What are you most afraid of?
Phobias are often rooted in some sort of traumatic event or experience, like having a black widow land on you while in the bathroom, or watching “It” way before you should have. Your reactions to these triggers are a conditioned response from aforementioned traumatic incident or situation. While I am terrified of spiders (yes, that bathroom story was an actual occurrence) what could be more traumatic than a failed relationship? The answer: several failed relationships.
So what is my biggest fear? Love.
To speak on any fear you have to go to the beginning of it all. What was the initial conditioning that brought about this phobia? For me, it was my home. I was raised to believe that emotions are a sign of weakness. To let others see you cry and to expose yourself in such a vulnerable way will only bring about pain – so best not to do so. My mother is the strongest woman I know, I was very blessed to be raised in a family of matriarchs, but at the same time, when my dad was emotional (he’s a big teddy bear) we would make fun of him. It was all done in a loving way, but that response obviously stuck with me. I’ve only witnessed my mother crying twice in my life. Once was when I put myself in the hospital by a suicide attempt, and the other was when she was grieving her father. We never talked about our feelings in my home, and I could always hear their voices seeping through the walls talking about me but never to me. I internalized all of this as emotions and vulnerability are best kept to yourself, and I carried this in myself for years.
Something I’ve only shared with a handful of people, is that I was also a victim of abuse growing up. My family, to this day, doesn’t know. I was filled with shame, and guilt and burden for many years because of it. I still find it incredibly difficult to have compassion for myself, but that is just a part of my journey. I won’t go in to details because that’s not what this post is about, but the lesson I internalized from these occurrences was that everywhere I was supposed to be safe, I wasn’t.
So that little cocktail of fucked-up-ness led me to my first love. I was graduating high school, and I had met him through some mutual friends. I would sneak out to see him most nights, we would go on adventures around the city and I felt love for the first time. It was intense, we belonged to each other, but it was also toxic. He became incredibly abusive towards me. One day we were arguing in the car and he smashed his entire dashboard, I sat there crying as he screamed at me asking why I have to make him so angry. He called me the worst names when he was mad at me, and I just took it all because I felt as if I deserved it. I told him I had tried to kill myself years before, and he would say things like, I wish you went through with it when we would fight. One year on his friend’s birthday, he was mad at me for dancing with our friends while he wasn’t feeling well so he screamed at me in front of everyone on our way home. He called me a whore in the middle of the street. I drove him home and when we arrived and I carried him to bed, he said I could sleep on the floor like the dog that I am. I laid beside him crying until he passed out and eventually I left. I was so drunk I fell asleep at a red light for twenty minutes. But I made it home safely. This behaviour lasted for three long years. I didn’t know any better, I was in love. I needed him and he needed me. But it wasn’t love, it was co-dependency. Eventually, I developed feelings for another person and left my first love. He had been a friend of mine for two years, he was my best friend’s older brother, and he was good. He was kind, and sweet, and gentle, and one of the best people I had ever met. We almost got married, but that’s in another post.
So how did I move on from there? I spent four years wasting my time, not moving forward, thinking I was having fun. Four years of drug abuse following my formative years was my escape. It was my mask, it helped me separate myself from the pain, and hurt that people only bring. It gave me a place to hide and detach from the world. I spent four years partying, and I was dating men who cared more about themselves and the party than me. Men who let me overdose in the next room, men who cheated on me, men who took my love and gave me nothing but heartache in return. But you can’t ever rid yourself of what the human experience truly is – a desire to feel loved, and belong. I looked for love in these places, even when I thought I wasn’t; I always had hope. Yet, there is no real love in that type of life. Every time I tried to open myself up again I was shown I shouldn’t have. At every turn, when people asked me to love them, I did. And then I was shown that they could not do the same for me.
It wasn’t just romanic relationships I was separating from, it was any and all form of relationships that could hurt me. I stopped communicating with my family because I had so much resentment built up over the years that I just didn’t want to see them. I had all the “friends” someone could want – every bar I went into, everything was free and everyone knew me. I could always find a party that would welcome me at any time of day. I’d stay up until 8am, 10am, 2pm, having meaningless conversations with people that had no clue of the hurt I was holding onto, over a plate of cocaine. But here, I was safe. I didn’t have to let people in, i just had to numb. I didn’t have to feel anything I didn’t want to.
That numbness only lasts for so long. I was emptier than ever, I was hollow, and so I allowed myself to stay in a relationship that was not good for me. A year of co-dependency and drug abuse, and toxic arguments. The mask I wore for so long no longer kept my demons out but instead led them straight into my bed. So here I am, almost seven months clean, in a new relationship, living in a new way, reconnected with my family, and I’m dealing with emotions I’ve never learned to process.
I’ve never had to feel it all.
Now I am at the scariest part of my journey. Unlearning the conditioned fear responses I’ve used to protect myself for all these years. I can no longer run away when it hurts, I can no longer hide when my feelings are uncomfortable, and I can no longer push down the feelings I have. The scariest thing you’ll do is learn to love again after you feel as if you can’t. The scariest thing you’ll do is reveal your true self to someone and ask them to love all of you. Trust me, I am more terrified than I have ever been. Because this is the whole me – this is it. I have nothing else to blame if I am not wanted now. Its is just me. It is uncomfortable to have no shield these days. Most of us are willing to let others love the mask because we’d rather have that than nothing at all. But what I know now is that the path to true love is only through revealing and living your true self.
Letting people in is not easy. I spent years keeping everyone at a comfortable bay that now when I’ve changed my life for the better, these same people are nowhere to be found. People that used to call me everyday, or message me to invite me out, or called me family – they’re just ghosts of a life I used to live.
We’ve all heard of the “fight or flight” response – when presented with an immediate threat, it is instinctual that we either fight back or we run. We are only afraid of things we do not know, or do not understand. When I changed my life and became sober, I became unfamiliar. I became the mirror that no one wanted to hold up. But that was my choice, and saving my own life was more important than maintaining a popularity with people who wouldn’t truly care if I lived or died. They would still do the next line of cocaine after saying, “that’s awful” and carry on with their evening.
In relationships, its always been easier for me to run away than to break down my walls. Or I am so uncompromising that I break the other person – that’s not what love is. Love is being there for someone when you can hold space for them. Love is putting the other first when you can. Love is bending but never breaking because love binds us not splits us in half then leaves us that way. Love won’t make you feel as if the other person is your whole happiness, love will create happiness within you. And you get to take this with you wherever you go. Love doesn’t leave you with nothing – it builds you, supports you, and shows you how to love yourself. You can’t be left with nothing, only yourself, and you are love.
Doesn’t that sound better than holding onto whatever past you keep replaying? Why not take the risk for something more? My sponsor once said to me, that I have to be both parts – the light and the dark me. I have to embrace it all and just be authentic. I told her that I wasn’t sure if I liked both parts of me, so how could I expect anyone else to. She replied, people respect authenticity. I said – that’s not love. She answered, no, it is not love. But it is real.
This was my realization that I was so afraid to let others love me, that I was afraid to love myself. Everything I had learned, and heard, and learned made me believe I couldn’t be loved. But just because things didn’t work out before doesn’t mean they never will. If you want a different result, perhaps you have to try a different method. Perhaps this time around I can lay my arms down and appreciate the love I’ve both grown and found, instead of running away.
If you seek affection from others, you may find some sort of feeling resembling love, but if you seek to love yourself, I promise you will find it. Let others in, let yourself in; wade in your own shadows, my love. If you keep everyone out, you’ll soon forget to let anyone in. Let others see all of you – the scars, the bruises, the aches, the beauty. Take it from someone who mastered the art of detachment, you only end up exactly where you’re afraid to – alone. The only way to dispel fear is to unlearn these lessons so wrongfully engrained into you.
Take the first step forward – listen to your heart and not your head. Do what would be done in the name of love and not fear. It is scary, and unnerving, but a river never stops flowing, and the world doesn’t stop turning – who are you to be better than the elements you’re made from?
I need you to move.
I need you to be brave.
I need you to let go of the devil you know, because if we spend so much time afraid of what could happen, we won’t ever learn what good may be in our stars.
I need you to know that you are worth loving, no matter how many people tried and failed.
I’ve been given a second chance at life, and this time around I will build an armour of love and not fear – I hope you do the same.