Fear is a 4 Letter Word

FEAR is a great acronym. It stands for F Everything And Run or Face Everything And Recover. The choice between those options determines what is possible for us. We can run, we can hide, we can battle endlessly with ourselves or we can seek support and manageable strategies to overcome that which binds us.

We in recovery maintain scorecards of our lives – our successes and our failures. We see with varying amounts of clarity where the wheels came off the bus and how it impacted us then…and now. We see that things would have/could have/should have been so much different. The cards we’re dealt, the bed we made, the choices and mistakes…all of these put us on a path. Our fears create tunnel vision, which dictates that we’re either moving forward or backward. The idea of changing paths overwhelms us. We’re searching for redemption and transformation as frantically as the gambling addict who just wants to break even.

Before recovery we lived on the surface of things because we feared delving deeper and discovering what we must do to change our lives. The lousy thing about discovering the truth is that once you know it – you can’t not know it. It’ll eat at you as you procrastinate. It’ll tie you up in knots because no matter what you busy yourself with you know that you’re just maintaining distractions instead of getting to it. Knowledge creates responsibility.

We may have great integrity where others are concerned but we are not fully accountable to ourselves. We ask for advice because we know the truth and it terrifies us. We’re looking for people to tell us what we want to hear and collude in our bullshit. When we’re afraid we do our best rationalizations. We can give you at least 100 compelling reasons why we can’t possibly do the things we need to do. We will go to any extreme to avoid fear – we prefer self persecution, anger, being a martyr, self abuse, and championing the causes of others.

Trying to stop a person who is earnestly in recovery from helping someone they care about is like stepping in front of a speeding train. We are a force to be reckoned with when we are on a mission. We gladly give away the things we yearn to receive and we hope and wait in the desperate hope that someone who should have made things right in our past might just show up and help us today. Of course they don’t and we figure it’s because we don’t matter enough/aren’t good enough. These false beliefs guide the choices we make about ourselves. The combination of shame and fear cripple us.

I like asking people how they will feel after they face their fear. They brighten and explain that they will be relieved and happier. Within seconds of telling me this they will return to looking at the problem instead of the solution. Many of us look at our fears the way a child watches shadows on their bedroom walls. We were the children who sat frozen in the dark – afraid to cry out – afraid to turn on the light – afraid to ask for comfort or reassurance – and many of us remain so today.

Our greatest mistake is that we hide our fears and face them alone. Our downward spiral of shame and fear leaves us ashamed of being afraid and afraid of admitting our shame. We berate ourselves endlessly. We try to white-knuckle our way through. We become disgusted with ourselves because we often know that our fears are irrational and yet knowing that does not make them go away.

Fear takes us back to dark places and makes us feel small, weak, and frozen. We feel uniquely screwed up as though everyone we know is far more mature and braver than we. We face a simple but fearful choice – reach out and get connected or remain alone and lost.

Sharing our fears makes them smaller. Sharing our shame allows us to know the truth that others hold about us. Two minds aren’t just better than one – they’re a million times better than one. I keep a sign on my office wall that says, “First we have to make it overt.” Just as shadows disappear when we turn on the light, so too do our fears diminish as they are shared with others. We do have to Face Everything And Recover – but we can face our fears one at a time and in the company of people who care. If you don’t have such people – seek them out. They are the amazing men and women of local recovery communities. Don’t try to wrap your head around why they care – just accept that they do and watch your options increase a thousand fold.

Jim LaPierre

About Jim LaPierre

Jim LaPierre LCSW CCS is the Executive Director of Higher Ground Services in Brewer, Maine. He is a Recovery Ally, mental health therapist and addictions counselor. He specializes in facilitating recovery (whether from addiction, trauma, depression, anxiety, or past abuse) overcome obstacles, and improve their quality of life. Jim offers a limited amount of online therapy to those with very flexible schedules.