Maybe I’m just more aware of it since Halloween is fast approaching, but I have noticed a lot of friends and clients dealing with fear and anxiety. It’s no secret that many people with substance abuse disorders struggle with anxiety, using drugs and alcohol to quiet their overactive nervous system which has sometimes been rewired due to various forms of trauma they have experienced. Often times family members of those struggling with addiction are the most affected by fear, as the threat of death or incarceration for a loved ones is a very real possibility. And unfortunately, sometimes the worst fears about addiction are realized. Obviously, fear is not reserved only for people or families facing addiction, it is a reality for all sentient beings. Realizing this allows me to have compassion for all who I come in contact with on a daily basis.
In my experience it is helpful to separate legitimate fear, which is calling us to action, from mind-generated fear which is causing us worry and stress,
William James, one of the father’s of modern psychiatry, said that most fear and stress is the result of a faulty belief system. To overcome fear we must be willing to change our belief system. In working with clients, some of our time together often involves the deconstructing of family beliefs around money, success, relationships, and family expectations. If there is addiction in the family system, the entire family tree may be rooted in generational fear that results from dysfunction, abuse, prejudice, secrets, and rage. We unpack these beliefs and see if they still serve a purpose or if they have become a hindrance to whatever goals they are trying to achieve.
When I got sober, I had a clear realization that the philosophy upon which I tried to build my adulthood needed to be completely obliterated before I could begin moving away from the horrifying fear of my last few years drinking. In my teens and twenties I had adopted a nihilistic view of the world that supported my addiction. If life is meaningless, I thought, then it only makes sense to pursue pleasure and self-gratification above all else. This worked fine when intoxicated, but when sober I was possessed by a paralyzing fear that I couldn’t shake without the help of alcohol. When the emotional pain of my failing life was severe enough, I became willing to let go of beliefs and opinions that no longer served me and adopt those of people who seemed to be able to face life with courage in the face of fear.
Along with a new belief system that included the view of a benign universe, I began learning meditation and was able to observe the mind’s fearful nature. Once I saw the brain as an organ and not myself, I was able to detach from fearful, mind-generated anxieties. These things, along with the ability to feel and express emotions, dramatically reduced my fears and allowed me to be at ease in my body for most of the hours in a given day. Just verbalizing to someone when I’m afraid tells the brain and nervous system that it can relax because the fear has been acknowledged.
Here are a few of my favorite quotes about fear that I’ve heard or read about over the years. I share in the hopes that you live in more faith and less fear.
Thanks for reading. Happy Halloween.
1.) Fear is paper-thin. It takes one courageous step to walk through it.
2.) A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for. – JOHN A. SHEDD
3.) Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. The fearful are caught as often as the bold. Faith alone defends. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. -HELEN KELLER
4.) Behold the birds of the sky, that they neither sow nor reap, neither do they gather into barns, and your Father who is in Heaven sustains them; behold, are you not better than they? But who of you is able to add a foot to his stature through worry? And why are you taking pains about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow without laboring or weaving. But I say to you, not even Solomon in all his glory was clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field that is today and will fall into the oven tomorrow, does he not multiply more to you, Oh ye of little faith? .-BOOK OF MATTHEW
5.) Siding only with those who agree with me is greed. Opposing those who don’t agree with me and wishing they would go away is hatred and fear. Not being able to see this mechanism is ignorance.- GUO GU, ZEN TEACHER