Confronting Fear in Recovery
If you look into your own heart and you find nothing wrong there, what is there to worry about? What is there to fear?
In the past, many of us readily admitted we had fears: fear of heights, fear of flying, fear of spiders, fear of public speaking (maybe even fear of overdosing). None of these fears are embarrassing, really.
However, when we first get sober and then begin working a program, we're told to scrupulously examine our entire life, our mind, and list and confront deeper fears that reveal our true weaknesses. These fears dominated our old ways of thinking and treating other people: fear of rejection, fear of abandonment, fear of embarrassment, fear of not being loved, fear of failure, fear of fear itself. Unfortunately, while we were trying to face those fears, we also had to manage what seemed like more immediately urgent fears that arose from the damage our drinking and using created in our lives: fear of financial ruin, fear of losing our home, fear of incarceration, fear of permanent damage to important relationships. Finally, the idea that we must stay sober "for the rest of our life," can seem impossible and scary itself. (That's why we say "one day at a time.")
As panicky as some of my immediate fears made me feel in early recovery, they subsided as I continued on, because finances eventually took care of themselves, I maintained food and shelter, and I found friends and family slowly accepted me back into their lives. It was the deeper fears, however, the insidious ones that caused me to act out and seek my substance, that felt overwhelming. They overwhelmed because, finally acknowledging the fears, I also recognized they were baked into my psyche and might stay with me forever. And I understood how destructive they are in my life and relationships.
People are resistant to 12-step programs, and I understand why. The idea of "God" can have negative connotations these days, surrender goes against our egos, the program is hard work, and meetings might seem tedious in the beginning. I was resistant for years until I was so emotionally beaten down by my disease that anything, even meetings, was better than how I felt and lived. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques could only take me so far. If I was to finally be free of the life-long fears and insecurities that controlled me and damaged my relationships, I was going to have to admit I was as powerless over them as I was my substance and surrender them over to a higher power.
CBT will always have a place in my life. However, working with a sponsor I trust has been indispensable in overcoming old insecurities and fears. Many who have worked the steps have their favorite and least favorite. My favorite were two, six, and seven, because they carried the most hope. I learned that to stay sober, I could find at least the willingness to consider a higher power who would handle my fears, give me courage, and change my old ways of thinking and behaving. The fact that we include fears in our fourth step inventory shows how destructive they can be in our lives and how important it is to deal with them.
We began this post with a quote from the cerebral thinker, Confucius, which I think describes how our hearts can be after we've "cleaned house." We can end with one from pop culture's Yoda of Star Wars: "Fear is the path to the dark side…fear leads to anger… anger leads to hate… hate leads to suffering." For alcoholics and addicts, these can all lead to drinking and using.
Fear and faith have something in common; they both ask us to believe in something we don't see. I can meditate and pray for at least the willingness to consider a higher power who is stronger than me, and stronger than my fears.