Monday, February 9, 2015
After Betrayal: Facing Down Fear
"Everything I want to do lies on the other side of fear."
She was referring to people who fear whitewater rapids or climbing shear rock faces or jumping out of planes.
But she was also, whether she knew it or not, talking about me.
Everything I want to do lies on the other side of fear.
How true is that for you?
Would you leave him if you weren't afraid of being alone? Afraid of the impact of divorce on your children? Afraid of the financial hit you'd take? Afraid of what people would say? Afraid you'd never find someone to love you again?
Would you stay and work it out if you weren't afraid he'd cheat again? Afraid that you'll never be able to forgive him? Afraid that if people knew he had cheated, they would think you're a doormat? Afraid that you'll never get past the pain?
Fear drives many of our choices in life. But are they truly "choices" if they come from a place of fear?
Is it a "choice" to stay in a miserable marriage or is it inertia?
Is it a "choice" to leave if we're afraid to deviate from a cultural script whereby women who are cheated on are expected to toss the bum out?
Fear is an impulse, a way to avoid judgement or anger or loneliness.
Fear is avoidance.
Most of us have become adept at pretending we don't have fears.
We can sometimes admit macro fears – losing our child or parent, getting a terminal diagnosis.
But can we also admit the micro fears? That we're afraid of opportunity because we might fail? That we're terrified of being alone? Of rejection? Can we face our deepest fear – that we're unloveable?
We rage at a partner's betrayal. But what is that rage really but a fear of abandonment? A deep fear of being found unworthy? We are social beings. Feeling rejected is tantamount to fearing for survival.
Betrayal triggers so many of these micro fears, this tiny voice that whispers our secret: that we're not good enough.
These fears are real. And we must examine them if we're to find what's on the other side.
Instead, we dismiss them. We rationalize them. We hide them.
We can't, however, eliminate them except by pulling them into the light and exploring them. Turning them over and discovering that what we most fear is what everyone fears. It's part of being human. And that by acknowledging that, fear loses its power over us. Our more rational brain can then make choices rooted in our values instead of acting on impulse. A dark impulse.
I mentioned in a recent post that my daughter is struggling with OCD. In the past few weeks, I've felt completely on edge. Furious. It's not like me to feel such free-floating anger. I decided our world was stupid and cruel (I mean, c'mon. ISIS? WTF?). I hated everyone who seemed to be blithely going on with their lives – shopping, driving to work, planning vacations.
I snapped at my kids. Barked at my dogs to shut up. I was an absolute bear.
And then, when my daughter was having an OCD episode (her first in seven days! Yay!), it hit me. Though I know realistically that we're handling this well, have great support and all indications are that she'll emerge from this wiser and stronger, I'm nonetheless terrified because I remember all too well my mother's stays in a locked psychiatric ward. My anger isn't really about ISIS and animal cruelty and idiots who cut me off in traffic (though...seriously? This world needs a makeover). My anger is the outward face of my abject terror that my daughter is slipping down a dark hole.
It's a long-held fear (based on childhood experience) that mental illness will take away someone I love.
It's not, however, a rational one.
What's on the other side of fear?
Hope is on the other side. Realistic hope that we're all learning from this. That it's making us more attuned to our daughter's struggles, and also to the struggles that so many people experience around mental health issues.
A better me is on the other side of fear. A me who recognizes that I can't control other's behaviours. That there are many things I can't change.
A life lived more consciously and gratefully is on the other side of my fear.
What's on the other side of yours?