"Fear gets its power from our not looking, at either the fear or what we're afraid of."
~Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening
Two weeks after D-Day #1, my mother was hospitalized with a lung infection. She had COPD thanks to years of smoking so this lung infection quickly became critical and she slipped into a coma. Doctors gathered us at her bedside and told us to think hard about whether we wanted her on life support or "do not resuscitate". Alone with her not long after, I whispered in her ear. "Not now, Mom. I need you. You can't die now."
Her doctor laughingly called it a "miracle". "We thought she was a goner," he said. But while she was relieved to have emerged from the coma, she was also terrified. "It was so dark," she told me. Though she had a strong religious faith, she became terrified of dying. Not of death, she told me, but of dying. My mom, however, had never met a fear she wasn't willing to stare down. So she began talking about this fear. To her doctors, to her minister, to her family. Her doctors assured her that, if she was suffering, they had ways to minimize that. Her minister assured her that she believed God would be there to meet her. Our family assured her that we would do what we could to ensure that she wasn't suffering and advocate on her behalf.
Six months later (three weeks after D-Day #2 for those keeping track of just how hellish this time was me), she slipped into a coma for a second time. This time, I whispered in her ear that if she was ready to go, I was ready to let her go. But, I told her, "I will miss you every day for the rest of my life."
She died a few hours later. It was peaceful and beautiful and it felt like a privilege to witness her passing.
And it also taught me something valuable.
About fear. And our response to fear.
She began by naming her fear. Not death. Dying. We can't underestimate the power of naming what we're afraid of, nor can we battle something that we can't name.
And then she gathered those around her who could help her dissect this fear -- to address each aspect of it. She was the one who did the hard work of wrestling with it. She was the one awake at 3 a.m. thinking it through. But she felt surrounded by those invested in supporting her.
What are you afraid of?
So many of us feel terrified after a partner's betrayal. My fear was being abandoned, which, I've come to learn, wasn't so much a fear based on current reality as a knee jerk reaction to long-ago issues with my dysfunctional family. It took a lot of time and therapy to face down that fear and come to a place where I feel confident in my ability to be "abandoned" and be just fine.
A whole lot of us fear making the wrong choice about staying or going. We fear going through this pain again. We fear being duped. We fear that we can't trust ourselves. The list is, no doubt, long.
But as long as those fears remain nebulous, as long as they drift just out of reach, they will remain terrifying. They will feel like a threat.
But if you nail each one down as best you can, if you gather those around you who can help you dissect them and really determine how realistic your fear is, you can eliminate a whole lot of them.
Fear of being abandoned? Well...what would that look like? Painful sure. But what does it really look like? You would have been left by someone who doesn't value you enough to stay. That stings. But, to an outsider, you just escaped someone who doesn't value you enough to stay. That's...a good thing. The fear, I suspect, is more around what you're telling yourself. That you aren't loveable. That you aren't worthy. That you aren't good enough. And that's entirely different than being abandoned. That's you abandoning yourself. And you can do something about that.
Maybe your fear is rooted in being "wrong" for staying. Well, what does that look like? How can you prepare yourself for that possibility in a way that reduces the logistical issues. See a lawyer perhaps and determine what position you're in should you separate? Think through your finances? Get a therapist to help you create a system of transparency so that you'll know sooner than later if he's cheating? In other words, create a plan.
What I'm advocating is having the courage to stare down your fear. To name it and to refuse to let it control you. To wrestle with it.
To take away its power. And realize that the power is yours.
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