That dreadful feeling. The racing heart, shaking hands, heat creeping up my neck, eyes wide, brimming with tears. Adrenaline rushing to my rescue, as my body goes into fight or flight mode. Feeling like a little girl, being dragged once more by the scary monster. This is the overly emotional response that I can’t let them see. No, I can’t let anyone see this vulnerable, weak side of me.
That was how my night started. Two sentences from my beautiful little man’s mouth. That’s all it took. Overwhelmed. Afraid. Taken back to the ghosts of my past. Feelings incomprehensible.
The phone call, “your children were in an accident”. Again, that rush of feelings. The intense emotions as I wondered if the two people I love most in my world would be ripped from me. The ghosts returned. The death of your child never really leaves you.
The doctor’s report saying, “congestive heart failure”. The emotions that come along with being a single parent and knowing you absolutely cannot leave your children behind. The fear of the unknown, potential surgery, and knowing that you will have to change your lifestyle drastically. Ghosts and visions returned to me.
But I refuse to remain with the ghosts. I refuse to let the shadows dancing in the corners determine the direction of my life. I refuse to live my life on anyone else’s terms.
Oh, I know him well, this monster named Fear. This faceless shadow that lurks so huge and frightening.
He has wrapped himself around me on many occasions, falsely claiming to be the answer to what I was experiencing in that moment. He has slept in my bed, taken road trips with me, slithered into my relationships, seduced me slowly and tormented me for many years. He led me to believe I was alone with him in this ruthless furnace of the world. His tentacles have wrapped around my mind, eliminating all else on more than one occasion.
Fear convinced me I had no talent. Fear made me believe I could never be good enough. Fear screamed that I could never accomplish the things I desired so deeply. Fear constantly returns, like a scorned lover, to remind me of my mishaps and mistakes. Fear has attempted to hide the people in my life behind shadows of potential rejection, ridicule and criticism. He enjoys telling me how I don’t have what it takes, I am not disciplined enough, I am incapable. He takes every opportunity to steal away with my dreams, my hopes, my relationships, and yes, he has even attempted to take my very life.
He is big, he is intimidating, and I have known him my entire life. Over time, he began to look like an authority in my life. He has whispered in my ear on more than one occasion that he is the only safe place I have to turn to. He waits nearby if I don’t embrace him in the moment. Lurking, always there, reminding me that there are so many good reasons to be afraid in this world.
Death, lack, loneliness, people, authority, commitment, heights, germs, closed-in spaces, airplanes, dogs, cats, failure, rejection, being laughed at, even fear of being attractive are common. Then we look at the world around us and see mean people, terrorists, crooked cops, mob mentality, political pandemonium, medical diagnoses, all sorts of things large and small… and he rules supreme in all of them.
But lately I have been choosing differently. I read Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Big Magic recently, and it revamped my idea of fear. But fear is not something we must cower to, or cater to. There is a misconception in the world that being brave is the same as being fearless, but that is a lie. Living your fullest life does not mean being fearless. Being fearless can get you in trouble. Fear is a necessary and vital part of life in order to remain alive and well. The only people who are without fear are inexperienced three-year-olds and sociopaths without feeling.
And, while you may aspire to take your life advice from such a person, I most certainly do not.
But, I do know that there is no need to bow to him, trembling with the force of his lies. Fear is a toothless lion, a helpful guide and at times a necessary friend if we do not allow him to grow bigger than the space he is meant to reside in. Just like the Occamy in J.K. Rowlings Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, he grows and shrinks to fit the space we allow for him. (I know, nerd knowledge)
So I am choosing to give him a small space in my life. A space where he warns of hot stoves and busy streets, where he shows me the dangers that truly exist. But I am choosing to cut him off from my dreams. I am choosing to squeeze him out of my family life and relationships. I am choosing to allow him to be a cricket small voice, rather than a huge, frightening monster.
I am finding that a full life is a gift only given to the brave. I must choose, every time he tries to escape his tiny realm of necessity, every time he grasps with his twisted tentacles, every time he makes me think he is big enough to wrap me up, I must choose to be brave in the face of the monster. I must choose to find an alternative way to get him into the small space where he belongs. It may take corroboration with others, it may be hours of prayer, it may be solitude and serenity in the woods. But somehow, there is always a way if we look hard enough.
Yes, this life requires bravery. That is true. But it does not and cannot require fearlessness. We must befriend our fear and tame him with faith. Bravery is realizing that fear is just a wild animal that is waiting to be domesticated by our strength. Bravery is making space for fear so that he can peacefully exist within us, since there is no way on this earth that we can kill him.Bravery is respecting fear, allowing him to have a voice, giving him room to relax. Bravery is disciplining him and allowing his voice to make our lives better.
Yes. Bravery is challenging. It is difficult. It is glorious. And, without it, we can never realize the vaulting scope of your own capacities Without bravery, we can never know the world as richly as it longs to be known. Without bravery, our world will remain far smaller than it should.
We cannot be ruled by fear unless we allow it. It’s that simple. And that difficult.
I would love to hear how you are stepping out and shrinking the fear in your life.