Over-Anxious

from

The Flying Boy Letters: Responses and Replies 30 Years Later

Letter # 31

June 29, 1990

White Bear Lake, Minnesota

Dear John:

I just finished reading I Don’t Want to Be Alone. As usual, I was so anxious for help that I only read the last half. I’m inspired. It was exactly what I needed. Now, the work begins. I want the end result so bad. I hate codependency. Yesterday when I heard my dad’s voice, I felt angry again even though I’ve forgiven him.

As my lover sleeps and I think of the emotional abuse of each and every day, my heart saddens for my child within me. She’s been hurting for 43 years. It’s time to care for her now. Your book will help me do that as I re-read and follow through.

I must tell you that as I once again walked directly to the self-help book section at the bookstore, your title jumped out at me. I picked it up, read the back cover, then I looked at your picture to surmise whether or not your face “looked” full of wisdom, or at least whether it “looked” like you had more info than I. It was the first time I ever threw the book back on the shelf as fast as I could. All of a sudden, it felt like a tornado inside my head. Why did I react so intensely with that book? This is where guilt took over. I “scarefully” picked it up again. “Hum,” I thought, “maybe it’s time to face reality.” 

I’m sure I’m ready, but I’m scared to follow through. I pray that I can learn quickly. I need to heal and I’m over-anxious now that I’ve read your book.

Thank you for getting me started.

Sincerely,

I’m Over-Anxious Joan

January, 2017

Dear I’m Over-Anxious:

I’m glad you found I Don’t Want to Be Alone (Flying Boy II), my second book with Health Communications, Inc. Like many of us who know anxiety all too well, you started in the middle just so you could hurry up and get to the end of the book to see how things turned out for Lucy and I.

You say in your letter that when you heard your dad’s voice, you felt angry again, even though you’ve forgiven him.

Well, by now you probably have, but you probably hadn’t when you wrote this letter nearly 30 years ago. Let me explain what I mean. As a counselor and rogue therapist, I have asked hundreds of clients and workshop participants: “Have you ever forgiven a parent or spouse?” The answer runs something like this: “Oh, thousands of time;” “Many times;” “I have to forgive them every day;” and so on.

See, most of us were taught we were supposed to forgive people without walking through the door into the anger room. We were also taught and told nice girls didn’t get angry, or that anger was a negative emotion, or that we’re not really feeling anger at all—that “anger” is just fear, sadness, and abandonment that has been covered up. So we become prematurely nice—not authentically nice—because we are holding on to so much anger. I realized that until I felt my feelings of anger, frustration, and disappointment, I couldn’t fully forgive anyone.

I would say, and still say to the people I work with, “Why don’t you feel your anger, experience it, express it, and get to real forgiveness just once and finally?” Then, once your anger has been appropriately expressed, you are able to interact with that person in the present, even a parent or lover, and you are feeling a primary emotion (not a secondary one as most therapists have been taught) and you will not unload the ancient baggage of the past on to someone in the present.

Now here is one more thought about anger before I go to other parts of your letter. Many men and women don’t want to let go of their anger at someone because anger is the only fine thread or coarse rope that we use to stay connected. We are afraid if we let go of our anger, we will watch them or us just drift off into space.

The truth is that if we’re still using unfelt, unexpressed anger as connecting devices, we’re only creating an illusion of connection. Forgiveness, and perhaps love, build a much stronger bridge to people than the frayed rope of anger.

Now, don’t get me wrong, there are such egregious abuses that some have experienced that may not ever be forgiven, and that is right in its own way.

Remember this: anger is for getting out of stuck places, i.e. jobs, marriages, families, etc., and grief is for having been in a stuck place for so long.

I love how you said: “…once again I walked directly to the self-help section at the bookstore”—I tried to put up a tent in that section years ago because I wanted to live in the self-help aisle for the rest of my life.  “…and your title jumped out at me. I picked it up, read the back cover… It was the first time I ever threw the book back on the shelf as fast as I could… I carefully picked it up again. ‘Hum,’ I thought, maybe it’s time to face reality.”

 

This reminds me of the time a woman who attended a workshop of mine years ago said she would like to show me a copy of The Flying Boy.

When she handed it to me, it was in 2 halves, torn right through the middle. She said, “This is the copy I gave to my husband five years ago. He immediately looked at and read the back cover, and then took it out to his workshop where he took a saw and cut it in half.” I understood immediately, and then she reached in her bag and pulled out another whole intact copy and said, “This is a copy he bought for himself and wants you to sign it.”

Thank you for writing,

JOHN

Grieving: The Doorway to Healing and to Maturity

This is the time of year when a lot of grief may rise to the surface, and a season that should not be about money.

In that regard, when I first started my counseling career over 30 years ago, I did so with the objective to just help folks. Even though I have kept that objective in mind, there are many who could not afford my long-time standard rate of $150 for a 50-minute session, and therefore, it limited the number of people I could reach and help.

So, beginning today and going through January 2, 2017, for the first time ever, I am offering my phone sessions for a “pay-what-you-can rate.” If you, or a friend, or a family member, would like a session with me, just pay what you can, even if that means nothing.

Let’s see if together, we can make this season a little more, if not enjoyable, then at least, bearable.

During my 30 years of counseling and working with men and women, I have been asked so many times: “How do you grieve?” or “How do you begin grieving?”

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Here are the five things necessary to do deep grief work around any change, transition, death, loss, break up, or divorce:

  1. One needs an awareness that grief is the proper response to all loss and change and that it is a doorway into our maturity.
  2. We need to devote as much time as it takes, letting no one tell us to move on or out faster than we are ready because, as we know, time is the great healer.
  3. In order to do deep grief work, one must ritualize the process. These rituals move the pain and the sorrow up and out faster than a catch-as-catch-can approach to grief can ever achieve.
  4. We need a community of supportive people as we go through these transitions and losses because grief is not to be done entirely alone but in a community.
  5. Having navigated our way through the treacherous waters and shed our tears, we need to employ our community and have a celebration that says we came out on the other side.

Also, one of the seven stages of grief is anger, and the coming holidays can be a time when people feel angry about all kinds of different things. Additionally, it is a season when a lot of folks get depressed, anxious, family histories surface, and loneliness prevails. directory-466935

Loneliness can be a precursor to alcoholism, drug addiction, physical illness, and depression. One of the hardest things, especially for men, is to admit to anyone that they are lonely. If you find yourself in this psychological and emotional state, be sure to reach out and tell someone and not suffer silently by yourself.

If you would like to learn more about grief work, or how anger expressed appropriately equals energy, intimacy, and serenity, or if you are in need of help with other issues, please take me up on my offer of a phone or Skype session for the “pay-what-you-can rate.”

Also, please know that I am doing this as much for me, as I am for anyone who feels the need to make an appointment.

Additionally, beginning January, 2017, I will be opening a full-time counseling and coaching practice in Austin, Texas, but we can do some of this work over the phone or via Skype.

So if anyone out there is hurting and needs some help, remember I want to help you whether you can afford to pay my full fee, a part thereof, or nothing at all.

If you or someone you know would like to schedule a session, please call me at 678-494-1296, or email my assistant, Kathy McClelland, at assistant@johnleebooks.com.

Take care of yourself during this holiday season, and please:

  • call me if you would like a phone, Skype, or in-person session,
  • tell your friends and/or colleagues about my new full-time counseling and coaching practice in Austin, Texas and;
  • don’t forget the 2-day Intensives in Austin, Texas or Mentone, Alabama.

Thank you, and I hope you have a wonderful holiday season.

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Announcement – I will be offering 2-Day Intensive Sessions in Austin, Texas beginning September 1, 2016

I’m pleased to announce that after a break from offering my 2-day Intensives in Austin, Texas, I am now making those available again starting September 1, 2016 at the Austin Men’s Center, thanks to Director Bill Bruzy.

As most of you know Austin is not only charming and beautiful, it is a convenient location for clients especially from the Midwest, Southwest, and West Coast.

I will continue to offer the Intensives at my Mentone Cottage in the mountains of Northeast Alabama.

I hope you will pass the word along to clients or friends who would like to engage in my nontraditional approach to coaching, counseling, and teaching.

Unbecoming: From Despair to Love-Part 2

“It may be when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work and when we no longer know which way to go, we have, begun our real work.”

Wendell Berry

Before I can tell you about my despair or really listen to anyone’s I have to be connected to the anxiety that I have numbed, avoided, suppressed and discounted and most of all confused with fear all the while being diagnosed and treated for depression. Doctor Freud tells us that anxiety “is a riddle whose solution would be bound to throw a floodlight on our whole mental existence.”

Anxiety, unlike fear, has no external source, cause, or cure; unlike it’s kissing cousin fear. Fear has an object. If I’m afraid of flying, which I used to be, talk therapy and immersion therapy and then getting in a plane can make the fear disappear. If I’m afraid of the dark then I just keep the lights on. If I’m afraid of lions then I don’t go to the jungle or the park but the anxiety that comes from being bone lonely and confronting my mortality is amorphous, ephemeral but just as damn real as any lion. Kierkegaard says, “Learning to know anxiety is an adventure…He therefore who has learned rightly to be in anxiety has learned the most important thing.”

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Whereas fear sharpens the senses, unrecognized anxiety dulls the soul, spirit and creativity not to mention any connection to something divine. Once fear is identified I can fly, fight or freeze. Anxiety is a disorder of desire for something that we can’t put a name to and can’t see, taste, hear or smell but everyone knows it is there if we just get quiet enough. The dictionary says, “Fear is an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain or a threat.” The dictionary goes on to say anxiety, “is a feeling of worry, nervousness, a dis-ease about an uncertain outcome.”

The philosopher Karl Jaspers speaks of anxiety this way, “a feeling of restlessness…a feeling that one…has not finished something…or that one has to look for something.” I came to this quiet, windy mountain to look at my anxiety right in the eye because I have been anxious my whole life. The Catholic monk and mystic Thomas Merton wants me to know, “anxiety is the mark of spiritual insecurity.” When the preacher that baptized me over on Sand Mountain when I was nine years old, laid his bony hand on my should and pronounced that I’d be a preacher I started asking myself, my mom, my god, preachers and priests what to do and not do. However, Merton goes on to say anxiety comes from“being afraid to ask the right questions because they might turn out to have no answer.”

So am I poised to start asking the right questions answer or no answer? Am I ready to follow Paul Tillich’s advice who says one of the cures for my despair and anxiety is to “believe you are accepted” and to accept myself questions, despair, bone loneliness and all in the words of the old spiritual, “Just as I am without one plea…”

The post-modern novelist Walk Percy says, “Anxiety summons us to an authentic experience,” and if I strip down to all that I have learned, felt, seen and heard then one way to move out of despair and anxiety is to stop the frantic and exhausting pursuit of happiness.