability, acceptance, free from fear and danger.

    Parts of safe are scary for me. Feeling safe requires something of me, from me, for me as I do my part to live as my authentic self. Feeling safe requires me to make a decision of whether or not I’m ready to be in all. Am I all in and ready to commit to doing the work to truly feel safe and free from fear? Or am I not there yet and need more time in the safety of repeating the behaviors that have kept me safe in the past? Even the ones that used to work but aren’t so good for me now.

    In my moment of pause that day, I sat on the top step with my puppy and rubbed her ears- gotta love the soft floppy ears!- and let myself reminisce. The memories flowed like a movie in my brain. I remembered seeing her standing at the bottom step and tentatively putting one paw on, then quickly backing away. She would whimper and pace at being left behind. FOMO was kicking in- she knew she was missing out by not following me up the stairs.

    She faced a choice. One choice was to safely stay at the bottom of the stairs and be left behind. That felt good for a quick minute until she realized she was there by herself and missing out on being with the people who rub her belly, feed her cookies, and leave her feeling loved and accepted. The other choice was to be all in. To do what was in her control to not be left behind feeling alone. The choice to do the work of trusting in the idea that what was waiting for her at the top of the stairs was a version of safe that felt much better than the version of safe when sitting alone at the bottom of the stairs.

    She committed. She learned to go one step at a time. She trusted me as I encouraged her and stayed with her as she grew in physical and emotional strength. She learned she is more capable than she gave herself credit for being and that she is not alone in this world- she is loved and wanted and has a dog mom who has her back.

    Most importantly, she’s now free from the fear that left her in a place that was only partially safe. The bottom of the stairs was safe but it left her alone in her fear. She was safe but in a way that was controlling her level of happiness. She was safe in a way that kept fear out but blocked joy from fully coming in.

    Mastering the fear of the stairs took her to a place of feeling fully alive and in charge of her life. The fear that drove the decision to stay safe in the smaller, controlled way of waiting at the bottom was now gone.

    She has learned 2 ideas we talk about in therapy. First, making friends with our feelings- good and bad- allows us to understand why they exist in our life. When we embrace our feelings, we can learn from them and have an opportunity to grow and expand in our lives. Second is the idea that it takes trust to believe that what’s waiting on the other side of our fears feels a whole lot better than what is on this side.

    She conquered going up the stairs and had to repeat that learning curve to conquer going down. She trusted me, she trusted herself, and she committed to the process. She now runs up the stairs just to turn around and run back down so quickly it looks like a controlled freefall that is about to become an avalanche of fur. And she’s grinning and laughing the whole time. The joy vibrates through her as she bursts into the room.

    We can do that, too. Not the controlled freefall, of course. But we can make the choice to trust and believe in the idea that something which feels better waits for us on the other side of the fear that is protectively keeping us in a familiar place or pattern that feels safe yet might be holding us back.

    So when a feeling comes in, take a moment and pause. Listen to the feeling, commit to where you truly want to go or want to feel, create a plan, take a step. Embrace the feeling like an old friend, thank it for coming and sharing its knowledge, and let it go as you move forward.

    Try channeling your inner puppy. Master the stairs with a grin on your face and your ears flapping in the wind. Move on to climbing rocks and jumping on the sofa like a trampoline. And live an abundant life in the joy beyond the fear.

    Embrace your best self-  Anne