For several years I had been addressing my fear with reasons why I shouldn’t feel that way. I had been looking for the underlying “reason” (read excuses, or judgement, or rationalizations), and then addressing each of these by talking myself out of them. Find a fear and smash it had been my approach. I did attempt to look behind it for “reasons”, but I also avoided feeling it.
For example as one who is afraid of public speaking we might be advised to imagine the audience in their birthday suits; I would suggest methods to myself to avoid the fear and soldier on. This did let me approach situations that used to baffle me, to encounter new life experiences that caused me some anxiety, to participate in activities that made me uncomfortable. I took on leadership roles and did things I had never done before, I did them sober and I did them aware: but I still had a shell. I had a shell of guarding myself as I was still, deep inside, fearful. And I was holding and trapping that feeling, that energy.
One of the problems with this approach to life is that my outside and my inside became increasingly divergent. This caused me pain when I was drinking and using. It caused me pain in sobriety. How I was acting was not in integrity with how I was feeling. I am not suggesting that I had to walk around with obviously quaking knees, upset stomach, and launching heartbeats.
And, for a while, I thought that was the choice; fear/no fear. I was stuck in the duality of NOT being afraid or BEING afraid. I also had a quality, a judgement, attached to that experience: fear BAD, not afraid GOOD. I had to learn to befriend fear in order to release that black and white thinking.
How do you make friends with fear? How do you learn to live with it? Like many things- I already knew how. I had done it before. I had practiced it in controlled circumstances previously and I could reach back to that practice and use it now.
Many years ago when I was working at my last Big Job I was lead on a project to incorporate lots of different sets of books into one big set of books. They all came from different accounting systems, they were all formatted in different ways and the order of the accounts were unique. Also this process had to be designed to happen within a short number of hours, not days as the previous process had been. This was both an accounting function and a software project. I felt way in over my head. There was no guide book, the systems were new and the staff was new to the system. I was in a constant state of panic; not the best mode for the creative brain to function. My loving boss asked what she could do for me. I laughingly responded that what I really needed was a big white board so I could write down all my fears to get them out of my head. Then, maybe, I would have room for the solutions. Next day in the office I had a big whiteboard and lots of markers. I wrote down all my fears, the list would grow each day at the same time some items would fall off the list. “I won’t meet the deadline.” “I will come up with an idea that doesn’t work.” “People will laugh at my solutions.” “I will suggest something and everyone will see what a fraud I am.” And so on. From the realistic to the ridiculous it all came pouring out.
The benefits of the fear list was that I could turn into the issues rather than turn my back on them. Denial and repression contributed to the energy of anxiety. Acknowledgment gave the fears a finite size and the possibility of addressing them. Yes, there was history behind the fears, yes, the list did not make them go away on their own. Yes, it was scary to have them there written out for all the world to see. It was also painful.
An unexpected benefit in this circumstance was that this process brought the team together. I was totally surprised by how this list created community among the members; they, too, had fears and in my admitting to mine they no longer felt alone. It was an amazing experience.
In facing my fears I was also able to move forward without trapped energy and this helped unite my insides and my outside presentation. My shell began to thin and sometimes it disappears completely. I am more authentic and can experience my life without a filter.
So now if I experience a fear of traveling, of taking on a personal challenge, speaking to a group or heading a new project I soothe myself by turning into the fear, documenting the experience, sitting with the discomfort and then, only then, look to the solutions and the remedies. But first comes the pain.