Fear is a Four Letter Word
Fear. In recent months I have focused on this word a lot. Through a lot of self-exploration, I have come to realize just how much it has weaved itself through my life.
Fear is inevitable. Fear comes in many forms. There’s tangible fear, as in I have a fear of rodents. There’s expectant fear, as in when I was pregnant for the first time I felt afraid of motherhood. There’s dramatic fear, as in being fearful of far-fetched situations, like the way I only go ankle deep into the ocean because I fear a shark might attack me. The list could go on. Fear puts its dirty little hands on us sometime during childhood and holds on for dear life, greedily taking up space and stealing joy.
When I was a child I had a fear of our house catching on fire or someone breaking in our house in the middle of the night. I remember laying wide awake in my room gripping the covers, my mind running wild with different scenarios. One scenario I vividly remember was a great 4 wall structure that fit around our house like a box. It was made of solid stone (both fire and robber proof.) It would magically float down at bedtime and protect our home, then magically be lifted at daylight. It would only be then, in that scenario of safety, that I would finally drift off to sleep.
As I moved through life, past childhood, into adolescence and early adulthood, all the way through my early thirties, I became really good at hiding from fear and all things scary. I associated fear with weakness and imperfection. (And in my life, there was NO room for imperfection.) I began protecting myself with a metaphorical 4 wall structure made of solid stone (fire proof, robber proof, and scary truths proof.) But this time, instead of the walls lifting at daylight, I found a lid for my walls and turned it into a box. Here I stored my fears away, safe from the light of day. I tucked them in deep and began to compensate for those feelings in self-sabotaging ways. From the outside I appeared to have it all together- but inside my trapped fears were breeding insecurities, anxiety, self-doubt, frustration, confusion, disappointment, shame, loneliness, and grief.
This past year my Pandora’s Box of fear exploded in my face. I had nowhere to run and I couldn’t hide. I was going through the motions, but feelings of joy were far and few between. Worst of all, it was affecting my relationships with those I love most. I couldn’t hold it all together anymore, even on the outside and furthermore, I didn’t want to. One particularly low day when I didn’t know what else to do, I scraped myself up, Googled therapists in my area, and scheduled an appointment for the following week.
To prepare for my visit I created a list of “things wrong with me” and quite literally on my first visit when she asked “What brings you in?” I busted out my list. The snarky voice in my head (the wicked queen of shame) laughed her shrill laugh and said “you fool, what are you doing here? Even the shrink thinks you’re nuts.”
For the past 9 months I have had weekly visits with my therapist and I have waded through A LOT of emotional baggage. I have looked many issues straight in the eye and taken them on head first. It hasn’t been easy, but it has been worth it. For the most part, I feel stronger, more confident, and better equipped to handle the ebbs that inevitably come on the opposite side of the flows.
However, lately that wicked queen of shame/dread/etc./etc. has been poking me in the ribs. That familiar, yet unwelcome feeling of paralysis has been rising in my gut. That master weaver has been getting tangled up with my healing and strength. That infamous, taboo 4 letter “F” word keeps trying to haunt me. Fear.
For me at this time, it’s fear of failure that holds me back the most. A lifetime of being a perfectionist isn’t easily undone. I’ve been trying to achieve some arbitrary level of success and setting impossible standards in my head of what “right” and “perfect” look like for a long, long time. The idea of following a passion and taking the plunge, without a rubric for which to harshly grade myself scares me to my core.
But now I know, success is not one size fits all. It’s time to stop letting fear undermine my faith in myself. <Enter new positive self-talk I’ve learned over the past 9 months…I’m evolving. I’m not storing these fears away anymore. I’m talking about them and mustering up my strength and courage to look them in the eye.>
You know how God always gives you exactly what you need, exactly when you need it? (He’s SO awesome like that!) Well this morning while I was getting ready I was listening to The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene’ Brown on Audible. In this particular chapter, Brown is talking about leaning-in to hard feelings rather than numbing them with self-sabotaging behaviors. She says:
“The dark does not destroy the light, it defines it. It’s our fear of the dark that casts our joy into the shadows.”
My wheels were spinning. Am I making the fear of failure way scarier than it really is?? Maybe the failure isn’t the HARD part, but rather, it’s the learning, the journey, the gritty life lessons! Not only am I letting my fear drive my joy away, but I’m letting my fear get in the way of possible failure, aka learning opportunities to grow and be better. I’ve casted my fear out as a safety net…Wow- huge lightbulb moment for me!
So, what does it mean to lean-in to my fear? Sounds pretty bizarre to me to “lean-in” to this metaphorical gremlin that I’ve spent my whole life avoiding. But here goes nothing <enter positive self-talk> I am stronger than this. I am confident in myself and my gifts. I am worthy of my gift. I am worthy to share my gift. My family deserves the best me. I deserve the best me.
I’m going to honor my fear enough to acknowledge it. I acknowledge that there’s no such thing as perfect, and success isn’t measured by impossible standards. I acknowledge that spending my whole life trying to achieve these mythical states has been utterly exhausting. I acknowledge that I have been wearing this burden as a security blanket. I acknowledge that it may be scary to live without it. I acknowledge without it some people may not like what they see and that’s okay. I acknowledge that I do not have to be everything to everyone. I acknowledge that on the flip side of feeling scared of uncertainty, there is excitement and hope, and freedom.
I see you, you infamous, taboo 4 letter “F” word. I’ve lived in your shadow for so long. But now it’s my turn to take charge of you. A dear friend recently told me to take my F E A R and change it to my F A R E. My FEAR will become my FARE to finding my true self, loving my true self, and living an authentic life.
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