I did something terrifying last week.
I spoke in front of 160 strangers on a topic I have just started to process with my therapist.
The aftermath of the car accident that killed Max and two of his friends.
And the cumulative stress of simultaneously navigating my grief over the loss of Max and his friends – one of which I had known since preschool, my anger at his father, and my uncertainty and terror the two lawsuits that followed.
To survive the insanity and daily assault, I did what I do best – disassociate by becoming a workaholic.
This default has served me well for most of my life as our achievement oriented society seems to reap praise on over-achievers.
And it allowed me to back burner my emotional overwhelm so that I could show up as a functioning single parent to help my daughter navigate the bumpy terrain of high school.
For the past 3-1/2 years, I just kept moving, never stopping long enough to fully feel the intensity of the trauma.
But now that my daughter’s high school experience is drawing to a close and future is looking bright, I am finally able to process through my emotions and experience.
When an entrepreneurial organization I belong to issued an open call for talks on transformation, I decided to throw my hat in the ring.
I had always wanted to improve my speaking skills and thought it might be a good opportunity to process and share some of the strategies I have adapted to manage daily anxiety.
As I began shaping my talk, the coach I had hired kept probing me to dig deeper and share more about the details of that day.
I was ill prepared for how traumatizing it felt to relive that event, even three years after the fact.
It was so intense that more often than not, I would intentionally change the subject to avoid having to feel my feelings.
When I shared this with my therapist, she explained that talking about it was akin to reliving it and it was a form of exposure therapy which exposed me to the source of my anxiety which could help me overcome my anxiety and distress.
The American Psychological Association explains that exposure therapy allows you to “learn to attach new, more realistic beliefs about feared objects, activities or situations, and become more comfortable with the experience of fear.”
In other words, exposure therapy helps you confront and overcome your fears. “When people are fearful of something, they tend to avoid the feared objects, activities or situations. Although this avoidance might help reduce feelings of fear in the short term, over the long term it can make the fear become even worse,” according to the American Psychological Association.
Preparing for and practicing this speech helped me break the pattern of avoidance and fear.
I am proud of this maiden effort and wanted to share it with you as it reveals my main epiphany in the wake of the accident – that the parasympathetic blend can be used not only for physical health, but to help shift mental and emotional gridlock as well.
The talk is only 14 minutes and the recording is rough, but I hope you enjoy it.
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