Fear and drinking
There’s something about a drink problem that twists all our emotions and makes the unpleasant ones dominant in us. Especially fear. We seem to take fear to a whole new level, much more than ordinary people do. It’s like I was born frightened and my whole life has been a reaction to the fear. None of my fears were real, they were always imagined — but they seemed real to me and they followed me wherever I went. It was like a cancer of the mind, spreading and destroying everything in its path.
When I was drinking, my fear crippled me. I lived in blind terror every day. Everything was frightening for me. Other people terrified me. I felt so worthless in their eyes and was sure they would see any minute what a despicable human being I was and discard me. At any given time I couldn’t really explain what I was frightened of. I just knew that I was scared. It ate me up inside. I would try to act as if it wasn’t there, try to ignore it, but it would come back stronger.
Some days it felt like I could barely breathe because the fear was crushing me. It made me feel sick. I struggled to find different ways to cope with it. Alcohol, of course, numbed it briefly. I tried to ask for help, but I couldn’t find the words that would make someone take me seriously.
Fear as a universal experience
Fear is a universal experience. Everybody feels fear. It’s just that very few of us talk about it.
If we do talk about it, it’s at a superficial level. People rarely open up about what they’re really scared of, which is extraordinary, because we’re all scared of more or less the same things:
· Being vulnerable.
· Other people.
· Not being good enough.
· Not being loved.
· Speaking in public.
· What other people think of us.
· Someone seeing who we really are.
· People laughing at us.
· Looking stupid.
· And … other people finding out we’re frightened!
How many did you recognize? All of these are fears I have had at one time or another.
There are, of course, many more. This is an example of the core fears most people have to some degree, but are least able to speak about. I would boil these fears down two dominant ones:
· I’m not good enough, and therefore
· I won’t be loved.
It is my belief and experience that these two fears exist inside everyone at some point. It is part of our human experience. As someone with a drink problem I was also the least equipped to deal with these fears. I used alcohol to numb and couldn’t think beyond that.
Facing up to fear
The first step is to be honest with yourself and admit your fear. Facing up to our fears is ironically much easier than we think.
I’m going to let you in to a little secret that may possibly change your life. If it doesn’t, at least it will make you feel a little more comfortable:
Everyone else is frightened too! Everyone.
Whenever you’re frightened because you’ve been pushed out of your comfort zone and you’re doing something different, everyone else around you is probably feeling the same way. But because we are so used to hiding it, we look around us and think we are the only one feeling this way. In Britain, where I come from, we have this tradition of a “stiff upper lip,” which effectively translates as “never, under any circumstance, show how you really feel.” Now this may be a necessary policy in some situations, but more often than not it has led to our pretending not to feel what we actually feel. Ever.
The goal of recovery is to recognize when we are frightened and examine further what the fear is about. Is it real? Is there any evidence to support it? Can we talk to someone about how we feel? These are simple but life-saving tools.
There is really only one way to deal with fear and that is to face up to it, to understand you are going to feel it and move forward anyway. It’s a paradox; the only way over it ist hrough it. In sobriety your fears will become manageable leaving you free to finally become the person you were always meant to be.
If you want to learn new tools to overcome fear then please join me and Chip Somers in the Soberful Life program. You can find details here.