F.E.A.R. Frequent Error About Reality. False Evidence Appearing Real. Frustration Ego Anxiety Resentment. Foolishly Erases All Reasoning.
I’ve been dealing with this shit since birth. It seems like I (along with billions of others, I’m sure) was born with built-in fears ranging from large-scale terror to ridiculous petty fear about things that, most of the time, don’t even exist. I grew up in a family that was infested with fear. Both parents, grandparents, and both siblings (and I was no exception, believe me) lived every day in an invisible prison built by fear.
I was terrified of going to school due to being tormented by bullies who would pick on me for anything they could think of. Yes, I was that scrawny, quiet, ninety-pound dweeb kid with too much hairspray and last years’ shoes hanging out with the teacher on field trips . . . Not because they were cool either; it was safe. So naturally, I was scared shitless of girls too, because my self-confidence and worth was nonexistent.
For some reason, however, I wasn’t ever really scared of dangerous things. I was afraid of kids at school because they had the power over me to cause humiliation and ruin every day of my life as I knew it. I was afraid of being myself and expressing anything genuine about my character because it would only lead to more bullying and red-faced torture. It didn’t matter what I did, said, how I dressed, who I talked to, what sports I watched . . . nothing I did was immune to the harassment.
I remember how it felt being surrounded by kids who were picking on me. . .like it was yesterday . . . My vision goes blurry, sounds become far away as if on the other side of a concrete culvert, I can’t focus, rapid heartbeat, the pulse pounding in my beet-red ears, shortness of breath, a pressure-like sensation as if the world around me is slowly getting smaller and there’s nowhere to go. I felt weak and sick. The perfect target and I never stood up for myself. I stare at the ground, I can’t think straight, basically I’m crippled and frozen. Fun stuff, eh?
Surprisingly enough, I never once got beat up in school. I simply didn’t defend myself or put a fight one way or another. So of course, the thought of “maybe” “eventually” getting the shit beat out me, got bigger and more threatening as it was continually pushed aside and never faced. In other words, what I was most afraid of never actually caused me physical harm.
Now going back to the aforementioned ‘dangerous things.’ I was more than happy to climb up just about anything (swing sets, ranger towers, rooftops, trees, you name it…) jump into deep water, surf on my sled, jump from jagged rock to jagged rock along the North Shore, and often dreamed of skydiving, cliff diving, scuba diving, and what have you.
Those things weren’t scary, they were fun! Thinking back on it, it was my first taste of drug addiction, always chasing the adrenaline rush and upping the level of danger as I got older and started to realize that I hadn’t even broken any bones yet. In school I was a terrified, dorky little nobody, but in my head I was Bart Simpson S. Thompson Batman. All I needed was a little time alone to find my “true identity.” No one else could ever know my secret, but it remained a smoldering ember in the core of my being just itching to catch something and breathe and spread and BURN!
The use of drugs and alcohol was inevitable. I don’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t want them. The curiosity was just too great in comparison with any particular reason not to try something that my parents or teachers warned against. I became the self-elected guinea pig among friends as we experimented with various substances. It wasn’t long before I was passing joints to the very same assholes who were dumping sawdust down my shirt in woodshop. “What are you doing here?” they’d say at a party. “I thought you were a dork or something?”
I was a dork. Or something . . . I was just a dork who did a staggering amount of drugs, vandalized property, stole countless things of indiscriminate value, and didn’t give a flying fuck whether I lived or died. I had nothing to lose.
I didn’t like who I was. I was in constant fear of anyone finding out who I thought I really was. Fear. Fear of people, fear of emotion, fear of God, the future, dying, disease, sharing drinking straws, intimacy, the list goes on and on.
Even at a young age, I thought about the consequences of letting certain fears get the best of me. My dad, for example, is scared of water, heights, small spaces, confrontation, responsibility, commitment, emotions, thunder storms, amusement park rides, and a myriad of other smaller, but equally limiting (and laughable) phobias. I didn’t want to become “that guy.” As tough as it would be to face and eventually conquer my fears, I knew inherently that I must do it sooner or later, or deal with the results. The results being a hindered life full of silly avoidance of things that really pose no threat whatsoever.
There is a quote I saw on a bumper sticker somewhere that said, “Speak your mind even if your voice shakes.” I liked that. My voice always shook when I spoke my mind . . . in my mind. If someone would have told me back then that someday, I would be standing at a podium in front of hundreds of strangers and speaking without a shaky voice, I wouldn’t have believed them.
Little by little, I pushed through my fears. I made friends that helped me gain confidence in myself. I had support. I found out what scared me and jumped in. I learned to taunt fear with insanity, like Lieutenant Dan teasing God about the hurricane.
“Come on! You call this a storm?! AAAAHHHH, you sonofabitch! It’s time for a showdown, YOU and ME, I’m right here, come and get ME! AAHAHAAA!”
Every time I didn’t get hurt, punished, or killed, I became stronger. I also became more callused and remorseless. I was raised to fear God and expect an eternal lake of fire as a result of living against God’s “rules.” That blind and, I must say, asinine belief was worth a test. Worst-case scenario, I would be struck dead by a bolt of lightning and sent to be scorched forever and ever in a burning lake along with all the other billions upon billions of sinners like my young self who dared to question it.
Well, guess what? I’m still here some twenty-five years later. I’ve jumped out of three airplanes, went on blind dates, approached and photographed wild bison, confessed my secrets, free-climbed limestone cliffs, driven thousands of miles in semi-trucks in all kinds of weather, faced bankruptcy, failed relationships, addiction, suicide, spoke when my voice shook in front of an audience, stood my ground and confronted the demons that threatened my sanity and integrity, and even opened my eyes under water!
I am not without fear. These days I look for it. I hunt it and study its habits. Calculating and planning my attack with monk-like patience, precision, and a sense of universal justice that I wear like a Kevlar vest. I am not without fear and fear exists without me. I am mentally sound. Future Events Aren’t Real.