Posted by: innerpilgrimage | May 23, 2012

Fear: Yes, Jess, There is a “Good” Fear

      “He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster. And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee.
                     — Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, Chapter 4 (Apophthegm #146).
     
      “Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
      where there is injury, pardon;
      where there is doubt, faith;
      where there is despair, hope;
      where there is darkness, light;
      where there is sadness, joy;”

                     — St. Francis of Assisi, The Prayer of St. Francis
           
      “On that glad night,
      in secret, for no one saw me,
      nor did I look at anything,
      with no other light or guide
      than the one that burned in my heart.

                     — San Juan de la Cruz, The Dark Night

      In active addiction, I find myself using sweet food to try to fill a void within me. I choose sweet foods because of the bitterness of the love addiction. It is an abyss, and I was once in deep denial that it looked straight back at me; I am, in addiction, a monster who desperately tries to control everyone and everything around me (in order to be worshipped properly, as the perfect Goddess I am supposed to be). The problem is that a Goddess who demands worship gets jealous and punitive in her effort to control. That makes a monster Goddess–Echidna instead of Aphrodite. Well, monsters need prisons. Monsters need dark caves or labyrinths to hide their hideousness from the sight of the world. Of course, that prison does double duty: It discourages all but the most vigilant monster-hunters to enter the lair at all. By explicit agreement, as long as I didn’t go out, no one came in.
      I placed myself in an oubliette as both protection and punishment–a place where the forgotten are left to die alone and afraid. Out of control of fate, even as I clawed at the walls in hopes that I could earn freedom. If the surrounding walls could be broken through with enough willpower and effort, I would be worthy to walk in the light with “normal” people.
      It never worked. I exhausted myself, felt great despair and humiliation, angrily railed against life and acted as if love was a myth, felt grief as time eased me forward the inevitable final void (death) which awaited me–after pain in end-of-life due to obesity-related health risk, and felt fear that I would only realize failure in my remaining time on Earth.
      Darkness within; darkness without. Darkness above; darkness below. I responded to the emptiness with emptiness, and I was a hungry ghost walking the world–one foot in the past and one foot in the future. Where I never was? Here and now. Why?
      Being here and now meant I was touching eternity. It meant I could find Truth. It meant I could find the light within and not be lost in the void any longer–because there would be no void any more. No response to the void with my own void. A lit candle in the darkness instead of curses.
      In other words, I could learn to be at peace when alone (as opposed to lonely). I could meditate, focusing on breathing. I could stop fretting about yesterday and tomorrow and be grateful for what I have right here and now. Illumination from within, lighting my way out of Hell and into a life of bliss.
      So, how does this relate to “good” fear? Well, it has to do with a book by Gavin de Becker entitled, The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals that Protect Us From Violence. When I first picked it up, I was looking for resources to learn about fear and anger–how to approach them with a recovered attitude through knowledge of both. Fear and anger are the sources of my acting out in addiction–from binges and anorexia with food and “love” (binge on toxic love; restrict real love) to indulging my character defects. I keep coming to a truth over and over again, that all of my resentments and self-serving thinking and desperate behavior stem from fear and anger. I believe that’s one of the lessons I drew from The Why Cafe by John P. Strelecky. Anyway, I wondered, “How could fear even be a gift? It makes me enter victim-mode, where I blame the outside world for everything negative that happens in my life and for the lack of positive experiences in my life!”
      Well, the “Gift of Fear” really isn’t fear. Just like humility isn’t humiliation, this healthy fear is self-preservation in action. It is love of life and the call to wake up to the natural intuition we all possess. What I appreciate is that it’s not given a mystical source. Gavin de Becker gives it a concise and rational explanation: We sense and know more than we acknowledge, and our body gives us intuition to act upon. Our culturally-derived (and erroneous) thoughts short-circuit the wisdom we receive when we’re in the awareness moment. We rationalize away for myriad reasons, and we end up in dangerous situations because we don’t listen to the Higher Self.
      So, “good fear” is actually love. It’s listening to one’s true self (the Higher Self) through the body’s natural responses to a heightened perception of a situation, acknowledging the ineffable message, and acting on it with confidence that it is the right path for the situation.
      Gavin de Becker has experience working with governments, individuals, and companies about threat evaluation and violence prediction, and this is a pretty dense book in terms of knowledge. It’s not feel-good like so many books about trusting one’s self, but it has made me aware of quite a few behaviors and erroneous thought patterns which correlate with unproductive and distracting fear. What baffled me was how often I found myself surprised by the common sense associated with threat reduction and avoidance (aka. self-preservation). I already knew what and even how, but I never understood why.
      Gavin de Becker’s book really helps me understand the why. It’s less, “Do this, do that,” and more a book on expanding one’s knowledge of what real threat is versus illusory threat (oh, I am good at ignoring real threat and making a big production of perceived threat!) in order to use that gift of intuition we all have. I appreciate it’s an eye-opening book instead of a list of rules I couldn’t remember when I needed them most–a book that encourages one to seek answers within instead of looking outside for them.
      So, just like I picked up abstinence after working with a Higher Power to develop a food plan which worked for me (by TRUSTING what I knew about myself and what I knew about nutrition to create a liveable and generally relaxed food plan which engendered success instead of pushed me into outright rebellion of “The Diet”), I have confidence I can enter illusory-fear abstinence and learn to adopt a lifestyle of healthy self-preservation.
      What’s interesting is how it seems to apply so well in a broader manner. What’s been presented (I’m not finished with the book, though I have skimmed ahead and bounced around the chapters as each piece connects to a previous one) explains a lot about what I’ve experienced in program. For example, entering the rooms at all was brought on by an intuition I was dying of food. I stopped living in utter denial and saw the obesity hazard coming straight at me. I didn’t have to fight it head on with an aggressive and punitive diet (which would reward my anorexic); sidestepping was an option. Entering a 12-Step program was surrender to a new way of life, not submission to the same old illusion wrapped in pretty new paper. I surrendered again when I looked at the presented options for abstinence and tried them all on mentally. I was honest about my desire to punish myself with food; I was open to find a balanced diet which didn’t exclude the quality-of-life foods; I was willing to eat one day at a time and surrender my eating to a Higher Power. Has it worked? Well, I am still abstinent, still hovering between 155 lbs. and 165 lbs. for over a year, still (and most importantly) committed to the truth that it wasn’t me and isn’t me.
      I’m not saying I hear voices telling me, “Do eat this; don’t eat that.” I trust the messages that I get when I’m peckish. I ask myself questions and answer them honestly:
      “Is this body experiencing physical signs of hunger?” “Am I just thirsty and am misinterpreting that as hunger (which I do sometimes)?” “Am I wanting an enjoyable experience or am I trying to hide something I cannot accept under a layer of food?”
      Those three questions are generally the best binge stoppers, the thoughts that get shoehorned into the split seconds. While my body gives many hunger signals I get confused by (nausea, especially), I tend to be very aware what “not hungry” feels like. And drinking a glass of water then assessing if it was thirst always helps. I read somewhere that people sometimes eat when they’re thirsty, misinterpreting that discomfort. I sought to alleviate the discomfort by eating comfort food, which generally made me more thirsty, so I ate more comfort food (sweet, salt, fat), and, well, you see the spiral down–right? The last question is the hardest because I have a terrible time surrendering with that big resentment sitting on my chest like that wretched little incubus from Henry Fuseli’s The Nightmare. I feel like others failed me in program. Is this real? Hell, no.
      I had a part in this. I have made decisions which contributed to the situation’s outcome. I certainly don’t reach out. I put mileage and convenience qualifiers on meetings. I avoid meetings in which I have experienced interpersonal conflict. Did I make an effort to use program in any of those situations, to be grateful for the opportunity to practice program in low-risk situations? Nope.
      I simply sit in my resentment and complain I’m in the dark until it gets so bad that I do look inside for relief. And program still works within me. I am regularly polite and aware and make an effort to be a decent person–with no desire to impress others. I just want to clean up my side of the street, go to bed without regret. An apology which is heartfelt, a smile, reaching out yet keeping my boundaries up (that can be a hard one, since I still overexplain to not get accused of being a bitch–the SLAA member stumbling toward withdrawal still wants to be that Love Goddess, right?), and generally trying to be grateful for having woken up at all in the morning.
      Progress, not perfection. I know surrendering a resentment to my Higher Power (I have no idea what it is, but working program plugs right into it and makes the Promises of Recovery a daily reality–and I KNOW this from having fulfillment of the promises start to happen in my own life) makes the resentment a manageable lesson once it’s returned to me. I keep getting good looks at that resentment about meetings, and I see it in addiction and in recovery. The addict blames the others; the recovered person points out the lessons I’m learning. And when I see them? I appreciate that I have alternatives to the addict-minded thinking.
      And I do feel frustrated that I have the fear that some people in program might criticize that I don’t only use program literature to understand. To be honest? A lot of program literature is confusing to me. It also scares me how hardcore people can get about the Big Book. Do I understand why? Hell, yes! These people were withdrawn from the precipice, snatched from death and were reborn into a life outside of the bondage of addiction. The intensity comes from a place of love, from a desire to not let more people die of addiction. They love life so much, so vigorously, are so intensely grateful that they hold on with both hands to pull an addict out of drowning in the murky depths.
      The problem is that it’s scary to have a person come at me like that. I feel threatened, that if I don’t follow the plan as they see it, I am a heretic. And I don’t want to make waves. So, I walk out.
      I want to work program. Not MY program. Not YOUR program. THE program. I just feel a lot of the time like some people in meetings try to work my program for an hour once a week then abandon me the other 167 hours. Complete silence. In the oubliette.
      Not like I reach out, either. Gotta clean my side of the street then let yours be. I got a person to save, someone who really is a pretty decent person when in active recovery. Someone who understands that recovery is like the oxygen masks on an airplane: You gotta put your own mask on first, so you won’t lose consciousness before you help the person who needs help. It’s counter-intuitive, which is why I finally talked to a flight attendant about it. She explained that by getting my oxygen mask on first, I save two people instead of put two people at risk of serious medical issues. Even if the person who needs help passes out after I get my mask on but before I get their mask on, they will have oxygen and will recover. Only, and I mean only, if I honor self-preservation first–so I can thrive and be capable of helping others thrive, too.
     
      My name’s still Jess. Still a food binge-arexic. Still a toxic love addict and a real love avoidant. But I also still have a Higher Power guiding me when I listen with my heart instead of chatter incessantly about what I want HP to magically do for me without my commitment to any of it. I want an easy answer, an easy out.
      No such thing, but isn’t that a wonderful gift–in its way? Without the friction of the soil around it, a seed can’t send up shoots and push down roots. Consider that giant redwoods come from tiny seeds, that the effort to start from something that small and end up something so awe-striking took time and effort. And whatever correlates to patience for a tree. It does it naturally because that’s just part of being a redwood tree, I guess. So can we do it naturally, I believe, because that’s just part of being a human being.

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