A healthy instinctive fear of clear and present danger is both unavoidable and healthy. If there was no “fight or flight” response if I accidentally stepped in front of a fast moving car, I’d end up as a large and macabre hood ornament.

Problem is, as humans, and particularly humans with a mental illness that distorts our cognition, our fears tend to grow to proportions that exceed their intended purpose. Sometimes exponentially.

My experience with fear when my Bipolar Disorder was unchecked and untreated was that my mind would catastrophize and I would dread horrific events that almost never happened. What a waste of emotional energy and a tragic, unnecessary blighting of the present moment.

Fear was a constant companion when I was “down with the sickness.” Not only because I catastrophized, but because my thoughts were distorted in other ways that catalyzed fear, because functioning in the world with an undiagnosed mental illness was truly frightening, because my self-destructive manic and addictive behavior put me into dangerous situations, and because I made choices that came with potentially severe consequences.

Yet the exaggerated fears and anxieties that I experienced as a result were liars.

Perhaps the Big Book of AA describes this “brand” of fear best on page 67:

“This short word somehow touches about every aspect of our lives. It was an evil and corroding thread; the fabric of our existence was shot through with it. It set in motion trains of circumstances which brought us misfortune we felt we didn’t deserve.”

The grace of God and years of hard work to get to a one day at a time stability and sobriety have enabled me to unstitch many of the strands of that “evil and corroding thread” in the “fabric of my existence.”

Tools like Cognitive Behavioral, prayer, talking with fellow sufferers, getting out of self through being of service, and mindfulness, along with living a spiritual life, often enable me to arrest irrational fear in its early stages.

Yet not always. But even when irrational fear does gain a foothold, sooner rather than later, I recognize it for the liar that it is and, with the help of my Higher Power, cut off its air supply and choke it out.


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