I am no stranger to fear and anxiety.
In fact, we’re old friends.
Some of my earliest memories are of exceedingly frightened moments, which in hindsight are held together in my psyche like a shadowy abacus — dark beads adding up to years of cold fear.
This fear was my secret normal. Always there, just beneath the surface, waiting for an opportunity to be cracked open and ooze out by an unexplained noise or a commercial for The Exorcist.
My fear was completely irrational to my parents, because it revolved around vague “bad dreams” and the even vaguer, “ghosts.”
[Looking back, this now makes sense. I’m sure I was sensing benign energies.]
Yet, this post isn’t so much about what frightened me, because what truly scares us, no matter what the root cause, the fear feels the same.
This is about how my parents, particularly my father, responded.
They made a decision early on to not fully give into my fear.
At about three, I began waking up with “bad dreams” in the middle of the night and invariably would dart into my mom and dad’s room for comfort.
I was often panicked that there was someone — or something — in my room.
My parents went to great lengths to comfort me, reason with me, and support me.
I slept with the door open, a nightlight, and a mountain of stuffed animals in my cheery bedroom, however none of this soothed me during my frights.
“There are no such things as ghosts,” my father would say with confidence, as he was committed to just five senses in those days.
NOTE: I actually don’t believe in “ghosts” now. For more information, please see my FAQs.
NOTE II: This “phase” lasted until I was in high school (and don’t think I wasn’t embarrassed to be that old and that spooked — cuz I was!).
All I wanted in my cold-sweat moments of heart-racing panicked-aloneness was to desperately stay with my parents in their room, but their philosophy was that if they let me stay once, it would set a precedent (this was the “not giving in” part).
And they were totally right, not that that stopped me from pleading with them over and over… and over… and over…
Every time I woke my dad up at some god forsaken hour, he valiantly got out of bed, gave me a big hug, told me I was safe “and that nothing could hurt me” and walked me back to my own room.
Year after year, my father held to his gentle and loving policy to stay strong in the wake of my seemingly unquashable terror.
He knew that I needed to not only be reassured that everything was okay, but that I was strong enough to stay in my own bed and my own room.
Eventually, when I matured, I realized what I gift this had been.
I learned that when we are most afraid or vulnerable, it can be a brave demonstration of love when someone is willing stay strong for us, holding an unpopular space for balance and reason.
If my parents hadn’t taken this approach with my anxiety from the outset, then I’m not sure I would have overcome my fear, because I would not have learned the importance of being able to comfort myself, apply reason, and enjoy solitude.
When we’re so frightened that all we want is for someone to turn on the lights — metaphoric or literal — just keep what scares us at bay — we also must realize that we are being summoned into the deep wells of our own bravery.
For ultimately, no matter how much support we have, there will come a moment of reckoning when we must face our fears alone, because it is only when we are alone, do we have the opportunity to discover how strong we are actually capable of being.
As challenging as this practice could be at the time, through this powerful reinforcement that I was indeed strong, my parents gave me not what I wanted…
But what I truly needed.
That is love.