I might have spent 20 plus years on a convoluted quest to feed an addiction to things, like alcohol, cigarettes, shopping, and drugs. But the act of avoiding my fears was the soil that these socially unacceptable vices of mine grew out of.
I embraced fear in the early double digits — around 12 or 13. I started to believe that to live was to suffer and there was no way around it. I thought I was destined to experience a lifetime of discontent.
So I began to worry a lot, about everything: making mistakes and being rejected for it, not being perfect and being abandoned by my friends and family because of it, never being able to make enough money, and not being able to sleep.
Needless to say, all that fear caused a lot of problems. I struggled with intense bouts of depression and anxiety, got sick a lot, and had major sleep issues. And I was forever feeling terrible, both mentally and physically.
So to distract myself from this learned addiction to fear and the feelings surrounding it, I began to commit my life to the act of avoiding it.
It all started with shopping. As a kid, if I had a really bad day or week, my mom would buy me clothes. And I’d feel better, albeit temporarily. So when I could, I started doing it on my own, the problem being that I didn’t have the money she had.
I was ruthless about it: I would go to any means possible to get what I wanted. All that mattered was the rush I got in the immediate moment of purchase, and the subsequent feelings of comfort surrounding getting the items home and hung up in my closet.
I coveted anything new and expensive, and I became obsessed with the constant pursuit of acquiring things that made me look good on the outside. And It was all done in the name of avoiding feelings of inadequacy that stemmed from that dreaded emotion, fear.
Shortly after I began to embrace shopping as an avoidance tactic I found alcohol.
I loved it — another escape, albeit a more powerful one. I essentially became a functioning alcoholic in my late teens, until I reached my mid 20’s, and there was no way to hide the fact that I’d lost the ability to do so.
And then there was the smoking that started in my teens, and the drugs that came into play in my 20s – the use of which evolved and intensified as the years passed.
I could go into great detail about how my life fell apart because of all these destructive activities that I felt I needed to survive and be happy. But I’d rather focus on the motivations behind these addictions, as I feel they are most important.
Straight up, I didn’t know how to love myself. I was never taught how to. And when you don’t have self-love you get the opposite of it, fear.
Based on my views of life, and how terrible I believed it was destined to be, I began to embrace behaviors grounded in fear, like negativity, and aggression.
The logic behind my commitment to negativity and aggression goes like this: If I called out the world as being terrible, rather than letting the flow of terrible only be directed at me, I could feel like I had more power and control.
So I became a beacon for aggression and negativity. I was sending and receiving it and it dictated the direction my life went for many years.
You can imagine how difficult it would be to wrangle in an ego that out of control. That sucker was like a wild horse. To spend 20 years being scared, angry, and bitter, and then to attempt the work involved in removing that toxicity from my mind and soul has been one hell of a process. And it’s not over.
Negativity and aggression is like a blanket with thorns. I get scared and cold, so I want to wrap myself in it, but every time I do I end up scratched to shit.
And I can’t even get frustrated at myself about it anymore — I know it’s my subconscious trying to protect me.
Because all addictions, whether to things, feelings and emotions, or behaviors, come about as a means to keep us safe. Even though they end up doing the opposite.
I’d like to say I have it all figured out — that I have it all under control. I’d also like to be able to share a clear explanation for how I released my addictions, and learned to deal with my fear in a more constructive way, because I think that could help a lot of people.
But the truth is I’m still trying to figure out how to keep some of my go-to’s, like negativity and shopping, at bay. I still default to them when I feel the rush of fear, telling me to put up my guards of aggression, or my credit card.
And while I’m still working on understanding and explaining exactly how I managed to pull myself out of the darkest times in my life, I’m also trying to deal with fear in a different way.
I still feel it. In fact, I feel it more than I’d like to or know to be healthy. But whereas before my greatest fears stemmed from being abandoned or ridiculed, the scariest moments I experience now are when I realize I no longer have my addictions to comfort me.
I feel a deep ache of mourning every time I realize that my fear or anger can’t be helped with a bout of rage, a cigarette, a bottle of wine, drugs, or some emotionally charged shopping.
And In some ways I miss my addictions like one would miss an old friend who passed away. I mourn the loss of them every single time I am upset.
This new response to fear, which encompasses the realization that I have to feel this – there is no way out – is bewildering to me. It’s such a foreign concept, to know there’s nothing that can be done but just feel what I’m feeling until it passes.
But I have no other choice. This is what life has offered me. I can only surmise that the fact that I’m experiencing the feelings or emotions I’m experiencing, is so I can learn that I can and will survive them – if I only choose to surrender.
Surrendering to everything — every good experience and every bad one — is how I choose to live these days. Some days I really struggle with it, because I’m human, and I have this ego that wants its own way, all the time. But on others I handle everything in spectacular fashion, and really amaze myself in the process.
Every day though, I continue to train myself to get used to the idea of a bad feeling not being life ending. And in doing so I teach myself to fear less, trust more, and make better choices that contribute to my health and wellness — not my addictions.
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