Hello, my awesome readers and listeners (follow this link to listen instead). I hope the fact that you’re tuning in today is a sign that you’ve taken some time to be kind to yourself. Taking a breather is important for our overall health, but especially for the peace of mind we get when we take stock and realise that we’re alive. Yay! If there is breath in our lungs and blood flowing through our veins, anything can happen!
Stories I told myself
We’ve all come across love stories. We all have our favourites. But what about fear stories? What are the ones that took a hold of you? Oh, I can tell you many that I’ve got stored away in the dusty shelves of my being. The biggest volume that I own I wrote myself way back when I was small – a series of tales based on my perceptions at the time. They have yielded their power over me, some for decades, some still to this day. Many of the fears contained in those stories have since been overcome, but many haven’t. And that’s okay because I’m not dead yet. As long as I’m still breathing and able to think for myself, I can overcome more of them. When I think back over my life, I see that I ran from the things I feared. Sometimes that was necessary, of course it was! I ran away from Ireland at the age of 18 because, as a young woman, I feared being trapped in a Catholic state where women were practically second-class citizens. I ran to Paris, to the unknown. Some would say that I overcame fears in doing this, but I didn’t really. I never stopped for long enough to figure out all the things I could and should probably have feared about being a young girl alone in a foreign city, with no friends and no job. So, while I stepped into the unknown it wasn’t done bravely, it was done naively because I was running away. I’m glad I did it though! But I digress.
To conquer our fears, we have to first understand them, see how they are holding us back, and then decide to do the thing that we fear anyway. Conquering fear is all about choice. When we are faced with the decision of whether to stay in our comfort zone without the strain of racked nerves or step out, uncomfortably, into the unknown, that is the moment when we can either overcome or succumb to our fears. It is a great opportunity for personal growth.
I often think about my drinking days. I think about how stuck I was in a pattern of thinking that I needed to drink to feel better. When the first signs started to show that my drinking was problematic, such as not being able to stick with my commitment to have a few alcohol-free nights each week, or getting horribly cranky with my husband while under the influence, or hating hangovers yet still reaching for the bottle again, I knew I had to face it. But fear got in the way. And it kept me stuck in that dark place for longer than I care to admit. I remember it clearly. I was so afraid of not being able to climb what felt like a massive mountain. I feared not having the comfort of my wine to take the edge off my stressful life. I must confess that I perceived my life to be stressful. Looking back now, I see that it wasn’t even stressful. But perception is everything, isn’t it. I remember feeling overwhelmed at the thoughts of quitting alcohol for good. It felt impossible. With that perception, ’tis no wonder I was scared. And I know that I’m not alone in having felt like that. It’s the nature of substance-dependency. If it weren’t for some of my readers who write to me and share experiences (you know who you are and I value you), I would probably give more credence to the eye-rollers who just don’t get it. They also don’t get why I would even make a big deal of being sober. Yet, here I am, four years and four months sober today and I am bloody proud of it because I know how hard it was and how much better my life has been since!
In my last blog I told you that I was incredibly fearful of an event I was booked to perform at. During the days that led up to it, I was beside myself. I had all sorts of scenarios going through my head about how I might freeze when faced with the audience, I might forget what I wanted to say, or worse still, the audience might think I’m awful and respond accordingly. Being a person of integrity, I do what I say I will do, mostly. I don’t like to let people down. I also wanted to prove to myself that I could do it. When the time came for me to join the other five people backstage, I looked at them and thought ‘OMG, they’re all so confident, they seem really competent too, what the hell am I doing here!’
I was the second performer in the line-up for the evening’s Barefaced Stories. The first person was on stage, and I really wanted to hear her story but halfway through I became so nervous I had to run to the toilet thinking I was going to poo my pants! I mean, how ridiculous that I got myself into such a state, right? It was as though the tales of fear that I had been telling myself for decades started haunting me like a bogeyman, reminding me that if I went out on that stage, I was going to make a complete fool of myself.
When the MC announced me, I braced myself. There was no turning back now! I sent the bogeyman and his fearmongering packing, and I walked out into the spotlight. I had committed to this, I had put in the hours of practice, and I wasn’t about to give up. Then the weirdest thing happened to me. As soon as I found myself in front of the packed audience, their smiling and encouraging faces put me at ease straight away. They were ready to listen to me. They were quietly giving me their undivided attention. Where there had been fear, there was now a sense of love for the people who were putting their faith in me. I felt supported. I’d had a choice all along as to whether I wanted to put myself out there, and here I was choosing to feel the fear and do it anyway. It was liberating and bloody empowering. It made me realise how fear has held me back from doing so many other things in my life.
And here’s the biggest learning I took from the experience: the anticipatory anxiety of what could happen when I went out on stage that night filled me with far more fear in the days leading up to it than the actual event itself. Now that I’ve had the experience, received the rapturous applause, and accepted that I pulled it off, I wonder what other amazing experiences I missed out on because of fear. No more shying away from experiences for me, no siree! The closer I get to the end of my life, the more I want to live. I guess that is the irony of it all.
I still have to pinch myself every day to make sure that it isn’t a dream. It is hard to believe that a sober life could be so full of joy. You’ve got to try it to believe it. If my story has inspired you to want to make changes in your life, then feel free to contact me. As a qualified counsellor, I am ready to help wherever I can. Be good to yourself. You deserve it. Love, Gill x