This is my own personal testimony of the day I was freed from a lifetime of social anxiety.
To those who don’t know, I am a bartender and have been since I was nineteen. People hearing about my battle for the first time, almost always ask, “How the heck can a bartender suffer from social anxiety?” This is a completely valid question, and the answer almost always was, “I don’t know.” People who knew me then always say, “I would have never thought that was something you dealt with.” The simple answer to all these comments is that I learned how to hide it well. I became Houdini in disappearing from situations altogether. I was living a “fake it til you make it” philosophy. On the outside I seemed outgoing and carefree, but this facade was usually donned through alcohol induced liquid courage that helped me bridge the gap between fitting in and becoming an absolute recluse. In my profession, I meet hundreds of people daily, working in a busy environment completely immersed in sounds and activity. It is a plethora of social stimulation. Because of my hidden fear I should have been a recluse, resorting to the confines of a cubicle in a beige office surrounded by potted plants (each of which I have named), dreading the run in at the photocopier with whomever in the office I may come across - stuttered small talk, broken eye contact, and the terrifying awkward silence.
But no, Lindsay the social anxiety sufferer decided to become a bartender. The truth is, I desperately wanted to fit in with these beautiful people, who seemed to have no social setbacks. If I could be around them, perhaps I could learn how to emulate the confidence they seemed to exhibit. The first few months of working in a new place were a nightmare. Trying to fit in with people who were socially gifted was torment for me. I was sure that I would be found out as a fraud and ostracised as the social pariah I was. In fact, every new social situation for me was the most unpleasant experience I could ever imagine. Those of you who have suffered from some form of this terrible fear have an idea of how physically and mentally debilitating it can be. At its core, anxiety is one big mind game and that is where the battle`` must be fought for people attempting to overcome it. However, the physical effects of this mental battle are very real. For those of you who don’t know or understand what happens during an anxiety attack, let me take a minute to explain it to you. Imagine this scenario: you are walking in the woods one day and come face to face with a huge, mad, hungry bear, who has jaws that could pop your head like a ripe grape. To this behemoth, you look like big appetizing corn dog on two sticks. Now what? Well our bodies were wonderfully designed to act and react, to keep us safe from danger. A perceived fear, stemming from clear and present danger, induces a fight or flight response in the body. Now no one but King David would think of actually taking on this bloodthirsty grizzly, so flight it is. The adrenal glands release adrenaline into the bloodstream that courses through the body, propelled by a pounding heart that is beating a mile a minute, sending oxygen to the muscles that are now tensed and instantly primed and ready to carry the corn dog as quickly as possible away from becoming bear lunch. You begin sweating, and your brain is problem solving at a savant level. Your thoughts are racing and you are looking for the nearest possible exit while simultaneously analyzing every aspect of the situation. Your mind is inwardly screaming, RUN! Now take the bear out of the scenario - imagine all this is happening and all you are doing is shaking someone’s hand. Seems ridiculous right? And it is. It is fear fuelled chaos that is completely, and utterly irrational. Yet every time I had to meet new people this cycle of panic would begin again.
In my early walk with God this never was an issue. I could learn who God was from the safety and comfort of my home. Youtube and podcasts gave me church sermons on my own terms, without the thought of having to meet with or interact with “church people.” I had a few Christian mentors and we would whisper about Jesus in the back corners of a coffee shop, and pray with our eyes open so that no one would suspect religion. When I met Jesus he freed me from a great deal of fear, but anxiety was something I carried well into my Christian walk. I believed that social anxiety was fundamentally a part of who I was and just something I would have to mitigate throughout my life. I had always wanted my superpower to be invisibility. But unfortunately, when you have Jesus living inside of you, your superpower becomes attraction. I became a beacon of light that everyone noticed. God’s gift was interfering with my weakness and that wasn’t okay, for myself and as I later found out for God as well. God began to call me out, and started stirring from the depths this secret I had held onto.I had always been the lone wolf, but you can’t be the lone wolf when God wants you to serve. That is the opposite of his intent. We had spent enough time alone that I knew Him more intimately than I had ever known anyone. Now I knew that what He wanted me to do was serve His people. He wanted me to find a community of believers that love Jesus, and get down on my hands and knees and wash their feet like Jesus did. I had a desire to pray for people, and I wanted to help those searching for Jesus. I needed the body and I needed to connect. I gave God my heart to do the work necessary to achieve this.
Psalm 139:23 Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.
When we tell God to work on our hearts, we need to be prepared for him to bring us face to face with our fears, and we need to be brave enough to trust that He will see us through them. If I was going to fight fear, I would have to find out what God says about it:
Isaiah 35:4 … say to those with fearful hearts, “Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you.
Isaiah 43:1 But now, this is what the LORD says— he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.”
John 14:27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
Joshua 1:9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go
Notice a pattern? In every verse He commands us not to fear. This isn’t a request, it is in the absolute because it is a command. He explicitly says, “Do not be afraid”, and God would never give us a command he doesn’t intend to empower us to obey. So what does God require in a command? Obedience. Why do I obey God? Because I love Him.
Exodus 20:6 Love me and obey my commands
Deuteronomy 30:20 Love and obey the Lord
Nehemiah 1:5 Love Him and obey His commands
Daniel 9:4 Love and obey your commands
So step one, find a church and of course volunteer for the most natural position a person with social anxiety might begin with: Greeter. Clearly I am being completely sarcastic. But I had decided that my love for God was more important than my fears and if he wanted me involved then I would get involved with everyone who walked through the door. I needed to get comfortable enough with people that they would let me pray for them wherever and whenever they needed, and ripping off the fear bandaid was my plan of action. I was going to greet my way to the front of that church, and punch fear in the face. Despite high hopes, the first day was a disaster. First of all, I was so new at that church I had no business greeting anyone, I barely found the front door myself. I had met the greeting team once for two hours over a quick orientation that was mental torture. I was so green that if anyone would have asked me the simplest question I would have peed my pants and run out the door. Thank the Lord they saw that I wasn’t the go to girl for inquiries - perhaps it was the sweat pouring off my face.
This continued on for three consecutive Sundays with the final Sunday being the absolute worst. It was so bad in fact, that a friend had to stand beside me and coach me through hand shaking to keep me from running out the door. After that service, embarrassed and feeling completely defeated, I emailed my resignation from the greeting team due to the position not being a “good fit”.
I guess it was time to see the shrink, and unload my wallet into a Freudian cure. A psychologist would probably recommend a path that embraced cognitive behavioural therapy. A slow and steady process of facing fears, scaling progress and introspectively breaking down the lies and triggers that fuel the irrational flight response that was making me a hermit who hissed at the light. Because I had suffered for so long, and because this illness was no doubt triggered by events in my past, those lies would need to be unpacked in a long and arduous process that may take years to overcome. Even then they couldn’t promise that the attacks would completely go. Ideally I would be better equipped with coping mechanisms to minimize the ill effects of an attack.
But you see, God doesn’t heal the way the world heals, he doesn’t do things our way. When he heals, it is instant, perfect, and complete. And that was how God cured my social anxiety. That next week, I drove to church with my tail between my legs. I planned to get there late and leave the service early. I was still trying to be obedient to him, but I knew I had failed in my own efforts. On the drive there I got honest with my Father. I said “God I tried my best, but my best isn’t good enough. I tried to beat my anxiety but I can’t. I know you asked me to find community, and if you want me to then you are going to have to take this from me, because I can’t do it on my own.” I left it at that. It wasn’t a long winded prayer, just a confession from my honestly defeated heart.
Matthew 5:3 God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
I submitted myself to torment because I so loved the Lord and wanted to do what He had asked me. I submitted my will to my Father; I submitted my well being to His command.; and I submitted my self-respect and confidence because I so desired to help others. Submission is a huge part of obedience, and in the psychology of God, these two (submission + obedience) are God’s call to action. I learned that they were the only steps I needed to take in order to have the Lord free me.
James 4:7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.
After I had prayed that broken prayer, I got to church, walked through those doors and felt nothing! If you have ever battled anxiety, then you know that nothing is the exact opposite of what I should have been feeling in that moment. It was almost like an out of body experience. I didn’t have any fear, it was completely gone, like I had never carried it in the first place. I was smiling, laughing, and talking to people with such ease. But what had happened? It was as if God had plucked fear right out of me and I walked in brand new, and truly me. It was an experience that is still almost unexplainable. I knew that this was really me, that the anxiety had only been hiding who was truly inside. For the first time I was experiencing who God had created me to be without all the fear junk and thoughts that always got in the way. The thoughts that I had owned, up until God freed me.
1 John 4:18 Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love.
My mind was clear and I was completely present. Able to hear what others were saying and not worried about what I was going to say next. I was completely me. What I had experienced was his perfect love.From that day on I have been free. I still sometimes marvel at who I am and what he freed me from. Many people carry this weight their entire lives, but the Lord released me of my burden. Praise Jesus!
Matthew 11:28-30 Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
John 8:36 So if the Son sets you free, you are truly free