I think one of the wisest things a sponsor told me was wen I asked him what my recovery should look like after about 10 years sober and two trips through the Steps. “Just keep facing your fears and moving through them,” is what he said.
So simple, so hard, so … helpful.
Right now I am traveling around England, going to soccer games for a book I plan to write. And boy, talk about “stuff” coming up! And by stuff, of course I mean fears. It’s like a fear festival on the road: I’m afraid to sound like a fool when I don’t know how things work, afraid to ask for help, afraid of crowded streetcars, afraid the whole book idea is a joke, afraid I’ll screw it up, afraid some “real writer,” will do it while I’m working on it, afraid I’ll go broke, afraid the other fans at the game will resent my ignorance – afraid, afraid, afraid!
In some ways, I am doing well at moving through this stuff. I came on the trip, I’ve had good experiences, I’ve been willing to ask for help, and at times I’ve just turned to the person next to me and said, “Hi, I’m visiting from America, and I’ve never been here before.” I don’t know why I’m so surprised when people respond with welcoming kindness, but my fear is a pretty powerful thing.
I do get paralyzed by it, though. Sometimes I can’t decide if I should be out exploring the town, making notes, writing blog posts, doing some other kind of work, planning the rest of the trip, or what – and I wind up just sitting there, locked into my head – by the fear that whatever I choose will be the wrong choice!
But if you follow that fear back, don’t you always wind up in the same place? It’s basically a fear of being rejected by other people, then dying alone and your life meaning nothing. Seems like that’s the Ultimate Fear, at least in my head.
And yet … I’m not alone! And everybody else seems to think I’m doing some pretty cool stuff. Sometimes I do, too. And at least I’m trying. Besides, what’s this idea that there’s a Right Way to do something, or everything, or life itself? At some point (around Steps 6 and 7) aren’t we supposed to evaluate our thoughts, beliefs and actions to see how they’re working for us? Doesn’t our book say that the difference between a character defect and character asset is their effectiveness in helping us lead clean, spiritual lives?
So, when I look at these fears, how are they working for me? This basic fear that there’s a Right Way To Do It, I’m screwing up, and I’lldie alone … what’s that really doing, other than holding me back? And hell, is it really holding me back? I mean, I’m right here, doing my life! If anything, my attachment to the fear is the drag on my progress. The fear will probably always be there, but what if I accept it, then move through it? Sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly, sometimes poorly, sometimes as simply as saying “Can I have some help” or just “Hi, I’m new.”
A final story about fear. Once, in college, I took a PE course that involved jumping off the 10-meter diving platform. That would be 33 feet into a pool. Of course, I was terrified, and I think others were, too. But each person, having jumped, was ecstatic – not just to survive without injury, but they had clearly enjoyed it. Now, you might think the rest of us would see that reaction and immediately lose all fear, right? Of course not! We (well, I) came up with stories like, “They enjoyed it because they’re cool, but I’m going to die because I’m a fool.” Or, even more insidious, “I’ll probably screw it up and land wrong and look like an idiot or hurt myself.”
Eventually, my turn came, I was utterly and completely freaked out with fear, and then I realized it’s just one step – off – and then do your best. In this case, that meant keep your legs straight and head upright, so hitting the water doesn’t hurt. I was just fine, and it was awesome. Most of us went back up and did it again!
And so it goes with fears: It’s really just one step, with faith, keeping the basic plan in mind. And the reward is pretty much always the same: Relief, joy, growth, and a realization that it was all just in our head, all along.