Driven By Fear

By Ken Wells - 09/04/2020


Series One: Blog Thirty-Seven

“Fear is static that prevents me from hearing myself” — Samuel Butler

There are many things that drive addictive behavior. Fear is primary. Most things people are afraid about never really happen. Yet our bodies respond to our thoughts as if they are real. Perception is equal to reality. If you sit and think about dying from the corona virus, the fear of dying can become the same as if you were dying from the virus itself. You may not have the virus or even the symptoms but if you allow fear to dominate your experience of thought then your body will eventually respond to the fearful thought in a similar way as if you physically had contacted the virus. Usually, those who are afraid of getting the virus have a fear that falls short of this domination. Yet, the fearful thought diminishes safety and security in the present moment. What happens is there is a pervading sense of doom and gloom that clings to your thoughts like an ominous cloud threatening with wind, thunder and lightning. Nonetheless, the truth is that in this present moment you are safe. You do not have the virus and in this present moment of time, you are not going to die because you are living. Yet, fear will take you away from the present by dreading what might happen in the near future. Of course, it is true that you might get the virus. This fear of possibility takes away from this moment the actuality that you don’t have it now.

Many addicts live this way most of the time. There is present a sort of mental virus. The memory of past dreadful experiences propel the thinking of possible catastrophe tomorrow and triggers insecurity and fear in the present. This robs you from experiencing the possibility of peace in the here and now. There are many addicts who respond with anticipation and fear about possible calamities and misery as if they already exist. They create their own havoc and hardship inside their mind without the existence of present adversity. There is a warped sense of need for chaos and calamity in order for things to seem “normal”. The way in which an addict conceptualizes misery can be like a virus that goes undetected. Conditioned by sensationalized, exaggerated thoughts, fear and anxiety pervade in the life of an addict who is blinded by the tyranny of calamitous thinking. For the addict, this mental virus of permeating worry and dread is capricious, dumbfounding, appearing asymptomatic. Addicts take a deep dive into the worst possible scenarios and manufacture them into reality by sabotaging their world view with fearful lament. It becomes a wicked vortex. The more you obsess with frenzy and fear, the more you look for sensational data to support your rumination, the more unsettled you become which validates the very turmoil and fury that fuels your original fear. An addict’s mind gyrates and spins with this constant confusion and commotion. It is like an old washing machine that churns back and forth with turbulence and unrest. The more distress and disturbance, the greater likelihood of needing to self-sabotage with addictive substance or process. It all becomes a vicious cycle designed to ignore the obvious by embracing the improbable.

The obvious is what you fear the most is not reality. Fear and fret can take you away from the reality that in this moment what you worry most about is not present in the here and now. Frenzied thinking will argue that it is otherwise. An addict can get stuck in thoughts of deprivation. When you marinate with thoughts about what you don’t have, you lose sight of resources that you do have and this blindness gives way to thoughts of entitlement which usually connects to addictive acting out to get away from the feeling of deprivation.  It becomes a circular pattern that circumnavigates and squeezes you to accept the improbable that doom and gloom is your only recourse. Many addicts live with an apocalyptic slant, believing that ultimately they are predestined to cataclysm and disastrous results. It becomes a self-sabotaging prophesy cemented by daily worry and ongoing fear. The world view of an addict often translates that downfall and destruction will ultimately result because down deep there is the belief that this is their kismet and karma.  An addict can live out this dynamic. You don’t talk much about it but down deep it has become the testament and Holy Grail you execute. The following suggestions will help to interrupt obsessional thought patterns that drive fear and promote inner peace.

(1) The obsessive thoughts that have taken control of you are not who you are.

If my thoughts were who I am, then when I worry about what might happen, everyone else would have the same reaction because being human each of us would have the same reaction to the same experience. Yet, what I become fearful about someone else may find joy and excitement. One of my sons is a kayaker who loves and feels safe on a river with continuous high risk whitewater. His thoughts are very different than mine about the same experience. He has conditioned his thoughts with practice and expertise to enjoy what my thoughts have been conditioned to feel terrified about. The point is that my fear and my son’s joy has been conditioned by our thoughts about the same subject. If I chose to condition my thoughts through practice and experience on the river, I probably would change my thoughts about whitewater kayaking toward what my son thinks. As an addict, you can learn to condition your thoughts by recognizing that your thoughts are not who you are. As many Buddhists have remarked, your thoughts are like the clouds in the sky. You can learn to observe and allow them to be whatever they are and let them go and not become attached to them.

(2) Practice being in the present moment.

Eckart Tolle has said that the present moment is all that has ever existed. The past is gone and the anticipated future is nonexistent. All that we can experience is right now, the only space of living. Being in the present will take the focus away from yesterday and tomorrow and center your concentration to what is happening right now. When you purpose your life in this manner, you are better prepared to address your fears with calm and poise. When you stop the addictive behavior, feelings that have been numbed and isolated rise to the surface of awareness with overwhelming temptation to do something— anything— to get away from the unwanted discomfort of unwanted feelings.  Actual deep breathing is helpful toward leaning into the resistance of difficult feeling just like deep breathing is helpful toward leaning into a muscle that you may try to stretch. In this way, you can help yourself with this simple act to remain present in this moment, the only existence that you can experience.

(3) Become alert to the story your mind is telling you about the experience that you are going through.

Ask yourself what is my mind creating about what is going on around me? Be willing to challenge your thinking, is it true?  Is the story you are telling yourself a way of personalizing what is happening? Perhaps, what is happening is not about you at all. It will require strength and resolve to challenge your thoughts in order to give up the story line and embrace a reality that is life affirming. Addicts will need to practice and work hard to re-condition their minds to reflect your new commitment to not only sober living but to thoughts that generate powerful alternatives free of dominating fear. Living in consultation with accountability will be necessary to internalize this life skill.

(4) Practice being OK with yourself regardless of how you feel.

Being OK with yourself does not preclude action for change. When a thought or behavior needs to be changed, taking action is appropriate.  Yet, action taken that is longstanding comes from a place of accepting yourself wherever you are and whatever you feel. Again, the Buddhists talk about “putting yourself in the cradle of loving kindness”— becoming unconditionally friendly toward yourself. The concept is to be accepting of what you feel, who you are even in the presence of desiring to change behavior. In meditation and reflection, allow yourself to notice you feelings and thoughts without attempting to change them but just observe and know that you are not your thoughts or your feelings. As some would say your mind is like the sky. In this way, in the presence of fear, irritation, impatience and other unwanted feelings you can practice being OK with who you are in the presence of changing addictive behavior.

Being able to embrace fear turns the dread of catastrophe into a sense of compassionately abiding within your own skin of self-acceptance.

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