The word “fear” for many conjures up images of clowns, snakes, dogs, public speaking, flying and other common events or things. We speak about situations that bring us dread and terror or objects that evoke distress or fright. Personally, heights and most insects crank up my fear factor—my own hell would be climbing a tall ladder and finding a wasp’s nest at the top.
The Deep Stuff…
In the realm of addiction, fear is a mighty dragon that flares up and bellows from the belly of the cave. Fear played the starring role in my own demise. But I am not talking about fears of spiders or crowded spaces. When I discuss fears, it’s the deep stuff—where the dragon keeps an eye on its treasure, restless and twitchy. I had to learn to identify the fears that kept me trapped in my own skin. I had to dig down and really investigate, without fear (ironically), until I got to the heavy stuff. The things that I used to drown out with vodka and wine.
As part of my recovery, it was suggested to me to write down all my fears and why I thought I had them. My immediate reaction was to book a flight to Maui and never speak of it again, but I knew that it was important to deal with fears. So I put butt to chair and stared at the blank lined page.
And Then It Started:
- My fear of not being liked
- Fear of being laughed at
- And looking stupid
- Fear of conflict
- Of other people’s anger
- Fear of intimacy.
…and so on.
Page after page I listed of all these fears which festered within me. The dragon was awake and belting out some real show tunes. It was flexing its pipes. It was painful to put the words down, but it also felt cathartic to unveil these things that had fed my alcoholism. The things that kept me rolling in the dirt of my own mind.
All fears, when boiled down, come down to the ideas that either we are afraid of losing what we have, or afraid of not getting what we want. Even a simple fear, like the fear of heights, can be broken down further: it’s not heights I am afraid of, it’s falling. And why am I afraid of falling? Because I fear losing my life. My fear of looking stupid is really a fear of being rejected. And being rejected means I don’t get the love that I desperately seek.
When I operate out of fear, anger is often the immediate reaction. Anger is not an isolated emotion—it is the manifestation of fear. When I blow up at someone, or write an angry email, or purposely ignore someone, it is because I am using anger as the sergeant-at-arms for fear. Rage, harm, spite, sarcasm—these are the flying monkeys that the scaly, fear monger sends out. When I want to unfurl my anger (or have already struck!) I often have to stop myself and ask: what’s the threat here? What’s the deep down fear that is triggering my need to attack?
In my recovery, I have learned that all my fears were, and still are, irrational. It doesn’t stop me from feeling them, but I understand that fear keeps me in my comfort zone. It blocks me from spreading myself out and living my life in a more authentic way. Fear paralyzes me from positive change in my life. Fear keeps me rooted in stagnant water. My greatest fear in getting sober was the fear of what the hell I would be like without drinking. Who would I be? That fear immobilized me for years while I drank myself into further disarray.
Here are some ways I continue to deal with fears:
- Talk to others: When I share my fears with others, I find that I am not alone in my thoughts, which helps me feel less alone. I also hear how others have moved past those same fears.
- Practice faith: Most often I pray for the strength to move through a fear, and just leap at the opportunity to do something, whether it’s as small as introducing myself to someone or something bigger like making an amend to someone I harmed a long time ago. Flexing my faith muscle often overrides fear.
- Meditate: Learning to stay centered and calm within myself opens me up to approaching my fears in a focused way. Feeling anchored helps me to break past many of the things that hold me back.
- Journaling: The act of writing down my fears and what surrounds them, is a great tool for digging into the reasons and possible solutions for those fears. I also find that it helps to diminish fears by exposing them on paper.
I will never totally overcome every one of my fears, but I have made movement on many of them, and been able to extend myself by learning to push through them. And the one great lesson I continually learn is that my fears are never as big as I make them. The dragon is more like a dragonfly—flitting about and harmless. Fears no longer need to rule me.
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