By C. Holland
As the new year comes upon us, many will be going through the age-old exercise of deciding on resolutions to better ourselves somehow. By now we’ve all heard the traditional stable of references to dieting, education, finances, or banishing bad habits. These will continue to be revisited each year, hopefully with increasing success. My list will probably include aspects of these things, in addition to one thing I haven’t heard mentioned before: dealing with addiction to anxiety.
Revelation of this addiction started earlier this year when a health problem began to rear its ugly head. What I specifically have is not important to the discussion, but after several doctor visits and a surgery I now know what was plaguing me. While anxiety, stress and worry do not directly cause my health issue, they do exacerbate the problem and make it much less manageable. In other words, now that I have this problem the more I worry, the worse it gets.
Getting to the point of admission about my addiction was not an easy road. Im pretty laid-back, I thought, easy-going. I sure let a lot slide, and I dont indulge my perfectionist side so much anymore. But as I prayed through the diagnosis of my health concern, asking God to reveal what Im to learn through this, the Holy Spirit began to make it crystal-clear: I was not taking every thought captive and making it obedient to Christ.
Id heard the verse long ago, 2 Corinthians 10:5, and a good friend had reminded me of it every so often, but I have to admit its something that I easily glossed over in my Bible reading, didnt take it very seriously. Which now is a glaring indication of my problem, not controlling my thoughts. I suppose I thought it was something Id deal with later, and now here I am, a longtime Christian with the thought control of a child. Not good.
What exactly is an addiction to anxiety? For me, it manifests by playing out every possible scenario of a future situation. Or it may be imagining a situation that may never even happen. Simply, its considering worst-case situation of everything that I encounteror might encounter. Twinge in my arm? Probably cancer. Finances low this month? It might be lower next month. Friend going on vacation? They might die in a freak accident. Any future thing? Gotta think through now how Id deal with it then.
My childhood took place in a high-drama, unstable environment. Details aside, suffice to say that you never knew when the next blow-up was about to happen or for what I was going to be accused, reasonably or otherwise. There were a lot of rules, yet they were always being conveniently changed without notification. Looking back, Im surprised my adrenal glands werent shot from the constant tension by the time I was 18.
Getting out of the house made a considerable difference, but I now had to contend with the responsibilities of the world. When I worked my office job back in the States, the environment was naturally chaotic and unbalanced, so I just blamed my anxiety on that. As I left the job to go into the mission field, I remember thinking that I wouldnt be as stressed anymore. Of course there would be problems to face in my new endeavour, but the mission ministry was someplace I wanted to be, and the job was not my calling. While the job stress definitely went away, my mind started finding other things in our new environment to be stressed about. Being in a new country came with a huge amount of possible things to go awry. I could go on and on about specific scenarios, but thats not the point.
And my point? I really wasnt trusting God with all of my life. Sure, I was taking a big leap of faith to come to Western Europe depending on fundraised income and having to figure a new culture out. And I trusted that God had brought me here for this. But it became evident that I didnt believe I would have the future strength to face a new challenge, change, or disappointment, so I would put an awful amount of thought-time towards how I might deal with a bad situation. I forgot to be anxious for nothing (Philipians 4:6) and that His grace is sufficient for me, His power made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).
WIthout the reality check brought by my health issue, I was just replacing anxiety with anxiety, worrying over a new thing once another was resolved. It was similar to how an addicted person sometimes moves from one specific addiction to the next: give up smoking, turn to food. In my case, I had a short-term memory about all the times God had richly protected or provided or even gave me supernatural strength through some of the most difficult times in my past. Yeah, He came through this time and it all worked out, but what about tomorrow? Dont worry about it, Jesus says (Matthew 6:34). Easier said than done, but definitely worth doing.
The good news is that Ive already started working on my new years resolution last month. Its taken time to retrain an out-of-control mind that wandered from calamity to calamity, and I still fall down a lot. But people around me are starting to notice an outward difference, even those that dont know my secret addiction. You look healthier, or youre outlook seems so much better theyve said. Recovering from a lifelong stronghold of worry, Im taking more and more of my thoughts captive to Christ.
C. Holland is a full-time missionary to Western Europe since 2007 and a regular contributor to Missionary Confidential, a blog detailing the unvarnished highs and lows of the missionary life. You can find it at www.MissionaryConfidential.com.