Staring it Right in the Eyes

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I look away when things are scary.

When I’m filled with fear, I try to control other things because I feel like I can’t handle it. I get light-headed, nauseous, sweaty, panicked. There is a ringing in my ears. Sometimes when it’s not as bad, I just procrastinate instead. I do laundry, shop online, watch endless TV, virtually plan or organize. Like an animal with a defense mechanism of distraction–a wiggling lizard tail left behind.

I used to take this feeling and soften it with alcohol. When I was younger and really lost, I would binge it away. I would also smoke with deep breaths, trying to calm it all down. When I was older with my own children, I would limit the amount, but still pour the alcohol over it like an flammable salve. It would work immediately and temporarily, but it left behind a residue of toxicity and unhealed scars that would light up if it was near a flame. I never just dealt with it on my own. I never looked it square in the eyes. It was always too much, and I felt too weak.

I imagine my fear as a huge dragon that takes many different forms. Health scares with my children, relationship problems, death, work stress, my underlying value. The dragon has a different label, but it’s the same. And I am trying now, as a completely sober person, to stare it right in the eyes. I don’t want to let it chase me off. I don’t want to keep running forever or hiding in the forest or looking over my shoulder. I want to be able to stand out on the edge of the canyon and see it all. I want to feel free and strong, not held back by fear.

I imagine it before me. Huge wings beating, hot breath, in my way. I will stare it right in the eyes. I will know it for what it is. I will learn and remember that I am stronger than it. I will know that being scared is not bad or weak, but constantly escaping weakens me.

I used to imagine myself staring my fear down and feeling so vulnerable without alcohol, like I was left out in the open bare, without any weapons or shield. Any arrow could pierce me in an instant. Now I believe that my sobriety is the most important defense of all. It gives me strength beyond what a couple of glasses of wine each night would. Because that was just an illusion of strength. That was like putting on an invisibility cloak. It was just hiding, closing my eyes, and hoping the dragon would go away.

Now I will stare it down. I will look it right in the eyes. I will say, “I see you. I’m still here.” And I will eventually invite it to sit with me. I will someday realize it is not the enemy. It may come and go. It does not need to be defeated, just acknowledged. But while I’m learning all of this, I will not avert my eyes. I will come out of hiding. I will see things for what they truly are.

One of my only pieces of original artwork is by an artist called “Stripy Arms.” She paints different characters, mostly female, who all have black and white striped sleeves. The one I own says, “Do not be afraid. Fear is an illusion. You are real.”

I am also reminded of a Buddhist story of Amara. Amara is the shadow side. He represents fear, greed, selfishness, etc. One day Buddha and his helper are relaxing when suddenly Buddha’s helper notices Amara nearby. He starts panicking, “What do we do! What do we do?” And Buddha wisely says, “I see you Amara. Come let’s have some tea.”

I’d like to stare down my fear and then invite it to tea. It may take awhile to get there…See it, acknowledge it, deal with it, rest with it. The panic subsides and the power replenishes. But none of this can happen without first staring down at alcohol, unflinchingly.

I see you, but I’m stronger now.


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