Making a Choice to Manage and Overcome Fears
My friends in recovery have two amazing acronyms for fear:
F@ck Everything And Run
Face Everything And Recover
In black and white terms, these are the options we perceive. We either allow our fears to run us, or we seek to resolve and overcome. Too many of us believe we’re not brave enough, but courage is not the absence of fear; it’s the choice not to let fear stop you.
Stop Avoiding Fear
Embrace the gray that lies halfway between a in black and white worldview. “Facing everything” means working through one fear at a time and progressively making our lives and our recovery programs more manageable.
- Fight or flight is not manageable
- In the long run, avoidance is not manageable
Too many of us are drained mentally and emotionally by our attempts to:
- Not know what we know (denial)
- Not to feel what we feel (recipe for anxiety)
- Trying not to remember what we cannot forget (compartmentalizing, repressing, stuffing)
Thoughts, feelings, and memories ought not to be judged. They simply exist. Experiencing difficult feelings is problematic, but trying to not feel causes far greater problems.
- Many of us were raised to believe that showing fear, sadness, disappointment, and other vulnerable emotions is “weak.” This leaves us stuck and worse, compounds existing shame and makes reaching out and seeking help unattainable.
Stop Hiding Fear Out of Fear
Most of us are very good at hiding our fears just as we hide our true selves. Outwardly we look calm and collected. On the inside we’re frightened children.
- Sharing fear requires opening up. So instead we cover up with irritation, appearing aloof, or apathetic.
- Instead of admitting, “I’m afraid to” we say, “I don’t want to.” The former opens doors and the latter slams them shut.
One of my favorite questions to ask my clients is, “What would you do if you weren’t afraid and what would that make possible in your life?”
Fear Limits Perspective, Therapy Provides It
Manageability is a crucial concept in addiction and trauma recovery. As long as we are overwhelmed, very little growth is possible. Unfortunately, as adult survivors, and/or addicts/alcoholics, what we tend to fear most is ourselves. Most of us are control freaks (control freaks are always scared people). Our fears dictate that one way or another we are going to be hurt so we take control through self destruction.
The more fearful we are, the less we tend to experience the world as the competent and capable adults we are. We regress and think, feel, and often act as we did when we were children because we’re overwhelmed by the same feelings now as then (in this way the past is not truly over).
I encourage people to explore these connections in therapy because no matter how successful we become, we can always go back to old habits and patterns of behavior when we’re sufficiently afraid.
In therapy, it’s not like we have to recall every painful childhood experience. It’s more about making sure that we get/learn/heal/overcome today what we couldn’t get then. Otherwise the same internal conflicts will continue to hinder us each time we’re triggered.
Getting Out of Our Comfort Zone
Developing a manageable life means building on a stable foundation. This means that all of our basic life needs are met and we are working toward realistic and healthy goals. Manageability also requires that we actively solicit and accept support (facing fear alone is not manageable).
Most of us are afraid to ask for help. My clients often tell me:
- “I’m just not comfortable letting people know me (shame)”
- “I’d like to but I have trust issues (Duh, we all do. It’s just another form of fear)”
- “I don’t want to burden anyone with my stuff (lie to justify not facing fear).”
When we’re afraid we tend to complicate things in our head. This leaves us stuck in our current comfort zones because when things are complicated we’re able to tell ourselves that we “just don’t know what to do (which leads inevitably to being overwhelmed).”
When we’ve convinced ourselves of this lie; we do what we’ve always done and get what we’ve always gotten. I like simplicity because it dictates a clear course of action. I tell my clients that the Beatles summed it up nicely, “I get by with a little help from my friends.”
I’ve known way too many good people who tried to think their way into a better life. Most of them were going through life without meaningful support. I tell them two heads aren’t twice as good as one; they’re a million times better than one. We need reality checks. We need to be able to share how we see things, be open to suggestions and be willing to be challenged when we’re kidding ourselves.
One More Reason Why We Need Each Other
Many of us were shocked and dismayed to find that it’s actually scary to get better. Change is frightening. As we recover; we are in the process of becoming. Transformation is an amazing goal and it is attainable but it’s rarely if ever comfortable. We need reassurance, encouragement, and we need to take the advice we so readily give to others. We’d never want the people we love to face fear alone.
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