August 23, 2017 – Facing Fears

One of the nights during my Mount Whitney hike, as I was lying awake in the dark in my sleeping bag – not sleeping, certain thoughts came up – thoughts about my relationship with fear.  We all have fears – they are part of being human.  I’m not alone in that I have been plagued by some big scary, will-I survive-this?-fears.  Given the conscious choice, I’ve always been the kind of person who would rather stay safe than face them.  But it’s almost as if something else, some other force, is living through me. Because that night I saw that the motivation to test myself physically by doing this hike was part of a theme that has woven through my life to face these fears.  I reflected on some big fears – whose purpose was to keep me safe – but actually kept me from living my life fully.

The first one I thought of was my fear of being alone.  When I was in high school and college I wanted to do a year abroad.  I wanted to go to France and become proficient speaking French.  But this fear stopped me from ever even looking into it.  The thought of being so far away from everyone I knew and loved was terrifying!  And I stayed in my first marriage for a long time (by some people’s estimation) given how difficult life was then.  It lasted fourteen years partly because I had an existential fear that I would die if I left.  My body helped me take the steps to do so – by having panic attacks; it literally shook me to get my attention.  My body protested so fiercely that I knew I had no choice but to leave.  Once I did, just ten days later I wrote in my journal that if I were to get divorced, I wanted to live and work in Paris for six months.  Well, I did get divorced and the universe set it up so I spent six months in Paris starting the following spring.

While in Paris my fears of being alone were front and center.  “I have no idea when my next hug will come” was a thought that I had just after arriving.  (A thought I unkindly judged as pathetic at the time.) I was introduced to an American woman who was also spending some time in Paris; we went to lunch the next Saturday and there was my hug.  Three months into my trip I had one of the most powerful experiences of my life.  One night driving alone in the dark in the Loire Valley I had this feeling come over me; I felt safe and whole and perfect and not needing anyone in that moment.  In fact, if any of my loved ones had been with me, what I felt would not have been possible – and I’ve never been the same. It’s not that I don’t ever fear being alone, but I now have the experience that happened when I was driving along in my little rental car to draw from when I do.

I share this next fear with millions of others – speaking in front of people.  I was a shy toddler; I’m told I hid behind my mama’s legs.  And I was born in a body that blushes easily.  If someone told me my shoelaces were untied my face turned red.  So when the time came for me to do some kind of oral report in school, I had the horrible experience of sweating, turning red, having my mind go blank and looking for the nearest hole to hide in.  I’d do anything I could to avoid this experience – behavior I carried with me into my 30’s.  I don’t remember what caused me to want to face this fear, but it started when I discovered Speaking Circles.  Speaking Circles’ founder, Lee Glickstein discovered a way to help people heal their stage fright without having to gut through it – a way that is very different from Toastmasters. Speaking Circles and participating in worship services at the Fairfax Community Church, where I had a very safe and loving audience, have been instrumental in bringing me fully to the other side of my fear of public speaking.  I can now be handed a microphone and, even without preparing, stay present and focused and even have my face retain its normal color!

I’ve never broken a bone, I’ve never even sprained anything.  I’ve always played it safe with my body for fear of not being able to withstand pain and injury.  And in menopause a certain level of hypochondria has crept in where every little thing that comes up, my mind has made up it is life threatening. Something coalesced this spring that inspired this summer’s hike up Whitney.  From the time I signed up until the morning we started out, these fears arose and attempted to stop me.  But they didn’t and I now have not only an entirely different relationship with my body’s capabilities, its strength and health, but I have a whole different concept of myself. It’s remarkable.

I see now there are other fears that I’ve faced:  I fell crazy in love with a remarkable man who was diagnosed with cancer six days after our first date.  In the face of all kinds of fears about how this might turn out I invited him to move in with me two weeks later to support him going through chemo.  I risked my family when I needed to back myself by taking a break from having contact with one member of my family.  Family is a huge part of my life and being without them was one of the hardest times I’ve been through.  When it turned out that I’d not have the children I so wanted, I faced the fears of my own significance to pursue work that would bring meaning to my childless life.

The outcome of facing all of these fears has been my freedom – my capacity to freely choose how to live. And I am altogether different because of it.  People who have only known me for a short time would hardly recognize the version of me I was in my 20’s – before facing these fears.  There is a voice in my head that has been chirping up throughout writing this whole post – it’s saying that all of this is rather boastful isn’t it?  Look at me and how brave I have been to have faced these fears!  Well, maybe, but my experience is that it’s not been me.  It’s not been bravery.  I truly feel like some other force has been at the helm of these shifts in my how I relate to my fears.  I’m not sure what the purpose is, but I’m grateful for the freedom that has come of it!

There is something else I’m noticing – how I faced them.  It seems I have been meant to face my fears in a way that is as kind to me as possible.  I’ve never thrown myself under the bus!  I didn’t just jump on a plane to France.  I asked for and was supported by having a structure – a job and a paycheck and nice people to keep company with.  I didn’t force myself into just getting up and speaking, wearing out my body’s reactions until they subsided.  I waited until I discovered a method of becoming comfortable being seen and heard that wouldn’t force me to go through that torture.  And I wasn’t called to do as Cheryl Strayed did and hike the Pacific Crest Trail all alone.  I found a group of women with knowledgeable guides and pack mules to support my stretching myself.

There is a lot of value put on doing things the hardest way possible in our culture.  But if this is the only way to face our fears or discover our strengths, it leaves a whole bunch of us out.  Making art can be just as fearful as anything for some people.  And when we have both the fear and desire to make art, it’s a challenge.

If this is you, find the kinder, supportive way for yourself.  Let me know if there’s something I can do or say to help.  Facing our fears, though never easy-peasy, can be done in ways that keeps us out from under the bus.

I’m here to report that doing so is worth everything.

With my love and appreciation –


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