When I first started my own recovery, on occasion I would drive to a location that I could see a bridge and watch the cars drive over the bridge. I was a bridge phobic, and unable to drive by myself.
I would just sit there and watch the cars drive over the bridge for maybe an hour or so. All the time I couldnt not understand why it was that I couldnt just drive it by myself.
It many ways this was probably not a healthy thing for me to do. As I watched the other cars it certainly made me feel very inadequate and I felt very badly about myself. I used to wonder why other people could drive over the bridge and I couldnt.
On the other hand watching the other cars fueled my motivation to create recovery myself. I became determined to be able to drive over a bridge on my own, and without fear.
What I came to learn is that the bridge itself was not actually the source of fear for me. In fact, what I really feared was my response to being on the bridge. What if I had a panic attack? What if I didnt want to be on the bridge, how would I get off quickly? These were the thoughts that I would have when I envisioned myself driving on the bridge.
For some reason my natural self defense system (anxiety) attached the label “dangerous situation” to driving over the bridge, and therefore that created a response to avoid the bridge in an attempt to protect myself from the dangerous situation.
But naturally, the bridge itself was harmless. My fear was irrational. And my response to it was based on an incorrect assessment of a situation.
I learned that bridge phobias were much more common than I ever thought. I have heard many estimates on how many people suffer with these specific phobias. Regardless of the actual number of people, it is very common.
When I started working on this phobia, I would drive once a week to a smaller bridge that I was able to drive over with lower levels of anxiety. Each week I would drive to this location and practice using tools and managing my thoughts while approaching and driving over the bridge.
As the smaller bridge became increasing easier to drive across, I started working on a larger one that was still manageable. It was important for me to practice on smaller bridges that were manageable and allow me to build confidence and empower myself by using the tools.
When the smaller bridges became too easy, I would keep finding new challenges for me that gave me elevated levels of anxiety to practice with.
Remember, we need elevated levels of anxiety to work with. If we practice with no levekls of anxiety, we would never learn to look away from our fear and learn to manage our thoughts. Both of these things are required to create recovery, so we need to work within our trigger situations.
This process in total took a longer period of time. However, from week to week there was significant change happening in general. Although I may not have been able to drive over the larger bridges, I was experiencing smaller victories that had a profound impact on my mood and suffering in general.
I started noticing my generalized anxiety was lower. I felt more confident in social situations. I wasnt obsessing over driving as much as a whole. There was a huge shift in my attitude in general.
So just because I was working on my bridge phobia, transformation in many ways was starting to take place. The confidence and empowerment we create while practicing in one area will carry over and affect all areas of our life.
As I always say “small, managebale steps”, we are not trying to frighten ourselves or make things worse in any way.
But I also say that we have to be proactive and engage our anxiety. Recovery is not a passive experience. We have to learn to work with our anxiety, in higher levels of anxiety and learn to manage our thoughts. Without doing this, recovery will not take place.
I encourage you to practice the tools. Keep the tools on you and ready for use as you enter into your specific trigger situation(s). Use the tools and build confidence and empowerment. Therefore creating recovery for yourself!
Never give up! Persistence!