The Face of Fear

By Ken Wells - 10/27/2020


Series One: Blog Fifty-Nine

“More than anything, fear blinds, and only by stepping without hesitation into the next inch of the unknown, can we build confidence in the life we are about to live” — Mark Nepo

Fear of the dark is a prevailing experience among many people. It is estimated that as many as 11% of Americans are afraid of the dark. Apparently, if you are afraid of the dark, you join the ranks of famous people like actor Keanu Reeves who reportedly admits to the same fear. I can remember being afraid of many things as a kid. Sometimes it was the dark. Sometimes it was storms, other times it was the fear of the end of the world or that the Russians were going to take over our country. Growing up there were just many things to be fearful about. Usually, I would try to hide my fear and pretend I was courageous when I really wasn’t. I learned to fake it to make it. I don’t recall many times ever being taught to face my fears or work through them. 

Of course, I grew up with such strong religious teachings. I played football in high school when I was a senior. It was the only year I played. I played quarterback. There were 5 of us. I was probably #5 on the depth chart. Then we called it first, second string etc. I was not good but then neither were any of us. We lost all of our games- only one was close. If we were within two touchdowns at halftime we thought, it was a good game. I remember being really fearful when we played and it was raining. It seemed that happened frequently. I was so afraid of fumbling when the center would snap the ball to the quarterback. The ball was so wet and slippery. I just knew that I would fumble and would be the cause of our team losing. I became petrified with fear about it. Privately, it was quiet agony. I consulted my dad. He told me that my agony with this particular fear was like Job being tried and tested in the Bible. I listened but it didn’t make a lot of sense to me. I think I learned to just grit my teeth to get through the fear. But, that was about the only time I ever asked for help for the many things I was afraid of as a kid. Most often we are influenced to not talk about our fears. We just kind of marinate in them and learn to distract ourselves with other things.

Yet fear is a part of our lives. We experience fear about almost everything. There are phobias that are many. We fear and dread about the coronavirus, the economy, other healthcare issues, racial tensions, the upcoming election, education for our children and a long list of other fearful outcomes. Fear can dominate our existence. For many it does. Fear and dread can snuff the candlelight of hope that burns in the lives of many. 

Addiction is an added dread and fearful outcome. Many who are in recovery of addiction experience an underlying dread that there will come a day that they will relapse and have to start all over. Some fear that their addiction had such a grip on their lives that if they relapse they will die because they would not be able to stop their destructive behavior until they kill themselves with it. This is a tough fear to live with, yet, is common with many addicts.

I don’t know of anyone who does not live with fear of some kind. Author, Parker Palmer stated “I will always have fears, but I need not be my fears, for I have others places within myself from which to speak and act.” Mark Nepo wrote “I found that the moment I was living, no matter my circumstances, was the only safe place.” So what are those places within and just how do you make the moment you are living the only safe place? Here are some considerations that I have been working with as a recovering addict to manage fear that if left untended will dominate the thoughts of life.

1. Resource yourself:

When it comes to recovery from dread, anxiety and panic of a fearful outcome, I think one of the most overlooked resources is our own life experience. Of course, therapy can be helpful. The various experiential modalities can create breakthrough understanding and capability. Nonetheless, the history of personal experience is a bank of resource that is often overlooked. So I ask myself the question, what experience in my life do I have, away from my current challenge that I can draw from that would help me get through this current fear that I have? For example, there have been times that I have been totally overwhelmed with fear and discouragement that I would never be able to work myself out of a tough situation. So, I recall a time when I was a youth pastor and I took 20 kids on a hike in Northern Arizona to view the famous Keet Seel ruins. It was a 17 mile hike. On the way out of the canyon after hiking many miles, you had to walk through a tough stretch of sand. It feels like taking 2 steps forward and one step backward. Some of the kids were ahead of me as I walked with some of the slower guys. When I got to the sand, the sun was high and heat was on. One of the guys whose name was Curt had his shoes and socks off and was sitting under a bush for shade very discouraged. He had taken his socks off and tried hiking through the sand barefoot but had blistered the soles of his feet from the burning sand. I remember him telling me “I think I am just going to die right here!” So, we talked about dying and being buried in the sand. We decided that it would be better to draw deep within and find the resources to get out of the canyon. I carried his pack in addition to my pack. He put his socks and shoes over his blistered feet and step by step we willed our way out, distracting ourselves from the heat and the pain with ongoing conversation about everything under the sun, literally. We made it. I have often resourced myself with those conversations when I am traversing step by step through difficult moments of uncertainty and fear. When you are stretched with fear and anxiety, try thinking about other spaces in your life where you have been very good at getting through a difficult spot and let that resource you in the here and now. 

2. Research what others have done:

Be curious. You are not the only person who has struggled with your fearful situation. Rather than to roll in dirt of despair and derision, inquire about how other recovering folk have managed what seems insurmountable to you. Be determined that if others have found a way then you will explore and experiment until you find your way by borrowing from the bank of resource that you have researched from the life experience and recovery of those you see every day in 12 step community. 

3.  Learn to reframe your life experience:

When you only see the negative in a difficult tribulation, you miss out on the positive that can inspire you to discover solution. Discipline yourself to look for the best part of the party for you. My mom used to say, “We may be poor and have an old house, but what I have I will shine and clean every day of my life so help me God”— and with 9 kids she delegated and did just that every day of our lives. The art of reframing life situation is a life skill that can transform every fear to fortitude and will depend upon your commitment to research others who experience the same fear and a determination to resource yourself from your life experience. So often, we seek a magic bullet of advice through therapeutic intervention when ultimately we will need to reframe our life experience, give up the storyline of victimization and domination and revolutionize the negative into a positive. This is not about ignoring the obvious and embracing the improbable. Rather, it is about facing the obvious and transforming it into the improbable by learning to move away from destructive addictive behavior through the art of reframe.

It has been my experience that some of the most creative people I have met on this earth are those who when faced with debilitating fear have learned to rely upon their own creative resource, who were willing to embrace the curiosity of researching options and who have committed to reframing life experience as they knew it. Resource, research and reframe has always led to amazing creative solution!

  1. Consider the fear that threatens to dominate you today. What past life experience would offer skills that you successfully utilized that would help you move through the fear you face right now?
  2. Think of battery of support around you. People you know, have read about or who are in your community of support. What are the skillsets you could borrow from their experience to apply to your struggle with fear today
  3. Write out a negative statement that fuels your fear. Take a deep breath and re-write a reframe that would turn your negative statement into a positive statement of affirmation and inspiration. Write it down and take it with you throughout the day and meditate on it when gripped with fear.

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