At a recovery meeting for loved ones we focused on fear. Fears can crush and overpower. Often we project worst case scenarios. A litany of “what ifs” take over. We ruminate, we project, we worry. Our hearts sink when the phone rings in the middle of the night. Is our loved one in jail, or a car wreck, or a hospital emergency room? Because these heart breaking events are often consequences of substance abuse, loved ones stay on alert.
Fear manifests in different ways. There’s fear of a tragic event. And then there are less dramatic worries. For example, when talking on the phone to my adult son who is in recovery, I pick up on his tone of voice. If it appears off kilter then what ifs take over. What if something bad is happening? What if he’s depressed? What if his depression triggers another episode of substance abuse? Although most parents pick up variations in their children’s tone of voice, I doubt that they jump to extreme conclusions. Rather, they might think that their loved one had a bad day or is tired or upset with some person or event. More times than not this has been the case with my son. As Mark Twain said, “I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.”
But what if the worst thing did happen (or has the potential to happen), then how do we deal with the fear that it will happen again? One way to break the cycle is to stay present. Easier said than done. But when you think about it, all we have is the present moment. The past is over and the future doesn’t exist. Hearing my own story so often in my recovery group has helped me face my fears. Members have shared ways to stay out of their heads and present in their lives. These include: meditation, prayer, gardening, cooking, painting, interacting with children, and volunteering. I’ve found that some of these suggestions have worked for me.
Recently I participated in a drawing class where I became singularly focused on drawing a simple ceramic bowl. Totally present for two hours: just me, a set of pencils, drawing paper and that bowl. Swimming laps is another method I’ve found helpful. Stroke, breathe, kick….back and forth from one end of the pool to the other.
The slogan “One Day at a Time” also reminds me to stay present. It helps pull my attentionaway from the future and leave yesterday’s baggage behind. Similarly “Just for today” lightens my load of fear and worry. Another slogan, “Easy does it” reminds me to be gentle with myself when I revert to worse case scenarios. . Neel Burton, M.D. writes that basic emotions such as fear and anger are hardwired. The basic fear response is automatic, unconscious, and uncontrollable (link). We can either control fear or it will control us. To quote Mark Twain again, “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not the absence of fear.”