Fear Not, The Lions are at Bay
“Fear. This short word somehow touches about every aspect of our lives. It is 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.” – AA’s Big Book, page 67
Fear is a specter that haunted me going back as far as my memory will stretch. A fundamental sense that “all is well” was something with which I hadn’t even a sliver of a nodding acquaintance.
Like a brood of relentless vipers, agitation, distress, and dread cozily slithered in and around one another, coiling about the core of my soul. Their constrictions nearly squeezed my soul to death.
Fear was the driving force in my existence for decades. Like an adrenaline-filled, wild-eyed gazelle stotting and racing across the searing African Savannah to evade the lion’s jaws, I was constantly hustling to survive and to “earn” my right to exist.
Born with Bipolar Disorder to emotionally stunted parents who reared me via the malignant pull-yourself-by-your-bootstraps “American” ethos, my fate was sealed at the moment of conception. On top of navigating the world with the excruciating and terrifying challenge of having an undiagnosed and untreated serious mental illness that left me dog-paddling in a sea of Olympic swimmers, the boot camp of my childhood didn’t teach me social or relationship skills, healthy coping skills, to have a sense of self worth, to love or feel loved, to read people and situations, assertiveness, boundaries, or many of the other intangible life skills that we need to function as healthy human beings.
To put a cherry on top of this enormous, incredibly messy banana split which was destined to be upended and splattered all over the freshly mopped floor, God gave me an IQ of 133.
Which meant that I was smart (and grandiose) enough to believe that I was always the smartest guy in the room and that I could outsmart my disease (that I didn’t believe I had -most of the time anyway).
The joke was on me. I didn’t even quite qualify as a genius. And statistically, there were 375 million people on Earth who were more intelligent than me. Not to mention the fact that my EQ was painfully low.
There were signs of my Bipolar Disorder from a young age, but its buds didn’t blossom fully until my late teens, when I left the familiarity and structure of home.
The gloves came off and my disease started pummeling me. I was a featherweight and Bipolar was Mike Tyson in his prime.
Amongst the many symptoms and sufferings, and in some ways at the root of them, was the fear. Nearly every waking hour was filled with wave after wave of anxiety.
Racing thoughts were perpetual. From the moment I woke up until the time I drifted off to sleep, my brain ran in overdrive -pelting me with thoughts more quickly than I could process them. Sorting them out, staying focused, and sometimes completing a simple task became torturous at times.
Wicked obsessions plagued me. After years of work to acquire the means to be stable, I now know that my brain was protecting me from the fears born of functioning in a complex world with my limitations and the trauma I had experienced growing up. But at the time, all I knew was that one singular, usually worrisome or self-torturous, thought dominated my consciousness for hours on end. And the harder I tried to will the thought away, the more powerful it became.
Going out in public to perform simple tasks was terrifying, though I consistently gritted my teeth and forced myself to do it. In retrospect, I was riddled with shame and paranoia, terrified that I would falter and be mauled to death by what I perceived to be a dog eat dog society with no love and compassion. After all, that’s what had been modeled to me growing up.
Little did I realize at the time, and never would I have admitted it, but I had been having frequent panic attacks. At malls, grocery stores, concerts, ball games, and all manner of social events. Yet despite being undiagnosed and untreated (some of this was even before and after I was self medicating with alcohol), I pressed on and refused to “give in.”
Shortly after I found the life-saving spiritual fellowship of AA ten years ago, I read these words inked by Marty Mann, a woman who was amongst the 100 original AA members in the late 1930’s:
“All I had left was an iron determination to live my own life in spite of the alien world. And here I was, an inwardly frightened, outwardly defiant woman, who desperately needed a prop to keep going.”
This passage from “Women Suffer Too” in the story section of the Big Book resonated deeply with me. After three plus decades with my amygdala at the helm, fear, anxiety, anger, and shame were my primary emotions. Like Marty before me, my defiance and a myriad of props kept me going too.
Finally, at age 43, my will had been broken. Brought to my knees, I came to believe in a Power Greater than myself, immersed myself in the unconditional love of the Fellowship of AA, stayed on my regimen of prescribed medicines that corralled the wild horses galloping through my mind, embraced a spiritual way of life, and accepted the fact that to keep my newly-found, priceless serenity, I would need to continue consistently using CBT and other tools for the rest of my life. One day at a time.
I cannot take credit for this miraculous spiritual transformation, though I have faced tremendous fears and worked incredibly hard.
It was still the Higher Power of my understanding who set the table, provided the tools, resources, and people, and who did the Works. “Of myself I can do nothing. The Father doeth the Works.”
By God’s grace, one day at a time and by the sweat of my brow, my life is like this today:
Like Daniel in the lion’s den, my lions of fear and of my Bipolar Disorder lie before me like lambs.