Talking to Fear

Yesterday Mike and I booked the first big part of our honeymoon for next summer - a beautiful cabin set in between Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. It's exciting for sure, but also, terrifying...

Why does something this simple have to be so scary for me? I spent entirely too much time online checking reviews and double checking other options and stretching everything out that I could last night. Instead of just finding a place, booking it, and moving on. As time stretched on, Mike grew mildly frustrated (understandably!) and just wanted me to book the thing. Sometimes, I really need his push. Sometimes, the thought of committing to a plan that is over 6 months away is so so hard. Sometimes, all I can think about is “But what if you die before then?”. 

Travel is always a specifically hard one for me, because Drew was halfway across the country when he died. And what’s worse, is that I had plane tickets fly from Dallas and see him three weeks after he arrived in Washington. He died a week before I was supposed to go up. Ever since then, I’ve had a hard time with actually committing to big travel expenses like plane tickets and hotel bookings. That part of me that was so traumatized by his sudden death is always in the background thinking “but what IF Sarah… what IF…” 

I wish I could get that voice out of my head. I wish I hadn’t gone through having to try and cancel a flight days after my person died… only to have the airline tell me, coldly, over the phone that my tickets were not refundable with the insurance I bought… because “you have to either be sick or have died yourself”. As they explained with zero emotion, it did not matter to them that the person I was going to see had died. (Thinking back, it’s a real shame I didn’t post that online… it no doubt would have gone viral and given them a lot of negative attention - ha!) 

Joking aside, I hate that I have this fear about trips now. I hate that every SINGLE time we go on ANY trip whether by plane, train or automobile, I always am holding my breath a little bit - praying that nothing bad happens and that we make it home safe. It can be really hard to live with fear inside you… but I think widowed people can become experts about living with tough emotions. Gradually, I’ve been learning how to let my fears have room inside me, without letting them run the show. 

These days, I've learned how to talk to my fear better. I know how to tell it, “I see you, and I hear you, and yeah, those are some scary things for sure. But you can trust that I will take care of you. I am always here to listen, BUT, please remember a few things... Don’t yell. Be polite and respectful to all the other emotions - joy and love and excitement have just as much right to be here and be felt as you do. And above all, remember that I am here to take care of you no matter what scary things happen. It's going to be okay.”

There is something helpful about talking to emotions as if they are characters in us. It has helped me to see that my fear, or anger, or sadness, don’t have to control me. It also helps me to feel connected to those emotions, and to check in with them from time to time to see if there is anything they are trying to say to me that I haven’t been listening to. I find often times that my emotions just need me to stop for a moment, and listen to them. Once those emotions feel like I am acknowledging them, they often “feel better”, and quiet down. Or perhaps to say it another way, once the part of me that is scared feels like the rest of me heard it and accepted it, it feels better, and less alone, and actually less scared. 

I personally think this is the kindest way of approaching our more difficult emotions. It’s not always easy. Most of us have been brought up in a culture that teaches us to stuff, hide, and avoid emotions that we don’t like or that society has deemed as "negative". I’ve found though that sitting down beside those emotions and letting them be heard is a far better way to operate. It doesn’t mean that those emotions go away. Nope, fear will always be here. I might spend the rest of my life listening to fear talk about travel horrors… but I guess I have to let that be ok. Because the alternative is to try and force fear not to be there, to make fear feel like I hate it and I want it to be quiet and go away - and when you look at it that way - what an awful thing to make any part of ourselves feel. Fear my not be my favorite emotion to hang out with - but I should never, ever, let any of my emotions feel unwanted. I should never let any part of myself feel unwanted.

It seems to be much better to just accept my fear, listen to it, and give it loving support while also reminding it that it can trust me. After all, if we potentially have to spend a lifetime together, fear and I had better learn how to be good to one another and work as a team for my best interests. 

So today, my fear is still desiring a front row seat with me about this cabin I've booked. That means I've got to slow myself down, and spend a little extra time reminding my fear that - no matter what bad things happen between now and June 27th - when Mike and I leave for our honeymoon, I will be here and my fear can trust me to handle anything.

After all, haven’t I already handled some of the most unthinkably scary things in life???  My fear knows that, and once I remind it, it seems to feel okay enough about this cross-country honeymoon to let joy and excitement talk for a while.  :)

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  • Emma Pearson
    commented 2019-12-09 10:51:03 -0800
    “Gradually, I’ve been learning how to let my fears have room inside me, without letting them run the show”.

    I love how you let your emotions have a conversation inside of you. Sort of like mini family therapy. Actually, this is a form of legit therapy, and you’re right, it’s vital to make space for all. It also reminds me of Rumi’s poem, The Guest House.

    Beautifully expressed, Sarah
  • Sharon Moriarty
    commented 2019-12-08 10:36:10 -0800
    We have no control, just the illusion of control. Your fear derives from trying to control outcomes. My Mum used to say “What is meant for you won’t pass you by” Sadly she passed last year and so our fifty year connection was over just like that. Feel the Fear and do it anyway. At the end of your life, I didn’t go on all those adventures to Yellowstone and elsewhere because fear controlled my destiny? I was in Yellowstone three years back and my SO had a choking fit at a noodle restaurant on the way back and almost died. Had to bring him to emergency and I was in the middle of nowhere. That was the first sign of his neurological illness, dysphasia and now he has passed forward. He went through 3 years of hell and hundreds of appointments and a feeding tube that last year but he kept on getting up and not once felt sorry for himself. And then he ceased upon the midnight hour with no pain and with me by his side.
  • Marty Tousley, RN, MS, FT
    commented 2019-12-08 09:24:09 -0800
    So very well said, Sarah ~ Thank you for this!