What is there to say about fear? Bill W. wrote on page 67 of the AA Big Book: “This short word somehow touches about every aspect of our lives. It was an evil and corroding thread; the fabric of our existence was shot through with it. It set in motion trains of circumstances which brought us misfortune we felt we didn’t deserve. But didn’t we, ourselves, set the ball rolling?”
He concludes the paragraph with this sentence: “Sometimes we think fear ought to be classed with stealing. It seems to cause more trouble.”
In two swift strokes, Bill suggests that fear 1) brings trouble upon us in ways we cannot see, and 2) can never be justified. That second part is based upon the comparison to stealing—something that can never be justified.
In 1934, Webster’s Dictionary offered this definition:
Fear n. – Painful emotion marked by alarm, extreme awe, or anticipation of danger.
I had to agree with all of those extreme terms. But a second reading revealed something. Do you notice that it does not mention fear being caused by FACTS? This painful emotion is caused by other emotions (alarm and extreme awe) or by a thought (anticipation of danger).
Emotions and thoughts get triggered by various things. I have seen someone stand up to an elephant’s charge without flinching—probably saving his life. But I have seen a courageous friend burst into thrashing sobs of genuine terror because an abandoned cobweb brushed her cheek. Fear grows or shrinks to fill whatever space we let it have.
My drawing depicts nothing threatening. It shows a hand reacting in terror for unseen reasons. The charms on the bracelet suggest some possible causes…. home…. money…. family…. food…. prestige. But regardless of its causes, fear can block out everything else in our lives if we let it.
The text says fears “will leave us.” That is true for me. But it is also true that fears can and does return. I can successfully rid my life of fears today by working the Twelve Steps. But I see nothing in any of the literature that promises more than 24 hours of sobriety. Which means I will face tomorrow with the same vulnerability to….and successful tools for avoiding…Fear itself.
A THOUGHT: I find that most people who are new to recovery are reluctant to say the words, “I feel fear”. Perhaps that word seems too strong…as if they equate it with more severe words like “panic” or “terror”. I sometimes suggest newcomers use the word “anxious” instead. This usually helps them see the subtler forms of this powerful emotion. As they become familiar with Twelve Step recovery, most people become comfortable calling fear by its rightful name.