Fear is a central fact of my life and my ever-present companion. From the time I noticed that my list for Santa didn’t include the Barbies, makeup or other things the girls in my class wanted, I knew I was different. No other girl asked for a chemistry set, a BB gun, and walkie-talkies. That, along with the stacks of Spiderman comics in my closet, set me apart and made me afraid that I wasn’t the kind of girl anyone in my family expected.
This led into a pernicious and lingering fear of being judged. When you grow up Southern Baptist, there’s a particular way to gossip about people and still seem godly: the prayer chain. It sounds kind of like this:
“Lord, we just want to raise up Lorene’s daughter, Father God, and her drinking. Lord Jesus, we grieve that her babies have different daddies, even though all the men she knows are nice…”
For my Meemaw’s sake, I knew a baseline expectation for me was to stay off the prayer chain. Waiting in line at the grocery store in my small town, I heard people talking about my parents. They were one of the first couples to get a divorce – and it was an epic, operatic production involving both those in high standing and those in low places. I learned to achieve to distract away from all the unpleasant truths about my parents and myself.
Those fears about myself solidified into one central truth: I wasn’t the girl anyone expected me to be because I am a girl who loves girls. That fear of knowing I am gay metastasized into shame.
And that shame is inked into me like a tattoo, burrowed into my bones like arthritis, a taproot of guilt that burrows right into the center of me. You don’t get that out of you overnight. Brene Brown says we measure shame and guilt in people by the way they talk to themselves and the messages they give themselves.
My fear is borne out in messages I’ve fought even today. Fear that boils down to the basic belief that I am not good enough. It creates a strong pull towards being that worst of all F words: Fake. Faking whatever I need to be to make myself somewhat presentable and acceptable, no matter how painful, has been a long act.
But what I’ve learned most about overcoming fear is that even though it’s familiar, it’s also fuel. The same energy that threatens to paralyze me is the same energy that can be turned toward fighting what scares me.
Being authentic is a choice. Being brave is a choice. I’m grateful for books and the ability to find my literary role models. That’s one of the reasons literacy is so powerful because you find that others fight – and win – the same battles.
As promised, here are seven more things I’ve learned after 52 birthdays that I’m sharing this week. These are seven authors who helped me turn fear into faith.
Day Two: The Best Things I’ve Learned About Fear
- “You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”- Eleanor Roosevelt
- “Adhere to your own act, and congratulate yourself if you have done something strange and extravagant and broken the monotony of a decorous age. It was a high counsel that I once heard given to a young person, – “Always do what you are afraid to do.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
- “The Litany Against Fear
I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.” Frank Herbert
- “You have plenty of courage, I am sure” answered Oz. “All you need is confidence in yourself. There is no living thing that is not afraid when it faces danger. True courage is in facing danger when you are afraid, and that kind of courage you have in plenty.” L. Frank Baum
5. “The very cave you are afraid to enter
turns out to be the source of
What you were looking for.
The damned thing in the cave
that was so dreaded
has become the center.” – Joseph Campbell
6. “Our courage grows for things that affect us deeply, things that open our hearts. Once our heart is engaged, it is easy to be brave.” Margaret Wheatley
- “I think perfectionism is just a high-end, haute couture version of fear. I think perfectionism is just fear in fancy shoes and a mink coat, pretending to be elegant when actually it’s just terrified. Because underneath that shiny veneer, perfectionism is nothing more than a deep existential angst that says, again and again, “I am not good enough and I will never be good enough.” Elizabeth Gilbert
These quotes are a mantra for me; their words wrapped around me like armor, making me brave and bold when I am scared and ashamed.
Next post: Time
Photo by Tom Margie/CC BY 2.0