I read that fear is an emotional response induced by a perceived threat, which causes a change in brain and organ function, as well as in behavior. Fear can lead us to hide, to run away, or to freeze in our shoes. Fear may arise from a confrontation or from avoiding a threat, or it may come in the form of a discovery.
Fear can show itself in many different ways. It may be a fear of being stung by a wasp. Fear of shutting the light off to go to sleep when you were a child. It can come as the feeling you have walking in a lonely and dark parking garage while glancing over your shoulder as you grab the cold handle to your vehicle. Whatever the form, fear is a powerful force we all have faced at some point in our lives.
When we were young we had to learn our emotions from somewhere. Love, Fear, Anger, Greif and many others come from our early years. For me, I felt “fear” early on, as far back as I can remember. I remember being about 4 years old and hearing my mom and dad yelling at each other in the other room. I remember hiding under my blanket crying. No, I do not remember what the argument was about or the words were said….I just remember feeling scared and afraid. Where did that come from? Where did I learn that emotion from? Now I would be ignorant to really think that we have to learn “fear”. I believe it has to be instinctual in us in many ways. Take fear of heights for example….do we have to fall off a cliff to figure out we need to stay away from the ledge? Of course we don’t, if that was the case I do not believe the world would have too many people roaming around. That kind of fear is not why I am writing this blog today. The fear I speak of, is the fear that keeps us from living our lives to our full potential.
I have heard many times “man I bet you aren’t scared of anything”, but contrary to belief, I fear many things in this life. As I wrote about in one of my earlier blogs Part 1- “Why Me?”, I described being afraid of walking into the boys club. That fear came from being beat up every day by kids bigger than me and learning how to avoid them. I finally faced that fear after I ran away one day to meet my grandfather. I was surrounded and I let another learned emotion take over which was anger. That day I believe I conquered that fear and was able to learn from it. I learned that fear was just a place that my mind went in defense. If I could trick my mind to not staying there. In my 37 years I have learned that I was afraid of many things, but as I’ve got older I have learned to embrace the fear and use it to my advantage.
Now there is a clear line between bravery and stupidity. I often use that line as a jump rope. When I joined the Army in 2001 I was dating my high school sweet heart. I actually joined because I wanted to have a better plan for taking care of her because I thought we would get married soon. She begged me not to go but I knew that I couldn’t provide for her working as a waiter at a Mexican food restaurant in Wichita Falls Texas. As I stepped onto that van I was very afraid of what the future would hold for us. This fear was buried deeper into my psyche thanks to my awesome Drill Sergeants during basic training in Fort Benning Georgia. They were quick to comfort my fears with, “Don’t worry about your woman Jody is taking care of her back home”. …seems this Jody guy had a history of stealing all our women while we were away. Turns out his name wasn’t Jody but that fear came to be the truth for me. When I came home from basic my whole world had shifted. Then the fear of the unknown was quickly trumped by the events of September 11th 2001. Walking out of the dentist office in and seeing the second plane hit the World Trade Center that day, my fears turned to a fast paced reality.
I have faced so many fears during the last 15 years, I finally faced the stigmata of this thing we know as PTSD last May. I had been through a divorce, had quit a job I thought I would retire doing, and had lost almost everything in my life. When the one thing I feared the most hit. Like a ton of bricks….losing my son.
I remember it being warm that day, tossing the baseball back and forth and working on Eli’s hand and eye coordination. I threw the ball as gentle as I can. Each time he failed to catch it, but each time he would toss it back and we would repeat the process. It seemed like he dropped it 100 times. He threw it back to me and it got passed me. Then I turned to throw it to him again, there he was with his head in his glove, bawling his eyes out. As I walked up I asked him, “Son why are you crying?”. He continued to cry, from deep down inside. When he finally caught his breath and he said, “You are going to get mad at me daddy”. I stepped up and embraced him on one knee so I could look him in his drowning big brown eyes, and asked, “Why would I get mad at you, Son?”. He looked at me straight in my eyes and said, “Because you always get mad at me, Daddy.” My heart sank and tears filled my eyes. That’s the moment I realized my son feared me. That following Monday I made my appointment with the VA to get some help.
It’s been a long year; I have fought many demons, lost some more friends, and gained more fears. Every day is a challenge. Some days I make 15 steps forward and some days I feel I fall a mile backwards. There are many veterans that I talk to confide in me about my experience with this fear that they experience. They ask me for help, but all I can do is share my thoughts, my struggles, and my experience.
Fear is a dark force. It can creep up on you while under heavy gun fire in some shit hole in Baghdad Iraq, or sitting in a lonely chair in a cold VA hospital. I do not know all the answers to what you need in order to get past these fears. All I can do is tell my story and hope that it helps at least one person move forward in their struggle.
This is how I feel when fear grabs me…..
My fear sits here quietly, stealing the person I was born to be. I can feel fear turning in my stomach and it travels up until it is a silent hand around my throat. My heart beats fast, my breathing becomes more erratic. It gets deep, and then very shallow. I battle it. I start to fight it with all of me. I shake as my body begins to struggle against the fear. Do I choose to break free or shut down completely? Each time this happens, I become stronger and learn how to cope. Yet still part of me weakens. But to conquer this new version of fear I must rename it. I shall now call it fear of failure. I face it with the fear of never trying, with the fear of failing due to being a coward. This is why you all think that I am the brave one, but this is how I struggle to always move forward. I am no braver than you are, I have just learned how to push through and make my forwards less painful than hiding in the shadows of those fears.
Find out what the fear is. Stand up and face it head on. Remember fear is an emotion, and it only has the power over you that you allow. As I always do when I talk to someone I remind them of this one powerful statement that has become my call sign. Always Forward! I don’t care if you are laying on your stomach and its getting too dark to see in front of you. Reach out your hand, extend your fingers, and dig them into the ground. Keep moving forward, even if it is inch by inch, never give up the fight forward.