I picked up the phone and called someone when I found myself looking at something called a “bathtub bladder”. A bathtub bladder is a big rubber ball that you install in your bathtub to store drinking water. I connected with a good friend of mine and I told him the truth, I’m scared. I revealed to him what was in my online shopping cart and he laughed deeply and completely. Hearing the voice of another I immediately felt my heart pressure drop and I started to come back to the present.
For me, knowing when I’m scared is the result of a lot work I’ve put in. I lived most of my life not knowing I was scared at all, and another portion of it knowing I was scared, but too frightened to do anything about it. The awareness and the ability to talk to someone else about it (i.e. a friend, a sponsor, a mentor or therapist) is the miracle I get to live in today.
I lived most of my life not knowing I was scared at all, and another portion of it knowing I was scared, but too frightened to do anything about it.
So here is what I’ve learned about my fear. I’ve got this one part of my brain that I have no control over. Its entire job is to be on alert for danger. It’s simply embedded into me, along with all the other autonomous functions like blinking and breathing. Further in my brain I’ve got some genetics from a family of worry-ers. When you climb down my family tree and hear stories of my namesake it becomes clear that anxiety is one of our birthrights. Lastly to top it all off, I have trauma that has permanently altered my relationship to fear. These factors for me mean that my mind is naturally drawn towards survival and anxiety. I can create a symphony of worry, nervousness, terror and rage with something so small as a sideways look or negative comment.
My fear tells me to prepare, it tells me to pull back, watch and listen and it says to do so loudly. My fear loves to gather information and it especially loves to be alone, because when I’m alone no one can hurt me. It celebrates all the things it protects me from and it chants against the new and uncertain. My fear never hopes, it only braces for impact. My fear never nurtures, it only seeks to protect me from more pain.
My fear never hopes, it only braces for impact.
For most of my life I thought my fear simply was me. Loudly screeching at me to be cautious, to look, to listen, to hold back and to isolate. It would ignore the good risks I took for myself, and punish the risks that turned into mistakes. It became a very uncomfortable roommate in the cramped space of my head.
In my own journey I’ve learned that my fear isn’t all me, it’s just a part of me that at times can screech loudly. Through relationships with others, my own personal recovery work, time and grace, the volume of my fear has been turned down enough to listen to the rest of my heart.
My fear today is still a crabby roommate, but one I have come to accept. I’m aware my fear is an unreliable narrator and at times can be a harsh companion if I don’t speak up for myself. I don’t hate this roommate, because many times he showed up and protected me. I’ve even forgiven him for all the times he’s locked me in the apartment with him alone. Today I recognize that he’s just scared, that he loves me very much, and that he just doesn’t want me to get hurt again.
The definition of survival is “continuing to exist especially in spite of danger or hardship”. That’s all my fear wants for me, to just exist. The other parts of me want to thrive, to grow, and develop well. In order for me to thrive I must know the voice of my fear, listen to it and then take another step, and have the courage to hear from the other parts of me as well. It’s a beautiful, ongoing struggle for me to do that. It also keeps my bathtub free of any bladders.