Fear

I have been thinking a lot about fear lately as it is something which really governs my life and always has.  I am told by my therapist among others that our culture is dominated by both fear and perfectionism which of course does set us all up for failure.  She went on to say that for many fear drives them to anger and defensiveness, and certainly I have been guilty of that.  But the reality is that when someone lashes out in anger the reaction is all about them, not about the person they are lashing out at.  That person may inadvertently been either a trigger or a hard mirror for the fearful angry person.  Nevertheless, it is about the angry person.  

This, of course, does not make it any easier to be on the receiving end of someone’s defensiveness or anger.  And knowing how much it hurts means that when I do lash out I then feel even worse, realizing I’ve caused that kind of pain for someone else.  And that is one reason why especially in the last 10 years or so, I’ve worked really hard at not snapping out sarcastic or cutting remarks, etc. just because I am in pain.

Of course, not everyone reacts to fear with anger.  My primary way to handle fear is to retreat and try to become invisible.  This was a survival mechanism I learned as a very young child and it has stayed with me as my first and foremost line of defense.  It is one major reason why I don’t leave my island and in fact don’t really like leaving my home.

Recently I read a great book, The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elizabeth Tova Bailey, and I learned a ton of wonderful things about the snail which I never even imagined even though it is one of my favorite creatures and I’m thrilled to have so many of them living happily in my ponds.  I had no idea for instance, that one of their favorite foods is the mushroom, and the author fed hers portobello mushrooms which are my favorite!  One reason snails have been around longer than humans or indeed many other species is that they have such powerful survival skills, and retreating into their shells, feigning invisibility, is one of those mechanisms.

While this technique works well for the snail, it has not in the end served me well.  It is why the wounded little girl part of me, the little five year old girl who watched her mother burn to death, who felt responsible because she hadn’t been able to keep her younger sister quiet so we weren’t at home when it happened so my father couldn’t save her, and who therefore tried to comfort or heal her father, that little girl is still living in fear.  Every time I retreat, I abandon her and then her fear becomes even stronger.

I have had problems with relationships with others for most of my life because of my fears.  I’m afraid I will do or say the wrong thing and then someone will lash out at me.  Of course, that happened a lot when I was a child, so the fears were real.  And even in my adult life I have been the victim a number of times because I’m different, way outside the bell curve on all levels.  I was run off the road in Arizona because I’m gay, for instance.  I was forced out of several neighborhoods because I’m gay and/or because I painted my home purple.  I have had neighbors blaming me for stuff which in my head I know wasn’t my doing, but again, my fears cause me to react so that I don’t even want to go out my door for fear I will come across them or someone else who will be upset with me.  I’m careful about asking questions, lest someone think I’m finding fault when in fact I am only looking for information or trying to understand.  I encourage my students to ask questions, but I understand why they don’t since they have frequently been ridiculed, bullied or made fun of for not understanding.  Again, these reactions are fear responses on the part of the persons doing the ridiculing, etc., but that doesn’t make it any easier to ask the question.  I’m able to help my students with this, but frequently I fail myself in similar situations.

However, gradually I am learning that there are safe places and overall, most people, at least here on my special island, actually value differences and diversity, so that I can go to my favorite stores, etc. and not run into unpleasantness, and that is helping.  I’m finding a lot of support for what I’m doing in the haiku community as well, and I really appreciate that.  I now have friends all around the world, kindred spirits, which feels wonderful.  And recently I’ve even started replying to my son’s tweets.  I’m not sure if that is something he wants or likes, but I realize I don’t have a lot to lose, and speaking my truth from my heart is a way to stay visible, stay true to that wounded little girl inside me.  I would do the same with my daughter if I had a way to.  

Life is really too short for all our petty differences and disagreements.  Life is too short for all my fears.  I don’t really care to be around as long as the snail has been, but I do have to be here for my wonderful four-footed companions, and so while I have that incentive I am going to try to help the wounded little girl in me feel a bit less fearful and a bit more confident about showing up, sticking my head out of my shell.  Maybe one day I’ll be brave enough to take a walk outside my home!  After all, there could be a portobello mushroom waiting for me!

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