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.
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.
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!