Moving Through Fear

A while back I had a funny story that I’ve shared in meetings here and there.

I had recently broken up with Woman A. At the same time I first met her, I had met Woman B, and I had a crush on her. A knew this … hell, B knew this. I asked her out when we first met, and she said no. Then I dated A, and B was still around sometimes as a chum. (Still with me?) So then A and I broke up, and I met C, whom I also wanted to date. We had been on a date or two when the following happened.

One day I was scheduling a breakfast as a research trip for my book, and I put the word out to all my usual “Breakfast Crew.” There’s like 25 of them, but guess who were the only three people who said yes? That’s right, Women A, B, and C. And I started to completely freak out. What would they think? Would A know I was into C? Would A still be upset about my interest in B? Does B think I’m a loser? Would C know that A was my ex? Would they all decide I was an asshole?

Well, that’s it right there. Last time I did a Fifth Step, my sponsor said, “Gee, sure is a lot of worrying about what other people think in here.” And he was right. Goes back to childhood, always seeking approval and thinking I don’t deserve it. And here came what I perceived as a crisis along those lines.

So I told the same sponsor about the breakfast deal, and when he got done laughing (he was like that), he just asked me a very simple question: “What would a person without fear do in this situation?”

And to that, the answer was pretty darn simple: He’d go to breakfast.

Here I was, taking responsibility in advance for what everybody was gonna think, and how they would feel, and their judgment of me, and here I was, letting them define me … negatively, of course. All of that was in my head!

So I went to the breakfast. I was nervous as hell, and I covered up the nervousness by talking a lot, cracking a lot of jokes, and occasionally steering the conversation away from uncomfortable topics. In other words, I went to controlling behavior and a superficial display of “okay-ness.” So I got to learn something else about myself there; those are way old behaviors!

I thought about this tonight because I was listening to Kurt Swensen’s podcast (episode #136) and he told a story about going years without a dental visit because he’d had a traumatic one in his youth and was afraid of dentists. Then he went to one, copped to being nervous, and got help from the dentist in healing it.

That story froze me in my tracks, because I haven’t been to the dentist in years, either. But in my case it’s not because I had a bad visit that stuck with me; it’s because … ready? It’s because I’m afraid of what the dentist will think! Or maybe it’s more that I’m afraid he’ll have an attractive young female assistant, and what will she think? I hardly floss, I probably have cavities, I may need work (which brings up money fears), I’m overweight, and gosh, what will they think?

So I can stay in that fear, and keep avoiding self-care, or I can accept what ‘s going on, and open myself up to some help. Maybe avoid greater pain along the way. As my sponsor likes to say, You can be quite uncomfortable briefly or real uncomfortable for a long time.

So I thank Kurt for the reminder. I appreciate that he said we can do these things with fear, but also with courage, and with the acceptance that this is what we’re hear to work on. That fear of non-acceptance, of being cast out, is what I’m here to heal.

So I’ll go see the dentist, I’ll probably crack a lot of jokes, and I’ll try to be grateful for whatever comes up.

Check out: KurtSwensen.com.

Paul Gerald

I am the author of several books on hiking, camping, eating breakfast and chilling out. I am also a freelance travel writer, publisher, hiker, and inveterate traveler.

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