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new face in a familiar place

It’s 3rd down and 15.  We’ve spent the first two downs of the possession losing yardage trying force our will against the defense.  We’re a running team, but our opponent has scouted us well over the past two seasons and has learned all of our tendencies.  Their linebackers are filling the gaps in anxious anticipation prior to the ball even being snapped.  Now we’ve again found ourselves in a predictable passing situation.  Since we employ only the Wing T, I’ll need to prepare to take the snap under center and execute one of a handful of plays that we have designed for this situation.  I look to the sideline and take the play call.  My coach finds my eyes and says “C’mon Matty – make something happen!”  This is a phrase I’ve heard him shout many times.  There was always desperation in his voice.  It was as if he knew that we were heading for failure, but he thought that perhaps my ability would somehow direct us to an emergency reprieve.  I head to the huddle and make the call, pleading “just give me some time guys”.  But I know the defense will be coming for me.  Our offense forces play action, but no one bites.  Linebackers storm through the middle and the defensive end zeroes in on me.  I’m running for my life.  It’s time to be a leader.  You’re down and now you’re facing insurmountable odds…stay in the collapsing pocket, cover the ball, take the sack and limit the damage…nope.  That’s not a part of my make up.  Scramble Matt, outrun that linebacker, shake the end, keep your eyes downfield, find a receiver, square your shoulders, deliver a strike…it’s time to “make something happen Matty”…

I’ve often related obstacles that I’ve faced in my personal life to experiences that I’ve had on the football field.  I had a passion for the game that I only wish I could have carried through to other aspects of my life.  My determination was completely unwavering.  I could get kicked in the teeth all game long, but I’d always get back up to play the next down.  I would leave it all on the field.  Setbacks did not discourage me.  And I faced them more often in the game that I loved than I did in other aspects of my life.  It didn’t matter.  I wanted more.  And I think the reason I felt that way is because I took so much pride in overcoming adversity.  There was nothing better than converting a 3rd and 15 into a fresh set of downs.  Now it was time for me to take that ‘won’t break’ mentality and apply it to my life.

I had been a complete emotional mess as a result of the departure of my fiance.  It was such a long and drawn out breakup…it had consumed me for months.  I had to learn to live alone in the house that we had purchased, furnished, and decorated together, and I had to make peace with the fact that she would never offer any explanation for her actions.  Thank the good Lord for my family, friends, and co-workers.  They stuck by me through everything, allowing me to vent when I needed, always offering a shoulder to cry on when it became too much for me to handle.  I’m sure I wore thin on them at times.  But I’ll never forget their support.  I hope that they understand just how critical they were to my survival during that time.

By early October 2007, the college football season was in full swing.  The timing could not have been better…I could at least find refuge in the game that I enjoyed so much.  My Tar Heels were off to a sluggish start.  It was our first year under Butch Davis and we had begun the season 1-4.  On October 6th we were set to match up with Miami in Chapel Hill.  My father was not interested in heading down that weekend, so I planned a bit of a guy’s getaway with my two best friends from high school.  My one buddy would make the drive with me from PA, and my other friend who was living in South Carolina would meet us there on Friday afternoon.  It was a much needed escape for me, and I was really looking forward to it.

On Friday night we went out to dinner and then headed over to Franklin Street to party like a bunch of college kids for the evening.  We ended up at East End Martini Bar.  If you’ve been following the blog, you’ll remember that this was the place where I first met my now ex-fiance for drinks during my senior year of college.  That night my friend had taken interest in a girl by the bar who was there with several friends, so I told him that I’d go get the conversation started for us.  I was pretty bold that weekend…I had nothing to lose, it couldn’t get any worse for me in the ladies’ department.  She seemed happy to talk, so shortly after I invited my friends over and hers as well…we’d all do a shot together.

Minutes later I was introduced to a girl that I had noticed sitting at a table by the window when we first entered the bar.  She was attractive and flirtatious, and I found her very intriguing.  I learned in talking to her that she was my age and was working for a company based in Chapel Hill.  She had graduated from, oddly enough, the University of South Florida in 2005.  That was the school that my ex had attended prior to her transfer to Chapel Hill.  And she was also originally from Florida, the Atlantic coast side, however.  This was all insanely ironic.  I couldn’t help but feel like maybe it was all supposed to be happening.  Perhaps this was redemption?

We spent the rest of the evening completely lost in one another.  Upstairs we danced and held onto each other as if we had been dating for months.  It was a great time.  And for me, it felt particularly good because I had been down for so long dealing with my broken engagement.  For a few hours I was able to feel like my old self again…to enjoy living and experience feelings of attraction and desire, things that I had thought I might never find with anyone again.  I didn’t want the night to end.  So we exchanged phone numbers and talked about getting together on Saturday night after the game.

My friends had an equally fun time that evening.  Unfortunately, we all paid for it the next morning.  We were actually so hungover that we contemplated skipping the game altogether…and trust me, I NEVER do that.  But eventually we gathered ourselves and found our way to Kenan Stadium for kickoff.  And I’m so thankful that we did…because it was the best game that we’d play that entire season.  We hammered Miami on both sides of the ball for the entire first half, and in the second we withstood their comeback rally to hold on for a 33-27 victory…an amazing and completely unexpected performance.

I called my new acquaintance that afternoon to see what her plans were for the evening but she didn’t answer her phone.  Maybe she was going to blow it off altogether?  The boys and I  headed back to the hotel room after grabbing a quick bite to relax, catch up on some games, and get ready for that night.  A couple of hours into our mutual slumber, she called.  It was decided that later that evening we’d meet up at the same place as the night before.  I wasn’t going to drink that evening, honestly even looking at an alcoholic drink made me weak in the stomach.  I had enough fun for the entire weekend the night before.  So I maintained a pretty laid back and quiet demeanor, which she must have appreciated because she ended up inviting me back to her apartment after the bars closed.

It was already 2:00 AM.  We had a long drive facing us the next day.  But I was running on adrenaline, so I dropped off the guys and headed back to meet up with her.  She invited me into her apartment and we spent the next three or four hours laying on her bed talking to and kissing each other.  I didn’t want it to be a one night stand, so I never allowed things to progress that far.  I liked her and I wanted to get to know her better.  I was just enjoying being around someone new.  And I had anxiously been hoping to meet the right person to fill the void in my heart…perhaps she could be it?  I wasn’t thinking about the logistics of everything…I was just riding the high that weekend.

I finally returned to the hotel around 6:00 AM.  After a couple of hours of sleep we got up, said goodbye to our South Carolina buddy, and then made the trip home.  I was so excited about my new acquaintance that I didn’t need much rest to function.

As we headed up I-85 North out of North Carolina, my friend looked at me and said, “Matt, I told you last night that you needed to be able to leave that here…if you couldn’t do that, then you should not have gone any further with things…”

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4 Comments Post a comment
  1. H #

    Ironically enough, I too went through a breakup of an engagement while dealing with anxiety in the early stages. I felt like it would crush me. Thankfully, I had a lot of good people to lean on as well. Lately, things have been stressful at work (it’s our busy season) and I feel the old specter of anxiety looming. It’s been good to keep reading your story, because though I’ve been dealing with this for nearly 10 years, every once in awhile that old feeling will creep back. It’s nice to know that someone else has been there. As an aside, your writing is very powerful and it really makes one feel like they’re right there with you while reading it. That’s a true gift, to be able to make people feel like that.

    -H

    August 2, 2011
  2. H,

    I’m very sorry to hear that. A strong support system is critical for anyone dealing with anxiety and panic. I’m glad that you were able to persevere with their support. I know that in my situation, I would have absolutely crumbled without my family and friends.

    I can completely relate to the stress at work and what that can do to you. The last several months have been much the same for me. I find that when I allow myself to get overwhelmed with stress, I often neglect the things that help keep me on track. I have to make a more conscious effort to maintain a healthy routine and lifestyle. And I’m sure you know as well, with stress anxiety typically follows. My advice is stick to your guns. Be it faith, exercise, hobbies, family & friends, etc…make sure you make whatever holds you together a priority in your time away from work. And get adequate rest. When you lack sleep your mind and body become far more susceptible to setbacks.

    You are not alone. Anxiety is a constant battle. It can be discouraging at times, but keep in mind that you’ve beat it before and you do not need to allow it to make you feel like a victim ever again. You are strong.

    Thank you for your incredibly kind comments on my writing. I really appreciate it. I feel so blessed to be able to share my story with people like yourself. Please keep reading.

    And keep fighting…you can and WILL overcome anything anxiety throws at you.

    God Bless

    August 3, 2011
  3. H #

    I can definitely relate to being stressed and somehow neglecting the things that keep you on track. It’s funny how that happens, giving up the one thing you need most because somehow focusing on the stress is more “important.” It always seems to affect my sleep, too. I sit up doing nothing in particular and nothing very important and before I know it, it’s 3am. Which in turn leads me to oversleep and miss my morning work out and dash into work just in the nick of time. Not good habits.

    Thank you for your kind words too. It’s good to hear someone else say “You are strong.” This battle doesn’t always make you feel strong. Thankfully, I’m a pretty optimistic person, with a good support system and right now things aren’t out of control. I just need to make that conscious effort to reign things in, get sleep, eat right, hit the gym and focus on the things that help to de-stress.

    I hope you’re doing well, handling the stressors at work as well. Take care and God Bless.

    August 4, 2011
  4. H,

    It’s amazing how similar our experiences are…I can relate to everything that you’ve mentioned in your comments. I often find myself feeling like you are telling my story as I read your posts. Thank you for sharing.

    You’re absolutely right, the battle with anxiety and panic is a tough one…and it certainly preys upon every weakness within you…it can very easily leave you feeling hopeless and victimized on a regular basis. I fully understand that it can be a relentless opponent at times, but take pride in the fact that you’ve met it head on and beat it into submission in the past. There’s no reason that you can’t continue to stand up to it. Remember, lesser people would have folded up the tent a long time ago, but you stood your ground.

    Stick to your support system and the things that maintain that positive balance in your life. You’ll work through it soon – you always find a way to overcome it.

    Thank you for your support and encouragement. Enjoy the rest of your week.

    Take care!

    August 4, 2011

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