Fear is something we deal with every day. Sometimes it’s a large, debilitating giant; other times it’s so small as to go almost unnoticed. Yet fear follows us nearly everywhere we go. Some fears we can avoid for the most part, like being afraid of snakes or of flying. Others we must face whether we want to or not, like our first job interview.
Fear controlled my life for so long, driving me in the wrong direction—or at least it kept me from going in the right direction. When I got into recovery and discovered how much impact it had on my life, I decided I had to do something about it. When I began to look at my fear and discovered the extent to which it ran my life and was a part of my being, I decided I had to learn to deal with it in a more positive manner.
As I looked back over my life, I found that I had never really dealt with fear on a conscious level. I had simply let it have its way with me, attempting to move through it only when I wanted, or needed, something very badly. As I was making this discovery, I noticed some common threads with which fear worked in my life.
One common factor concerning the level of fear I felt had to do with my familiarity with the task at hand. It seems that the very first time I try something, fear can shake me to my very foundation. While doing my first jigsaw puzzle wasn’t too traumatic, getting my first job was, as was asking a girl out on a date for the first time. After getting the job or getting the date, my life seems to smooth out and the fear subsides.
While familiarity can lessen the amount of fear that I feel, in some instances it never seems to go away altogether. I have spoken publicly on many occasions since I began my recovery. Even though I can give a speech today without much discomfort, the first several I did were nerve-wracking. Although I am much more comfortable speaking in public these days, I still get nervous before I speak. No matter how well I know the topic or how prepared I am, I still get butterflies in my stomach. I have found this to be a natural, normal part of the process of public speaking.
Another factor that plays a part in the level of fear I feel seems to depend upon how badly I want or need whatever it is that I am going after—or, should I say, how badly I have convinced myself that I want or need it. Even though it is easier for me to ask a woman out on a date these days, the greater my desire to spend time with her, the more difficult it is for me to ask.
I remember when I really wanted a job—my second full-time job. It would pay very well, and even though I was a nervous wreck when I started the job, I eventually made it a career. The amazing thing is that today I can see that I kept that job because I was afraid I couldn’t replace the income it provided with my level of education at that time. I let fear convince me that I couldn’t do any better. That may have been true because all I had at the time was a high school education; I understand now that I could have gone back to school. Fear made me lazy by convincing me that I couldn’t get through college. Real or imagined, fear is fear. It works on me by eroding my life—if I let it.
While some people say that there are irrational fears—like my fear of not being able to find a better job—I never try to tell anyone that the fear they feel is not rational. After all, it is rational to them, at least for the time being. Until they expose themselves to the fear and move through it repeatedly, until they come to see the truth, their fear will remain rational and very real to them.
I just call it working my way through the fear. I wrote this book to show others how I learned to work my way through the fears I find in my life today. It is my desire to share what I have learned that makes me want to do this, because what works for me can also work for you. I’m not a clinician, but I am speaking from my own experience. My experience tells me that I need to keep it as simple as I can when it comes to something as complicated and pervasive as fear.
Today I see two major characteristics of my fear. The first characteristic is that it wears many faces and changes them as often as it needs to in order to keep me off balance. The second is that it follows me around all the time, waiting for the opportunity to pounce on me like a lion on a mouse.
Since I have found a way to deal with my fear today, and since I don’t see it packing its bags and leaving anytime soon, I have decided to look at fear as just a part of the process, of any process, including the process of life.
While I don’t mean to try to diminish the impact of fear by saying it is just part of the process, what I do intend to do is cut it down to size in my head and in my life. My hope is that you too will come to see fear as just part of the process of everyday life.
Like many things in life, we know fear isn’t going away; we know it keeps us from doing things we want to do; we know it make us nervous, sweaty, and uncomfortable.
Now let’s take a look at how we can learn to take this monster and make friends with it, or at least shake hands with it and become more comfortable with each other.
Let’s take a look at “the man behind the curtain,” see him for what he is, and deal with him as just another part of the process of living a happy, productive life, a life where we turn fear from a debilitating monster into a tool we can use to our advantage.
When it comes to fear, I think the best thing to do is to feel it, face it, and grow.