When’s the last time you had a stomach full of butterflies? I’ve got a big change coming at work so my tummy has been fluttering a lot lately. I have to remind myself that butterflies come from a GOOD place. Unfortunately, anxiety and anticipation live next door to each other in my stomach and I’ve got to check in with the butterflies every now and then to corral them into the right zone.
The first time I noticed their proximity was December 25, 2001….almost midnight. I lay in a narrow wrought iron bed in my parents’ extra room. Couldn’t sleep. In the morning, I would wake and drive myself to the airport where I would meet Richard. We were taking our first big trip together, to Amsterdam and Bruges for New Years. I had joy and adventure ahead, but I couldn’t sleep. I lay there with my stomach tied in knots and I asked myself, “Why am I so anxious?”
I was one year out of a decade-long bad marriage to Fartbuster. We had never managed to adventure much in our years together…not from any lack of wanderlust on my part. I couldn’t talk Fartbuster into going out on a Friday night for pizza and a movie because it was just too much trouble for him. We might SEE PEOPLE. For 10 years, the only butterflies I got were from anxiety, that creeping feeling that something was going to go wrong and it would be my fault.
But there I was, hours away from a grand adventure with someone I loved, who loved me. Someone who had a lot of experience with adventuring and was excited about showing me how to step out into the world. Richard lived by the mantra, “If it doesn’t hurt anyone else, why not?” Lying there in that narrow bed, that’s when it hit me: this isn’t anxiety; this is anticipation! Maybe because it was Christmas. Remember Christmas Eve night when you were a kid and you could try and try and try as hard as you could to fall asleep but you just couldn’t make your body stop being excited? That’s where I was that night–32 years old and feeling the excitement of Christmas for the first time in my adult life! So I lay there and let myself be excited and happy. These butterflies were from the sneaking suspicion that something was going to go RIGHT and it would all be my doing!
Mistaking anticipation for anxiety is simply a habit that I often fall into. I catch myself interpreting all this nervous energy about my new opportunities and labeling it “anxiety” when really it’s anticipation. I’m thrilled to have something new to do. I’m excited to have a new space and new coworkers and new challenges. I feel alive again. But being alive comes with far more risks than living numb. I have to retrain my butterflies to flutter over to the side of my stomach that is ready to grow.
The best case of butterflies I ever had happened in February 2007. I had been antsy all night and at about 11pm, I found myself sitting on the sofa with my hand on my belly…wondering why I was anxious. After all, I had butterflies in my stomach and that equates to anxiety, right? Then it dawned on me that that fluttering feeling inside me was my baby girl, stretching her wings in a way I could finally feel.
So when WAS the last time you felt butterflies? Anxiety or anticipation?