How Fear Can Sustain Weakness or Empower Courage

I’m exploring fear right now. Mostly because I’m fairly certain it’s what’s consuming and overwhelming me as I prepare to tackle a huge goal next week. But also because I haven’t fully examined my relationship with fear – the role it played in my life as a drinker and how it influences the decisions I make now.

Fear

I used to let fear paralyze me. I habitually allowed it to sabotage me, destroy opportunities, eliminate possibility, and render me utterly defenseless in the face of potential success.

It was always fear that drove me to dose after dose of liquid courage. “Just a glass of wine and everything will be fine,” I continually reminded myself. I could tackle the toughest challenges, resolve the biggest conflicts, harness superhuman creative prowess, and basically take on the universe. As long as I had a drink. Or two. Or five. Or …

The best part? By drowning fear in alcohol, I never had to acknowledge my scared existence. No one saw fear sneaking up on me, sitting next to me, or holding one hand over my mouth and nose while clenching my heart with the other. A few drinks gave me the power to push right on through without letting on that I felt fear’s presence for even one second.

Eureka! I had discovered a cure for fear. Like it was a disease. Brilliant, right?

Wrong. My remedy for fear was a disease itself. Alcohol addiction stripped me of my ability to believe that I had any courage or power at all. It created a permanent paranoia and made me scared of everything. All the time. But I couldn’t admit it.

I still don’t really talk about fear. Acknowledging it makes it real. And a threat. I’m actually not very good with feelings in general. That’s why alcohol worked so well for me. It allowed me to smother my emotions and get through all the stuff I thought was tough.

Looking back now, I realize nothing was ever as scary as I imagined. I see that with so much clarity that I know nothing will ever be as frightening as it may appear.

Fear is what tells us something is worth it. And, the more we conquer fear the more powerful we become. I’ve programmed my brain to play these words on repeat as I count down to a huge day.

I’m being interviewed on live television next week. The host of the show is an incredible woman I’ve known professionally for a while now. I make my living as a public relations consultant, and the host has interviewed many of my clients over the years. We started to become friends outside of the studio almost two years ago, right around the time I launched my first attempt at sobriety. I attended a ladies night at her home and brought two bottles of wine – one red and one white. When she offered to pour me a glass, I nervously spilled my guts and told her everything. Well, not everything. But I was new at this back then, and telling anyone anything about what was going on with me felt so much bigger than it actually was. Ginormous.

As our friendship has grown, we’ve talked at length about my sobriety. About nine months ago we began taking about me coming on the show. At the time, I was still hiding behind my pen name, but had grand plans to out myself and go public with my story in my local community this April, Alcohol Awareness Month.

Plans changed. I outed myself quietly on the blog more than five months ago and then accidentally on my personal Facebook page last month.

But I’m still doing the television interview on my friend’s show. And, I am scared to death. More than scared. I’m “poop my pants” terrified. While many people consider public relations glitzy and glamorous, that’s never what the profession has been to me. Sure, I have schmoozed with a few celebrities here and there. And a cool connection put me at the foot of the stage for the John Mayer concert on the TODAY Show plaza a few summers ago. But, more than anything, I am down and dirty, behind the scenes, doing every ounce of grunt work necessary to put my clients on stage and make them shine. It’s not easy work and it’s not always pretty. I’m never the spokesperson. And, while I have been interviewed on live television and radio before, back when I served on the board of a major charity, a PR person prepped me each time and I was never sharing my own story. Easy peasy. Nothing like what I’m about to do. Apples to oranges.

My friend will make sure I feel comfortable in the “hot seat.” I’m not worried about that. We’re on the same page with content for the interview and, like a good PR gal, I’ve sent a segment outline complete with sample Q&A to the producer, a woman I’ve been working with for close to 20 years.

The fear I have about the interview is twofold:

One, I am taking the “recover out loud” work I’ve done via this blog and breathing a whole different kind of life into it. People will be truly seeing and hearing me. Suddenly, I’m starting to feel the stigma of addiction. For the first time, I am worried about being judged. My mind is conjuring up these images of the future me being silly out in public, or stumbling over my words, forgetting an appointment, or (the worst!) having a car accident and people automatically assuming I’ve relapsed. Normal life stuff for anyone else … but I associate it all with things that might happen if I drank.

As if I’m all that and a bag of chips and people will really care. They won’t, right?

The other part of my fear is simply walking into the television studio and seeing all the people I’ve only known professionally all this time and sharing my personal story. What will they think? Will I lose their respect? Will I gain more of it? I may have once had a drink to calm my nerves before bringing in a client for an interview. Once. But, I honestly can’t recall. I do know I’ve never been intoxicated in front of any of these people.

In addiction, I hid my fear. I always thought admitting it was a sign of weakness and no one would want to hear me whine about it. In sobriety, I’ve learned to embrace fear and let it empower me. I’ve learned at ask for help if I need it, and I’m getting better at accepting assistance when it’s offered.

When I booked this interview, the first person I told was a dear friend. A woman who, back in the day, taught me so much about working in public relations. A woman whose example of selflessness and generosity is a model we all should strive to follow even just halfway. A woman who is also in the public eye with a mission of educating and empowering others, telling her story of surviving a massive Mother’s Day heart attack. A woman who’s first response to my news about the interview was an offer to accompany me, hold my hand if I needed, and take me to lunch afterwards to celebrate. We’re coming up on two years since that heart attack and I still bawl like a baby every time I imagine a world without this incredible person. I am blessed to call her my friend and thanks to my sobriety, I feel completely worthy of her love and support.

I’m afraid to do the interview. Absolutely terrified. Still. Even after writing this. Many times, I write about things that are bothering me because I know, when the words start to flow, I will have some sort of epiphany and find what I need to overcome a challenge or take the right next step.

That didn’t really happen this time. There was no magic moment. But what I have realized is that I am more scared of not doing the interview. There are people out there struggling the way I was two years ago and they need to hear and see someone like them. And, selfishly, I think I might just be looking forward to the “courage high.” Maybe just a little.

 

Here are some great quotes about fear. Please feel free to offer your own favorites in the comments. We all need them …

“Do one thing every day that scares you.”~Eleanor Roosevelt

“Scared is what you’re feeling. Brave is what you’re doing.” ~Emma Donoghue

“I wonder if fears ever really go away, or if they just lose their power over us.” ~Veronica Roth

“Without fear there cannot be courage.” ~Christopher Paolini

 

4 comments

  1. I definitely don’t want to encourage you either way because I too would be “poop my pants” terrified of doing this. However, I also believe “be the change that you want to see in the world” and this is an example. More people than I think even we realize, struggle with addictions of all sorts: food, sex, gambling, shopping, technology, alcohol and drugs and don’t know where to turn. You will be there explaining how to climb out of the abyss, what to expect and how to conquer – how can that not be good? Of course there are small minded, judgey people (we see that all the time), so that can be expected but I think that the most probable outcome of this is that you will change a whole bunch of perspective, potentially improve the stigma associated with problem drinking, prove to yourself that you can do things that scare you and help make the world just a little bit better 🙂

    1. Oh my gosh, I love you! Thank you so much for these words and this support! Thank you, thank you, thank you. I have a small reprieve as the interview has been postponed about 10 days, but I will be reading this comment over and over and over between now and then. YOU, dear reader, are a blessing and I appreciate you so very much!!

  2. Hi Laura,
    Confront fear by opening your shoulders and letting your heart open and your hands spread like wings. It really works – even to go so far as stretching into a backbend. Yoga is an antidote to fear for me.
    Fear for me is always about vulnerability – and having the courage to put what I believe in out there regardless of others rejection or scrutiny or judgement.
    Fear is analysis and delay and postponement and comparison – and it is overcome with love and acceptance and embracing your own frailties and uniqueness.
    You are worthy and have the deep core self belief to stand in the face of fear and quietly, humbly, go about your business and be the best version of yourself. Because, after all, that is what you are here for.
    Right now, it’s simply a matter of getting up and going and doing it.
    Good luck
    Bren

    1. Bren, I love this – thank you. Even with my stiff, fused spine, it works! I may not have truly done a back bend, but I definitely opened up. And, it was powerful! We definitely have a choice when it comes to fear. The interview is Monday – I’ve got this!

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