Last week, I sent out an email to my subscribers asking them to share with me what scares them. Over 450 responses later, this series was (is?) born. In each email I received, I felt shock, sadness, empathy, and found a part of myself weaving in and out of words that I could very well have written. Hell, I’ve probably spoken many of the words shared in your emails in my conversations with friends, journal entries, and therapist sessions over the years.
After reading them all, I can tell you this: you’re not alone in your fears. And if this series does nothing else, it will let you know just that – you are not alone – and perhaps you’ll find one thing that will help you turn your fear from a negative into a positive.
For weeks, I’d felt that something wasn’t right. When we were together, it was seemingly hunky-dory. I mean, aside from the fact that the longer we dated, the more often he asked questions that I felt were meant to systematically discredit my worth piece by piece.
Y’know, it was really just me being paranoid. Everything was fine and I was being needy. One Tuesday night, we had a fabulous date and sleep over and he told me that this Wednesday morning was the best of his life. He held my face in his hands, stroked my hair, beeped my nose, and kissed me with soft kisses everywhere.
That was the last time I ever saw him.
He canceled our next date. Phone calls went unreturned. I got cozy with depression with a side of vodka and La Croix. I wasn’t worthy, this was my fault (as usual), and I was fat, too old, and I texted him too often (read: once a day).
Finally, he crawls out of the woodwork and schedules a call with me like I’m a sales rep for a line of cycling socks. I’m terrified of what he’s going to say on this call because I know. It’s end-of-days. End of “this.” When a man you’re dating schedules a call with you, you’ve been demoted from lover to vendor.
My phone rings with the number “unavailable” (seriously?) at the EXACT appointed time and after a few moments of niceties, brass tacks get pressed into the corkboard of my heart.
“You know, I’ve been wondering where this whole Eric-and-Erika thing was going for awhile and I think you’re a great person, but I just don’t see a future for us together.”
Me: from “the best Wednesday of your life” to “I don’t see a future for the whole Eric-and-Erika thing.” And you just called me a thing. <note: this is all going on in my head>
My response? “Thanks for calling. Be well.” And I hung up.
Because the conversation – there wasn’t one to be had. He’d left me long before I’d left him and now, I had to get on with the business of leaving (which also involved vodka and La Croix). I was afraid of what he was going to say, knowing full well what he would say and now I was afraid I was never, ever going to find love.
The Shitty Side of Fear
Fear can be a real asshole. It can consume our days, hearts, and bodies, paralyzing us to the point where we’re waiting for life to happen to us. Because if life happens to us, we simply have to deal with the fallout. We’re not willing participants in creating the fallout.
See, I just waited for him to decide instead of simply saying – hey, this is bollocks and I don’t deserve this shite. I’m worthy and good and kind and funny and these tits of mine – srsly, have you seen the tits? THESE WERE YOURS TO SEE. And y’know what? No tits for you. No heart, no time, and none of this awesomeness for you because you don’t know a good thing when you have it so you can go shit in a hat because me and these boots are made for walkin’ and my tits are going to wooga-wooga just so when I walk the fuck away from you and into the rest of my life.
That was super easy to write. Kinda fun, too.
It’s just a helluva lot harder to do.
When fear makes us wait for life to happen to us, we’re telling ourselves (and the world, by the by), that what we can’t do is more important to us than what we can do.
So we wait. We hide. We numb ourselves with drink or drug or sex or food. We beat ourselves up with words we’d never use on a friend, but somehow, it’s okay to use those words on ourselves. We cut ourselves down until we believe it’s all true – every shitty word of it, we’ve bought it like a 50-lb bag of oatmeal at Costco and dumped it into the cart of our psyches.
We become proud of the bullshit we’ve bought in bulk and paid for with fear.
I’ve used fear as currency in my life to get everything I didn’t want because no one ever told me I could use it t buy something different and the people I surrounded myself with couldn’t show me how to use my fear for anything good.
The Bacon-Wrapped Glory of Fear
Great. You don’t eat pork. You’re a vegetarian. Vegan, even. Cool. Replace “bacon” with your dream wrapping – or even sauce – of choice and roll with me on this one.
I remember the day that someone asked me to try a bacon-wrapped date.
First reaction: Are you fucking kidding me? I’m not old and don’t need to improve my bowel movements and why the hell would anyone ruin perfectly good bacon by shoving a shrived-up fruit that makes you poop in the middle of it?
Second reaction, after giving in and trying the bacon-wrapped poop fruit: MY GOD, WHERE HAS THIS BEEN ALL MY LIFE? LET US ORDER THREE MORE PLATES AND I WILL DIP EVERYTHING INTO THE DATEY-BACON JUICE THAT SEEPS FROM THIS SWEET AND SALTY CONCOCTION’S SEAMS.
You can let fear ride you roughshod or you can say, “OK, dickey little fear thing – I’ll see your bacon-wrapped date, saddle it up, and see who gets thrown first.”
Because on the other side of fear…is living.
If I’d let my fear ride me, I’d have had never discovered the most amazing, rewarding, and heartbreaking things and people in my life. Here are just a few examples:
- After losing Jason in late 2010, I did everything I could to destroy myself. Name it. I did it. If I hadn’t told fear to sit the fuck down, I’d have never reached out to find a therapist. You want to talk about hard and scary? Admitting you need help with your head and heart because you’ve been really busy destroying your life after life destroyed you — HARD AND SCARY. Yet, for the next 4 years, I walked head-on through a lot of fear. It was (and still is) scary as hell, but I’ve not only found happiness. I now realize that I’m worthy of it and just because he died doesn’t mean I don’t deserve to live.
- Since leaving a performing career back in 2004, I missed it. I just had no idea how much I missed it because I’d been busy being a grown-ass adult. Y’know, building and growing a business, writing a few books, magazine columns, speaking. I had money in the bank for the first time in a very long time – but I missed performing. In mid-2013, I decided to move to Chicago to return to performing. I had no idea what it would look like or what would happen, but I’d built a business that let me pursue what I loved. I’m still scared as hell, but the fear keeps me working instead of settling into a complacency. I’m here, but I always ask, “What’s next?” I make a lot less money than I used to, but I’m paid back each time I go to an audition, my agent calls, I get cast in a show, or I’m invited to be in the room to share who I am and what I do.
- I’ve been doing online dating since 2002. Why? I mean, why the hell would I keep that shit up after all of the nutjobs, little boys, and complete relationship failures that it had spawned? Well, thanks to therapy and good friends and a whole lot of acceptance that finding a love required no less effort than the work I put into my clients each day, I kept having better and better dates. And on April 29, 2015, I had THE date. I met Clark Kent (not his real name, but the resemblance is uncanny). And we’ve had our hiccups along the road to where we are today, but I’ve figured out he’s someone I want walking beside me. Our brands of dorkitude match. And we moved in together. And it’s crazy and beautiful and goofy and messy and I’d never have found him had I taken down my online dating profile the week prior in a fit of frustration after being stood up.
I’ve also changed my friends. Today, I’m surrounded by people who all have fears – and very real fears at that – but we’re all much more likely to walk face-first into our fears than tell one another to turn tail and run.
Those people are hard to find because safe is where it’s at, y’know? Safe is fucking awesome. Safe is the salted caramel gelato baseline of living. Safe people are the hardest to jettison because they’re all we know, but they insulate us and keep us from spending our fear in a different way. Instead, they reinforce our fears, saying, “Hey, that shit it super valid and OMG NO. Those people doing those things out there are idiots. You’re not an idiot. Here, have a flavorless saltine cracker and the remote control.”
My new friends, mentors, coaches, and colleagues give me a safe place to feel unsafe. To feel my fears, listen to them, and know that it’s okay to feel that way. I do that for them in return.
Because the worst thing that fear can be is silent and empowered. When that happens, fear takes over your life because you’ve said it’s okay for its voice to be YOUR voice.
By voicing fears in a safe space, you can become empowered by your fear. You tell it that hey – salted caramel safety is sweet as fuck, but imma just do this thing and see what happens. You’re surrounded by people who celebrate your leap, help you stand when you fall, and laugh with you when you remember what happened over a non-vodka-and-La Croix. Because it’s okay to be scared. It’s okay to be afraid of what happens on the other side. But fear is a currency I can use to buy LIVING instead of passively just BEING.
So, spend your fear. Pull out that wad of bills in your right pocket and start laying them on the table. And tell the Clerk of Life standing in front of you that you’re paying the admission fee to What’s On the Other Side.
And the other side, friends – oh man. C’mon over.
Fear is currency. You can use it buy everything you don’t want…or everything you might get if you’re brave enough to spend it on an admission fee to LIVING.
PS: This is the first blog post I’ve written since February 9 — because I was afraid I didn’t have anything to say. So, I have you — my Fellow Fearful — to thank for reminding me that I do.