Fear Itself

I am a person who was raised in an environment that cultivated great fear in me. I was fearful of my home environment, my school environment, and my community environment. I was afraid of the feelings and emotions welling up inside of me towards members of the same-sex, fearful of my doubts about this god  I was supposed to believe in and worship, fearful of the physical threat I faced from not only someone entrusted with my upbringing and care, but from those peers I was expected to attend school with day in and day out. I learned quickly to fear running out of money and not having the things we needed, as a child of poverty. I learned to fear my own inadequacies and shortcomings, to fear failure, as I saw and heard the people around me ridicule those that did not look the same, act the same, believe the same, achieve the same or love the same.  As an adult, I have discovered the fear of a body that does not always function properly, the fear of growing attached to people and pets who will leave your life, and the fear of not being able to adequately provide for and protect the person I love, thanks to a powerful element in society and government that wishes to see me and my kind stripped of all our civil rights, liberties and protections.

Plainly put, fear has been a driving force in my life.  And I know it is a driving force in others, as well. People afraid to leave situations and relationships that are harmful for them. Afraid to be open about who they are. Afraid to try new things. Afraid to open their mind to the possibility they’re wrong.  Afraid to know and accept the truth about themselves and the world they live in. Afraid they will lose what they already have if others gain the same resources, opportunities and freedoms they enjoy. Afraid to speak up when no one else does or will. Afraid to say and do what’s right if it means becoming unpopular.  Afraid to try for fear they’ll fail. Afraid to trust. Afraid of rejection.

Some people give into the fear and imprison themselves in a life, situation, job or relationship that makes them miserable.

But it is not just the big things that scare us. I struggled for months to cancel a gym membership out of fear that the staff at the gym would be difficult or insulting when I showed up to cancel. (It is a requirement that memberships be canceled in person.) It is actually one of two gyms I belong to (don’t ask) and chose to pay for the extra membership for months, never using the facilities, rather than go in and cancel.  I finally screwed up enough courage to walk in and do it last week. Took 10 minutes. Completely painless and I am now saving us the cost of one monthly gym fee. But  I would have saved us more money, and ended my anxiety over it sooner, If I had just done it sooner instead of giving into my fear and avoiding it for so long.

My life has been a constant struggle between facing my fears, big and small, rational and not, or giving into them. I can honestly say, I would not be where I am today, who I am today, if I had given into all of my fears. I still carry a lot of that fear around with me. It still impacts my life and relationships and often makes things much harder for me than they need be. Hence, I am inspired by acts of bravery and courage, from the grandness of being a leader for the oppressed to the personal of admitting who you really are for the first time.  Although fear permeates our society, there are acts of people overcoming their fears everywhere, every day, to be inspired and encouraged by. We even write stories and retell ones handed down through the generations of people facing their fears, showing great courage, beating the odds and succeeding despite their fears.

The comic book character, Green Lantern, [second version, in the interest of accuracy, for those comic fans who care about such things, as I do] is an interstellar cop, one of 7200 (once 3600 – it doubled in recent years) beings that patrol various space sectors of the known universe, gifted with a weapon, a ring, imbued with the internal energies of the Guardians of the Universe. This energy can, among other things, be projected and shaped into anything imaginable, solely by the will power of the individual who wears it. The stronger the will, the stronger the construct.

The ring seeks out its own wielder, programmed with a prime directive to find someone worthy, that worthiness being initially defined as “a person without fear.” This was an accepted criteria for years until someone had the wisdom to question what a person without fear would be like. Would this person be reckless without the fear of doing wrong, screwing up, placing people in harm’s way? Would they be cocky, always barging headlong into a firefight without considering the consequences? It was somehow less heroic, less brave, if a hero had no fear, as their was nothing to overcome or rise above. It was easy to be brave when you have no fear. So the concept was tweaked a bit to be more relevant and practical: no longer did the ring seek a person “without fear”; it sought a person “able to overcome great fear.”  In essence, then, the character Green Lantern is a hero who is successful at what he or she does by having great will and overcoming great fear.

Is it any wonder, then, that of all the thousands of  fictional characters,  this is the character that worked its way into my heart and mind as my favorite fictional comic book character? A hero that overcomes great fear, through sheer force of will, to protect others and defeat his/her enemies? Sure, I had no ring, no power battery, no gifts from powerful alien beings to fight the evils and injustices of the world that scared and threatened me, but I related to the concept of overcoming great fear, of doing what was right, what was needed in spite of our fears; to face danger and threat in the pursuit of happiness, freedom, justice, fairness and compassion. This is the kind of person I wanted to be.

Every day I face my fears. I get out of bed and get through my day, do my job, reach out to my friends, love my husband, fulfill my responsibilities and try to be a better person and make the world a better place along the way, despite my fear that my body will malfunction or I’ll piss off the wrong people, or that I’ll fail in huge and awful ways – physically, financially, emotionally, socially.

Sure, I have a lot of fear. But I’m more afraid of who I would be and what my life would be like if I gave into all those fears, than I am of the fear itself.

6 thoughts on “Fear Itself”

  1. Right into my late twenties I marvelled and envied how everyone else seemed far more confident in themselves than I did. The thought made me feel inferior and inadequate. With age and experience I began to see that everyone else had their own insecurities beneath that exterior of bravado. They had their moments of fear too.

    Now I have confidence in myself and am no longer fooled by the apparently unshakeable front of confidence others display.

    You are right to confront your fears. Each fear passes, in turn to be replaced eventually by another. And you survive them all.

  2. So much of our environment thrives on instilling fear. My personal mantra has become: “I’m not afraid of dying, I’m afraid of not living.” Life is short, and so am I. Live, laugh, love!

  3. The sad fact is that for most of us the need for approval, which is discouraging enough on its own, is even outweighed by the fear of DISapproval, which is just plain stultifying. But, like most adages, it’s easy to say but damn hard to act on.

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