One of the things I wanted most when I got sober, and since then in multiple recovery journeys from illnesses and difficulties, has been freedom from fear. Fear gripped me for a long time... the threats of something horrible happening that I could not come back from, people I loved getting hurt or dying, not having needs met, financial problems, you name it, fear was funneling through me. One of the reasons I turned to drugs and other harmful behaviors was because fear and anxiety were so overwhelming. I needed a break from the panic and stress of feeling out of control, being unable to calm the fears or know how to handle things that might happen.
Ultimately, sobriety and recovery led me to other options. Fear didn't just vanish when I got sober, though. What happened was a growing awareness to what I wanted and needed help with. Recovery didn't turn fear into faith automatically, nor did it calm my anxiety right away. Fear isn't the most inviting thing to sit down with. Fear says "run, hide, panic" a lot of the time.
In recovery and my life now I have a very different relationship with fear than I used to. I honor fear. It has a lot of valuable information to give. I do not feel captive to it or give it free reign to tun my life. Recovery and fear work together; without fear, recovery wouldn't have been chosen in the first place. The fear of continuing down a dark path, being victim to your addiction or illness or scarcity mentality, propelled change, giving you courage to make uncomfortable choices and claim your life back. Fear leads to bravery. For this reason alone, giving fear some respect and getting curious about how it might benefit you now is worthwhile.
I speak with many people who want freedom from fear. I don't have freedom from fear, I do live with a more balanced perspective about which fears are important to follow and which are messengers bringing information that requires some understanding and dialogue.
Fear is part of life. We are hardwired to be alert and afraid of certain things for our very survival. If a car is driving straight at you as you walk across the street, the built in fear of getting hit will lead you to jump out of the way. This is something I want to keep! Not all fear is bad, wrong or harmful. I'll even go so far as to say no fear is bad or wrong, though following some fears blindly can be harmful.
In recovery, learning to distinguish the difference between our fears, old and learned fears, current fears, fears linked with the future, is a rewarding part of self understanding. By looking at who we are, how we think and what we believe, the ways fears inform our choices can help us in making new choices, challenging certain fears and shifting what we believe. This is a dynamic process and doesn't happen overnight.
Having conversations with fear helps to gain understanding. Think of fear as a part of yourself. Having a conversation, with open dialogue and curiosity, can bring aha moments and closer connection to truth. As with any relationship, if there are questions asked and safe space to answer them honestly, valuable information will surface.
Another thing to consider as a person in recovery is whether the fear you are feeling is yours or your addiction's. Addictions are bullies. They lie. They threaten. They use fear to get fed. If an addiction stops being fed, it will die. When I was using drugs, I started to believe that if I stopped I would lose control, bad things would happen and I wouldn't be able to handle it. These fears were not really mine, they were the fears of the addiction I had formed. I was under a spell and unable to see that I was fearing things that weren't based in reality. The reality was actually the opposite! If I didn't;t stop using, bad things would keep happening. I had already lost control. The more I led these fears lead me around, the more I was dependent on drugs and fear to feel okay. It was a vicious cycle.
Fear takes away our options when we let it lead us.
How can we shift from fear using us to us using fear?
1. Start a conversation with your fears. Take a notebook and ask these questions, writing any answers that surface. Let this notebook be a safe space for fear to speak openly. Give yourself permission to see and hear the fears without needing to act on them, invest in them or believe them. This is about observing, think about this as if you were interviewing someone. In this case, it is a fear or might even become a group of fears.
Ask specific questions:
"What do you have to say to me?"
"Are you mine or someone else's?"
"Does this fear belong to my true self or an illness/disease/addiction?"
2. Once you have identified the fears here with out, go deeper. Breathe deeply and make a decision to let new information surface. Ask more questions:
"How are you trying to help me?"
"What are you needing in order to feel safe?"
"Where are you pointing me to cultivate more trust in myself, others or life?"
*If some of the fears have revealed themselves as belonging to the addiction/illness, still ask these questions. Addiction/illness meets needs until something else can; this is where the recovery journey comes in. Using substances or behaviors, avoiding action, or other things that you might have employed that don't benefit you long term, are all ways you've learned to survive. This is part of life! Just because you've used something up until now does not mean you have to keep doing it; in fact, by reading this and opening up a dialogue with fear, you are being equipped with new abilities and have more options available to you.
3. Make a list of how fear has served you up until now. Start the list or writing with "thank you, fears, for..." How has fear helped you stay safe, avoid danger or protect yourself? Has being afraid of dying young kept you from using IV drugs or driving 115 miles per hour on the backroads at night? These things might seem silly or feel awkward to write... honor them anyway.
4. Flip fear on it's side. Now channel your inner courage, the wise one that lives in you and speaks through you from time to time. Take out another sheet of paper and complete this sentence until nothing else comes. Set a timer for 3 minutes and start here, then go as long as you like.
"If I weren't afraid, I would say..."
"If I weren't afraid, I would do..."
"If I weren't afraid, I would celebrate..."
"If I weren't afraid, I would ask..."
"If I weren't afraid, I would stop..."
"If I weren't I would..."
Fear can be a messenger of what to avoid and also where to go. Some of the things I have feared most have been things I had to do. Huge dreams brought up fear of my capacity, "could I really do that?" Fear has pointed me toward my destiny, showing me where I needed to trust myself and others, choose growth over comfort, rise into a new level of responsibility. Recovery sets us up to mature, to take up more space, to lead others once we have learned to lead ourselves. Vulnerability can be uncomfortable, it is not a sign to panic and run away though. By having real conversations with fears, distinguishing between fear for our safety and fear of success can happen. Learning the difference between our fears and the addiction's, or a younger version of ourself, sets us up to seek out support and balance the fear with faith. This comes through sponsorship, mentorship, therapy, creative outlets, the list goes on.
My mentor says "fear is a pointer in where you need to go." This has been a life changing perspective for me. I don't grab fear and immediately run with it, I do pause to consider if it's valid to take at face value or use to find out what's underneath it.
5. Create boundaries. Boundaries are limits and agreements we set with people, thoughts and behaviors. Boundaries are not punishment, they send messages about what places are off limits and what is or is not allowed. By shutting the door to a bathroom, I set a boundary and communicate that I want privacy. In telling friends I no longer want to be around drugs, I create a boundary and show others and myself that sobriety is a priority for me.
Fear needs boundaries. It needs to be told what it's job it and what I am handling. In asking fears what they need, what they are trying to convey, in thanking them for being of service and then giving the fears that belong to addiction or illness back to where they came from, we can thrive in new ways. Freedom comes with boundaries. Nothing is exiled, there are just more clear agreements and spaciousness.
Setting boundaries with fear can be challenging. I use a simple technique because simplicity leads to success. Try this:
Write any fears you don't want to keep believing, following or being held captive to on a piece of paper. Use as much paper as you need. Fold each one. Now, find a box with a lid or a mason jar with a top that shuts. Decorate the box if you'd like. Make it an inviting space, something beautiful. Remember, this is not about punishing fears, it's just putting them in a place where they don't have to try and take control over you. Putting them in this box tells them that they can relax, you are safe, all is well.
You might not fully believe that all is well yet. Why would you if fear has been gripping you and you've been relying on it? This is a practice, as all change and learning and growth is. There might be areas of life that seem unsteady. You might wonder if you'll be okay without the familiar fears. Through shifting your perception on fear, you are building your faith muscles. Self trust comes through inquiry and action. That's what this aforementioned process is all about.
In recovery, you are getting back into the driver seat of your mind and life. This requires awareness and takes effort. It takes responsibility to be awake and conscious about your choices! The work is real, the rewards are immense, the miracles keep coming.
What might become possible for you, in your thought process and confidence level, when you see how fear has been trying to help you? How might you be able to breathe easier when you thank fear for what it's teaching you then give it permission to relax and quiet down?
Recovery = Recovering who you really are
Fear = Face Everything And Recover
I choose recovery because I want to trust myself. Spending so much time believing addiction, illness, low self esteem and fear without question robbed me of confidence, health, well-being and freedom. Learning to be loyal to myself, my truth, instead of fears or addiction, comes in seeing where I am believing lies. Fear can be a liar. This doesn't make it wrong, it just means I have to trust myself enough to believe something else when fear is bullying me into believing it. Trust happens in time and experience, through conversations and staying curious. Trust is formed through truth telling, even when it's vulnerable.
Start using fear to enrich your self understanding, recovery, confidence and courage. Let fear propel you, show you where you need to go, reveal what part of your recovery is needing more attention or affection. In recovery, I know that there is no perfection. Progress is what counts. This has helped me be more compassionate with myself or others when fear is leading to reaction, harsh words or hasty decisions. By slowing down, breathing deep and recognizing that we are all human and that fear is normal, I can see that fear is just another messenger. Everyone and anyone, fear included, has information to share. Why not use it to our advantage if it's showing up?
Filled with fear or brimming with faith, you are supported & I hope your recovery journey is an epic learning curve. I am grateful to be on this path with you.
With Huge Heart,
Darcy Helene Meehan
As an advocate of Reinvention + Recovery, I work with clients to achieve balance, alignment and purpose in all areas