Friday, October 22, 2010

How Do I Usually React When I Feel Frightened?

That's a question from the "Fear" section in Blueprint for Progress, the workbook for Al-Anon's Fourth Step.

When I feel frightened, I become angry. This was a mystery to me for a long time; I couldn't comprehend why when I felt afraid, I would flip over into an anger so fierce, my heartrate rocketed, and my entire body trembled.

In one spiritual awakening, I saw the answer with a stark clarity: fear feels weak, anger feels strong. In childhood, fear was a constant companion. Fear of loss, fear of abandonment, fear of battering and abuse, fear of shaming and humiliation. These were very real fears, because that pretty much describes my life up to about 16, when I went out on my own.

I was thinking yesterday, about what a program friend calls, "the stories we tell ourselves." My stories before Al-Anon, all revolved around pain, fear, loss, shame. I was, I now understand, an unremittingly negative person. I learned early in life that it was better not to hope. I was trapped by circumstance and other people's decisions for me; I shut myself down, and endured, until I could escape.

Endured until I could escape: this set a pattern in my life, of always looking to a mythical future, when I could get out, get away, disappear, escape. I can still find myself falling into this default mode, when I'm under stress/not paying attention/not working my program.

In that mindset, I feel martyred, alone, trapped. I don't feel able to affect change; I'm merely enduring until I can escape. It's a coping mechanism that may have served me well as a small child, but now interferes with my recovery. When I'm in that place inside my head, I'm shut down. I'm not willing or able to take a different viewpoint, I'm just putting up with it, until I can find a break in the fence, and make a mad dash for freedom.

In Al-Anon, I have learned that feelings are not facts. Yes, I feel whatever I feel, but I have a choice as to what connotations or interpretations I attach to those feelings. I do not have to view them with the old filter, which only shows two options - endure, or escape. I can view them through an Al-Anon filter, which not only opens up a sightline of many choices, but also reveals how feeling trapped is a choice I make, when I am fearful.

Feeling trapped is a slithering away from my own responsibilities for where I am, and how I deal with life. Feeling trapped is a blaming of others for my pain, a way to keep an uneasy distance, from an intimacy which may feel threatening, only because I haven't come this way before - it's a further pushing forward of my personal frontiers.

When I'm frightened, I tend to flip over into anger. If I work my program I will stop to examine my anger when it arises, to eliminate the possibility that it's a response to having my boundaries violated. If that's not happening, then I need to look around to see: where am I fearful?

I'm going to a lot more meetings per week in the last while, and it's an amazing coincidence how doing so has affected my program. I'd been feeling very stuck; now, I'm like an old car with a faulty choke, I may be juttering and banging and lurching along, but hey, I'm moving forward, and I'm feeling my serenity flowing back to warm not only me, but all around me.

I sat here this morning, with my little dog making contented noises, as she had a little slurp on my shirtsleeve, (our vet says this can happen when puppies are weaned at too young an age - it can leave them with an apparently lifelong urge to nurse; eating a meal triggers this, and if she's cuddling with me after eating, she will either fasten upon my knuckle, which makes typing impossible, or refused that, my sleeve.) and felt a rush of gratitude, for all of those who show up at meetings, and speak their truth, and for all who blog, and do the same. 
Keep coming back, it works.


  1. I think I identify with your puppy. This is an interesting idea.

    Having been denied that which all infants want & need for full emotional/ spiritual/ physical maturation, I was left with some lacks which imprinted very deeply and come out in curious behaviors.


  2. I've had one of those weeks too. I need to double my meetings and quit isolating. Sometimes those old habit pop up and I now know them and eventually use my program. I take so much comfort in our furry kids. They are irreplaceable. Have a serene weekend.


  3. It felt good to get to a couple of meetings this week. I have been busy with the marine classes and have missed two meetings that I usually attend. I feel much better when I am in full Al-Anon mode.