Do you remember learning to swim or ride a bike? The terrifying moments of crippling fear where you swore you’d drown or fall off the bike to your peril? How it was only when mom or dad let go of the backseat of the bike – it was only when you let go of the fear yourself and actually took the leap – that you realized, Holy crap! I’m doing it. I’m riding a bike! In an instant the world became a much larger place. Do you remember the swelling pride in your chest? The deep sense of joy seeping out of every pore?
Can you also remember the times before where the fear kept you from making the big leap? The times where whoever was teaching you, let go of the bike and you panicked, wobbled and crashed – the time you almost put your head underwater but stopped yourself at the last moment because you were convinced you’d never come up? The times you thought, I can’t do this, and felt the mixture of fear, shame – and even relief – when you contemplated giving up?
As adults, we go through this process many times in our lives. When we think about changing jobs, starting a business, leaving a relationship, telling someone new that we like them, coming out as gay, buying a home, getting married or having kids – all of these major life decisions and changes force us to confront basic fears. Fears of feeling pain. Fears of making a mistake. Fears of being rejected or unloved or not enough. Fears of undertaking something at which we’ll prove incompetent.
As kids, we learned that on the other side of fear is freedom. That moment of finally “doing it” was love in its purest form. But, as we get older, the risks seem bigger than riding a bike or learning how to swim. We convince ourselves that the fall will be greater if we don’t make it. We remind ourselves (logically, of course) that the odds of making it are actually quite slim. And so, we give into fear: we play small, we stop trying and we wall ourselves off mentally, physically and emotionally.
4 years ago, when I was in the process of coming out as gay, I was caught up in fear – fear my family and my friends would disown me; fear I’d be alone and unwanted; fear I’d never be enough as I was and as who I was; fear I didn’t belong anywhere.
As someone who previously identified as a straight, married woman with a child, I feared taking the leap and coming out as gay. Even when I was sure this choice was right for me, even when I had the support of my then-husband and the guidance of my life-coach, the fear of not belonging and being unlovable was so overwhelming that I completely closed myself off. I didn’t respond to emails, phone calls or texts. I didn’t go out to gatherings or family functions. And, in the rare moment I was at a family function, I was short, brief and utterly closed off.
I could see the pained look on my mother’s eyes. I could hear the strain in her voice when she asked, “What’s wrong? Why won’t you talk to me?” The pain, guilt and shame of that was heavy to bear, but I told myself it was a far safer price to pay than the reality of not belonging and being unloved.
Fear told me no one would love me for my decision; not that it was “wrong”, but that I wasn’t worthy of my family and friends love. Fear convinced me it would happen, that people would cut me out and so I should do it first. Fear told me if I cut everyone off, I’d be safe, and no one could hurt me.
And so, I did.
But the “relief” I felt in walling myself off wasn’t what I had hoped for. It was mixed and tainted with shame, regret and fear – the very thing I thought giving into would release me from. My decision to cut everyone off was like a recipe gone wrong, one where I asked for tiramisu and instead got a soggy cookie concoction topped with chocolate Jello pudding and a cup of coffee on the side.
It wasn’t until many months later when I received a handwritten note in the mail from my mother that began with, “No matter what, I love you” that I realized love is letting go of the fear.
At any given moment in our lives, we have but one choice to make: fear or love, to be afraid or to be loving. While we can acknowledge and understand this basic tenet from A Course in Miracles, that there are only two states – fear and love – while we can logically go, “Well, yeah, love is who we are. Fear is our ego. We should choose love”, fear is quite deceptive and all too easy to choose without realizing we were choosing it.
True Fear is real. It’s the kind that’s preprogrammed within us, meant to keep us safe from saber tooth tigers and dark alleyways. Then, there’s False Fear. It wears a mask like True Fear telling us choosing it will make us safe, that it will protect us from the hurt…but, the difference is that there’s no real danger, not the kind that’s gonna kill us anyway. The reason it’s so difficult to distinguish what’s real and what’s not is because the crippling feeling of anxiety is the same in both types of fear. We know we should choose love. We want to choose love. But the fear that it’s real and the desire to be safe has us choose the False Fear.
Perhaps one of the greatest lessons I received from my mother that day (besides the understanding that love is letting go of fear), was the value of fear. It took receiving her letter for me to understand the value and real meaning of love – something I couldn’t have understood or accepted without first knowing my fear.
The best way to truly understand something, is to know and understand its opposite.
If you don’t know what you’re afraid of, you can’t become conscious of whether the place you’re standing is one of love or fear. Not until we can see how our fear is a driving force in how we approach the world, can we let go of fear and use love to transition and transform.
This week look closer at the roots of your fear. If you can find it and identify it (even if you can’t tell if it’s True Fear or False Fear), connect to it. Be with it to know and understand it. Rather than react or judge or push it away, seek to really see how it plays out in your everyday experiences and how it disconnects you from people and experiences. Remember that fear and love cannot coexist simultaneously. We must choose. And it is our ability to see our fear and know our fear that allows us to then put it aside and return to love.
You are love
You are loved
And you’re enough exactly as you are