Fear has fascinated me since I was a child. Not just the thrills of a good scare, but the way people allow themselves to become prisoners of their fear. I’ve learned that fear isn’t always obvious, isn’t always easy to address, and even once you flush your fear out into the open it is still difficult to get by. Fear creeps into the hard-to-reach places of your psyche and holds on as it spits irrationalities in your face.
My greatest fear is success. It took me 47 years to figure out why. In the beginning, way back when I had therapy in high school, I thought I had figured it out, and that I could hang my low-self esteem on my grandmother who was always happy to tell me how worthless I was. It was easy because she was a visible target. Not until I read "Falling for Me"- by Anna David
where she discussed her childhood bouts with anger, and how her family (her father in particular) dismissed her anger by making fun of her. As an adult she became a cocaine addict, and has sabotaged most of her relationships. She beat her addictions and struggled from one relationship to the next. Her engaging book details the journey she took to learn to allow her to love herself. It is a good book and well worth your time to read.
In my case I heard my experience echoed by Anna David. Growing up I was never allowed to have all my emotions. It was okay to be happy, but I was never allowed to be angry, and being sad was out of the question. Like Ms. David this is the root of my low self-esteem. Without access to all of my emotions from an early age I never learned to control them, so I ignored them, or I medicated them away. When I get mad I overreact, or I suck all of that anger in and hold it. I’m convinced my weight problem is a physical manifestation of this, and coupled with low self-esteem it is the perfect downward spiral. Anna David talks about how her temper kept men at a distance, and how cocaine allowed her to numb the negative feelings. Being drunk was my escape from myself too.
In Falling for Me Anna talks about not being able to blame her ex-boyfriends for the failures of their relationships, and instead beating herself up for the loss. I spent a lot of time letting people blame me for things that were not my fault. By the time I’d been laid off in 2001 I was used to being the company fuck-up, and in being the company fuck-up I was underpaid without question. So imagine my surprise when my first job as a temp was wiring control panels for Systems Integrated out at the Cal-Am water filtration plant in Carmel Valley. That job was the first time someone told me I could do an important job, and it was the first time I was complemented on my work. My self-esteem had made me a prisoner for so long that I’d just accepted when things went wrong it was my fault. Suddenly I began to look back and question this.
I went back to school in 2007 around the time I stopped drinking. At school I found I could do things, and I discovered that I’m smart. This was a new experience for me. I still don’t know how to cope with it, and every fiber of my id wants to curl up in a ball. In my writing class we had an exercise where I had to write about myself. I started out writing about why I write about monsters, and horror because of the things that had happened to me as a kid. I told my professor that I’d held back because it was kinda painful. He told me never hold back. Later I wrote a poem that was a ballad, and it bothered me. The poem was about a guy who’d been a hero but was condemned for crossing a line. The hero is called upon to save the day one more time, and just as he’s about to catch the bad guy he turns to walk away. The bad guy sets off a nuke, and the hero could care less.
This was the darkest thing I’d ever written. The poem was coming from some hard-to-reach place deep inside of me. In time I realized that I was angry for being used by so many people in my life, and I was angry at myself because my low self-esteem had made it possible. I’d always known there was a problem. I called it Knight in Shining Armor Syndrome were I was always fixing someone’s problems to boost my ego, and I the process keeping from fixing my own problems. This had spread into my love-life as I shied away from normal women to seek out damaged ones. I developed a pattern where I’d put some woman back together emotionally, and then she’d walk out of my life leaving me devastated. Looking back now I realize that I knew they’d all leave and that was fine because I didn’t deserve to be happy anyway. The new wrinkle was that I now realize that most of those women took advantage of me, and that while it was my fault in one way in another way I was victimized just a bit.
Now that I had that revelation in my writing class, and then the enlightenment from Falling for Me I have been able to flush my fear out into the open where I can begin to kill it. I intend to kill it with style too. The first thing I will do is submit a bunch of short stories to publishers. I am a writer now, and I will allow myself to accept this with pride. The other thing I plan to do is follow Anna David’s example and follow guidance from a classic book to improve my life.
In my case this book will be the U.S. Army Ranger Handbook. God help us all.