Monday, April 1, 2013


Early on, my life was framed in hyper-vigilance and matted with a fat border of fear. The glass covering was so thick you could hardly see the picture underneath. Still, I worried it might shatter if some foreign, unpredictable object or action came in contact at just the wrong/right time, in just the wrong/right way.

I was terrified of doing the "wrong" things, of saying the "wrong" things, and ultimately, being the "wrong" person. The only encouragement I needed was an environment fraught with the unpredictability and criticism hallmark of a family centered around addiction--from there, my biology and temperament were happy to take over.

As I grew, those dreaded wrong/right things happened (sometimes by choice, sometimes by mistake, sometimes by chance). Each time, the glass covering indeed shattered. And each time, I would replace the glass, perhaps with a lighter, less foggy version of its former self. But the fear never went away.

To this day, fear, or some iteration thereof (i.e. anxiety) is my most commonly experienced emotion. I worry about meeting deadlines, about what I said to a stranger in line at the grocery store, about being perceived as incompetent, about whether my dishes are actually getting clean and whether I am working hard enough in my relationships, all within a 5-minute time span of an average day.

Note: It's impressive, really, when you take into account how much mental coordination it requires to keep all of those things at the forefront of your mind for instant recall. I suppose it is also exhausting, but do give me credit where credit is due!

I have done well reducing the influence these "daily" fears have on my life or my actions. I'm now more inclined to let them pass by unengaged like clouds on a windy day rather than fixate on their shapes and try to make meaning out of them. Instead, it's the big things that paralyze me.

Or should I say big thing, singular?

You see there is one thing I am terrified of still.


Yes. You heard me right. (And if you are honest with yourself, you may be equally afraid of this powerful emotion too.) As usual, researcher/storyteller Brene Brown put it into words before I could find my own, in a recent interview. As she puts it:

How many of you have ever sat up and thought, ‘Wow, work’s going good, good relationship with my partner, parents seem to be doing okay. Holy crap. Something bad’s going to happen'?...You know what that is? [It’s] when we lose our tolerance for vulnerability. Joy becomes foreboding: 'I’m scared it’s going to be taken away. The other shoe’s going to drop…' What we do in moments of joyfulness is, we try to beat vulnerability to the punch.”

She goes on to say that when joy is in the moment or just around the corner, instead of practicing gratitude and vulnerability, we "dress-rehearse" tragedy. I'm very familiar with tragedy and trauma. Most of us are in some capacity. I know what it is like to hurt more deeply and more fully than I ever imagined humanly possible and wise enough to know the depth of future pain is not bound by the threshold I've previously experienced. I am more comfortable hiding from my vulnerability through known and self-induced fears than sitting with the joy that is inside me knowing that at any time it may end and bring about worse hurt than I've known to date.

Of all the secrets I know about myself, this is one I am most ashamed of. It is the one that keeps me from moving forward from my past, achieving my personal goals, and ultimately relishing the beautiful life I know I already have.

Now, its usefulness is no longer as relevant to my life and it's time to find a way to let it go.