Fear Less

By Dan Griffin
For most of my life I wanted to be fearless. Since I was a child I seemed to experience an abnormal amount of fear. Whether it is a genetic anomaly, neurological misfiring, a spiritual malady or all of the above, I cannot say. What I do know is that I was always aware that I had so much fear and I just wanted to be rid of it. Take it away! I would feel quite alone, especially from other men, because I assumed (wrongly, as it turns out) that other men did not have similar experiences. I was wrong, and I have an idea why.

For those of us in recovery from addictions, fear seems to have a special place in our lives. The literature of recovery and much of the prevailing wisdom speaks constantly about fear and how our lives are “shot through with it.” There is actually research showing that two of the areas of the brain affected by (or perhaps causative of) addiction are the amygdala, specifically, and the overall limbic system, of which the amygdala is a part as well as the prefrontal cortex, the primary decision-making center and most evolved part of the brain.

I was driving in my car through downtown St. Paul many years ago and well into my own recovery from addiction, and I was experiencing an inordinate amount of fear. Anxiety. Panic. Call it what you will — they are all members of the same family. I cannot even remember what it was about. I do remember the insight. Up until that point, it had been so difficult for me to admit that I was feeling afraid. Not because I was not aware that I was feeling fear. No, I was well aware of the fear that would regularly visit me. In fact, for the last several years, I had even become accustomed to talking about that fear with a select group of men and women, privately and usually in the basement of some church. In those groups fear was not only respected, it was expected – even from men! I could admit it to the people in those basements more easily than I could admit it to myself, because I knew they would not make fun of me for having it.

Over the years I have heard from men in recovery from all walks of life who — when they are able to be gut-wrenchingly honest — talk about how much of their lives have been spent in fear. Former drug-dealer turned patent attorney. CEO of a national criminal justice organization. Former bodyguard for a smalltime Chicago “businessman.” Priest. Judge. Real estate magnate. Teacher. Psychiatrist. Nurse. Musician. Author. The list goes on, ad infinitum. Most of these men spent an inordinate amount of time focused on trying to show themselves and the rest of the world that they were not afraid. And so we all walked around thinking that none of us were feeling fear — and, in truth, it was killing us and all of our relationships.

Remember those stickers that used to be everywhere, most often on those big trucks that most people need a stepladder to get into: No FEAR! They shouted to anyone driving close enough to them: I AM A REAL MAN! The words in ominous writing meant to further communicate how much we, men, don’t want to — no, shouldn’t — have any fear in our lives. Of course I have come to realize that some of the most fearful men are the ones driving around the big trucks with stickers saying “No FEAR” on them.

If you are like I was and have aspirations of someday being fearless – as in not experiencing fear – that day, sadly, will never arrive. But, if you instead wish to simply fear less, well, that is available to you any time. The only catch: you have to be willing to acknowledge that the fear is there and for many men that can feel tantamount to admitting they are not men.

Today it seems easier for me to see other men’s fear, probably because I have become so intimately acquainted with my own fear. My relationship with this emotion is one that has become mostly amicable — I notice its presence and respect it, but have made it clear it is not going to run my life anymore. As is the case with so many things, in recognizing and facing my fear, it has much less power over me. So go ahead and do it, get honest about your fears — what are you afraid of?

Dan’s Blog: http://dangriffin.com/