The Other Side of Fear

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I’ve struggled with fear and anxiety for years, overwhelmed by feelings of inevitable, looming failure, worries that things are going to turn out okay (but believing, deep inside, that they’ll never be great). It was as if no matter how well the world treated me, I held onto a niggling suspicion some unseen shoe would drop; all I’ve been working towards would go directly to hell.

  • My relationship would turn ugly.
  • My health would deteriorate.
  • That I’d never own a home, that I’d always be in financial hardship, that the hoped-for promotion or opportunity would never QUITE arrive.
  • That’d I’d relapse.
  • That I’d die.
  • That God wasn’t looking out for me. ….At least not with my human concerns a priority.

Maybe He was making sure I was growing spiritually or whatever, but when it came to what kind of car I was driving, this God-thing didn’t give a damn. Or worse, HE WANTED ME TO DRIVE AN OLD TRUCK BECAUSE THAT WAS “BEST” FOR ME.

Then….

I learned that having a particular fear — or even a whole host of them — didn’t mean I lacked faith or that I needed to pray more or that something was terribly wrong with my program. Rather, I discovered faith is a treatment for fear, not its opposite.

Fear is an infection of the soul and faith its antibiotic. When I begin to practice the way of faith, when I began to regularly take the “medicine” of  prayer and meditation as a way of life, fear didn’t pack its bags and leave… Fear simply has less and less control over what I do.

However, just as taking penicillin doesn’t clear away infection in a single dose, neither does faith exercised on a single afternoon eliminate my all my fears – real or imagined. It is a process requiring patience and consistent effort.

Read what our literature says:

When the satisfaction of our instincts for sex, security, and society becomes the sole object of our lives, then pride steps in to justify our excesses. All these failings generate fear, a soul-sickness in its own right. Then fear, in turn, generates more character defects. Unreasonable fear that our instincts will not be satisfied drives us to covet the possessions of others, to lust for sex and power, to become angry when our instinctive demands are threatened, to be envious when the ambitions of others seem to be realized while ours are not.

We eat, drink, and grab for more of everything than we need, fearing we shall never have enough. And with genuine alarm at the prospect of work, we stay lazy. We loaf and procrastinate, or at best work grudgingly and under half steam. These fears are the termites that ceaselessly devour the foundations of whatever sort of life we try to build.

So when A.A. suggests a fearless moral inventory, it must seem to every newcomer that more is being asked of him than he can do. Both his pride and his fear beat him back every time he tries to look within himself. Pride says, “You need not pass this way,” and Fear says, “You dare not look!” But the testimony of A.A.’s who have really tried a moral inventory is that pride and fear of this sort turn out to be bogeymen, nothing else.

(12&12; 149)

Notice, please… fear isn’t a character defect.

It isn’t.

FEAR IS NOT A CHARACTER DEFECT.

Fear is a normal human reaction, an instinctual response to a perceived threat.

In terms of recovery, unhealthy fear is a RESULT of my character defects still holding sway on different parts of my life. When the 12/12 suggests looking inward to find causes of fear, it is saying that the root from which fear spreads and gains traction is a lack of character building, of spiritual and moral development.

the root from which fear spreads and gains traction is a lack of character building, of spiritual and moral development

We must begin by addressing the root.

If you are one of my sponsees, you just love it when I say “let’s open our Big Book now,” right?

Me too. Open ‘er up!

We are on a journey of discovery, searching for a step-by-step approach to dealing with fear. Since fear is first addressed in the context of Step 4, we start by working through fear using the same tools we mastered when writing a self-inventory and sharing it with our sponsor.

Notice that the word “fear’’ is bracketed alongside the difficulties with Mr. Brown, Mrs. Jones, the employer, and the wife. This short word somehow touches about every aspect of our lives. It was an evil and corroding thread; the fabric of our existence was shot through with it. It set in motion trains of circumstances which brought us misfortune we felt we didn’t deserve. But did not we, ourselves, set the ball rolling? Sometimes we think fear ought to be classed with stealing. It seems to cause more trouble. (1) We reviewed our fears thoroughly. We put them on paper, even though we had no resentment in connection with them. (2) We asked ourselves why we had them. Wasn’t it because self-reliance failed us? Self- reliance was good as far as it went, but it didn’t go far enough. Some of us once had great self-confidence, but it didn’t fully solve the fear problem, or any other. When it made us cocky, it was worse.Perhaps there is a better way—we think so. (3) For we are now on a different basis; the basis of trusting and relying upon God. We trust infinite God rather than our finite selves. We are in the world to play the role He assigns. Just to the extent that we do as we think He would have us, and humbly rely on Him, does He enable us to match calamity with serenity. We never apologize to anyone for depending upon our Creator. We can laugh at those who think spirituality the way of weakness. Paradoxically, it is the way of strength. The verdict of the ages is that faith means courage. All men of faith have courage. They trust their God. We never apologize for God. Instead we let Him demonstrate, through us, what He can do. (4) We ask Him to remove our fear and direct our attention to what He would have us be. (5) At once, we commence to outgrow fear.  

(Big Book; 67,68)

We commence to outgrow fear?

What about my fears of the future? What if I make the “wrong” choice? Will I get everything I want if I choose PATH A when I should have chosen PATH B?

Probably not.

If I pursue a life of international travel, settling down and having a family will be terribly challenging. If I settle down and have a family, traveling the world will be terribly challenging. If I spend all my money on fun things to acquire FOR my house, I’ll probably never be so situated to actually BUY my house.

One is not better than the other (objectively), but one may be better than the other (subjectively).

Do you understand what I mean? We make choices based on our values, then get results that reflect those values. ALWAJoseph PierceYS. No one makes every choice perfectly, all the time. We screw up. We try again. We hit a deadens, pull a u-turn, and try a different road.

Since we WILL be wrong (or mistaken, misguided, or just plain ‘ol stupid) from time to time, we may as well lose our fear of it.

“But Chris,” you say to me. “What about material success?”

Back to the literature:

It did not matter too much what our material condition was, but it did matter what our spiritual condition was. Money gradually became our servant and not our master. It became a means of exchanging love and service with those about us. When, with God’s help, we calmly accepted our lot, then we found we could live at peace with ourselves and show others who still suffered the same fears that they could get over them, too. We found that freedom from fear was more important than freedom from want.

(12&12; 122)

Calmly accept our lot? Sounds fatalistic in your ears, doesn’t it?images-3

Remember what we are accepting is this: our temporary successes are temporary… just as much as our temporary frustrations and disappointments are temporary. When things don’t go my way, I like saying “not forever.”

You too? Go Figure.

I bet you are like me in another way: when things ARE going as I would like, I have a very hard time saying “not forever.”

“But Chris! I don’t want to do the wrong thing and I constantly believe I’m going to be wrong and this choice or that job or this girl or that decision or…..”

Hold on.

Perfectionism, that nasty little boogeyman, must be shot and killed and buried in the backyard. You will never know EVERYTHING THAT MIGHT POSSIBLY HAPPEN with certainty.

Let the idea go that you will never make a mistake.

This is an ego trip from which no one ever returns in good health.

It is pride saying I can do it better than my friends and family. I can make every choice better than they did or could or will, magically knowing what is around the bend.

NO, YOU CAN’T.


So….Here’s what we do…

  • Write your fears on a piece of paper.
  • Consider each one, remembering  what you have learned, searching out the character defect UNDERLYING the fear.
  • Imagine what it would be like if you REALLY AND TRULY BELIEVED GOD EXISTED. What would happen to the fear if God were real?
  • Ask God to remove both the defect and the fear that results.

Tell me what you find.

Remember this:

WE have been granted a gift which amounts to a new state of consciousness and being. We’ve been set on a path which tells us  we are really going somewhere, that life is not a dead end, not something to be endured or mastered. In a very real sense we have been transformed, because we’ve laid hold of a source of strength which, in one way or another, we had hitherto denied ourselves. We find ourselves in possession of a degree of honesty, tolerance, unselfishness, peace of mind, and love of which we had thought ourselves quite incapable. What we have received is a free gift, and yet in some small part, each one of us have made ourselves ready to receive it.

(12&12; 108)

Grace and Peace this winter’s day, to each of you and those you love,

CPB

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