We learn early in recovery that fear is the root of our character defects. We also know—before we even read the Big Book—that it was fear underneath our addictions. We were afraid of people, of social activities, of responsibilities and maybe, sadly, afraid of our own dreams.
So facing and managing fear is a huge part of recovery, and it continues as long as we are recovering. In “Out of the Woods” I describe how as we go further into a recovered life we can learn to recognize our fears faster, name them correctly, and use the strategies we are learning to manage them.
Fear has a lot of disguises. One of my fear defaults is procrastination. On a writing day I’ll find myself starting to clean drawers, sort clothes and write to old friends. I know now that this is my fear response. I’m afraid of the blank page but instead of calling it fear I had the habit of avoiding my desk and calling myself lazy. After years of facing this I finally learned: the fear doesn’t go away until I am well into the project so there is no benefit in waiting for the fear to leave; I just have to begin.
I see this at work too. Sometimes when I have calls to make and people to talk to, instead of starting I will do paperwork or talk to a coworker. Finally I got it. That’s fear too. So I’m learning to pick up the phone and dial and take a breath. The fear goes away after I make the call not before.
But here’s the tricky part in long recovery: We have also learned to trust our gut. We have been learning to pay attention to our intuition and the “still small voice” inside. Often that small voice is our Higher Power trying to reach us. So when discomfort about a task or an effort is present it takes some practiced discernment to know: Is this my inner wisdom saying, “Walk away”? Or is it just fear dressed up as some other thing? It’s not always easy to tell.
This is why, even in long-term recovery, we still need sponsors and good twelve-step friends. In the new book I write about having your own “softball team” of recovery pals.
Fear is also why we practice prayer and meditation. When we do get really quiet and ask a higher power for guidance we often get the subtle shift we need. Then we do have a clearer sense of whether the discomfort is wisdom or just fear.