Often in my life I can point to opportunities or moments where fear overtook me. For as long as I can remember fear has been a very present emotion in my life. As a child I had all the typical fears; the dark, the monster under the bed, ghosts. Some fears were real, like when I awoke when I was 5 and I was at a neighbor’s house sleeping on the sofa. My mom had had a heart attack during the night and was rushed to the hospital. I was quietly taken to my neighbor’s house so my dad could go to the hospital with my mom. When I awoke my grandmother and aunt had arrived from Georgia to take me home with them to live for many months. Apparently my dad could only care for one child while mom was sick and my older brother got to stay. It was scary to suddenly be whisked away from my home without even saying goodbye to anyone. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my grandmother and aunt but as a 5 year old it was overwhelming. I was shuffled between their houses and, while I liked playing with my cousins, sleeping at my aunt’s house was scary. She put me in a room by myself and her room was at the other end of the house. At home I always slept with my mom until she died when I was 11. So this was very scary.
My dad was also a source of fear. As a child he could be a scary person. I wasn’t close to my dad growing up and after my mom died he became immersed in grief and bitterness at losing his wife and being left to raise 2 children. Because of this his words and actions became filled with rage and anger that was directed at me. My older brother had already left home to live with my grandmother because he and dad couldn’t get along. My younger brother was only 3 when mom died so most of the things that were said and abuse that was administered fell on me. I could tell story after story to support my claims of verbal and physical abuse but that’s not what this is about. Suffice it to say that I was scared of my dad for most of my youth and his words were sharp enough to rob me of any self-esteem I had.
Jumping into adult life was scary but I was so grateful to be away from that toxic environment I reveled in the fear. One of the effects of my childhood was a need for everyone to like me. This became my goal; everyone was going to like me. As I look back at that I realize that fear was at the root of this need as well. Of course everyone didn’t like me and nothing has changed in all the years since. I still crave that affirmation and am always crushed when I know or suspect people don’t like me. I go out of my way to be the kind of friend that people want to know and hang around with. But the reality is that I am an opinionated woman with a strong personality and I’m just not everyone’s cup of tea. But the fear remains.
When I turned 50 I was determined to start conquering my fears by facing them one by one. I’m terribly afraid of heights so for my 50th birthday Cori took me on our first cruise and I promptly booked us a parasailing adventure in Key West. Cori backed out on me once we were on the boat waiting our turn, but I was determined to conquer my fear so I went alone. It was glorious and terrifying. But I had done it and I felt victorious in taking my first steps in not allowing fear to rule my life. Since that fateful day I have done many scary things. I quit my job and started my own business. I went to Europe alone and rented a car and drove in a foreign country alone. I married my wife and took a stand against prejudice. I came out to family and friends with the risk being that they wouldn’t like me anymore. I’ve come a long way but fear still holds me back from reaching other goals. I’ve always wanted to live in Europe but fear keeps me here. The what-ifs overtake me and the older I get the bigger the what-ifs become. I want to say many things to people in this political climate of hate and misogyny but I fear the backlash and losing friends. I fume and mumble under my breath while shaking my head at posts on Facebook. Fear. It’s paralyzing and it’s the place where dreams and goals go to die. It’s like a terrifying ogre that’s guarding the gate to the place where everything you’ve ever wanted in being stored. Occasionally I’ve sneaked past and grabbed a prize but what I really dream of is slaying the ogre once and for all and grabbing everything I’ve ever wanted.