Fear Is a Story We Tell Ourselves

“I knew that if I allowed fear to overtake me, my journey was doomed. Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, so I chose to tell myself a different story.”

–Cheryl Strayed, Wild

Tell me specifically how you overcame one of your fears.

Comments

  1. Fran Stekoll says

    I was afraid to be alone. I was an only child, growing up with adults. No brothers or sisters to share life with. Maybe that’s what made me such a strong soul. I always had one good friend to count on. Yet I feared being alone.

    It all started in a three story home in Rochester, N.Y. Mama had a Nursery School on the first floor. My bedroom was on the second. My parents on the third. Each night I would climb into my bed, pull the covers over my head, lie very still and shiver myself to sleep; but each night I would hear footsteps come up those creaky stairs, walk over to my bed, stare at me, walk back and go up the stairs. I felt if I moved, I’d be punished so I lay very still until they disappeared. After many scary nights, I realized it was my Mamma and Daddy looking to see that I was OK. What really confirmed this was when Mama’s sister Lucille moved in and slept with me. The footsteps and fears disappeared. The other fear I had in that huge home was when the sirens would blare and Daddy would put on his hard had with the Civil Defense insignia on it. Mama would pull down the black shades and we’d turn out all the lights. I would kneel on the couch behind the black shade with my nose pressed to it . It seemed like forever until that all clear siren blared and the shades would go up and the lights back on. The best part was when I heard my Daddy whistling up the front porch steps. That fear dissipated when the second world war ended.

    I am alone now for the first time in my adult life. I married at 19 for 46 years. Went from that to my second husband of 14 years. After he passed away I found love again that lasted for a year and that recently ended. I find now that I’m rather contented being alone. The fear is gone. I’ve realized that if I love myself and become my own best friend and not stand in my own shadow, being alone isn’t that bad. I need to love myself first and then maybe I’ll be able to love another again.

    • Ilana says

      Nice job, Fran. I liked the way you showed us how you conquered this fear at all those different stages in your life. Then it came together at the end with the statement that you are now “rather contented being alone”. Great read. IM

    • says

      Fran, I’m inspired that you’ve learned to enjoy being alone. I’ve never lived alone and I’m 56 years old–and the idea is still scary to me. I appreciated going on your journey to overcome that fear.

    • Adrienne Drake says

      Fran, adding up the different number of years, you have reached a mellow age. At 64, I wonder if I have “mastered the art” of “living alone.” For some of us, it may take a lifetime to master the art of loving and nurturing ourselves, but we need to embrace our own loveablity, even if we never learned that in our childhood homes. We most know that we count! We become our best selves for others when we can truly embrace ourselves.

      • Tony del Zompo says

        it’s a helluva a thing. i’m forty seven years old, and have just completed my first year of living alone in as an adult man. i found it transformative and necessary. if i’m ever to be in a partnership again, and i hope to, i knew i needed to learn to endure and ultimately embrace loneliness first. well done, fran…

    • Hazel says

      Thank you for sharing, Fran.

      It sounds strange to me to think that I have always been alone, even when living with someone. I have never felt like I was totally accepted. I am liked and friendly, but always alone. Don’t think it is good or bad just the way it is. No one else has traveled my path, they have touched me but are on their own path.

      “if I love myself and become my own best friend” that is what I can count on for sure to always be there in whatever capacity,
      no matter what the situation.

    • Terry Gibson says

      Fran, there is so much wisdom and inspiration in your posts. This one doesn’t disappoint. I admire you so much!

    • Nancy Schoellkopf says

      Fran–I’ve been mulling over this prompt, wondering if I’ve ever been truly able to overcome ANY of my fears–but you’ve given me the secret in the very first post: “love myself and become my own best friend. . .” I think that may be the way to overcome just about any fear–not just the fear of being alone! Thank you so much.

    • Judy says

      Fran, I could hear the creaking stairs and blaring sirens–frightening. But, a lovely conclusion with your beautiful line about not standing in your own shadow. Thank you for this powerful piece.

  2. Licia Berry says

    It’s my nature to question, to wonder why. This is what has led me down the rabbit hole over and over again to attempt to understand the universe a little better, and to make some sense of my life. I’m glad to say my seeking has indeed helped me to feel the mechanics of the workings of the universe to a degree of familiarity, to be reminded of the patterns that underlay the fabric of reality. I say reminded because I feel the patterns in my body, in my atomic structure…and I feel the natural rhythm there, under the busy-ness of my life. When I get quiet, the ancient knowing is alive and well, underneath my skin.

    However, never have I felt I understood the totality of it…never have I been so bold as to claim that I knew everything. How could we possibly know everything, every point of view, every experience, every perspective? I get irritated with folks who believe they have the corner on reality, and make great pronouncements that everything else outside of their corner is not real, not true. I’ve seen it happen over and over; the universe lets them know the limitations of their point of view, and sometimes not kindly. I know better…my flashpoint is the place where I hear people say THIS IS THE WAY IT IS, because that is simply not the case. My experience is that the omniverse is WAY more complex than that.

    I understand the desire to assign meaning and to try to fit the grand universe into a box that we can understand…it is a means to feel we have some control. I understand that fear is as primary motivator and that we want to feel comfortable, safe, secure. I understand that we concoct stories about things so we can feel better about ourselves, our lives, and the sometimes seemingly senseless tragedies that befall us.

    For me, the middle path is the one that calls to me. Standing in a neutral space, one of discernment, awareness and wisdom, while being optimistic, hopeful and open to the possibilities, is the correct course for me. Straddling the line, being the Bridge. I find that this is the path that allows me to stay the most grounded, the most able to bend when the big winds come without losing my footing entirely. My life has had its share of tragedy, so I do know that life provides the means for us to suffer. But I also know that we can do wonders with our tragedies, and make use of the grist for the mill that they provide. That there are blessings in everything life hands to us, if we’re willing to see them. You might know this Chinese Folk Story:

    “A long, long time ago, there was a kind old man who lived on the plains outside the Great Wall of China. The gentle old man had only two passions in his life: collecting rare breeds of horses, and his son, whom he loved more than anything else.

    “The old man and his son would ride their horses every day. They would travel great distances to trade horses, meet new people, and enjoy the good fortune that life had bestowed upon them.
    One morning, a servant left the stable door open and one of the old man’s favorite stallions escaped. When the neighbors heard the news of the stallion’s escape, they came to comfort the old man. They told him they were sorry he had had such bad luck.
    “But strangely enough, the gentle old man was not upset. He explained to his neighbors that losing the horse wasn’t necessarily bad luck. There was no way to predict that the horse would escape, it just happened, and now there was nothing that could be done about it. “There is no reason to be upset,” said the old man. The neighbors soon realized that there was nothing they could do to help get the horse back, and that they shouldn’t feel sad for the old man’s misfortune.

    “One week later, the stallion came back, and he brought with him a mare. This was not just any mare, but a rare and valuable white mare. When the neighbors heard of the old man’s good luck, they quickly came to congratulate him. But again, the old man was not excited. As he had explained before, it was not necessarily good luck that had brought him this new and beautiful white horse. It just happened, and there was no reason to get excited over it. Still a bit puzzled, the neighbors left as quickly as they had come.

    “A short time later, while his son was riding the white horse, she slipped and fell. She landed on the son’s leg, and broke his leg, so that he would always walk with a limp. Again, the neighbors came to the old man’s house to give their sympathy for the bad luck that had befallen his son. One of the neighbors suggested that the old man sell the mare before anymore bad luck could happen, and others said that he should take his revenge and kill the mare. However, the old man did neither. He explained to the neighbors that they should not feel sorrow for his son, nor anger towards the mare. It was purely an accident that could not be predicted, and there was nothing he or they could do to change it. At this point, the neighbors thought the old man was crazy and decided to leave him alone.

    “Two years later an enemy invaded the country, and all of the old man’s neighbors were drafted to defend the country against the attack. Because the old man’s son was lame, he did not have to join in the fighting. The war was very bad, and most of the old man’s neighbors were killed, but his son was spared because he had been hurt by the white horse two years earlier.

    “Very often, when an event takes place that everybody thinks is good luck, the end results are disastrous. In the same way, an unlucky event can bring about happiness. Therefore, you should not lose your will to continue if an unlucky event happens, nor should you be too overjoyed or feel too self-satisfied because of a lucky event, or because something that you desire comes very easily to you.”

    The recent experience of my son’s traumatic brain injury could be considered unlucky. He is a bright, beautiful, talented young man who was striving to better himself through higher education and hard life lessons, when he was “struck down” by a senseless accident, interrupting his college career, taking away his freedoms and putting his family into medical debt. This could conceivably be one version of the story. Another version of the story is that this arrogant teenager thought he was immortal, invincible, did not think about how he could hurt others by putting himself in danger, and could skateboard without a helmet and get away with it. Another version is that he is a victim, and that, because his planned life path was “taken” from him, he should be fearful, should live out his days on earth wrapped in cotton. Another version (that one woman actually accused me of) was that I somehow created this accident in his life by writing about my sense of loss when he left for college, a normal feeling of grief that all parents go through.

    And yet another version of the story is that this young man knew from an early age that he would be faced with death before age 20, and was speeding through his life as fast as he could due to his fear of that someday fate, when he would be asked to make a choice to become the teacher and healer that he truly is in his heart, soul and spirit, a shaman’s death/rebirth, the story of initiation.

    So which is true? Who knows? Maybe they (and every permutation between) are ALL true. But I can tell you the version that I am sticking with…because I know this young man, have carried him in my womb, have held him and nursed him and watched him interact with the world, and because my own life has prepared me for this moment so exquisitely as to bring me to my knees in gratitude. The story I am sticking with is that we are ALL asked to take the S/Heroes Journey at some point in our lives, and that we have a choice about whether to undergo the true transformation that this brings. We can perhaps shield ourselves from it by living life in a box (or several boxes) of our choice and arrive at our deathbeds with a vague sense of having missed something grand…or we can live naked and transparent, allowing the universe to have its way with us, choosing to bend and be transformed into what the wisdom of Nature has planned for us. My experience is that Life lives THROUGH US, not the other way around. Life is the big boss, and the nature of life is change. And that we get to decide how to respond to that, with resistance or grace. And our choices determine whether we feel blessed or cursed, determine whether our story is one of tragedies or blessings.

    So what story do you want to live?

    • says

      Hi Licia, Welcome to the Roadmap blog. I find the questions you raised about the different ways to view your son’s accidents (and all of our life circumstances) to be very intriguing. I will be thinking about it for a long time…

      I hope you keep coming back!

      • Licia Berry says

        Laura,
        Thank you…this is my first post here, and although I have been receiving your newsletters and invitations to post here for a long time, I didn’t until today. I appreciate the opportunity to talk about facing my worst possible fear of my son dying and seeing his situation as a blessing in disguise. It’s all quite recent, so I am still processing it…just 6 weeks since his injury and surgery. But writing has made all the difference for me…a sanctuary to retreat and tell my secrets to in the chaos. Your prompt today impelled this post forth. :)

        • Tony del Zompo says

          thank you, licia. i love the idea of “life living through us.” i think you are right about the call to the hero’s journey, and i agree that resisting that call only compounds our difficulty. my best to you and your son…

        • says

          Licia, I had no idea this was so recent. I can’t imagine what you’re going through. I’m so sorry! And I’m glad writing is a solace to you. Feel free to post here anytime, if it helps to have witnesses.

          • Licia Berry says

            Yes, it’s been 7 weeks since Jess’ injury…he is doing VERY well, miraculously so. It has been quite the sheroes’ journey for me, too. :)

    • Hazel says

      Thank you for sharing.

      I agree with your statement, “the nature of life is change. And that we get to decide how to respond to that, with resistance or grace. And our choices determine whether we feel blessed or cursed, determine whether our story is one of tragedies or blessings.”

      Attitude really helps.

    • Judy says

      You have truly touched my heart, Licia. The S/Heros Journey and your question at the end is so powerful–much food for thought. Thank you for sharing and do come back many times.

  3. Barbara Keller says

    This is one of those questions that makes me glad to be 70, not 29. I had so many fears, my life was like a weaving of fears, overlapping and entwining and defining my entire life.

    I was afraid of everything, myself, my decisions, my parents, people, society, work, bosses, getting up and going to bed, men and the absence of men. Does that cover everything? There were a few things I wasn’t afraid of. Driving. I could drive. Cooking. I don’t think I was afraid of cooking. But pretty much everything else scared me.

    The bible says “Be anxious for nothing.” and also “Make your requests known to God and He will give you peace that surpasses understanding because you trust in Him.” and “cast your cares on Him because he cares for you.”

    Yes, it took me a while to put that into practice. I did visualizations – I put my fears, written on paper, into canon balls and shot them into a valley. They landed in a giant cast iron pot which I then gave to God. Make sense? Not much. But it worked. I got the fear out of my insides and gave it to someone who said He wanted them.

    Still, when faced with something difficult or uncertain, I do get scared, but I am able to keep going, mostly, and I do know what to do. Give it to God, even if I have to do that every few minutes.

    When I drove to Mexico from Oregon in a long UHaul truck hauling a 14 foot trailer carrying my car, I was scared. The man at the Uhaul lot said “Sure you can do it, but try not to back up.” Hmm. 1400 miles on diesle truck filled freeways, and don’t back up. I cried a lot, I made mistakes and cried some more. I yelled, “God I can’t do this, help.” And He did. I got here in one piece, and maybe from all the crying and yelling, my psoriasis cleared up.

    Then I had to face living in a foreign country. It doesn’t end, the things one could be afraid of, but I’m so glad to say I have a working solution. Trust God.

    • Hazel says

      You are so right, “it doesn’t end,” and living in a foreign country is not easy at all. (Even if it is an English speaking country like Canada. On the surface it seems nearly the same but underneath it is very, very different, never mind Mexico or South Korea.) You have to be a strong person to do it. Trust in something outside yourself to help is a “good thing.”

      Thank you for sharing.

    • Ilana says

      Nice job, Barbara- The first sentence made me smile and gave me hope for relief. I am 31 years younger than you. I can do a lot of learning and growing in those years and hope that I will begin a discussion on fears with that sentence. I liked how you showed your growth and deepening trust in God. Beautifully written. IM

    • Judy says

      Barbara, What a wonderful opening line. I’m smiling and nodding my head ‘yes’ at the entire opening graph. You are brave, indeed woman. I simply can’t imagine your Mexico road trip. What an inspiration you are. Thank you for sharing and remember, our ages are 39+tax!

  4. Hazel says

    I once went to an intensive training seminar where they had the word FEAR written in small letters but it went all around the large room we were using. Each day the word got bigger and bigger. Then we were taught that FEAR is an acronym for False Evidence Appearing Real. Since that time I have tried to remember that when I feel afraid. Sometimes it is hard to remember that when the “evidence” is standing right there in front of me. I can accept that as my truth of I can make my truth something different.

    When my husband and I were in Seoul, South Korea teaching English the man who ran the school was very devious. He had tried not to pay us at the agreed time and schedule and we had walked off the job and refused to come back until he straightened it out. Everything went along quite smoothly for a while then he took our return tickets and would not give them back. I became very afraid. My husband was very angry and wanted to go settle the score in the manner of men and fists, but I talked him out of it. This is not good because if we didn’t figure out what to do soon, we would not be able to leave nor would we be able to live here. I told him to just be still and I would come up with an answer soon.

    The next morning I was shaking as I called the airlines, but I had a plan. First I had to ask for an English speaking ticket agent and was put on hold. When they came on, I told them that we had lost our tickets and could they reissue them for later this week. Again I was put on hold. Finally they came back on and told me that, “Yes, we can do that. When would you like to leave?”

    “September six, a Thursday 2011.”

    She took a few minutes to figure it out and told me to just come to the ticket office an hour before the scheduled departure time of 9:00 AM and the tickets would be waiting for us.

    I packed up all the things we wanted to bring back with us: 1 box, 4 large suitcases, and a dog carrier for our little Yokshire terrier. We asked our friends, two other teachers, to come take us to the airport. I was afraid that they would tell the owner of the school that we were leaving and that somehow he would come or somehow find a way to stop us. The friends were there at seven in the morning to take us to the airport.

    I was trembling when I got to the ticket clerk but the tickets were there as promised. As we waited for the flight to board I was very nervous. My husband seemed to be leaving things up to me and was cheerful and helpful as usual, taking the dog out for a long pee before we boarded.

    Finally we were taking off, headed for the USA. I thought, we can’t get back fast enough for me as the plane droned on, and on, and on. We changed planes in Japan then it was back into the rising sun and home.

    We had escaped but I didn’t really feel safe until we landed and stepped out of the plane in Los Angeles. I called my daughter and told her we were changing planes there and would arrive in Eugene, Oregon within a few hours. She agreed to meet us there. She also agree to let us stay with her in Salem until we could find a place to live.

    It was a breeze re-entering through customs just a great welcome back. Tuesday morning my grandson came running into the room we were staying in at my daughter’s saying turn on the TV we are being attacked. It was 9-11.

    If we had waited even 2 more days to come home we would have been in all that mess. As I watched in horror the scenes on television I began to shake with relief that I had made the right decision. Not only had we averted the aftermath of the restricted travel, but that probably would have made getting replacement tickets close to impossible and we would have become victims of the oppressive owner of the school.

    P.S. He was not the only power-tripper among the school owners and we heard several stories from teachers that they and fellow female instructors who did not have husbands with them to take care of them, were beaten and/or had their wages withheld. When I was given a group of young students to teach the owner of the school brought me a stick to use to hit my students. I broke the stick over my knee in front of him. I am sure he considered that a challenge. He spoke perfect English but would only talk to us through an interpreter.

    • says

      Hazel, what a harrowing story. I’m so glad you acted when you did and got out. And although it sounds awful, look–you got a great story out of it. I always try to remember that when things are awful–I might at least get a good story out of it later on.

    • Nancy Schoellkopf says

      What an amazing story, Hazel! You were so blessed to get back home before the flight restrictions of 9-11. How right you were to trust your intuition.

    • Judy says

      Hazel, First of all, thank you for the reminder of the FEAR acronym (False Evidence Appearing Real). Secondly, ‘thinking on your feet’ instead of ‘freezing in your tracks’ shows amazing skill and presence in the moment. WOW. So glad you got home safely to tell the story. Always enjoy your writing. Thank you.

    • beverly Boyd says

      Hazel, I love stories like this…where spirit or that part of the brain where insight lives awakens and gives an answer. I think fear and anger can be triggers that let us know we need to ask for help in whatever circumstance we find ourselves in.
      So glad you worked that one out and got safely back to the US!

    • Polly says

      Hazel, you definitely showed impressive courage in this piece. I love that acronym as well and will try to remember it when I need to. Thank you.

      • Hazel says

        Thank you all for you comments.

        A little bit of Fear can be you friend, as long as the paranoids don’t getcha’. lol

  5. Adrienne Drake says

    Cassie may be dying. She is my dear friend, and what makes it worse is the fact that she is not telling me the truth about what her doctors are telling her. For months she has been losing weight. Now she is gaunt. I feel helpless to help her. And betrayed because she won’t level with me. Because she is controlling her fear with denial, my fears are getting out of control. My seven year old child’s brain is now running the show.

    At seven my parents marriage ended. I lost my dad because my mother hated him. I lost all my friends because we moved to a new town. Worst of all, I lost Ingeborg, who lived over our garage. Ingeborg saw EVERYTHING and always knew when I needed help. She provided the love and nutruring that my own mother had no instinct for. She always had my back.

    And now, Cassie may be lost to me. My seven year old child’s brain is taking over. I am trying to control everything in order to feel safe. A little OCD is kicking in. Add insomnia and the recipe for a personal melt down is complete. I am defaulting to unwelcome yet utterly familiar feelings.

    But wait. There is a flicker in my heart. Something new and unfamiliar is kicking in. I need to pay attention. They say that faith conquors fear. It is time to let go and trust, once again, in the universe which provides in its own inexplicable ways. Throughout my parentless life there have always been those who were brought to me by grace. In fact, Cassie is one of those people. We all have these angels in our lives. They are the ones who save us. But something has changed in me. There has been a shift in my paradigm as I sit back, observe and comfort the frightened seven year old child within. What I have come to realize is that in fact, I am also one of those who saves me.

    Yet again, the universe has provided!

    • says

      Adrienne, you so brilliantly shared your process in this piece! I felt so much for the hurt part of you–and for the loss of your friend and your inability to affect the way she is choosing to face her own illness–and eventual death (which of course, we all face).

      I deeply recognized the moment where everything conspired to put you back in the same old melt down. We all have had those moments where all our coping and healing and high functioning fall away and we’re back in the morass of barely hanging on by our fingernails.

      And then you came to your own rescue. That was just brilliant. Thanks for sharing that wonderful breakthrough with us.

      • Adrienne Drake says

        Laura,
        Your safe and wonderful “blog spot” (as well as some caring therapists) have given me back my voice. Thank you so for your validation!!!
        Adrienne

    • Ilana says

      Adrienne- Thank you for this peak into your life. It is beautifully written and so hopeful. I love the way you turned the tide so clearly with those two wonderful words, “But wait..” Nice job. IM

      • Adrienne Drake says

        Ilana- Thank you so much for your kind words. And I too love your fearlessness in laying your own gut on the page. It seems to me that some of your comments and observations and utter rawness of feeling start great debates. The rest of us may be more guarded in our replies, but rest assured we have all felt the things you express at variaous times in our healing-from-great-betrayal process.
        Yours, Adrienne

        • Ilana says

          Thank you Adrienne, this means so much to me. I suppose I do lay it all out in this community. I did that at my first meeting of a therapy group last week. It was scary as hell, and hurt like hell. At first I regretted it but by the end of the meeting every person in the room had thanked me at least once and a few people twice. It was worth it and I truly appreciate your honoring my struggle. IM

    • Nancy Schoellkopf says

      thank you so much for sharing this, Adrienne. Such a beautiful, insightful piece.

      • Adrienne Drake says

        Thank you Nancy. I think Laura has given us a safe and wonderful place to open up and share. If we can turn lead into gold, as the alchemists do, and be blessed with a place to share it, how lucky are we?
        Yours, Adrienne

    • Hazel says

      “What I have come to realize is that in fact, I am also one of those who saves me.” What a wonderful revelation. Why is everything so simple so hard?

      Thank you for sharing.

      • Adrienne Drake says

        Dear Hazel,
        I think that those who have loved us enough to “save us” when our own parents were incapable of doing that most vital job, are some of our greatest teachers in life. Some of us get the lesson, and others do not. They are so wounded that they are never able “to take it in.” It is certainly an act of utmost faith to learn to love ourselves when we have been so damaged as children, but only when we take in the love are we able to come to our own rescue. Faith can be hard to come by…since cetainly it is the ultimate act of “letting go.”
        By the way, I do not always comment, but I love your stories, which express such practicality, insight and wisdom! Thank you for sharing.
        Yours,
        Adrienne

        • Hazel says

          Thank you Adrienne. I am nothing if not practical, ever and always, it was THE way of life growing up. It was a different time, slower, and you had to know how to do things to survive.

          • Adrienne Drake says

            It is a time we are missing out on and we have lost as a society becasue of it. As the song says, “something’s lost and something’s gained….” All the more reason to write it all down!!;-)

    • Judy says

      Adrienne, what an uplifting piece of writing. You always share openly, honestly. In this piece laid out the full spectrum of fear in writing about your friend, melt downs and the seven-year-old child’s brain. What an ache I felt. This piece is full of grace and wisdom. Thank you.

      • Adrienne Drake says

        Judy, thank you for your reply. It helps to know that sharing our experiences is helpful to others. It makes me want to try even harder to “recover.” Take care, Adrienne

    • Polly says

      I love the line, “I am also one of those who saves me.” That is inspiring. Thanks for sharing this touching and honest piece. I hope that Cassie is able to pull through, or at the very least, that your newly found perspective will continue to bring you comfort.

      • Adrienne Drake says

        Thank you Polly for your kind and compassionate words. Certainly my growing insight is a “work in progress,” sure to be tested in the weeks ahead.

  6. Tony del Zompo says

    I was never going to jump out of an airplane. At least, that’s what I believed. I had turned down numerous invitations over the years and had endured the taunts and recriminations from my male friends. The idea of stepping out of an airplane into wide open space was terrifying.

    A month before my 45th birthday, however, a voice inside told me that I would, in fact, skydive on my birthday. It wasn’t an auditory hallucination, rather; it was an internal knowing, an intuitive hunch from another, higher place. But I didn’t know it at the time.
    I tried speaking back to the voice, this nudge from within, but to no avail. A week before my birthday, I knew that I would comply. And, yes, I was afraid.

    I made the call, booked the jump, and resigned myself to my fate. And I told no one. I’ve noticed that people will, in fact, try to talk me out of the things that they themselves are afraid to do. For that reason, I kept my mouth shut.

    As I drove to the drop zone, my hands were perspiring so badly that I had to keep switching hands on the steering wheel. I drove with one hand while I wiped the other on my pants. By the time I arrived in Marina, I had sweat stains on my jeans.

    It was a Saturday, and the hanger was full of would-be thrill seekers. Some came to jump. Others, to watch. I learned long ago, however, that life is not a spectator sport. As the staff prepared us for our jump, Wayne, my instructor decided to tease me a bit. “You know,” he said, “I haven’t been feeling too well this week. I really hope I can keep it together for the jump.”

    “Whatever, dude.” I answered. “Anything goes wrong and I’m taking you with me. You and I are in this together.” As scared as I was, I was still quick with a comeback. Wayne said nothing. He turned and walked away as a satisfied grin came across my face.

    I could go on and on about the jump, but that isn’t what this piece is about. I could wax poetic about fear, and draw from spiritual belief systems that espouse such nonsense as “fear and faith cannot coexist.” Bullshit. Because that’s what courage is. Courage is moving forward despite the fear. It is, simply put, just doing it.

    And I did, in fact, simply jump out of an airplane. Just as I did, in fact, simply travel alone in Europe with a back pack and a copy of “Let’s Go.” Just as I played high school football, learned to speak in public, rode a motorcycle, and moved into an apartment of my very own for the first time in my adult life last year.

    Fear is necessary for survival. It’s in our brainstems, hardwired into our neuro-circuitry. Lizards don’t wonder whether or not they should run when a threat approaches. They simply scurry to safety. But human beings aren’t reptiles. We are equipped with a neocortex, and the ability to step back and analyze our fears and ask whether or not the threat is real or not. More often than not, fear is a bogeyman, nothing more than a closet monster or the beast under the bed. The only way to know for certain, however, is to put one foot in front of the other in spite of the fear, come out on the other side, and say to ourselves, “yeah. I did it.”

    • says

      Tony, I’m so glad you shared this very graphic and vivid story here with us. I’ve loved this skydiving story. Thanks for revising it to fit this prompt. I love this story. It almost makes me want to jump!

    • Judy says

      Tony, I liked your story very much. That last graph about our wiring really caught my attention. I back out of a scheduled skydive because…humm, does the word begin with F? This dare sounds interesting. Thanks for sharing.

    • beverly Boyd says

      Maybe as you say, “life is not a spectator sport” and I might be missing something really great, but I think I’ll watch the rest of you from the ground.

    • Polly says

      Tony, after simply replying to the comments days ago, I finally found time to sit and actually read entire posts tonight. This was great. I like the attitude with which you approached this, and the certainty that you seem to live your life with. Thank you for the inspiration.

  7. pj says

    Fear stories, for me, always take me back to riding Denver’s big roller coaster in 1960 at age 14. I was scared out of my wits so I closed my eyes and it became worse, since I had no warning system. It became clear that I should prepare by seeing what to look out for was better than not. All the successful experiences with fear use the same approach-face it head on and it’s usually easier to deal with.

    I have used Ms. Strayed’s method but usually with disastrous results, since if you a “have your eyes closed to can’t “see it coming.”

    • Judy says

      PJ, thanks for your story. Yes, closing your eyes makes it worse. It was the tilt-a-whirl that got me. No wait, maybe the cotton candy + the tilt-a-whirl!

    • beverly Boyd says

      I didn’t know that Mrs Strayed’s method was so I looked it up on the internet. Well whatta ya know! there it was. Thanks for the chance to learn something new!

  8. says

    I have always been afraid to stop my momentum. Afraid of what might emerge if I just stopped everything. Afraid of the demons inside. Afraid of the terror or craziness that might lie wrapped docile and sleeping inside my belly, cowed by the rhythm of constant doing. I was afraid of silence. I was afraid of what I might face if I stopped. Really truly stopped. And yet I wanted to stop.

    The most profound way I stopped—the way that made me never fear stillness again—was to attend a 10 day silent meditation retreat. It was a Vipassana meditation retreat at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Marin, California. I had a clear strong message that I should go. On some level, a soul level perhaps, I knew I needed it. And so I signed up, months before the actual event.

    When the retreat rolled around, I was scared. I questioned why I’d ever signed up and could think of lots of better things to do with my time. Whatever made me think I could just stop and go sit in silence for 10 days. Why wasn’t I going to Italy? Or Spain? Or Greece? Or Hawaii? Why was I going to Marin to do something I would surely fail at?

    I was no stranger to meditation. I’d spent four years living in an ashram in my late teenage years and early twenties. I had slipped in and out of Buddhism and meditation practice for years, always as a dilettante. But this was the real thing. Ten days of silence. And I determined that if I was going to go, I was going to stick to the rules.

    I ended up with my own tiny room and unpacked my things. Each day there were meals—oh how we dreamed about those meals. What would they be serving for lunch? How many servings of dessert could I get? Would they have those blueberry muffins again? Would it be tahini dressing today or curried pineapple?

    Each day, we had cycles of sitting meditation, walking meditation, and daily yoga. Ever ytime I sat, my muscles would immediately knot up and I would either fall asleep or my mind would start racing. I would immediately be sure I was a meditation failure and curse myself for attending. And yet I was determined to see it through.

    The first three days I wallowed in every negative feeling I had ever felt before. And yet I did not perish. And every feeling, when explored, when accepted, when looked at with curiosity, simply changed. They always changed. I learned that I could bear anything—and that everything passes away. New feelings, new thoughts, new obstacles arise.

    And as my mind and body slowed, I began to experience on the edge of my awareness stillness. I began to feel connected beyond the edges of my body—my skin—into the greater world. I felt connected to the other breathing, snoring, smelly, suffering exultant humans in that room. I felt connected to the deer families who lived on the hillsides and darted in and out of the woods. I was connected to the trees and the bushes, the rocks and the broad, vast sky.

    And I didn’t have to be afraid of what lived inside me anymore. All I had to do was keep breathing and moving deeper into that place of stillness and connection.
    And then there was joy. And compassion. And love for my small “s” self and all the people in the room and all beings everywhere.

    And each day of the retreat, this expanding consciousness kept growing, woven in amongst the sleepiness and the obsessions about meals and the fantasies about the meditator sitting across the hall—all of it just mindstates and emotions arising and passing away.

    Despite the many discomforts—physical, mental and spiritual—during those ten days, I could feel myself opening and relaxing, coming into an awareness of the fact that I no longer had to be afraid…or me, of anything, of stopping all the doing.

    And so I went back. And went back. And now it has been years since I have sat a retreat, but writing this, I think, it’s time to go back.

    • Tony del Zompo says

      “tis better to stop then be stopped…” i never knew this about you, laura. your opening paragraph was compelling. i’d love to chat about this with you some time. oh, and i think ten days of silence would cause my head to combust.

    • Hazel says

      Maybe I should get some information about this from you Laura, as I am one of those people who cannot just stop and sit and be still without fidgeting and feeling guilty.

      In this piece you have done a good job of taking us through your discomfort into serenity. And, I love the conclusion: “And so I went back. And went back. And now it has been years since I have sat a retreat, but writing this, I think, it’s time to go back.”

    • Nancy Schoellkopf says

      I love this line: “I felt connected to the other breathing, snoring, smelly, suffering exultant humans in that room.” This sums it up for me–so full of compassion, empathy and praise.

    • Polly says

      This piece resonated with me earlier this week in a way that I couldn’t comment right away. You identified a fear that I haven’t overcome yet but I think it’s time I did. My therapist wants me to go on stress leave from work, my gut tells me she’s right, but I am so afraid to stop everything even for a couple of weeks. Thank you for demonstrating that it’s possible to slow down and that it can be beneficial. It seems like everything is pointing in that direction. Still scared, but I might be willing to try.

    • beverly Boyd says

      At one time Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s book, “Gift From the Sea” was the scariest book I ever read! The concept of spending two weeks alone no matter how beautiful the surroundings felt way too vulnerable. I reread her book recently and loved it! Today I am trying to see if I can spend a few extra days at a location where I am going to a gathering in a couple weeks so I can be alone and write!
      Yay!

      • says

        Beverly, that’s where I am right now. I’m leaving to go to Bali to teach in June, but going a couple of weeks early. In the midst of those two weeks, I’ve set aside some days where I will be alone in Bali with no set place to be or to stay. It really scares me to do that–I’ve never done anything like that before, but something inside me wanted to push past my comfort zone and become a more adventurous traveler. Wish me well…

        • beverly Boyd says

          So glad you are showing up to push your boundaries to be an EVEN MORE adventurous traveler. I certainly wish you well and will be thinking about you on you new journey!

          • says

            Thanks Beverly, you’re right, I have been adventurous, but I have this pocket of anxiety that gets in my way. I’m just going to have to have an ongoing conversation with it as I take these new steps.

    • Terry Gibson says

      Laura, I found this really interesting. I would do something like this in a minute, although I’d be afraid of myself and my worst mind states. I like growing, however, so will always push that extra bit for it. I love what you’re doing in Bali too. Good one, woman! Your family and friends must be so proud of you! :)

    • Ilana says

      Laura- For me this clearly illustrated the power in sitting through the discomfort, adjusting and finally get something really great out of the experience. I have seen it a few times in these past several months. I’d even go as far as saying that, at times, it was a spiritual experience. Thank you for writing so beautifully about it. IM

    • Licia Berry says

      This reminds me of going on Vision Quest, something I’ve been doing solo for years. Not the Hollywood-ized, New Age version, but a modern woman/wife/mom taking herself out of her life and going somewhere alone without a plan, putting herself in the hands of the universe for the purpose of cleansing and ritual, and to know in the silence of her heart how she can be of service.

      I’ve been doing them for many years, actually since I was a child (I’m 48 now)…I value the alone time, am delighted with it. It’s only then that I can feel myself as one of the pulses of the heartbeat of life. I remember a period of time when I was afraid of being alone, and it was when I was the farthest from my center. I guess I’d gotten caught up in the game of my life and forgettn to stay with a finger on that tether to my soul that lets me know the fish is still on the line. :)

      I cured that by going on Vision Quest for 10 days in the desert. The drive across the country was astonishing; I met characters straight out of Carlos Casteneda novels, including a man with a vibrating face, spy ravens, and an white haired angel on a police motorcycle who mouthed to me to slow down as I barreled down the highway at 90 miles an hour. The result of that journey was a tremendous breaking open of the dam in my heart and the resulting flood of tears, and the quiet reinstatement of my center as the thread of my life.

      I hope you have a wonderful time in Bali…may you be tender with yourself in those moments you feel your wings beating against the cages in your own mind, and may you experience the relief and joy when you realize there are no cages. :)
      xo
      Licia

  9. beverly Boyd says

    For years I’ve had three strategies that have gotten me through most fearful situations:
    “Feel the Fear and do it anyway.” Long before hearing the ‘new age’ idiom, this was one of my main life principles.
    “Look at the statistics” Usually they were in my favor. i.e the number of fatalities on the road didn’t deter my driving. After all look at the vastly larger number of people every day who weren’t in an accident at all, let alone fatal. Or the fact that we lived a block away from the Connecticut Turnpike where the Boston Stranger had been seen the day didn’t necessarily make it likely that he would commandeer our house as a safe haven.
    “Get more information” and take any precautions necessary.

    Sometimes I didn’t have a choice. More than once in my life as a navy wife this was the case.

    In October 1962 when the Cuban crisis broke, we were in Hawaii. The Remora, my husband’s submarine had just returned from three months Aleutian patrol. The next weekend they had gone to Maui for “R and R” (Navy lingo for Rest and Relaxation) for the crew. Monday the boat returned to port for two weeks dockside availability for the shipyard to take care of some maintenance. A piece of the deck and one of the engines was removed for repair.

    That afternoon or the next morning the word of a serious confrontation between the US and Russia was announced. The US had set up a blockade they called “a quarantine” in response to Russian actions to create and arm missile bases in Cuba. Russia objected on the grounds that it was in international waters. The “cold war” had heated up.

    The US did not want another Pearl Harbor so all ships that could get underway were ordered immediately out of port. The shipyard was on a twenty-four hour schedule to make any of the ships in port for minor repairs ready to get underway.

    The crew of the Remora was on alert. All leaves were cancelled. All men had to be available by phone at all times so they could report to the ship in two hours. The fact that he was home did not mean my husband would be there to take care of his family. His duty was to be where the Navy needed him. This was all still top secret and we were not to tell anyone that these measures were being taken.

    In addition to the regular responsibilities that we had, my husband’s duties on his ship, or “boat” as submariners prefer to call it, and mine at home taking care of three children under three there were preparations that had to be made for the sudden deployment when it came.

    Even though I knew that Castro’s missiles weren’t capable of reaching Pearl Harbor, I was afraid of secondary attacks and escalation of the hostilities, possibly even into a third world war. We were living in one of the prime strategic areas of defense. Would we have to evacuate? Where would we go? Did I have the supplies I needed to pile my three children into our 58 VW for who knew how long? Would I ever see my husband again? If we had to leave would he be able to find his wife and children after whatever happened was over?

    Some of these fears were irrational I knew, but I didn’t want to worry my husband by telling him. I wanted him to have confidence that his family was in good hands; that I was up to the job.

    After a couple of days the call came and early on the third morning we were on the way to the pier to see him off. At the entrance to the submarine base was an old Regulus missile on the triangular lawn in front of the office. As we came to the intersection I noticed that a crew was taking it down.

    “Oh, my God,” I thought. “This is so bad they are taking down that old missile to put a warhead in and use it!”
    Unfortunately, I did not say anything to my husband. I did not want to worry him with my worry.

    The next week the missile reappeared with a new coat of paint!
    It never occurred to me that some people might be up to business as usual; that the routines of maintaining the less strategic aspects of base life would still be happening. Not everyone’s life was suddenly focused on the nation’s crisis.

    If I had told him, he might have laughed. He certainly would have assured me that even though the situation was serious there were much better missiles than the old one decorating the lawn of Submarine Base entrance. At least one of my fears was a story I had told myself!

    The crisis lasted for thirteen of the most memorable and fearful days of my life.

    • Nancy Schoellkopf says

      I love your story, Beverly–for both its personal and historical references. Very poignant and brave.

    • says

      Love you story, Beverly. It makes me realize how sheltered I’ve been in terms of big historical events like this. I was really captured by these lines: “Even though I knew that Castro’s missiles weren’t capable of reaching Pearl Harbor, I was afraid of secondary attacks and escalation of the hostilities, possibly even into a third world war. We were living in one of the prime strategic areas of defense. Would we have to evacuate? Where would we go? Did I have the supplies I needed to pile my three children into our 58 VW for who knew how long? Would I ever see my husband again? If we had to leave would he be able to find his wife and children after whatever happened was over?

      Some of these fears were irrational I knew, but I didn’t want to worry my husband by telling him. I wanted him to have confidence that his family was in good hands; that I was up to the job.”

      Thanks for the great story and the history lesson!

      • Hazel says

        Thank you for sharing this story.

        We don’t often think about the wives of service men but we should. The “keeping up appearances” they have to do, with all those fears and questions, is very hard. No wonder you were concerned when you saw the old missile being taken down.

        Thank you for your service!

    • Judy says

      Beverley, Thank you for this powerful and well written account your experiences during the Cuban Missile Crisis. What wonderful family history you have given many generations to come. I feel strongly that your bravery and that of all military spouses should be candidates and awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

    • beverly Boyd says

      Thank you for your responses. Fortunately it was probably the scariest period of my “career” as a military wife. It is amazing what we can go through by just showing up for what is in front of us!

    • Ilana says

      What an amazing story, Beverly- I have never known anyone in the armed forces but I have always appreciated what they do for us, from a far. Once, I saw a woman in fatigues and gathering my courage, walked up to her and thanked her. Most likely, she just wanted to be left alone to eat her dinner in peace but she allowed me to express my gratitude and it meant a lot to me to say thank you. Thank you for sharing a little of what it was like for you. IM

      • beverly Boyd says

        I’ll bet that most likely she was glad to take a break from her lunch to have someone thank her for her service. I hope we don’t forget the painful lesson we learned from the “Nam” vets who were so badly treated when they returned. Whether we agree with the war or not our military signed on to service our country in whatever way they are needed. You did a big service by letting her know your appreciation.

        • Ilana says

          I hope you are right, that she appreciated, rather than put up with, my expression of gratitude. Thank you for saying it. You are very right about what a mistake it was to mistreat the Vietnam vets. I could not have worded my feelings about that better than you did. IM

  10. Nancy Schoellkopf says

    Mulling over this prompt, trying to think of a fear I had overcome, I found myself drawing a blank. I’m still afraid of spiders and heights and tight closed in spaces. And I’ve still got even bigger fears like cancer and failure and dying alone. Then I thought of my encounter with the yellow jackets.

    One afternoon, just about a year ago, I was cleaning house when I happened to look into the back yard and saw a rapid stream flowing across the patio. Okay, that was unusual.

    I rushed outside, selfishly hoping that somehow this sudden gush was originating in my neighbor’s yard. I ran past my swimming pool and around the corner of the house. Water was bursting out of a broken pipe at the base of the pool’s filter. I opened up the control box attached to the side of the house and flipped a switch to turn off the filter. The water stopped. I stood there for a moment, adrenaline still pumping and a yellow jacket swooped down, lit on the back of my left hand and stung me.

    Oh my God! I’d had bee stings before, but nothing like this. This hurt like hell! Feeling a bit betrayed by the universe, I sauntered into the house and put a bag of frozen peas on my wound. Naively, I thought the wasp’s attack was unprovoked and coincidental.

    After my hand was sufficiently numb, I called a close friend who often helps me with household repairs. He assured me all would be fine until later in the week when he could assess the damage to the pipe. I was afraid the filter might come back on since it was on a timer, but he was convinced this was impossible. “You turned it off, right?”

    “Yes, but—“

    “Don’t worry about it!”

    The next day the filter did indeed come on, but I was ready when I heard it’s powerful hum. I’ll just run out and turn it off, I thought. So I scurried out through the puddles and reached over to flip off the switch. It was a lot harder to move that switch this time. Plus I didn’t hear the click I’d heard the day before. Was it really off? But the water had stopped, and—WHOA!! While I stood there contemplating the situation, a wasp flew right into the right lens of my glasses, bouncing off my bifocal. Jeez, louise!! I looked up: three or four more yellow jackets were circling around my head. Obviously they had a nest nearby—if not right in the control box. I high tailed it out of there.

    It’s off, I told myself; I’m sure the filter is off. But I wasn’t sure. It was a Sunday, and I didn’t want to have to call an exterminator and pay weekend rates—if I could reach anybody at all. I picked up a novel. I tried to relax. I read and re-read the first few pages. Then I heard the filter click back on. Oh, no. I stood and slid open the door to the back yard. I was greeted by the roar of rushing water. I approached the filter cautiously. The wasps were still circling. I took refuge on my deck. Hey, I thought, I’ll just turn off the water to the house. I removed slats from the deck to access the spigot. I turned and turned and turned and yet the water still gushed. Later I realized that the water wasn’t being piped in, it was coming from the pool and if I didn’t get the filter turned off, the water would continue till the pool was drained.

    I realized I had little choice. It was a hot day nearing 100 degrees, and I was hot flashing like crazy, but I knew what I needed to do. I put on long jeans, then tucked them into a pair of heavy socks and boots. I put on a sweatshirt and tucked the sleeves into my heavy canvas garden gloves. I put on my big new sunhat with the cord that fastened under my chin. I tucked a heavy knit scarf into the hat, then draped the scarf down to cover my neck and face. I left my eyes uncovered since I needed to see what I was doing, but I was confident my bifocals would protect me. I glanced at myself in the bedroom mirror. I looked like I was wearing a burqa.

    Thus attired I marched out to face the yellow jackets. I walked fast but deliberately through the deepening puddles. I opened the control box and I grasped the switch with gloved fingers. The water pressure made it resistant to any movement. I heard buzzing. Two yellow jackets bounced against my eyeglasses but they couldn’t find any exposed skin. I pulled on that tiny metal switch with both hands. Finally I heard a reassuring click. Praise God! I turned and splashed my way back to the sanctuary of my house. I stripped down to my underwear and drank a lot of ice water.

    On Monday, after a visit from the exterminator, my friend came over and fixed the broken pipe quickly and easily. He was astonished at my story and liberally praised my courage. I scoffed at that. I was just taking care of business.

    I can’t say that I’ve always been the one who stepped up when there was a hard job to do. But often, I guess, I did what I could when the need arose. When my father died suddenly after his first and only heart attack when I was a teenager, I pretended to have a grown-up’s poise at the funeral. I stood with my mother and brother at the mortuary, I greeted all the people I barely knew who had come to shake our hands, I said, “Thank you for coming.”

    When I wanted that first job out of college, I told them “oh, yeah, public speaking is no problem for me,” and then I made speech after speech despite my fear, so I could keep that job.

    Later, as a special education teacher, when one of my students was having a tantrum or an epileptic seizure, I was usually the one to embrace them and calm them down. It didn’t come naturally at first, but it got to be very easy.

    Have I overcome any fears along the way? I’m not sure. Sometimes I’ve had to put on armor and fight my fears as if they were yellow jackets. But I’m learning now to open my arms and befriend my fears instead. They’re still here, and we’re getting to know each other better.

    • says

      Nancy, it’s interesting, I used this as a prompt in my writing classes this week, and the conclusion I’ve come to with my students, is that most people don’t overcome their fears; they just learn to move forward despite them, as you describe so eloquently here.

    • Judy says

      Nancy, what a roller-coaster-ride of a story. The hairs on my arms were on- end. I could feel your growing frustration of water on, water off, but didn’t expect the pool draining. And, the image your attire as he headed out of the house–well, it brought on a nervous laugh. Love the story especially the last line ‘getting to know each other.’ Nice job. Thanks.

    • beverly Boyd says

      I loved the work pictures in your story. I could see you out there battling those yellow jackets with all the coverings of heavy clothes and scarves in 100 degree heat! Took a lot of common sense and guts! Bravo!

    • Ilana says

      Nice job, Nancy- Your narration of the yellow jacket story drew me in right away. I also liked the end, “We’re still getting to know each other.” That resonates with me as did the idea of “relaxing into fears doubts and pain.” In Judy’s piece. It is a strange thought for me but one I am getting to know better as I navigate my path to healing. Thank you for sharing your wisdom with me. IM

    • Polly says

      Nancy, as with other work you have posted here in the past, this was extremely vivid. I also liked the description of what you wore as you courageously marched back out past the pool. I enjoyed hearing your process as you thought on your feet. Very nicely done.

  11. Hazel says

    Nancy and Laura,

    Fear is there for a reason. It warns us that something is wrong, we need to pay attention. Sometimes it is a very real threat we must deal with immediately and sometimes we create fears by listening to the “paranoids”. This is a very interesting prompt and I wrote a different one after I posted here which was a list of fears that I have now. I’m sure this list is very different from one I might have made when I was younger. I was also surprised by how long it is. What I will do with it and about it I don’t know, most of the things I am just going to have to accept, others I may be able to do something about.

    Anyway, it is interesting.

    Thank you for sharing this story Nancy and raising some interesting questions.

    • says

      Hazel, I made a similar list with my students this week. I was happy with the list of “times I showed courage,” and discouraged at the core fears I still carry. But I am going to chip away at them one at a time, primarily by continually taking one small step at a time out of my comfort zone. And I agree with you, fear serves a very important role in our lives–an early warning system that alerts us to danger. The problem is when the danger is forty or fifty years in the past–and not current at all–and yet we limit our lives acting as if our lives are still in jeopardy.

  12. Judy says

    Tell me specifically how you overcame one of your fears.

    Overcoming my fears is a work in progress, an ongoing method of trial and error that includes trusting myself, my instincts, and building a great support team. It also helps to keep affirmations near my computer, on a peg board, in a diary, on the fridge, or wallet. Or as my Qi Gong teacher says, “Ask the question. Wait for the answer.” (Note: Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t)

    For many years, my fears centered on parenting and were greatly increased by low wages, lack of education, and being nearly 200 miles from my family. (Note: my choice be the way)

    Clearly, I was utterly unprepared for marriage and motherhood in my late teens and early 20s. The tip-off might have come from the doctor who delivered my first and said, “Well, there’s nothing like growing up with your kids.” I looked at him and said “What?” My husband just smiled.

    When our second son was born three years later, I was eager to nurse again, but had little success. One afternoon, a nun came into my room and said, “What’s this I hear, you’re not going to nurse. Shame on you.” To which I promptly replied, “Sister, when you nurse your first child, I’ll nurse my second.” (Note: it might have been the mommy hormones, fight or flight, or she really pissed me off)

    I was single during much of the boys’ early years and again during their teens. I worked full-time as an office manager for an international business magazine, was in college working on a B.A. in sociology, and felt exhausted most of the time. Life was a juggling act or a three ring circus. (Note: chaos later came to mind)

    In the mid-seventies, I took my two boys to a weekend holistic education retreat at Circle Pine Center, a camp started by the University of Chicago in the Michigan midlands during the depression of the ’30s. Only years later did I learn that my dear sons ditched the camp lunch one day, along with some other kids, in search of ‘their’ kind of lunch. While I had a tofu burger back at campsite, they had a Big Mac with cheese at the country club across the field from the retreat center. We laugh about it today.

    For years I dreamed of my sons as little boys, getting ready for school or sitting on rocks near Lake Michigan where we lived. Other moms have shared they often dream of their children fixed in an earlier time. (Note: Yeah
    Team Moms for sharing that one)

    When each of the boys turned 21, I gave them a photo album of their life with a family genealogy chart. Additionally, we’d share a burger and beer as I gathered the courage to say, “Guys, I just want to apologize for not always being ‘present’ and emotionally available to you during your early years.” They would look at me, smile and say, “What you are talking about?” Each continued with, “Oh and by the way, I really want to apologize for the times I……..” then followed a rather long list of stuff I never knew about. (Note: what fresh hell would that have been, to paraphrase Dorothy Parker)

    So what have I learned about fear? And how, specifically, have I faced it? Something like this but, not always: if you don’t look fear squarely in the face, have a chat with it, change the dialogue, fear will climb over your back and take over. But, by learning to relax into fears, doubts and pain–to give it over to a higher power, to guardians–there can be a wonderful shift in physical well-being, attitude, and the energy that flows through and around you, bringing the deep feeling of grace, increased confidence and the pleasure of the moment.

    But as I said, it’s a work in progress.

    • beverly Boyd says

      Judy, I loved your response to the Nun! “Sister, when you nurse your first child, I’ll nurse my second! It was the “come uppance” (spell check is going crazy with that one) and you gave it to her. High Five!
      Also loved the 21st birthday celebrations when your son’s confesser their long list. I think you need not to have worried about parenting. I think you seem to have done a fine job!

      • Judy says

        Beverly, when my sister read this she reminded me of our Nana’s words…”Lord keep one hand on my shoulder and the other on my mouth.”

    • Ilana says

      Judy- I really enjoyed reading this. Some of your fears, I shared and it was nice to get your perspective on them. I also enjoyed seeing you through the journey. The last paragraph was really great too. I like the picture of the fear walking over your back and taking over. I have learned to relax into pain and uncertainty, not letting it get the better of me. Fear, itself, I am still working on but it was a bit of a relief to read that it is possible. Thanks for sharing your story. IM

      • Judy says

        IM, thank you for the very kind and supportive words. It’s really a journey, isn’t it. Laura has a post on her FB page by Pema Chodron: “We think that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and then fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.”

        Blessed be and Happy Mother’s Day.

    • Polly says

      Judy, this was a fun read, and I feel like I learned some important lessons from you. Thank you for your honesty and your sense of humour. I have to say I got a kick out of reading your response to that nun, and your interactions with your boys.

      • Judy says

        Thank you, Polly. This story ended up being my Mother’s Day gift to my sons this weekend–both of whom are/and near 50 and added to their list …..did I tell you about the time…..

  13. Ilana says

    Changing The Story

    “I knew that if I allowed fear to overtake me, my journey was doomed. Fear, to a great extent, is born of story we tell ourselves, so I chose to tell myself a different story.” -Cheryl Strayed. The idea was not new to me. I had never put it into words but it was there; almost a living breathing thing. So slowly that I don’t even know when it happened this belief took up residence in the back of my mind. It was the first half of what gave me the courage to face down all of my fears. The other half was anger, white hot anger at all that Andrew M took away from me.

    All of my life I had been convinced that my fears were my fault. I was horrible, ugly and disgusting. My ridiculous fears were just another vile part of Ilana M. I owned them, identified with them and did penance for them through my intense self hatred. Challenging all of that is how I began to take away its power over me. How did I do it? With the truth. By changing the story, the lies, I’d been telling myself all those years, I finally saw the truth. After 37 years of denial I finally admitted to the incest, the brutal physical abuse and psychological torture that my brother inflicted upon me. It was not my fault. It was not deserved. Once I came to this realization I was able to get help.

    I started talking to people and I started learning. In talking to other survivors and working intensely in individual and group therapy, I saw that my fears were not my fault. None of them. Andrew began abusing me when I was no more than five years old. That little girl didn’t stand a chance against the havoc the abuse wreaked on her self image, her understanding of the world. It wasn’t her fault.

    Not my fault. Those words opened up so much for me. If it wasn’t my fault then I didn’t deserve it. If I didn’t deserve it then I had the right to change it. The whispers from the back of my mind got louder. I could conquer my fears by “telling myself a different story”. They beckoned to me gently, lovingly. ‘You can do this.’ They prodded, tenderly. ‘The story you’ve been telling yourself all this time, is wrong. You are strong and brave and you can do this.’ When I was ready my journey to conquering the fear began.

    The first step was to get angry. “I’m sure as hell not going to let that bastard take that away from me too!” I huffed to my husband. The second step was to change the story I was telling myself. I began with my fear of the kitchen. The mere idea of cutting vegetables for a salad made my chest tighten with anxiety. Actually preparing and cooking a piece of meat was unfathomable. I knew whatever I tried would blow up in my face. I’d have to throw out the ingredients and endure the shame of wasting good food, good food that anyone else could have made into an edible meal. I’d have to see the evidence of my inadequacy and see myself for the failure I was. The result would be unbearable shame and a new surge of self hatred.

    Nope, new story. If the meal was a complete disaster then I’d throw away the ingredients and tell myself, “Good first try.” Not a failure but a success at making an attempt. So, with my anger in one hand and my new story in the other, I picked out a simple recipe and went to work. I still didn’t trust myself, though. I was convinced of imminent failure but forced myself to try anyway. To my shock it worked! I was so excited that I stole a piece of the chicken, fresh out of the oven, to eat for my lunch. My family devoured the rest of it for dinner that night. Success!!! That was only the beginning. I graduated on to bigger and better recipes. Eventually, I started making up my own recipes. My favorite is one I like to call “I need to make some soup” chicken. I call it that because of the two step process involved in preparing it. First, I make the whole bird, serve it like that so everyone can see the beautiful golden chicken surrounded by onions, fresh garlic and other vegetables. Then I wrap the bones in cheesecloth add vegetables, spices and noodles, to make a perfect chicken soup. As my beloved sister-in-law says, “Yumm-eh!”

    Delighted by the success this recipe of anger and ‘new story’ yielded, I began applying it to my other fears. Afraid to travel alone because if I get lost no one will miss me; my husband is only a phone call away and he cares to hear that I’m okay. Afraid to fill out complicated paperwork because I’ll get it all wrong and mess things up; I will do it in advance, ask questions. Every one of my fears has been tested to some extent, some of them trampled into dust.

    I love Ms. Strayed’s quote. Although the idea was already whispering gently to me from the back of my mind, she put it into words for me. The reason it works is because those original stories could not have been more wrong. And the truth is, there’s no such thing as certain failure unless I’m too scared to try. Fear, for me a least, was always based on a story I told myself. Strength is the courage to challenge that story and find that it is absolutely untrue.

    • Judy says

      Ilana, thank you for sharing your story of courage, growth and the ability to discard old stories and create new ones. Love love love this line: ‘Every one of my fears has been tested to some extent, some of them trampled into dust.’ Be kind, gentle and forgiving of yourself. And, love that chicken soup recipe.

    • Polly says

      Ilana, this was inspiring as always. I love seeing the progress that you’ve made, and how you’ve gone about it. I rarely cook meals from scratch. I don’t drive. It gives me some hope to see that those things can be changed. I may not know you in “real life” but I am proud to call you my friend here. Thanks for posting this. You are a real beacon of hope.

    • Terry Gibson says

      Ilana, This is a story that grabbed me because I saw so much of myself in you. I am terrified to try new things; I am so certain I’ll mess everything I touch! With that a too constant companion, it’s hard to attempt anything. As with you, I had the opposite view sprouting within. You wrote this so well. I am so happy you continue to grow and progress.

  14. Ilana says

    I just want to salute this wonderful community and wish you all a very happy mother’s day. Whether you are a mother being celebrated, celebrating a mother in your life or both, enjoy the day. Ilana M

  15. Polly says

    I have been afraid of my own shadow for the better part of a year. Sometimes – literally – my shadow. Childhood fears have resurfaced. Now I am often afraid of the dark. Walking my dogs in the evenings can prove terrifying at times. Shapes seem to change and I find myself sprinting for blocks to escape some perceived danger. I invariably feel fear these days. It’s a constant. My amygdala is on overdrive. I feel like an animal in the wild trying to elude my predators. I wasn’t always this way.

    I just had one of my first good days in quite a while. I attended a family dinner with very few triggers. People talked about my brother and I didn’t have to leave the room. I was able to keep smiling, keep laughing at the family jokes. I came home, poured a glass of red wine, and watched a movie by myself while my wife slept. I wasn’t scared to sit alone in my living room. I didn’t panic. I didn’t have any intrusive thoughts about death. I stayed in the moment, and I felt peace.

    3 AM rolled around and I took my puppies to bed. I lay there, thinking thoughts of gratitude. Then in the midst of happy day dreams came an intruder. My brother’s hands began pushing down on my head and my neck. I felt physical pain. The pain moved to other parts of my body in waves of repetitive motion. I felt sick. I stayed with it, reminding myself that as a child I was never able to come through to the other side of an experience like that and be safe, and that now I could. I was horrified. I went through the motions of crying but no actual tears came through.

    When it was over, ‘little Polly’ appeared in my face again. A frown appeared that I recognize as a facial expression that adults simply don’t wear. I know when she’s here. “It’s okay,” I told her. “He can’t hurt you now. You’re safe. I’m here.”

    For the first time, I heard her reply. “Will the pain ever end?”

    “Yes. It ends. You grow up, and he stops. I’m here. I’ve got you. You’re safe.”

    I let her stay with me for a while. I wonder if anything negative can come from the little me being present when I go to sleep – this is the first time she has appeared in bed so late at night. I ask her to go back inside. I toss and turn for what feels like hours. Beyond exhausted, I see the sky begin to turn a light blue/grey. I fall asleep.

    • Terry Gibson says

      Polly, your story became so real I fought with you and felt an immediate constriction in my throat too. I am in awe of your strength when that voice or gut instinct wanted you to run through the scenario, to see it through to the end. The appearance of little Polly and your brief conversation with her was very touching, as was the sweet release of sleep under a freshly lit sky. Take good care of yourself.

      • Polly says

        Terry, that is very nice, thoughtful feedback. I can tell you have a lot of empathy and you really got what I was trying to say. Thank you.

      • Polly says

        PS Terry, I credit my amazing therapist with teaching me the merits of being able to stick with the experience when I’m safe to do so. Of course she has also given me the tools to slam on the breaks when I need to. Anyway, that is her genius at work :) thanks again.

    • Ilana says

      Polly- I enjoyed reading this piece. Congratulations on not only achieving a moment of piece but also appreciating it. Both are great victories. Much of what you talked about resonated with me and when “Little Polly” asked you “Will the pain ever end?” I saw “Little Ilana” sitting next to her, at a picnic table on a beautiful summer day. Little Ilana put her arm around Little Polly and said, “I don’t know for sure if it ever ends but the breaks become more and more frequent and complete. Whenever you’re hurting, though, you can always come here and sit with me. I will keep you company and you will be safe with me.” If it’s not to presumptuous of me, I’d like to make a safe little spot for both our girls, to come sit together and just be. At a picnic table under the gentle shade of the giant tree. I’ll see you there, if you accept my invitation. IM

      • Polly says

        Ilana, that is sweet, and adorable! Part of me is nervous about allowing her to have a “life of her own”, but I’m also intrigued. It’s a lot happier-sounding than the basement I sent her to in the pit of my stomach. I even have a clear visual of those girls. Hmmm. Yes, I’m intrigued.

    • says

      Polly, thanks for sharing this poignant part of your healing journey with us. I’m proud of you for sitting in that living room alone. People on the outside don’t know what we truly go through and how much courage it can take to get through a “simple” family dinner. Thanks for sharing your courage and your strength–and your vulnerability–here with us.

    • Judy says

      Polly, what strength and vulnerability you share in this story of your journey. Your telling was often painful to read but beautiful and uplifting as you described the breaking of dawn—a new day for the ‘dark night of the soul.’ Thank you for letting us ‘witness.’ So often I turn to ‘Women Who Run with the Wolves,’ Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Ph.D., to find the archetypes and deeply share experiences of growth and what it means to be human. Thank you Polly for sharing and to the Maidens, Mothers & Crones in us all!

      • Polly says

        Judy, with deep gratitude, thank you. I will have to look up that author. As an aside, I really like how well-read you are. It shines through in your posts and comments every week. On another level, thank you for your lovely feedback, and the kindness and sincerity I can feel when you comment.

        • Judy says

          Very kind words, Polly. Thanks you. Think you’ll enjoy the book. It’s a classic. I got a t-shirt at a book fair that said…..Soooo many books, Soooo little time! Ain’t it the truth.

  16. Terry Gibson says

    Why do I have so many fears? I guess that will not require a great intellectual leap. There is no need to dwell on it.

    I am afraid of heights, snakes, fire, cancer, never finding love again, finding love again, nightmares, and the hyper-self-critical part of my brain. The latter shakes me to the core, especially given other fears, which are real and consequential.

    I am afraid of the violence in the world; I fear for the next innocents who are hurt and killed by random or not-so-random attacks. I fear for their parents, sisters, brothers, grandparents, teachers, first responders—everybody out there. How must it feel to be enjoying a New Orleans Parade, all decked out for a Mother’s Day event, and then feel a bullet pass through their flesh? This reality of life is tough to accept or ‘get used to.’

    For many years, the thought of going outside was too much for me. I was certain some man would hurt me again, beat, burn or sexually assault me. A billboard could not yell ‘Easy Prey’ more effectively than anyone seeing me in the flesh could. I was garbage and loathed myself. I walked about while hanging my head, and obviously had no street smarts about me. I blew wherever a gust of wind landed me, or into whichever building a man yanked me. Trouble followed me every damned place I went.

    I’m afraid of the outcome should trouble find me again. What would I do? If I encountered a similar attack, in the heat of the scramble, I would make the decision, in the fight for my life. If he had a knife or gun, would I submit as Police tell women? Or would I claw, kick, and do everything possible to protect this body, my only home?

    When I mull over my life, I sometimes feel paralyzed and that I’ll never get rid of the post-traumatic stress. For instance, during my confused times, I am afraid of alienating and losing my friends. This is a worry because, as I struggle with my health, I get a bit jittery, my voice comes out with an edge I do not mean, and I am a bit jumpy overall. After I write and send an email to someone who really matters–especially if I am in the midst of a month long bad period—I find my words don’t reflect my real message. Since the first writing process did not help at all, I will try again to get it right.

    I will say what I am bursting to say, what I meant to say. I clarify anything that reflects my monkey mind playing tricks on me, express my apologies, laugh it out and start again. Most friends are wonderful! They know I struggle socially and that often the one-eighth of my brain that houses all the hatred, jealousy, sadism, self-entitlement, anger and ridicule spewed upon me, often runs the show. I carved many reminders of this upon my skin, which leads to more fears.

    I am afraid of the power of Passion, a bully named Reason, and where I found myself after arm-wrestling with both. This is what I am writing about today for my memoir. It is so painful, I am afraid I will never get through it. Who wants to dig into trauma when you would rather be swimming, chatting with friends, reading a new novel or planning a trip to Scotland for another of Laura’s always-mind-blowing writing retreats?

    I am afraid of my rage and seemingly endless emotional self-torture.

    I am afraid I will never figure out how to forgive myself. For what? Absolutely nothing! Yet my brain still computes in my sleep and pulls off two opposing functions. First, it demands I ease up on myself. Second, it incessantly runs a tape listing all of my so-called ‘sins.’ A long and detailed tribute to me.

    Please forgive my interject here but I must take note of something. There has been a significant shift here. Not once in thirty years, did I believe I did nothing WrOnG! Now I know that. I did nothing to deserve what they all flung at me while I was only a kid and later, a young woman.

    I am still afraid of snakes, heights and so much more. The thing is: none of this has destroyed me yet. There was a day years ago when it suddenly dawned on me that I was a fearful person. Slowly but surely, I got it; I can be shaking so badly in face of a fear but I can still do it! Ideally, I can still confront those things. I work so hard to do this and do it to some degree every day now. I am proud of this because it re-familiarizes me with my unflappability, which is the different story I tell myself to heal.

    ****
    I stayed up all night doing this. I am too exhausted to tweak it, find better wording, check its coherence, and overall message. But it reflects my muddled thoughts at 5 am after planning to sleep at midnight.

    • Ilana says

      Terry- This is beautifully written. I felt like you took me on a journey through your story and I understood all the things I saw along the way. I know it is not always helpful for someone else to say, “You aren’t weak. You are strong and wonderful.” I, personally, have come up with a million ways to deflect the positives people give to me. Still, for my own part I reserve the right to see you as a strong, passionate and lovely creature. This world so so fortunate for your strength, that we didn’t lose you and all your beauty to the assaults you have suffered. Take care of yourself, my friend. IM

      • beverly Boyd says

        Terry,
        I don’t want for a minute to ask you to deny the truth of the feelings you express here. That is not helpful in your recovery, I know.
        The Terry I know, through the pages of this blog, through your responses to the prompts and to others shares, is strong, supportive, passionate and compassionate… an altogether amazing woman I wish I have the pleasure of meeting personally one day. Keep up the good work!

        • Terry Gibson says

          Beverly, thanks. I wish the feelings I depict here weren’t real. Unfortunately, they are. I know it stands in stark contrast to the usual me. Your words are so appreciated too. Who knows? Maybe one day we will meet. I would so enjoy meeting you as well! I learn a lot from you.

      • Terry Gibson says

        Thanks Ilana. Still working it. It’s harder work than even I expected but as long as there’s breath, there’s hope. I don’t know if I just appropriated someone’s quote. “Not intentionally,” I throw out to the Goddess.

    • says

      Terry, you rock! I hope this litany, getting it out of our body and mind and on to the page, and sharing it here and having us welcome whatever you say–I hope that helps relieve the burden just a little. You name so clearly what so many others are afraid to even begin to acknowledge. Your honesty is clearing a path for healing–for you–and others you may never even know about.

      • Terry Gibson says

        Thanks Laura! It does help a LOT. At least, with the two sides of me locked in a filibuster, I will have no problem channelling a different point of view from my happy, excited, always ready to go, motivated self. In fact, I am cocky in saying, “I’ve got that one clinched!” :) I could never, ever say ‘Thank you’ enough to satisfy the love and gratitude I feel inside on the myriad ways you, David, The Writer’s Journey, and this amazing community have helped me enrich my life! Will give you a huge hug when I see you, which is really soon now.

    • Judy says

      Terry, yes, you named it all—those things I and perhaps other are fearful to express. Thank you for your honesty, compassion, understanding and ability to write with clarity. And, here’s to you having a really good night’s sleep.

      • Terry Gibson says

        Thank you Judy. I will sleep well. I could crawl in now but decided to stay up longer than most seven year olds. Exercising my adult privileges, of course. Oh my, some of us will say anything to feel like a grownup. Didn’t work this time either. :))

    • Polly says

      Terry, in terms of the language alone, I love this: “I am afraid of the power of Passion, a bully named Reason, and where I found myself after arm-wrestling with both.” I don’t know if I could match this after being rested, coherent (it happens), with a venti 5-shot long pour americano in hand, and you did this exhausted with insomnia. I am impressed. All the way through this piece was so well done.

      As for the message, I was with you the entire time. I understand those fears, I share some, and you wrote it in an honest and powerful way. Thank you.

      • Terry Gibson says

        Thanks Polly! I like hearing your views. Appreciate ‘em. Not sure how I did that all nighter either.
        Anyway, I need to make an edit here. Please change “I was garbage … ” to “I believed I was garbage.” That rings truer to me in the cool light of morning after a sleep. And it reminds me that that is not my view today, even with considerable bad periods.

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