For years, I had a recurring nightmare.
As I was chased by an unknown attacker, I ran up stairs, down hallways, through rooms of my childhood home that didn’t even exist … running, running, running with him just a few steps behind.
I don’t recall ever dreaming about how the chase began, it always seemed the dream started with me already running for my life.
And I don’t remember knowing why I was running. Did he have a gun or a knife? Had he threatened me? I just knew I was running and I had to keep running.
One night, apparently I’d had enough. I was running away as I always did, but then, I stopped.
I turned around to finally see who was chasing me.
When I stopped running, he stopped running.
And I woke up.
I have never had that nightmare again.
Why do I love this memory?
Let’s start with the fact it was a dream. That means I wasn’t just the scared woman fleeing, but I was the faceless attacker, too. The whole thing came from my brain. I was manufacturing the source of my fear.
In this little one-woman play, both characters agreed to do something different. When I decided to stop running, the attacker didn’t seize on the opportunity to do whatever dreadful thing I’d been fleeing. My subconscious had an a-ha. If you turn to face your fears, you take away their power.
This wasn’t an idea I hatched while I was awake. It seems logical in the daylight. What’s the worst that can happen? It’s a dream, not Nightmare on Elm Street. If I’d stood my ground and he attacked me, I wasn’t in physical danger. But my dream self, heart pounding and terrified, made that choice in the moment. It felt amazing. I felt like a warrior instead of a victim.
I used to be a fearful person.
I let my fears rule my life. I made so many choices because I was afraid of the unknown, of being alone, of being poor.
I went to a small in-state college because it was close to home and I’d know people. The bigger school I’d considered seemed overwhelming and I couldn’t imagine how I’d afford it. After graduating, I took jobs within driving distance of my hometown, because although I didn’t want to go home, I was scared to live someplace with no safety net. I kept dating men who were wrong for me because I wasn’t sure I’d find anyone better.
When I started dating my husband, he often asked me, “What are you afraid of?”
I’d answer with my big, broad fears: Failing, getting fired, disapproval.
But he’d make me get specific, which made me think about what might actually happen in my life. He’d ask me to name the worst case scenario.
- I might fail at something? True. But I might also *not* fail, so there’s a better chance of moving forward if I try. And what if I did fail? Would that kill me?
- I might get fired? Unemployment wouldn’t last forever. I have a good resume and lots of contacts. I’d pound the pavement and find a new job.
- People might not like me if I do X? Guess what, people might not like me if I don’t do X, too.
- I might not make money as a consultant? That’s part of why we have money in savings, to give ourselves a cushion. We can pay the rent and buy groceries.
John helped me turn around and look at my fears instead of running from them.
It was like realizing that instead of being chased by an angry, vicious dog, I was actually out on a run with a black lab. I was getting a bit of a workout, but I wasn’t in any real danger.
Related posts about fear:
- Reblog from Cameron Boehmer: Fear Makes You Less Human, Love Makes You More
- Feel the fear and do it anyway — on being with your fears, acknowledging them instead of denying them, but not letting them stop you
- Why do we fear failure so much?
- Lara Zielin commits to everyday adventures
- Lauree Ostrofsky’s next adventure, feeling the fear and doing it anyway
- Reflecting on forks in the road, on being conservative or taking a leap