Returning to the Road

"Healing is not a straight line." ~ Henri Nouwen

Once, I was given a handout in a hospital program that mapped the road to recovery: As a series of zigzags, forward and back, with longer straight lines of stability between the zigzags. But the trajectory of the whole path was upward.

I think about this a lot. I am rereading Henri Nouwen's journals, and he writes that when we get off the road and then return to it, we return to the place at which we left the road -- we don't go back to the beginning. But when we get off the road, we must hasten to return to it, not get lost in the swamps. "Keep returning to the road to freedom," he writes.

The road to healing is a road to freedom. It is a road to a larger life, a life of courage and joy. But there are the zigs and the zags of forward and backward progress: Healing is not a straight line. Even when we are happy and stable, we still face challenges: Things crop up, to put it simply. Something has cropped up  for me, and it all happened because of the shortening days.

Right now, I am dealing with anxiety while driving at night on the freeway. I do fine on surface streets, but once I get to high speeds, my eyes' astigmatism causes lights to star and halo and makes me very nervous. Sometimes, I have panic attacks. People assure me that they drive and do just fine even though they also have astigmatism and lights star for them. But just talking myself out of the fear doesn't work.

So I have begun a program of desensitizing myself to night driving on the freeway. I have started small: driving around my neighborhood, driving on surface streets, driving a couple of exits on the freeway at night, then getting off. Gradually, I will work my way up. I created a log to map my progress with dates and times and distance driven. Reflecting back on my log gives me a boost when I get discouraged. I also created a set of goals for myself: Hey, if I don't fulfill the goals by the set date... Oh, well. But they are good goals to have. I have an overarching goal of tackling night driving on the freeway three to five times a week. That is what the book I am reading, "The Anxiety & Phobia Workbook, Sixth Edition" recommends for complete recovery.

Quite literally, I am returning, every night, to the road, just as Nouwen recommends. And when I return to it, I don't return to it at the beginning. Most nights, I find my anxiety is lessened. This program of desensitization is working.

Of course, sometimes, my anxiety is just as strong all over again. This happens especially when I am facing a new challenge. This is the zag in the road to recovery. But I just have to remember that it is a zag. Given times, I will overcome this challenge as well: Soon, I will be back to the road. I must be patient with myself.

These days, I am experiencing remission of my bipolar disorder -- the only symptom I am experiencing is anxiety, and the anxiety mainly surrounds driving at night on the freeway. Still, it is quite a symptom. Sometimes, I get discouraged. Driving is a symbol in our society, and it also is a very real key to freedom and independence. This propels me to practice tolerating my fear and to get back to the road. I am not going to be beaten by anxiety. I am too hungry for a full life.

"Healing is not a straight line." I remember that handout that mapped recovery as a series of zigs and zags trending upward. Oh, yes. But it trends upward. And my healing is trending upwards, slowly but surely, at a pace that is right for me.

Hopefully, your healing is trending upwards, too. Do what you have to do to return to the road. And remember -- you return to it, not at the beginning, but at the place where you left off.         


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