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  • Writer's pictureJesse Harless

Two Steps to Overcoming Fear

“Feel the fear and do it anyway.” — Dr. Susan Jeffers

Fear has been a dominating factor throughout my life. My first fear was the fear of abandonment. My father was addicted to alcohol and cocaine and left when I was four years old. My coping mechanism for the pain was sucking my thumb. There is nothing wrong with thumbsucking as a toddler, but at eight years old, I still did it every day. My kindergarten teacher wanted to keep me back a year because of my incessant thumbsucking. It was getting out of control. But it brought me ease and comfort, and I would hide it. I was a functioning thumbsucker.

Sucking your thumb as an 8-year-old is hard work. You have to escape being seen by friends and big brothers. My brothers would constantly harass me about it. They told me my thumb was going to fall off. But I couldn’t stop doing it. I didn’t know how else to cope with my emotions. Eventually, the pain of embarrassment caused me to stop.

The same emotional pattern affected me as a young adult when I started using drugs and alcohol a decade or so later.

Drugs and alcohol became a solution to my pain, trauma, and fears. Why did I do some of the things I did? Much of it can be broken down to fear. Not healthy fear, like when you’re faced with life and death decisions. I’m talking about everyday fear that brings about feelings of extreme self-doubt, low self-worth, worry, and anxiety.

“Everything you want is on the other side of fear.” -Jack Canfield

When I was 22 years old, my fear of abandonment was back again. This time, it was because I spent the $200 my brother sent me to get me home from Orlando, Florida. The second time he had sent me money in two weeks. I intended to use this money to escape the addicted hell in which I was living, but I couldn’t stop using cocaine and opioids. I was fortunate to be sent money a third time as I made the 20+ hour drive back to New Hampshire.

About a week or so of being home from Florida, I was arrested for federal felonies due to my addiction to synthetic opiates. Being arrested created many new fears. Fear of the future. Fear of being a criminal. Fear of losing my freedom. Fear of staying sober. Fear of prison. Fear of not being able to get a job.

Then I had a fear of going to 12-Step meetings which I was required to attend. Especially young people’s meetings. Even after being in recovery for a few years, I was terrified to go. It felt like high school all over again, at least in my mind. Fear doesn’t go away because you’re living in recovery. You still have to deal with the fear you were hoping to avoid your whole life. I wore a mask for years at meetings and around people, acting as though I was comfortable in my own skin.

“Remember your dreams and fight for them. You must know what you want from life. There is just one thing that makes your dream become impossible: the fear of failure.”- Paulo Coelho

I even stayed in the same job for eight years because I was afraid of what would happen if I tried to get another job. Who would want to hire a felon? My options seemed extremely limited. I would work during the day and attend college at night. I eventually got my degree and bought my first home in recovery. These were significant milestones since I assumed my felonies would keep me stuck. But now I had to face the reality of paying a mortgage.

Money problems motivated me to face the reality of having felonies. I applied to a Fortune 15 company. I put the details of what had happened in my application where it asked, “Were you ever arrested?”

During phone interviews, I shared everything. I told them about my problem past issue with OxyContin and other substances; I told them my whole recovery story. Probably way too much. But the fact of the matter is that I had been in living in recovery for eight years at this point, doing the next right thing. I had nothing to hide and nothing to lose. And I wanted nothing coming back to bite me if they did hire me.

I got the job. There was a new hope for my life. But now, new fears arose. I had the fear of being found out and the fear of success. But these were fears I could handle, at least for now.

Fear had been there all along. It was debilitating at times. But I discovered that most of the things I feared never happened. Today, when there’s fear, it’s usually an indication that I need to slow down and go inwards. It’s uncomfortable at first, but the fear is gone.

In the past, I would not share my fears, because I was afraid of appearing weak. I never asked for help. I just stuffed fear away and moved on. But the fear never went away. How do I face my fears in recovery? I ask questions. I seek counsel from people and mentors who can help. I meditate and ask for guidance.

2 Steps to Overcoming Fear in Recovery

“He who is not everyday conquering some fears has not learned the secret of life.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson

1. Forgive Yourself

“Forgiveness is freedom”

Write down, “I forgive myself for having xxxx fear.” Take 10 minutes sitting quietly in stillness, breathing in peace and breathing out fear. Let go of the shame and quit punishing yourself for having the fear. Ask for help and find a recovery friend you can share your fears with. We all have fears, even people who don’t struggle with addiction. Practice self-compassion and the act of forgiving yourself every day. It’s all part of the journey of self-discovery and personal growth.

I found that nothing in my life is wasted, not the good or the bad.

It all gets used in some way; usually, in a way, that benefits someone else.

2. Take Action

Make a list of your top 3–5 fears. Then get out there and take action to confront your first fear. Be curious and ask questions. You’d be surprised by how many people struggle with the same fears you do. Get someone to keep you accountable like a life coach or a mentor.

And finally, when you face a fear, make sure you celebrate. Anchor in the win by getting a massage, booking a trip, or buying something nice for yourself.

I’ve decided to face all of my fears in recovery.

To live a life without regrets. Who knows? It might just work out. The more I face fear; the more my life seems to expand. I used to ask myself the question, “How many opportunities have I missed out on throughout my life due to fear?”

Now, I ask myself “How will overcoming this fear benefit myself and the people I serve?”

When we change the questions we ask ourselves; we change our lives.

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