Hi Barry, Michelle and everyone else involved in the DARE groups!
I have been wanting to write my story for a long time as well as a thank you letter to Barry. I’m not sure I can put in to words the depth of gratitude I feel for this book, the audios, the facebook groups and the challenges.
To say it has changed my life is the biggest understatement. Whatever I can to do help someone else, encourage them in their own journey I am willing to do.
My story starts in childhood, as far back as I can remember I have been an anxious and nervous person.
I grew up in a home with an alcoholic parent and I learned by the age of 5 that life was like constantly walking on a razors edge. Everything was to be feared and its best to keep quiet and stay low to avoid trouble (which of course never worked). I was bullied in school, nothing like some of the stories I have heard but still terrifying. At the age of 11 I started cutting and at 14 I started smoking pot constantly and that went on for 8 years.
I’m skipping over some major things that happened, very serious car accidents, toxic friendships and relationships etc but hopefully you get the idea. I was always looking for an escape to my feelings and emotions.
I learned early that having any emotions out loud was cause for trouble, never express anger, you better not cry, happiness was ok as long as it wasn’t too exuberant. Basically, I learned how to stuff everything down as deep as it would go and pretend it wasn’t there.
At 23 I found God and the more obvious bad habits stopped completely, no more drugs or partying for the most part and certainly no self harm. But I had never addressed the issues in my childhood, the emotional prison I remained in and of course without my escape mechanisms the anxiety came back. I would have a random panic attack here and there, but it never developed into a disorder.
Fast forward to age 34, I got married and 3 years into our marriage, my biological Dad passed away and this sent me into a tailspin, we were very close and losing him felt like the ground came out from underneath me.
Major anxiety returned and I turned to medication for an escape. Fast forward 2 more years and I finally had a major “breakdown” at least that’s what I call it. Severe panic and anxiety like I have never experienced in my life. So much so that I thought I had finally cracked up and was losing my mind.
This went on, panic attacks daily for weeks and in between that there was constant thrumming of severe anxiety. I actually lost some vision for a few minutes one day from the high levels of anxiety.
I went to doctors, ER trips, counseling nobody could tell me what this was wrong and why was happening. “It’s just anxiety, here take these 5 medications all day everyday and you will be fine”. Highly addictive and mood-altering medications, its unfortunate how little the general practitioners of the world know or care to know about anxiety.
I even begged my husband to have me committed to a hospital because I just didn’t know what to do.
He refused and that’s when I started researching on the internet as we all end up doing at some point.
I found one very helpful book by Dr Claire Weekes and it gave me some hope, but this book was written in the 60s and was outdated and hard for me to try to put into practice. However, it was the motivation I needed to keep looking and that’s when I found The DARE response by Barry.
In his book I found my story on page after page, all my symptoms, the reason for my distress and the solutions to my problems.
I remember crying when I read the first chapter, from relief. Slowly I began practicing the Dare steps.
It was painfully slow in the beginning; we all want instant relief and by this point I wasn’t able to leave the house anymore. But I kept reading the book over and over again. I started journaling my heart out everyday and finally a day came where I was brave enough to walk out on my back porch and sit in the fresh air for a few minutes.
It was the first time I had left the house in weeks. I did this everyday for 3 days and then on the 4th I decided to really push myself and I went out the front door.
I walked almost a block and back, incredibly proud but terrified. I began taking daily walks and eventually short trips to the store. Over time my confidence grew so much that I was walking 2 miles in the morning and at least a mile at night. I cut out all sugar, nicotine and caffeine and began to put good things into my body and mind.
No more horror movies and true crime binging, I needed to purge the bad stuff and pour all the good things I could into my mind and body.
This step alone made a big difference, I had no idea all the negative crap I was consuming (physically and mentally) until I cut it out. (As a side note, I still LOVE horror movies and true crime, but I limit how much I watch as I’m such a sensitive person. It’s just what works for me)
I can now do longer shopping trips and I finally began to see friends again, go back to Church on Sundays, go into the office instead of working from home. Always Daring my little heart out. I remember my first trip to the movies; I was so scared to be stuck in a theatre for 2 hours, but I loved it and was so proud of all that I had accomplished.
By using DARE within six months of my “breakdown” I took a trip overseas to France for 2 weeks. I can’t tell you how severe the anticipatory anxiety was but I’m sure anyone reading this will understand. I DARE’d my way to the TOP OF THE EIFFEL TOWER!!!
I still can’t believe the shear bravery of everything I did while I was there. We even visited the catacombs which for the record are 8 stories underground and then 2.5 miles of skull walls and paths in a cave like environment. It was terrifying and I was absolutely scared but I also had the time of my life.
I was so proud of myself and all that I found I could do while still scared. The confidence built during that trip was priceless.
Here comes the story of the setback. A year and a half after France my husband and I divorced and two months after the divorce my beloved cat (the only child I had ever had) passed away. He was my heart and had been my constant companion and comfort for 12 years, it devastated me.
Then two months after that my sweet stepmom passed away of cancer. Another devastating blow. This leads us up to summer of 2019 when my anxiety and panic has been pretty brutal again. Familiar days, of feeling that I would lose my mind, going to sleep with anxiety, waking up with anxiety.
But its different now, I know why I feel this way. I’m trying to heal from a lifetime of pain I have never let myself feel. I’m trying to learn how to be me in a safe, stable and happy environment and I am learning how to love myself finally after 42 years.
Needless to say, the Dare response has been a faithful companion, right by my side this summer. The Dare groups have been loving and loyal friends, encouraging and lifting me up everyday even though they don’t know it.
The audios have been the gentle comforting voice at 2am when my anxiety is so bad, I can’t sleep. Barry’s voice, Suzane’s story and encouragement and Michelle’s wisdom, you have all been on this journey with me even if you don’t know it. Knowing I’m not alone is the greatest gift you gave me.
Teaching me about my body and what happens on a biological and chemical level has been priceless and sharing your stories has given me courage.
While some may argue (including me) that I am not fully recovered yet from this major setback, I feel I am very close. The one thing my anxiety has taught me is that I NEVER give up. Even when I finally surrendered during one bad enough panic attack and said “Fine, if I die, I die.
I don’t care anymore, I’m tired of being afraid of dying when there is no danger!” My anxiety has taught me that NO-ONE can stop me from living but me, that grief, unbearable loss, happiness, sadness, anxiety literally nothing will stop me from living my life.
What a beautiful revelation to get and it came from having fear and anxiety! I don’t know if I would have ever realized just what I am made of it I hadn’t experienced the lowest points of my life and still got up, brushed myself off and kept going.
I have a trip planned to go to England for Christmas this year for 2 weeks with my boyfriend. I’m definitely experiencing anticipatory anxiety already lol even though the trip is months away but I’m also so excited I can barely wait to go and show myself and the world again how brave I really am.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart for sharing with the rest of us what you have experienced and how you recovered. Thank you for giving us hope when no one else in the medical community did. My goal is to help others the way you have helped me.
My big dream is to buy as many copies of the DARE response as I can and begin donating them to hospital emergency rooms and general practitioners in my area in the hopes it will make its way into the hands of a poor soul like me who doesn’t understand what is happening and needs help and needs to know the truth, that they are NOT crazy and they are NOT alone.
I don’t know where to start but I have a goal and I truly believe this book can change lives!
The picture attached is from my balcony of my new apartment, after the end of my 10 year marriage last fall, I would never have had the courage to strike out on my own if I had never experienced the worst anxiety could throw at me and made it through that storm. It is a picture of what I think is my greatest accomplishment to date!
Thank you again,