I used to be terrified of heights; sweaty palms, vertigo, the works, and that’s just when I stood up. Seriously though, I really was afraid of heights. In fact, as a young boy, I had a whole list of anxieties. Spiders (note the still above from “The Incredible Shrinking Man”) and bees, getting into fights, riding the school bus, where to sit during lunch, what would be said about me during parent/teacher conferences, deep water, seeing my report card, and most of all, my mother. Fear was always there. It dominated me for the most part but thank God it occasionally retreated to the background. I had frequent (albeit brief) periods of joy, peace, and amusement, especially when I was alone, but every type of fear, from despair to terror, was the main emotional state I expressed and felt for most of my youth. As I grew older I found I’d gained leverage over how events progressed in my own life, and I slowly began to feel as if I were moving past my unwanted emotional alignments. In reality they morphed into a more covert way of manifesting themselves, which is where my addictive traits eventually began to overwhelm me.
I must have had some sort of sense of avoidance on a subconscious level because I refused engage in many activities as a teenager that appeared to be both extremely fun and entertaining, but leaned towards a possible self-destructive path. Gateway drugs were obvious temptations, but things like cigarettes and casual sex were also part of the equation. By the time I was sixteen I’d already known people who had passed a point of no return. They had eventually stepped over a line where their behavior was causing damage that could not be reversed. I wasn’t necessarily terrified of what I saw, but there was enough fear to keep me in a state of caution when it came to how I was going to proceed in my own life.
There were two traps I eventually allowed myself to be lured into. I had no real cautions about either alcohol or, surprisingly, sugar. I’d never been around (or more likely hadn’t noticed) either one of these indulgences all that much. I’d been in the company of those who were drunk and others who overate, BUT most people I knew who drank weren’t drunks, and most who ate candy weren’t fat. This casual observation effectively cancelled any apprehensions I might have had if I’d witnessed the more destructive nature that abusing both of these could lead to. The largest flaw in my personality has always been all-in on anything hedonistic. I KNEW this ahead of time, which is why I avoided so many other paths. If I were to sample the example, apprehension would be lost. Practicing moderation has been one of my biggest struggles. There was a darkness inside me waiting for fertilization, I could feel it. Stepping over the line would be catastrophic to not only myself, but probably a great many others as well. I genuinely was split, good over here, bad over here; kindness on one side, malice on the other. When I recognized this I panicked and started doing anything I could to alter my state of mind. I chose what I thought was an easy path, to do so from the outside in instead of from the inside out and quite effectively shot myself in the foot.
I was horrible at managing my feelings and even worse at interpreting them. My logic was to avoid what either felt bad or might have bad consequences and embrace what either felt good or could be rewarding. The problem with such thinking was I avoided the correct course of action if there were the possibility of pain or price involved and embraced flawed conduct if pleasure or gratification was perceived. Fear, in my mind, was something to be avoided at all costs.
I’ve never told myself a bigger lie.
Believe it or not fear is my ally. It is NOT the enemy. Why? Because when I allow myself to feel it, to acknowledge its existence, I become aware of what must be overcome. I cannot improve as a person without recognizing what’s holding me back. There are, of course, situations which must be heeded with total apprehension, but it takes practice to separate authentic threats from those that are illusionary. The easiest way for me to recognize whether or not irrational behavior is in play is to determine the nature of support behind my reaction. Fear that owes its existence to blame is false, fear that arises as a result of a need to be responsible is authentic.
If, for example I’m blaming my lack of experience on pursuing a task, this is an unfounded fear, one based on an egotistical ideology, and it keeps me from expanding my résumé. On the other hand, if someone is holding a gun on me demanding my wallet, being frightened is perfectly acceptable. Most fear, in my experience, has extraordinarily little danger attached to outcome, in fact, it’s usually quite the opposite. Recognizing and walking through anything I’ve equated with apprehension has always been the best course of action, one that unveils potential and reaps success.
I suppose my best advice is to stop being afraid of feeling scared. Fear is a tool, a lever we can use to maneuver ourselves to a life of high achievement. There’s no doubt we are motivated when there’s something we want to gain or create, but if there’s something in the way we want to overcome as well, it becomes fun.
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With Love and compassion, Daniel Andrew Lockwood