Saturday, October 21, 2006

On Becoming Fearless

Arianna Huffington has a book out with the same title as this post. It’s about going through life consumed by fear and overcoming that issue, learning to live confidently. I haven’t read it yet, but I plan to because that is a subject dear to my heart.

Ever since I can remember I was pretty much consumed by fear. I’m not talking about the pulse pounding, heart in your throat, “Oh shit we’re all going to die” kind of fear. Actually, in those situations I’ve always done okay. I’m talking about the “I don’t think I can do this,” or “they aren’t going to like me,” or “they’re going to find out I’m a fake” or (perhaps the most corrosive) “she doesn’t really love me and is going to leave” kind of fear.

Pretty much everything I thought or did was driven by this pervasive, destructive fear, and the result was not pretty. It turned me inward and created a self-centered, arrogant, angry person. The fear of being alone caused a grasping attempt at control that created the very loneliness that I feared. It was an endless downward spiral of alcohol-fueled self destruction. At the root of it was the relentless fear that ate at me every waking moment.

I embarked on the solution more than twenty years ago when I began the journey into sobriety. Faith and fear cannot coexist, and in the spiritual environment in which I learned to live sober they understood my fear and showed me the steps to shed the fear and replace it with faith and trust.

Several years ago I experienced the first of several health issues when I had a series of strokes. Small ones, but cause for concern because the doctors could not figure out what was causing them. They still don’t know. Then my heart experienced severe arrhythmia’s, caused by emphysema that I’ve had for more than twenty years. That has been partially, but only partially, corrected by a surgery. Then I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease.

Thanks to excellent foresight and hard work on my wife’s part, I have excellent health insurance. All of these conditions are being controlled very nicely at this point, and the doctors tell us that the Parkinson’s is not the dread disease that it once was. But clearly the future is likely to hold challenges. We would be kidding ourselves to think otherwise.

What has been missing throughout this adventure, and remains missing today, is any element of fear. Is that weird, or what? All those years of living fearfully without reason and now, with health issues that actually are a threat, and I am living fearlessly. It’s not like I’ve dealt with any fear, it simply has not arisen.

Now, it may be that I have simply lost my mind. I’m not the one to provide any kind of authoritative evaluation of that. When you lose your mind you don’t miss it because you don’t have anything to miss it with. But my wife says I’m pretty much together at this point (she makes allowance for the fact that I served in submarines, and we are all a little bit “off”), so we’ll rule out the lost mind hypothesis.

There are, I believe, two things that contribute to my lack of fear today. I don’t yet know how Arianna Huffington does it, but here’s my formula.

The first is that whatever my health conditions may do to me in the future is just that, in the future, and through the disciplines I have learned in the journey into sobriety I have become quite good at living in the present. I make whatever preparations for tomorrow that are within my power, and then I let go and live in today. That is more easily said than done, but I’ve been practicing it for a couple of dozen years and by the time I really needed it I had gotten quite good at actually doing it.

The other, and more important, reason is that I have a sure and certain knowledge that there is a power greater than myself that will provide the guidance and strength to see me through whatever may happen. That knowledge came to me through the same mechanisms that led me to sobriety and taught me to live one day at a time. It did not happen all at once, no “burning bush” moment, but by the time I really needed that knowledge it was there.

The side effects of sobriety. Nothing ever happens by chance.