Written by: Jorinde Berben
Image credit: Jorinde Berben
A few days ago, I came across an old journal from my first trip that I took by myself. I had just turned 18, and used my savings to book a 3-week language course in the U.K., including homestay. As I was reading the journal, I was confronted with the person I was half a lifetime ago, and she did not appear completely as I have been imagining her over the 18 years since I took that trip.
For one, she went out there and lived her life, fully. She went out to places she didn’t know, made friends easily and read way more than I remember. She was already all over learning about different cultures and international connections. In short, she was brave. Braver than I thought she was. Braver than I am today.
As I was starting my weekend, I opened my current journal and started out with a writing prompt (which you’re welcome to borrow, by the way). I took a fresh page, dated it, and at the top I wrote the question: “What am I running away from?” After that I gave the pen free reigns and just noticed what came up.
The answer came pretty quickly: I’m running away from my fear. I’m afraid to feel my own fear. It’s the emotion I’m constantly struggling with. The one that’s so uncomfortable that I’ll do anything to run away from it. I watch Netflix, drink coffee, snack on salt, fat and sugar, and come up with new obsessions to lose myself in. In the last two weeks, that’s been my mission of finding information about fancy rats (pet rats) to introduce as a pet in our home. As I’ve done with many previous passions (see this post on living a patchwork life), I’m also diving into this one to a degree where I’m searching for second hand rat hammocks, watching care video’s and contacting breeders on a daily basis. It makes a really great distraction.
As I’m writing, I notice how these things prevent me from really being overtaken by my fear, but they also block out all positive feelings. That’s the inevitable consequence of numbing bad feelings, the good ones go too (more on this in this post).
What I also notice is that my fear keeps me from actually living. I hold back from fully connecting with my partner because I’m afraid my trauma will be triggered. I keep from meditating because I’m worried I’ll reach the pain inside. I worry about taking a leave of absence because I’m terrified I’ll sink into a black hole with no idea of how to climb out. And in all those situations I really refuse to engage with life itself.
The fear, funnily enough, isn’t really gone, is it? I’m now just afraid of fear itself. Sure, it’s a little less intense than the moments I’ve been overcome by terror, but those were, in the end, moments that passed. This sense of dread is one that pervades every area of my life. Together with the anger that’s underneath (that I also push away because I’m afraid of it), it makes for a really unhealthy cocktail.
And the thing is, I’m really, really tired. I’m tired of being afraid. I’m tired of running away from others, running away from myself, running away from my fear and anger. I just don’t have the energy to keep doing it, and I don’t really want to either.
I’ve started being honest to people about how I’m doing these days, even if it’s awkward. I’ve stopped running from the shame I feel surrounding it. The fact that most people have been incredibly supportive has offered me bright moments. I’ve booked a session with my therapist to access my anger and give it some space to exist and tell me what it needs to say, instead of having it wreak havoc in my family. I’m going to open up and engage with others, to allow whatever needs to arise, to arise.
Will I still be tempted to run? Yes.
Will I still actually run from time to time? Probably. But I will also catch myself doing it, I already do. And then I can decide what the brave reaction would be, the one where I honor others and myself.
This is going to be a rocky road (and not the ice cream flavour kind). If you stick around, you’ll catch glimpses of it, or if I’m really brave, you might even get the full show. It’ll be uncomfortable, and cringe-worthy, and awkward, and perhaps even somehwat painful. It might be funny, or moving, or infuriating, or depressing. I don’t really know. That’s scary, but also kind of exciting.
It looks like I’m not leaving anytime soon.
Will you stick around, too?