A bachelor party, a big rock in the lake, and early CBT success

Travelling is a trigger for me. Uncertain social situations are a trigger for me. Water is a trigger for me. Last weekend, I travelled to Northern Ontario for a bachelor party with people I barely know on a lake. And I survived.

The bachelor party was for my brother-in-law to be (BILTB), of whose wedding party I’m a member. I wouldn’t miss this party for the world, but travelling, a long-standing trigger, on top of the uncertain social situation (I’d only met his lifelong friends a handful of times) that would last four days, led to a predictable amount of worry and discomfort.

It was the first real test of my early foray into using some of the tools I’m learning about in my cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) group, notably utilizing a worksheet to help identify cognitive distortions, restructure, and generate balanced thoughts to reduce anxiety. The chart looked something like this (I’d take a picture but there are only four people alive who can read my notebook handwriting):

Situation: preparing for the long weekend away

Anxiety: 30%

Worry: there will be uncomfortable situations, I won’t be able to cope with the uncertainty

Cognitive distortions: catastrophizing, what if thinking, discounting coping skills

Cognitive restructuring: I’ve enjoyed spending time with BILTB and his friends in the past, my other experiences going to a cottage/camping were positive, I have reasonable coping skills and people around me I can trust

Balanced thought: Although there is a level of uncertainty, I have enjoyed spending time with BILTB and his friends in the past, and have no reason to think I won’t enjoy the party.

This exercise, repeated a few times, helped reduce my worry about the weekend significantly. A secondary tool, which was equal to, if not greater than this (particularly during the trip), was provided to me by Kate (my wife): it’s not about me. The entire weekend was about my BILTB, and making sure he had a great time. It really took a lot of the worry away, since I – and my anxiety – was no longer involved in that equation.

The only challenge that remained over the weekend was a rock – a really, really big rock. A bit of a bluff overlooked a shallow bay opposite the lower dock of the cottage; protruding from the formation was a 20-foot-high rock. According to the BILTB, this was the best rock from which to jump, and he asked if I would. Knowing that I’m not a big fan of being in the water, there was only a little bit of peer-pressure, with a subtle out being made available. But I thought of what Kate and my early CBT training had taught me: and I jumped. Miraculously, there were no sharks in the fresh water lake in Northern Ontario, and I didn’t die in some horrific accident as my anxiety tried to convince me I would.

The weekend was a lot of fun, and a great early success for me in my CBT training, particularly considering how little I know and how much there will always be to learn. But what probably felt the best about the whole thing was, when the weekend was winding down, the BILTB leaned over and said he was proud of me. Because I was, too.

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