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What I know About Fear – Part 2

Firstly, I have to thank you all for the wonderful responses to my last post – Part 1 on Fear! I have been blown away by the positive response… particularly because this was a vulnerable post to share. I found myself immediately wanting to take it down, totally unsure of what the response would be! Yup, I was… what’s that word? Afraid! ;) All of your comments have really proven to me that is was worth putting out there though. So thank you!

In the first part of this series on fear, I told you a bit of my personal history with fear and how it has evolved through the years and through experiences that life has brought me. In this post, I want to share some of the things I’ve learned about fear just specifically in the past 4 months since losing Andrew.

Having had to face one overwhelming fear after another in the past months has given me a perspective I did not have before all this happened. The funeral arrangements, the viewing, the funeral, designing the headstone, going back to Dallas to clean out his apartment, trying to go back to work, deciding not to go back to work, packing up my cats and a carload of stuff and saying goodbye to the city we called home, packing my apartment (that part is still in progress, I decided to make a slow move to it wouldn’t be quite to overwhelming, still is), birthdays and holidays without him… every single huge, unthinkable, insurmountable task screamed “this shouldn’t be happening. This is wrong.” And each of those things feels like a ladder that reaches up into space that must be climbed. Hell, even a normal day sometimes feels like that still. But I did discover something of value in each and every one of those steps…

I discovered first-hand that human spirit is a remarkable thing. We can withstand absolutely incredible amounts of trauma and pain… far more than we ever truly know until it happens to us. I am dumb-founded still as to how I manage to get out of bed everyday and find some level of joy somewhere in that day. Some days are better than others, of course. As each painful task or event comes, I think that surely I will drown in the pain of it – or get halfway up that ladder into space and slip and fall. Aside from the overall living with this loss, speaking at his funeral was the hardest thing I will probably ever do in my entire lifetime on this earth. It was at his family’s church, the church where I sat by his side for Christmas service the last 3 years. The service was horrible and beautiful all at the same time. I remember afterwards so many people coming up to me and saying how much grace and poise I had and just how beautiful my words were and how it helped them… and I remember how odd it felt to be complimented for such a thing. I felt proud, that I made him proud, but what a horrible thing to even have to feel proud over. I knew, no one could even imagine how I ever got up there to speak. I couldn’t either, to be honest. All I knew was that in my mind, it wasn’t a choice. It wasn’t about being brave or having guts, it was about doing the right thing. If anyone on this earth was going to speak about the man I love and what our life together meant, it was going to be me. He deserved that – and it didn’t matter how scared I was. He would have done the same for me, this I know, and so fear didn’t matter. And that was just it – something in my life became more important than fear in that moment.

I found out what happens when a thing becomes bigger than your fear. This is a big deal in moving forward with anything in our lives… something has to mean enough to you, so much, that the fear doesn’t matter anymore. In fact, it has me looking back at many times in my life when this very idea lead to positive changes that had been waiting in the shadow of fear. It has me thinking back to when Drew and I first started dating… I’d been in a bad relationship before and was terrified to date again. But he was my best friend, and eventually over time, the idea of building more with him became bigger than my fear of a bad relationship, and I let go. That was definitely the best decision I ever made, as it led to a more beautiful relationship than either of us had ever imagined. And today, choosing a new direction in my life, a new career path, the desire for change finally became bigger than the fear. The fear is still there, and I still feel it, but it doesn’t matter anymore. Because now I want something enough that fear is not going to stop me. There will be hard days still, many hard days to come, but I will still stay committed.

I have learned to feel afraid and do it anyway. We learn through loss that today is all we have. We might as well fill it with the experiences and people that we love most. Fill it with our most authentic selves – whether that is joy or sadness or anger or love. Say yes only to the things that feel right with our souls or bring us joy today. Do things that truly matter to us and help others. And do things we are afraid to do, things we’ve never done before, with the perspective that we’d rather fail on a new adventure than succeed on a path we’ve already walked before. And also be honest with ourselves – truly, bluntly honest, about the things that fit into that life. Deep down, we really always do know what works and what doesn’t.. it just gets buried.

I want to feel life, not just live it out. And fear is just a feeling, one of many. It’s not a pit of lava or a thousand bullets or a raging bull charging at me… it is just a feeling. It is a natural feeling to anything new… and it will come. I think I’d rather it come over something important and meaningful than over something mediocre that my heart is not on fire for.

I have learned to sit with my fears. Our fears have the best of intentions. They believe they are protecting us from scary or dangerous things in this world. And sometimes they actually are. But other times, they overreact and hinder us. I’ve learned that it’s important to acknowledge fears, and to take the time to sit with them and see what they are really trying to say to me. Having lost both of my parents and now the person I was going to build a future with, I’m very afraid of losing people – and I probably always will be to some extent, but I know this, and so when it comes I try to listen to make sure I have the support from myself and others that I need. My fears about financial security are a big one too, especially now that I’m working to follow my dreams of being a self employed artist. I’ve had a stable job since I was 17, so of course I’m going to feel fear about trying to change that. That fear must be listened to also, and reminded that I have always landed on my feet in the past, and even though we’re trying things in a totally new and scary way, I will not let anything bad happen. I am in charge, and I can be trusted (or trust myself) to make the right choices. And with that, the fears can relax. They can be like small children that way, fears… sometimes all they need is a little reassurance that it’s all going to be okay.

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So now, I have a part time job at an art gallery that barely pays for my gas money. But I love my boss and coworkers – and I get to be surrounded by great art, learn about talented local artists, and meet new people each day. I can feel Drew’s spirit beaming to know that I am here. I’m staying with his folks for now, quite possibly the first time in my life I have ever truly let my guard down and just allowed people to help me, really help me, to get somewhere new in my life… and am grateful each day for their support. And the rest of the time I am feeling life… the joy, the horrible pain of grief, the anger, the love, the beauty. I’m writing and painting and reading and sharing… I’m crying and trying and exploring and falling down and getting back up and figuring out this new path I am on. It’s kind of messy, I will say, but there it is.

As I look back, I think about where I was a few months ago… completely petrified with making the decision to quit my corporate job, leave Dallas and commit to this big idea. Barely even eating I was so freaked out. It was the scariest and saddest and most immense decision I’ve ever made – but it’s also been the most healing thing I probably could have done for myself right now. Every day I am glad I didn’t allow my fears to get in the way of making this change… even if I have no idea where I’m going yet.

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I’m curious to know… is there something big in your life you have always feared? Are you still fearing it now, and is it holding you back? Or have you found something bigger than your fear that helped you to move through it? I would love to hear about other people’s experiences with fear, particularly relating to your dreams and making them happen!

What I know About Fear – Part One

This post has actually become so gigantic that I’ve decided to separate it into two parts! My goodness, that’s a lot of fear Sarah! True true, but I hope you will find a lot of nuggets in my long-windedness. So here is part one….

I have been thinking a bit about fears this past week in relation to living the life of our dreams. We’ve all heard the question “what would you do if you knew you could not fail?”. I remember trying to answer this question in the past… and I was always wishy-washy. Really, I didn’t even know what I would want to do. That’s a lie. I did know, I’ve always known. I’ve known since I was probably 5 years old. I want to be an artist. I want to make beautiful things and inspire others to do the same. This is me… quite simple. But it has taken a cataclysm in my personal life for me to see it and get true about it.

My own History with Fear
I’ve spent most of my adult life being pretty cloudy about what I want because of fear. It came from the fear that I am not worthy of living my dreams… that I do not deserve to live the life I truly want. And so, whenever asked that question, my answer was always some sort of compromised not-so-bold version of the real answer. Looking back now, I realize that I truly did NOT believe it was possible. And since I didn’t believe that I could have it or that I deserved it, I got in the way of my own voice a lot (and seriously did not even know I was doing it!). I imagine this is what many people struggle with… the believing a thing is possible for us and that we deserve to have it.

In the 3 years I spent with my fiancé, a lot changed about how I see myself and my relationship to fear. We both saw what each other was capable of, and we were always encouraging each other to follow our dreams and be our best selves. In doing so, we both went out of our comfort zones, faced a lot of fears, took a lot of chances and learned a whole lot of new stuff. He got me to shoot guns and go skydiving – and I love both! I got him to take dance lessons, dress up for a cheesy 80’s night concerts and a myriad of other ridiculous things that put him completely out of his comfort zone as a calm, reserved, small town guy. He was the one who bought me my camera, and was my photo assistant to every intimidating photo job I went on. He read every blog post enthusiastically and brainstormed on each art project with me (in fact, quite a few of my 12 month projects from last year were his ideas… including the Reclaimed Window Coffee Table, and the Ukrainian Egg Survival Kit). I played the part of flight student as he practiced hours and hours of lesson plans on everything from the the mechanics of a helicopter to aerodynamics. We each knew the other was capable of achieving our greatest dreams (even if we didn’t always believe it for ourselves) and it showed in how we made space for those dreams to grow.

Replacing Fear with Excitement
With him at my side, I learned to replace the fear of what might go wrong with the excitement of what is possible. That has been a huge shift. I started and successfully completed last year’s 12 months of creativity (which in turn lead to the creation of this blog!), I took a welding class, I started up and organized a wonderful creative group in Dallas – one which is still living on even now that I have moved out of town. None of these things were ever things I’d done before, and they all brought with them fears of their own kind. But what I found as I began to take small steps towards my dreams was that the rewards always greatly outweighed whatever fears I’d had – every time. Hands down.

Facing Fears far Bigger
Losing Drew was like the universe hitting the reset button… only I NEVER asked for a do-over. The life I had was the one I wanted. I’m now faced with years of learning how to live again and a lifetime of grieving his loss. This thought alone… this idea that it will take years to feel even halfway normal again, and that I will cry for him for the rest of my life, has scared the shit out of me. Along with the fear that I will never be able to fall in love with anyone again – that I will always be looking for him. In the first couple of months, I was terrified that I would not even survive this… that I would become some shell of a person that turned bitter and hard because of so much awful in her life. So far, thankfully at least that fear has not come true.

Fear, Passion and Creativity
To attempt to move forward in a way that would make Drew proud and keep me sane… I talk (and write) to everyone I can about what I’m going through, and spend a lot of time nurturing myself – so that I never feel alone and always feel taken care of. I spend as much time as possible living in the present, because living in the past or future is too scary and painful to go into for very long. And I make art. I paint, write, photograph, build, sketch, design, read, and brainstorm. I fill my days with as much creativity as I can. It used to be something fun to do, but now it has become vital. When I am creating or even thinking about creating, I’m able to replace all my fears with excitement again. I’m able to fully feel all my emotions there – both the good and the bad – without the fear.

I now realize that art is to me what flying was to Drew. The first time he flew a helicopter, he wrote that he could not imagine doing anything else with his life. And now I understand that feeling. Art is my lifeblood and the thing I was put on this earth to do. There is something beautiful in being able to experience that level of passion. Now I know – when I am totally lost in creativity – what flying felt like for him. It is like getting to experience a piece of him I never knew before – and maybe even a piece of myself I never knew before, too. This is a gift I am grateful for every day.

How one fear Helped Another
So as I’m writing all this out, I’m realizing that my new set of fears – these much bigger fears – have made all my old fears obsolete for the most part. Comparatively, the old fears about not being worthy and not believing I can live the life I want seem pointless to even be concerned with any longer… particularly when my mindset now is that today is all I have. I know I’m worthy of having the life I want to have, because I am living it every day now instead of waiting and hoping and planning for it. No, it’s not the life I wanted and dreamed of… it’s not the life I planned with him, but in this present moment, with what I have to work with right here, right now, I am living each day uncompromised and I am following my heart. I have made the choices yesterday that put me where I decided I wanted to be today, and I will do that today for tomorrow. The rest of it… is all faith. But I will way this, I 100% believe that living our dreams is possible now… even if I am nowhere close to being a successful artist myself, i know it will happen. and I know that there is more than enough room for all of us to do so.

To be continue…..

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